Monday, June 30, 2014


Most bizarre mainstream media response to the Hobby Lobby decision, from Adam Nagourney of The New York Times:

Really? Nagourne thinks Republicans with national ambitions will try to distance themselves from this ruling to win over independent women? Republicans will national ambitions just don't do that sort of thing. With their angry base, they can't. That's why they keep losing presidential elections.

How do people as oblivious as Nagourney manage to keep high-paying jobs writing about a subject they clearly don't understand?


I think Nagourney is wrong about 2014 as well -- I think this decision will remind a lot of Democratic voters that there's a reason to keep voting Democratic, even in midterms. The decision just reeks of ignorance, paternalism, contempt, and condescension. And I don't think either conservatives or political insiders quite get that. They can't imagine that this comes off as a double whammy of woman-shaming and cheapness, with bosses in a crappy economy denying female workers one more crumb and saying they're doing it because anyone who wants that crumb is morally contemptible.

I'm reminded of 2012, when another misogynist old man, Rush Limbaugh -- a guy who usually knows exactly what he can get away with saying -- thought he could unleash both barrels on Sandra Fluke without consequence. Limbaugh just couldn't imagine that openly lobbying for birth control access didn't make Fluke a repellent tramp in the eyes of the larger American culture. The mainstream press didn't get it either, although the Obama administration did: Fluke spoke at the 2012 Democratic convention, which was full of talk about social issues, and Melinda Hennenberger, the "She the People" blogger for The Washington Post, thought it was all too much -- here's Hennenberger echoing the Daily Caller's reference to the convention as "Abortion-palooza." The Village may have turned up itys nose at this, but the electorate didn't.

Vox's Sarah Kliff notes that Harry Reid plans to propose a legislative response to this ruling -- which, of course, will be DOA in the House, but at least it will frame the question for potential midterm voters.

As Kliff points out,
In the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Sam Alito did suggest that Obama administration could increase access to birth control in ways that would not violate corporations' religious liberties. Alito specifically pointed to the compromise worked out with religiously-affiliated colleges and universities — where the insurer, rather than the employer, pays for contraceptive coverage — as one such path forward.
This is where the right hopes to stay on offense -- as Hugh Hewitt writes:
As for whether the president and his team will continue to try and invade the conscience rights of a free people, of course it will, but that's why this November’s election will be so crucial and why today's decision a major victory in a never-ending struggle to preserve religious liberty.
In other words, the right is going to try to say that this decision isn't a permanent victory, and righties had better keep fighting (and voting). But it's ordinary women who've been isulted, sexually and financially, and I'm cautiously optimistic that that will be remembered in November. The focus really could be on control of the Senate, especially when a Supreme Court vacancy might come up in the next two years. (I still think Republicans will seek to filibuster any Court pick President Obama puts up in his final two years, but I think an Obama pick has a better shot under those circumstances, where the focus will be on the majority being thwarted, than with a GOP Senate, which will just vote any pick down.)


I'm less optimistic about the near-term effect of today's other big ruling, in Harris v. Quinn, which concerned a seemingly small, unrepresentative sector of the workforce:
The plaintiff in the case is Pamela Harris, of Illinois, who provides in-home care for her 25-year-old son with disabilities and receives compensation for it from the state’s Medicaid program. This is a common arrangement, designed to make it possible to assist family members who care for relatives with serious illnesses. But in Illinois, as in a few other states, there's a twist.

In 2003, the governor declared all home health care workers to be public employees. The theory behind the decision was that the workers are getting much of their money from the government, in the form of Medicaid. The widely understood idea was to make it easier for them to organize into a union, since government doesn't fight organizing drives the way private companies do. The state's employees eventually voted to do just that, joining the Service Employees International Union. As a result, Harris must pay a portion of SEIU's membership dues -- an administrative fee, in order to support the bargaining the SEIU does on behalf of employees -- even if she opts not to join the organization formally. She's not happy about that, so she filed a lawsuit.
Needless to say, the Supremes agreed with her -- but they didn't go so far as to overturn the automatic deduction of dues from the checks of other public sector workers, although that's clearly what's coming next:
A 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, upheld automatic deduction of dues as long as the money is not used for political purposes.

At oral argument, the [National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation] urged the Justices to overturn that decision. The court did not do so -- though the majority refers to its "foundations" as "questionable" -- but it did make it substantially harder for public sector unions to organize....

By calling the Abood decision "questionable," the conservative majority may very well be signalling its intention to overrule it in the future....
Yup, that's what's going to happen. It's John Roberts playing the long game again, dismantling legal frameworks he and his fellow right-wingers dislike brick by brick. However, this doesn't seem like enough of an outrage to motivate Democratic voters -- though I'd love to be wrong about that.

Country star Larry Gatlin went on Fox News yesterday to talk the recent Pew survey, which showed that just 40% of "solid liberals" would say that they're "often proud to be an American." Gatlin responded with a rant that played like a greatest-hits medley of every liberal-bashing catchphrase of the past forty years (and he also seems to think that one of the Clintons actually runs the country right now, or maybe that's just one of the oldies but goodies in his medley):

Without pointing out that the question had included the word "often," Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt invited Gatlin explain why liberals "are not proud to be an American."

According to Gatlin, "limousine Lear jet liberals" formed a coalition with "low-information voters" to elect a "doofus" named Barack Obama.

"He told us that he hated America," the country music star insisted....

"Here's what we have, we have old hippies from the '60s, Bill and Hillary [Clinton], ruling our country, not governing our country," Gatlin continued, arguing that liberals were upset when the country took military action because "they don't believe there is a right or wrong."

"They blame America, they blame Bush, they wrap their robes of self-righteousness around them, get in their Lear jets, and take off, and they’re still mad at me," he quipped. "Love it or get out of my face!"

"The liberals, they'll sing 'Kumbaya' but they won't stand up and sing the Marine Corps Hymn!" Gatlin exclaimed....
Hmmm -- the Marine Corps Hymn? The military must mean a lot to Gatlin. He also says this:
... we're also being ruled by children of the children of the '60s, who not only don't think -- the difference between right or wrong, they don't even think there is a right or wrong. So when America stands up, patriots stand up, when they believe that it is right to storm beaches in the name of what's right and wrong, and to jump out of airplanes behind enemy lines, and to troop through triple-canopy jungles or the December snows of Chosin Reservoir -- they believe it's right to go do that, that torques these people off, because they don't believe there's a right or wrong!
Let's see ... Gatlin was born in 1948. That means he was of draft age in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War. So where did he serve?

Well, I'm looking at his Wikipedia page, and I'm looking at his bio on the site of the country channel CMT, and it looks to me as if he had a student deferment when he was 19.
Gatlin was a quarterback at Odessa High School. After graduation in 1966, he attended the University of Houston. As a wide receiver on the football team, he caught a touchdown pass in a 1968 game in which the Cougars scored 100 points.
Looks as if his war was fought on the football field. After that, he just went straight into the music business.

Semper fi!

This doesn't prevent him from acting as the co-chair of a campaign to collect signatures on an online thank-you card for Vietnam veterans. (I assume email addresses are hoovered up as well, along with the occasional donation.) The campaign is run by a group called Veterans in Defense of Liberty, which exists primarily to ... um, I'm not really sure. It opposes naming Navy ships after filthy commies like Cesar Chavez and gets upset when the VFW endorses a Democrat. It's virulently anti-gay. Apart from that, it mostly posts a lot of kitschy eagle pictures on Facebook, accompanied by the usual dog's breakfast of right-wing talking points:

But to get back to Gatlin:
“Who elected this doofus anyway?” he asked. “The liberals and the low-information voters.”
So Gatlin hates the majority of people who turned out to vote in America in 2008 and 2012 -- but he loves America! Yup, that makes a lot of sense.


Meanwhile, here was Ted Nugent on Twitter over the weekend:

So (based on (current population counts) only 33,919,694 Americans live in what Ted Nugent considers America (out of a total of 312,913,872), while 103,228,467 expressly live in parts of America that aren't actually America. The rest of you seem to be somewhere in the middle -- but you still don't have "real freedoms," hippie! Get with the program!

And, of course:

"Runs amok" here is presumably a euphemism for "actually holds an office to which he was duly elected twice." So: another guy who loves the bejeezus out of America while hating a huge swath of Americans.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


A grim report from a New York TV channel:
It was a violent night in New York City after at least 13 people were shot in incidents spanning each of the five boroughs....
This is noted at National Review under the (schadenfreude-y?) headline "13 Shot Last Night in De Blasio's NYC." NR's Greg Pollowitz harrumphs (or perhaps "exults" is more accurate):
Weird. It's almost as if some said this would happen if NYC ended its effective stop-question-and frisk policing...
Right -- because there were never bad nights like this when Mike Bloomberg was mayor, or bad weekends.

The reality? Well, there was this on an "unseasonably warm" November night in 2003:
Four people died in a night of rampant violence that included six shootings, 10 stabbings and a bludgeoning spread across four boroughs of the city, the police said yesterday.
And this in late August 2010:
A 28-year-old man shot to death outside a Queens house party early Sunday was one of three people killed in separate incidents in New York City during a violent 12-hour stretch, authorities said.
Then there was Memorial Day weekend in 2011:
Bullets flew over the Memorial Day weekend, leaving eight people dead of gun violence during the unofficial beginning of the summer.
And, most notorously, there was Labor Day weekend of the same year, when 67 people were shot:
Three people were killed and two police officers were wounded in a shooting a few blocks from the annual West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, capping a violent holiday weekend in which nearly 70 people were injured by gunfire.

Updated statistics obtained by NBC New York on Tuesday show that at least 67 people were shot between 12 a.m. Friday and 11:59 p.m. Monday. That includes nine on Friday, 10 on Saturday, 33 on Sunday and 15 on Monday.
All that happened long before Bill de Blasio became mayor, which was January 1 of this year. All of it happened long before August 2013, when Judge Shira Scheindlin declared the city's stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional.

(But shortly before that ruling, 25 people were shot in 48 hours in the city on the first weekend of June 2013.)

It's true that shootings are up 13% in the city this year -- but homicides are down 15.5%. That means that this year could see fewer murders in the city than in any year of the Bloomberg administration or the Giuliani administration.

The uptick in shootings is worrisome -- but if the murder rate is down, then the result conservatives are warning us about (and clearly secretly hoping for) -- a return to '70s-style mayhem -- just isn't happening.

And the city had plenty of violent nights and weekends in the stop-and-frisk era. They just didn't fit the preferred narrative.

CNN tells us, in all seriousness, that Democrats could face dire consequences because Ahmed Abu Khattalah, the suspected mastermind of the Benghazi attack, has been captured and brought to America to stand trial:
The timing of Abu Khatallah's capture also folds into two ongoing political narratives that could affect the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections.

First, the newly captured Abu Khatallah will now almost certainly be a topic of discussion amongst the recently created House select committee investigating the Benghazi attack. The committee, which is supposed to have special hearings on the controversy, may convene within the next month before Congress goes into recess for the month of August. But they also could hold hearings in September or October, only weeks before the midterm elections.

For Democrats in tight races, Abu Khatallah's capture only further sheds light on a controversy that has damaged the Obama administration's reputation for handling national security matters.

Second, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who is toying with the idea of running for president in 2016 -- could once again face tough questions about her role in handling U.S. security in the region when the attacks occurred.
Omigod! Now there might be "tough questions" asked about Hillary Clinton's involvement -- as if that hasn't been the case every freaking day since September 11, 2012.

What is being said here -- that the new House kangaroo court is going to be even kangaroo-ier now that Abu Khattalah has been captured? The capture is going to make things worse? Following that logic, if the U.S. drone-strikes every other guy on the suspect list, after which President Obama flies to Libya on Air Force One to recover their heads and carries them personally on pikes into Trey Gowdy's office, he'll be impeached? Is that how this works?

I love the notion that getting a top Libya suspect is bad for Democrats in the midterms -- then again, George W. Bush snoozed through the 9/11 warnings, allowed 3,000 Americans to be killed, let bin Laden get away at Tora Bora, and then invaded the wrong country and screwed up that war, too, all of which led him to electoral victory in 2004 as a war hero. After that, I suppose "Capturing top terrorists is perilous for Democrats!" is a talking point that makes perfect sense to political insiders.

Maybe the preident should never have seriously tried to capture anyone in connection with Benghazi -- maybe he just should have talked a lot about how evil the evildoers are and how we're going to get those evildoers, you betcha ... all the while shifting America's attention to other bad guys he could imply were way worse evildoers, who were the people we really wanted to capture or kill if we were angry about Benghazi. That probably would have been more politically astute than capturing one of the actual Benghazi culprits.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Yesterday I wrote about an Ezra Klein post in which he looked at the new Pew survey of political typology and concluded that some liberals and conservatives can find common ground, at least in theory:
... the Pew survey shows there's some common ground between steadfast conservatives and solid liberals. Steadfast conservatives, for instance, tend to believe that the system is tilted towards big economic interests and that Wall Street does more harm than good. Liberals agree with them on all that....
But what do conservative really mean when they express skepticism about big corporate interests?

Today I found a post at Townhall by Steve Deace expressing outrage at "the GOP's worst treachery yet" -- Thad Cochran's runoff campaign in Mississippi. The post is full of griping about corporate influence on the Republican Party establishment -- and if I quote it selectively, it'll be easy for you to imagine that, yes, there really is a lot that liberals and conservatives can agree on:
That message [from the GOP establishment] is this: if you threaten our corporatist gravy train we will go harder after you then we ever have Democrats....

Years of betraying its base has put the GOP establishment in a bind. They can't raise money off their base anymore, so they have to raise the money it takes to remain in power from corporatist lobbyists. Except pursuing the policy aims of those corporatist lobbyists enrages the base all the more, and the vicious cycle of dysfunction continues.

Don't vote for anymore corporatist Republicans in red states/districts.
But in the same post, Deace writes this:
... the GOP establishment used Obama/Alinsky race-baiting tactics against their own base, in order to drive out to the polls in a GOP primary the same low-information-voters that put and kept this Marxist in the White House....

Today's Democrat Leaders are no longer bleeding-heart liberals but hard Leftists. They’re Social Reconstructionists with Marxist tendencies.

Meanwhile, the base of the GOP is growing more conservative and libertarian in response to this new ideological threat. We recognize we cannot negotiate with the New Left, but must defeat it. The problem is the GOP establishment often acts as a de facto human shield for these Statists, so we rarely get a clear shot at them on a national stage.
So to sum up: establishment Republicans are "corporatists," but they're also enablers of the Democratic Party -- a party now composed entirely of "hard Leftists" with "Marxist tendencies." (Also, too: Alinsky!)

Does this make any sense? Obviously, if you're a believer in logic like Ezra Klein, it doesn't. I don't think it makes sense either. But however illogical this argument may be, Deace expects movement conservatives to nod enthusiastically in agreement. And, to judge from the comments and Facebook likes, that's what they're doing.

This crazy talk reminds me of the right-wing populism of an earlier era, which regarded international bankers and communists/socialists/anarchists with equal wariness -- and seemed to regard them as part of the same phenomenon, an urban-sophisticate conspiracy to screw rock-ribbed rural patriots out of their wealth and their rights. (Racism was involved in that worldview as well -- the cities were awash in Jews and Negroes. Deace, in this post, chides establishment Republicans for "bolster[ing] the legitimacy of the propaganda of our race-baiting opponents on the Left.")

You don't have to find this worldview coherent. You just need to know that its believers will never really find common grounds with liberals, because they hate liberals -- or, as they call us, "Marxists."

So please, folks: stop trying to make the left/right synthesis happen. It's not going to happen.

Spotted on the Facebook page of the National Association for Gun Rights:

So if a sign restricts entry to a business or government building, by definition that's discrimination? I guess it's time for a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of would-be convenience store customers wearing no shirt and no shoes!

But seriously, I'm reminded of George Will's recent column on campus sexual assault. Will wrote that colleges and universities "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." That's an idea that right-wingers are obsessed with. It's ridiculous, of course, to argue that victim status "confers privileges" -- but people with a normal human sense of empathy do respond to stories of mistreatment, and that drives right-wingers nuts: all their money and skill at propaganda can't fully counteract ordinary citizens' legitimate sense of horror at, for instance, the murders of the civil rights era, or unpunished sexual assaults on campuses and in the military, or deaths in school shootings. No matter how much power conservatives have, they want the moral high ground, too -- even if, as on the issue of guns, they already have nearly all the power in most of the country. That's never enough for them. They want might to make right and they want you to think they're right morally. They want it all.

Friday, June 27, 2014


Ezra Klein has been looking at that new Pew political typology survey and really, really thinks we could all get along if a few bad apples didn't spoil it for the rest of us:
One of the fascinating findings is that only one of the seven groups -- the "steadfast conservatives" -- says they prefer politicians to stick to their positions rather than compromise....

Steadfast conservatives make up only 12 percent of the country. But that understates their political power: they're 15 percent of registered voters and 19 percent of the politically engaged.

The irony is that the Pew survey shows there's some common ground between steadfast conservatives and solid liberals. Steadfast conservatives, for instance, tend to believe that the system is tilted towards big economic interests and that Wall Street does more harm than good. Liberals agree with them on all that --- but business conservatives don't.

Thus far, though, the Republican Party has somewhat uncomfortably adopted the positions of the business conservatives and the political style of the steadfast conservatives. The result is a congressional coalition ... where Wall Street is unpopular but where there's no chance of Republicans joining Democrats to impose stricter regulations on financiers.
That bit at the very end is based on a complete misreading of the "steadfast conservative" point of view regarding "big economic interests and Wall Street." Steadfast conservatives may be against "crony capitalism," but they're also against regulation. Look at Dave Brat, the guy who beat Eric Cantor. He may say he will "fight to end crony capitalist programs that benefit the rich and powerful," but he also says he will "work hard to provide the fiscal and regulatory restraint needed for a free people to thrive" (emphasis added). That's the standard line on the "steadfast conservative" right. These people are Randians -- they think capitalism is completely self-regulating by definition. They're unalterably opposed to increasing regulation on big business.

In another post, Klein argues that Republicans won't impeach Obama. His evidence includes this:
There's an argument, increasingly popular among liberals, that after the midterms Republicans will control the Senate and then impeachment proceeding against Obama will begin in earnest. Barring some gamechanging scandal, I doubt it. The GOP's anger at Obama won't overwhelm their desire to win the 2016 election. And a party that wants to make gains among young and minority voters isn't going to make them by spending two years trying, and failing, to impeach Obama. This is a party that is exceedingly rational about what's required to win presidential campaigns. They nominated Mitt Romney, for Pete's sake!
But the Republican Party doesn't want to make gains among young and minority voters -- at least not enough to make the party rethink voter ID laws and now-mandatory climate-change denialism and steadfast (if recently somewhat muted) opposition to gay rights and a stand-athwart-history-yelling-Stop approach to immigration. And, sure, the party nominated Romney in 2016 rather than Bachmann or Cain -- but Romney never tacked to the center after securing the nomination, just as John McCain never tacked to the center in 2008. Both picked running mates who were favorites of the zealots. No Republican candidate (apart from Ron Paul) would break with foreign policy Bush/Cheneyism in the 2008 race and no Republican candidate would agree to even a 10-1 ratio of budget cuts to tax increases in the 2012 race. Do Republicans want to win the White House? Yeah, but they don't want to win it that much.

Klein is right that John Boehner's lawsuit is intended to be an escape valve for the impeachment pressure:
You can already see Boehner looking for ways to satisfy* his base's belief that the Obama administration's lawlessness needs to be punished with his knowledge that actually attempting impeachment would be a disaster. This week, he announced his intention to sue Obama on the grounds that he has "not faithfully executed the laws" passed by Congress. It's a serious charge, but asked whether it could lead to impeachment proceeding, Boehner was dismissive. "This is not about impeachment, this is about his faithfully executing the laws of our country," he said.
But why would an escape valve be needed at all if intense pressure weren't building? And is it even going to be enough?

Next year, I think Boehner might have to promise an impeachment vote to keep his Speakership -- or maybe he'll just go along with Ted Cruz's notion of impeaching Eric Holder as another escape valve. But even that may not be enough.

I don't think impeachment is inevitable. But I do think the crazies just get crazier. And Republicans are going to score victories in November, for which the crazies are going to take credit. That's going to make them crazier still.

*I think the verb Ezra wants here is "reconcile," not "satisfy."

Peggy Noonan doesn't like Hillary Clinton's public persona, as we've seen it on Clinton's book tour. In fact, Peggy Noonan doesn't like the whole damn lot of modern Democratic politicians! Why are they so phony?

Here's Noonan on Hillary:
It is Mrs. Clinton's habit to fake identification with people who've had real struggles by claiming she's had them too. All humans have struggles, but hers were not material. She came from a solidly suburban upper-middle-class home, glided into elite schools, became a lawyer, married a politician who quickly rose, enjoyed all the many perks of a governor's mansion and then the White House, and then all the perks of a senator, secretary of state and former first lady. She's been driven in limousines and official cars almost all her adult life. For more than a quarter-century she has seen America through tinted windows.

... She sees a disjunction between her acquisitive streak and her party's demonization of acquisitive streaks, and so she claims she was broke, at the mercy of forces, an orphan in the storm, instead of an operator of considerable hunger and skill.
And Democrats in general?
[In her book, Clinton] proudly quotes a speech she gave in 2008. "You will always find me on the front lines of democracy -- fighting for the future."

Ladies and gentleman, that is the authentic sound of 2016. Shoot me now.

Why do Democratic politicians talk like this about themselves, putting themselves and their drama at the ego-filled center, instead of policy ideas, larger meanings, the actual state of the country? In this she is just like Barack Obama.
"Fake identification with people who've had real struggles"? Seeing oneself and one's drama as the "ego-fllled center" of our politics? That reminds me of a speech -- a speech delivered not by a Democrat, but by a Republican, and not recently, but in 1988. It was a speech either written or co-written by Peggy Noonan, depending on whom you ask.

It was George H.W. Bush's '88 convention speech, and Noonan put into into everything she now says she hates.

Here's the jes'-folks pose:
My parents were prosperous; their children were lucky. But there were lessons we had to learn about life.... I learned a few things about life in a place called Texas.

We moved to west Texas 40 years ago. The war was over, and we wanted to get out and make it on our own. Those were exciting days. Lived in a little shotgun house, one room for the three of us. Worked in the oil business, started my own.

In time we had six children. Moved from the shotgun to a duplex apartment to a house. Lived the dream - high school football on Friday night, Little League, neighborhood barbecue.

People don't see their experience as symbolic of an era - but of course we were. So was everyone else who was taking a chance and pushing into unknown territory with kids and a dog and a car. But the big thing I learned is the satisfaction of creating jobs, which meant creating opportunity, which meant happy families, who in turn could do more to help others and enhance their own lives. I learned that the good done by a single good job can be felt in ways you can't imagine.

I may not be the most eloquent, but I learned early that eloquence won't draw oil from the ground. I may sometimes be a little awkward, but there's nothing self-conscious in my love of country. I am a quiet man - but I hear the quiet people others don't. The ones who raise the family, pay the taxes, meet the mortgage. I hear them and I am moved, and their concerns are mine.
Let me repeat that last bit:
The ones who raise the family, pay the taxes, meet the mortgage. I hear them and I am moved, and their concerns are mine.
George H.W. Bush said that. And Peggy Noonan chides Hillary Clinton for pretending to be ordinary.

Oh, and self-aggrandizement? Thinking you're the living embodiment of America's political life? Let's go back to the Bush speech:
I know that what it all comes down to, this election - what it all comes down to, after all the shouting and the cheers - is the man at the desk.

My friends, I am that man.

I say it without boast or bravado, I've fought for my country, I've served, I've built - and I will go from the hills to the hollows, from the cities to the suburbs to the loneliest town on the quietest street to take our message of hope and growth for every American to every American.

I will keep America moving forward, always forward - for a better America, for an endless enduring dream and a thousand points of light.

That is my mission. And I will complete it.
Why does Peggy Noonan hate what speechwriters like Peggy Noonan have done to modern political rhetoric?

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Conservatives have tried to nullify the Roe v. Wade decision a hundred different ways since it was handed down, and have had success with most of them: long waiting periods, late-term abortion restrictions, ever-higher bars for abortion clinics and abortion doctors to clear. Harassment at clinics is just a mob-based form of conservative nullification. The Supreme Court effectively made it legal again today:
The Supreme Court unanimously struck down Massachusetts' abortion buffer zone law on Thursday, ruling in favor of anti-choice protesters who argued that being required to stay 35 feet away from clinic entrances is a violation of their freedom of speech. The decision rolls back a proactive policy intended to safeguard women's access to reproductive health care in the face of persistent harassment and intimidation from abortion opponents.
In other words, buffer zones are an attempt to nullify organized nullification of abortion rights by crowds. The meaning of the decision is that harassers can nullify, but the law is restrained from nullifying back.

What's going to be OK now? Erin Matson, who's been a clinic escort and defender, has recounted some of what she's seen:


If this were being done to a despised class of voters, even conservatives would have a hard time arguing that it was no danger to the right to vote. But this is the reality of "sidewalk counseling" -- and a law that restrained it is gone.


And here's another effort to nullify the nullifiers being shot down by the Supreme Court:
In a rebuke to President Barack Obama, the Supreme Court struck down three of his recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board as unconstitutional....

The court ruled 9-0 that Obama's appointments were unconstitutional because the Senate was not truly in recess when he made them during a three-day break in pro forma meetings of the legislative body.
The NLRB has been a political football for a while now, but it literally would have ceased functioning without these recess appointments -- which surely was the point of GOP resistance to Obama appointees. As Alicia Bannon of NYU's Brennan Center for Justice wrote in January:
If President Obama had not repeatedly exercised the recess appointment power to maintain an NLRB quorum, its operations would have been paralyzed for approximately two years during his presidency.
(The board, which is supposed to have five members, was down to two until a pair of recess appointments by President Obama in 2010; the Supreme Court ruled that year that a two-member NLRB couldn't issue rulings. The recess appointments that led to today's Supreme Court decision happened in 2012.)

Conservative nullification is supposed to be the last word; as soon as countermeasures are taken, that's when the process becomes objectionable. That's what the Court told us today.

John Boehner is a smart guy -- there, I said it. He's not a great statesman or legislator (he's not even good at these things), but he's brilliant at what he considers his main task in life: saving his own neck. Why do you think Boehner got through primary season without a scratch this year, while Eric Cantor lost his job and Thad Cochran nearly did? It's because Boehner knows how toss the ravenous rubes large chunks of red meat.

Like this:
Republicans, after years of squabbling with President Obama, have decided to resolve their differences with him according to a time-honored American tradition.

They are going to sue him.

"What we have seen clearly over the last five years is an effort to erode the power of the legislative branch," House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) said Wednesday, confirming his plans to take Obama to court . "I believe the president is not faithfully executing the laws of our country, and on behalf of the institution and our Constitution, standing up and fighting for this is in the best long-term interest of the Congress."
This is how you can be kinda-sorta pro-immigration reform, and kinda-sorta willing to make deals with the president, without facing the wrath of the teabaggers: you toss something like this to them and they stop growling hungrily.

Why did Eric Cantor lose? The smart people told you it was because he didn't pay enough attention to the needs of his constituents. Then Thad Cochran came within a hair's breadth of losing because he was accused of paying too much attention to the needs of his constituents -- you shouldn't bring home so much pork, Thad! Obviously, the conventional wisdom about Cantor was wrong. The common thread for Cochran and Cantor was a lack of Fox-friendly grandstanding. Boehner, to put it mildly, doesn't have that problem. That's why he's still around.


But does Boehner even have standing to sue? Smart people are skeptical:
... Boehner may not be able to do so. According to Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Irvine Law School, the speaker of the House does not have the ability to sue the president in this situation, even if Congress says he does. Chemerinsky says "standing," the doctrine that allows a person to file a lawsuit in federal court by demonstrating that real harm has been caused to them, is defined by the Constitution. As a result, even if Congress passes a law, or in this case a resolution, which only requires approval by the House, it will not be binding on federal courts, as the Constitution trumps any law, let alone a resolution, and does not give members of Congress the ability to sue if they cannot prove real harm.
But as long as the federal bench includes Republican-appointed Federalist Society judges (is that redundant?), a case deemed to be legitimate by a Republican lawyer will be deemed legitimate somewhere in the legal system.

Just before Boehner announced his intentions, George Will wrote a column laying out the rationale for such a suit. He names the lawyers who think it's a swell idea, and relays their legitimacy claim:
... David Rivkin, a Washington lawyer, and Elizabeth Price Foley of Florida International University have studied the case law and believe that standing can be obtained conditional on four things:

That a majority of one congressional chamber explicitly authorizes a lawsuit. That the lawsuit concern the president's "benevolent" suspension of an unambiguous provision of law that, by pleasing a private faction, precludes the appearance of a private plaintiff. That Congress cannot administer political self-help by remedying the presidential action by simply repealing the law. And that the injury amounts to nullification of Congress’s power.
Is this legally valid? It doesn't matter. Rivkin's a Federalist Society lawyer. So is Foley. (She's also the author of a book called The Tea Party: Three Principles.) Of course it will be declared valid at least somewhere along the line. These right-wing lawyers take care of their own.

As I was thinking about this, what came to mind was the way the "broccoli" metaphor for the Affordable Care Act worked its way into legal legitimacy -- you know, the notion that the Constitution can no more require the purchase of health insurance than it can require the purchase of broccoli. This was once seen as a notion that wouldn't pass muster in the courts -- the Commerce Clause had been interpreted otherwise -- but a persistent campaign was mounted, and eventually right-wing judges accepted this interpretation by a right-wing lawyer.

Know who the key "broccoli" lawyer was? David Rivkin.
It turns out that broccoli did not spring from the mind of Justice Scalia. The vegetable trail leads backward through conservative media and pundits. Before reaching the Supreme Court, vegetables were cited by a federal judge in Florida with a libertarian streak; in an Internet video financed by libertarian and ultraconservative backers; at a Congressional hearing by a Republican senator; and an op-ed column by David B. Rivkin Jr., a libertarian lawyer whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when he was 10....

In a September 1993 commentary in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rivkin and Mr. Casey argued that the Clinton proposal was unconstitutional. Requiring Americans to buy insurance went a step beyond a famous 1942 case, Wickard v. Filburn, which has long been a thorn in the side of those who opposed the New Deal. In it, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the power to prevent a farmer from growing wheat for his own consumption on the theory that any wheat affected the total supply, and thus fell within interstate commerce.

The health care law, the two lawyers maintained, did not ban an existing activity like growing wheat, but forced people who were doing nothing to act in a certain way. If Congress could regulate inactivity, they argued, there might be no limit to what it could force people to do. "If Congress thinks Americans are too fat," the article said, "can it not decree that Americans shall lose weight?"

... The Clinton administration’s health care effort collapsed. But Mr. Rivkin's unorthodox theory lived on, nurtured by "a small but discernible, libertarian segment of academia," he said....
The Court didn't overturn the Affordable Care Act, but broccoli was cited in the Court's ruling twelve times. So, yeah, what Boehner is doing could be taken very, very seriously in the federal courts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


A challenge to Tuesday's election results? Yeah, I can understand why Chris McDaniel would be looking into that. But McDaniel really should set his sights higher. This is his moment, and he shouldn't let it pass him by.

He should declare himself a Republican candidate for president. He should say he's taking on the entire party establishment.

What credentials could endear him more to tea party Republicans nationwide than having been stabbed in the back (as all teabaggers see it) by the establishment -- specifically by the establishment's decision to reach out to black Democrats? Who could fire up the base more?

You say he doesn't have a chance because he's a loser? Remember that the last non-Romney standing in the 2012 Republican primaries was a guy who'd lost his most recent election by 18 points. Remember that the favorite presidential aspirant of many teabaggers is Ted Cruz, a guy normal people think was humiliated last fall during the failed government shutdown. Remember that the modern Republican Party -- the party of the Southern strategy and white resentment -- scored its first national victory in 1968 when a self-pitying two-time loser (for president, for governor) won the race for the White House.

Modern Republicans love scorned and humiliated movement standard-bearers; I predict that McDaniel would instantly move into contention for the nomination. Could he actually win it? Maybe not -- but just being a contender would open up a much more elevated level of right-wing grift to him.

Go for it, Chris. Visit Iowa and New Hampshire soon. Strike while the iron is hot.

In the aftermath of Thad Cochran's victory over Chris McDaniel, Barbara O'Brien catches Erick Erickson whining:
[The Republican Party's] core activists hate its leadership more and more. But its leadership are dependent more and more on large check writers to keep their power. Those large check writers are further and further removed from the interests of both the base of the party and Main Street. So to keep power, the GOP focuses more and more on a smaller and smaller band of puppeteers to keep their marionettes upright. At some point there will be more people with knives out to cut the strings than there will be puppeteers with checkbooks. And at some point those people with knives become more intent on cutting the strings than taking the place of the marionettes.
Barbara responds:
Wow, you might assume Erick Son of Erick was a big supporter of campaign finance reform. I suspect you'd be wrong, though.
Heh, indeed. Erickson, of course, has been touchingly naive about the increasing plutocratization of our politics. Here's an amusing tweet:

The reality, of course, is that nothing the plutocrats have pursued (and attained) with regard to money and politics aids "the little guy." That was fine with Erickson when the plutocrats were funding his pet candidates. Now that they aren't -- now that they're withholding money from bomb-throwing teabaggers and giving it instead to GOP establishmentarians -- he's pouting.

What do teabaggers think is going to happen when superrich people and and megacapitalists have almost unlimited leeway in politics? Of course they're going to protect their own interests, even when doing so contradicts the Holy Gospel of Ayn Rand. Protecting their own interests is simply what superrich people and megacapitalists do.

The naive belief of the teabaggers is that you can have a completely unfettered plutocracy and also eliminate "crony capitalism." But what plutocrats do with all that money is buy policies favorable to themselves -- and they do it within the law as much as possible, most often by making sure that the law is written so that it empowers them to do what's in their naked selfinterest.

Right now, what's in their naked self-interest is keeping people like Chris McDaniel out of office. All the tricorn-hatted "people with knives" in America can't function as a counterweight to that much wealth used strategically.

Randian teabaggers think everything to do with money functions the way it does in the windy pronouncements of their favorite sci-fi novelist. They think every time you add more freedom!, things become more dynamic, and smart upstarts get empowered at the expense of the entrenched. I'm looking at the reality: over here, online-video category killer YouTube, a part of the death star known as Google, is cutting deals with the major music labels and threatening to keep independent labels off YouTube completely, thus depriving them of significant ad revenue. So the monopolistic subsidiary of a monopolistic company is playing favorites with the oligopolistic portions of the music business -- which now has three major companies, down from six when I was a lad, after those six bought up the independent labels that had helped make jazz, R&B, and rock into yultural phenomena.

Earth to Randians: this is how capitalism works. This is how money works. Things don't become sclerotic because of jackbooted government totalitarianism -- they become sclerotic because the powerful work hard to keep themselves powerful, at the expense of upstarts.

Same with Aereo, which just lost its battle to be a TV "disrupter" at the Supreme Court: the big cable and satellite companies have control over television across the country, paying retransmission fees to over-the-air broadcasters and then charging huge fees to subscribers; everyone wins except the subscribers -- and upstart Aereo, which wanted to retransmit those broadcasts without paying fees. The Supreme Court said no. The status quo stands.

The rich and powerful don't want what they've got to be easily disrupted; they want it to be extremely difficult to disrupt. And they get their way. That's the way big-money capitalism really works, no matter what Ayn Rand thought. And that, Eric Cantor notwithstanding, is the way big-money politics is working this year.

Should I really be happy that Thad Cochran narrowly defeated his teabagger challenger, Chris McDaniel, in the GOP Senate runoff in Misissippi yesterday, with the help of Democratic crossover voters?

Yes, McDaniel is a bomb-thrower who promised to stand with fellow bomb-throwers such as Ted Cruz who are already in the Senate. But Cochran is part of an actually existing Congress that's been stymieing the agenda of a duly elected president for six years. Cochran is part of the superminority that's turned the filibuster into an everyday weapon of partisanship, thus destroying majority rule in the Senate. As Jonathan Bernstein says,
The correct count of how many bills have been filibustered during Obama's presidency is: approximately all of them.

That's what it means to have a 60-vote Senate, which is what Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans declared as soon as Obama was elected. Almost every measure and, until Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats invoked the nuclear option last fall, almost every nomination, had to have 60 or more votes to pass. That's a filibuster.

... as long as the minority party insists on a 60-vote Senate, the correct answer for the number of filibusters is every measure to which the 60-vote threshold applies.
That's what crossover Democrats voted for. What did they vote against? Um ... another vote to block funding for the Export-Import Bank? That's it?

I know that's not it. I know that, as a senator, McDaniel would have voted to put the full faith and credit of America at risk by opposing a debt ceiling increase. I know he'd have sought to eviscerate the social safety net even more than the typical Republican. I know he would have been a vote to convict if the House impeaches President Obama (but won't all Republicans vote to convict?). I know he'd have pursued show trials like Darrell Issa and obstructionism like Ted Cruz.

But I also know he's a loose-tongued bigot who, between now and November, had the potential to be this year's Todd Akin. Even if Democrat Travis Childers couldn't have beaten McDaniel in Mississippi -- though one early poll said the race would have been close -- McDaniel could have been a liability to the GOP in other races. Why should Democrats have saved the GOP from him?

And maybe Cochran will keep federal cash flowing to Mississippi, but why should Democrats and progressives elsewhere in America be happy about that? Mississippi is the #1 "taker" state in America, getting $3.07 for every dollar it pays in federal income taxes -- and yet it's full of voters who think blue states and Democratic voters are the real parasites. The preservation of that status quo is supposed to make me feel good?

Cochran's win helps quell talk of a newly resurgent tea party and returns us to a state of affairs in which political insiders can prattle on again about how nice and reasonable and cuddly the GOP is and how Democrats could get things done via compromise with the GOP if they'd only lead harder. Ron Fournier must be in heaven.

Not me. Chris McDaniel was a Frankenstein monster Republicans created. They should have had to own him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Another True Patriot speaks:
An Arkansas Republican party official is using colorful language to warn Hillary Clinton about her future political prospects in her adopted home state.

Asked how Clinton would fare in Arkansas if she pursued the presidency in 2016, 2nd Congressional District chairman Johnny Rhoda told U.S. News, "She'd probably get shot at the state line."

When a reporter noted that Clinton undoubtedly enjoys a measurable amount of support in a state where her husband served as governor, Rhoda replied, "Nobody has any affection for her. The majority don't."
This charming fellow isn't just a local GOP chairman -- he's also the pastor and founder of the World and Faith Christian Church in (yes) Clinton, Arkansas. The church's website is here.

I'm not sure services still take place in the same building Ernest Dumas wrote about in this 2010 Arkansas Times story:
The church happens to be in Rhoda's home on a county road north of Clinton. Such were his business successes that the local bank foreclosed on his home/church because he had not made mortgage payments. The home/church was auctioned by the county clerk in July but Rhoda still holds services there. (He will also ordain you as a minister, for a small fee presumably, if you answer 25 questions about the Bible on his spiritual website.)
That offer doesn't appear on the site now, although Dumas tells us that Pastor Rhoda is quite a believer in cash-and-carry credentials:
What are the chances that a little town of 2,300 would produce two scholars with Ph.D.s from a university in the Islamic kingdom of the United Arab Emirates?

That's exactly what we learned last week. Clinton, county seat of Van Buren County, boasts two residents with Ph.D.s from Belford University: Dr. Johnny Rhoda, a financial planner, preacher and prominent Republican Party leader, and Dr. Maxwell Sniffingwell, a stud English bulldog who lives with a local veterinarian.

Dr. Rhoda's doctorate is in business administration; Dr. Sniffingwell's is in theriogenology, a big name for the study of animal reproduction. You see, Belford University confers hundreds of degrees every year, not on the basis of coursework but of life experiences. Max Sniffingwell maintains that he has sired far more than his share of little bulldogs....

Belford University's sole presence in the United States, as far as anyone knows, is a postoffice box in Humble, Texas. You apply for a degree on the Internet by clicking on a box that says "Order Now." You pay a fee, depending on the degree you want and whether you want to graduate with honors, which costs an extra $75. The diploma is mailed within a week from a place where it is legal, Abu Dhabi.

Belford U. got extra notoriety this week when Dr. Ben Mays, a Clinton veterinarian, posted his bulldog Maxwell Sniffingwell's 2009 Ph.D. from Belford U., which cost him $549. Max's owner, a member of the state Board of Education, is on a small crusade to stop people from duping clients by advertising phony academic achievements. Arkansas is one of the places where it is still legal to gull clients that way....
And the one non-canine gull-ee in Clinton, Arkansas, is the upstanding citizen who made that statement about Hillary (which, predictably, he now says was "taken way out of context").

(Belford University even sells medical degrees, by the way -- this 2009 ABC story talks about a New Jersey woman who got one for her "life experiences" for $1400.)

As for the threat, it's nothing new for the Clintons, who went through this twenty years ago:
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) set off a bipartisan tempest Tuesday by warning that President Clinton had "better watch out" for his safety if he travels to military bases in North Carolina....

In an interview published Tuesday morning in the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer, the 73-year-old conservative asserted that Clinton is extremely unpopular among armed forces personnel stationed at the six military bases in his home state.

"Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here," the newspaper quoted Helms as saying. "He'd better have a bodyguard."
Pastor Rhoda didn't really apologize today, and that's just like old times for the Clintons, too, because Jesse Helms wasn't particularly abashed back in '94:
After GOP leaders delicately distanced themselves from Helms' provocative remarks and Democrats loudly demanded an apology, the fiercely combative lawmaker, who is in line to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, conceded that his comments had been "a mistake."

But he stopped well short of a genuine apology. "Of course, I didn't expect to be taken literally," he said in a prepared statement.
Oh, I'm sure.

Yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf defended George Will's recent column on sexual assault. Friedersdorf's defense came in the form of a lengthy blog post (3,052 words) -- but, of course, all of Friedersdorf's blog posts are lengthy; the guy must need custom-made extra-large Post-its just to leave himself reminders to take out the garbage.

In all that prose, however, Friedersdorf never comes to grips with what was most offensive about Will's column: that Will said being a rape victim has its privileges on college campuses. And no, Conor is wrong when he insists -- more than once -- that that's a misreading of Will.

Here's how the Will column begins:
Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous ("micro-aggressions," often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.
Here's Friedersdorf:
That isn't the best beginning for a man whose prose is crystalline at its best. It's more difficult than it should be to discern that Will is distinguishing "the status of victimhood" from actual victimhood. When he says that colleges are causing "victims" to proliferate, he is referring to a category of people who he doesn't regard as actual victims but who have either declared themselves to be victims or have been declared victims by others within the subculture of elite academia.

The distinction is core to the column and consistent throughout.
But Will isn't making that careful category distinction. Will says flatly that campuses "make victimhood a coveted status" -- not some victimhood, but all victimhood. Therefore, according to Will, all who are deemed victims of sexual assault on campus attain that "coveted status," including those whose sexual assaults Will wouldn't question. Isn't that offensive enough?

It's laughable that Friedersdorf considers Will's prose "crystalline at its best" -- like the late William F. Buckley, Will uses ten-dollar words and a pseudo-Victorian prose style to bamboozle readers into thinking that they're probably not smart enough to challenge him -- but his prose is clear here: he's saying you gain a privilege on campus if you assert that you've been sexually assaulted. He doesn't sort the attainers of this status into the deserving and the undeserving. He says they all achieve "a coveted status."

Friedersdorf writes:
Will is not talking to rape victims and saying, "Boy, are you guys lucky." Will's argument is that perceived victimhood of all sorts confers a coveted status on college campuses. In context, it is clear that Will only finds this unseemly in cases where the status afforded to victims winds up generating fake victims.
No, that's not clear at all. To me, Will seems to be saying that this is an example of a perversely leftist tendency to transform victims into heroes -- and the consequence is that the undeserving seek out victim/hero status. I can find nothing in the column to contract contradict that reading.


Friedersdorf also defends this Will sentence:
Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses -- by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations -- brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates.
Think Progress's Judd Legum wrote that Will "suggested that women claiming to be raped were 'delusional.'"

Friedersdorf says that Will "does not suggest that women claiming to be raped were delusional -- he suggests attempts to create a victim-free campus makes everyone hypersensitive or 'delusional' about victimizations."

Yes, but if Will says that the horrible liberal culture makes "everyone ... delusional, about victimizations" then "everyone" surely must include those who claim to be sexual assault victims -- many of whom Will thinks are phonies. Therefore, yes, he absolutely is "suggest[ing] that women claiming to be raped were 'delusional,'" just as Legum claims.


So what else is bothering Friedersdorf about all this? Well, the fact that the millionaire pundit has been dropped by a grand total of one newspaper for this column:
The perverse effect will be a broadened subset of cautious pundits who are less likely to write about rape or sexual assault at all (especially at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch!). Totally ignoring rape won't ever get a person fired. Writing about it might, especially if one's words aren't reliably conveyed. Public discourse is undermined by people whose focus is drawing red cards on their opponents.
Omigod! We've found the real victim here -- the marketplace! Now there's less of a free market for dickish opinion-mongering about rape! Liberal fascists!

Ayn Rand wept.

More tone-deafness from the Clintons? Yes, but....
Hillary Clinton insists she isn't "well-off" and now daughter Chelsea, according to a recent interview, claims she couldn't care less about money.

"I was curious if I could care about (money) on some fundamental level, and I couldn't," she told Fast Company in an interview that ran in the magazine's May edition, explaining why she gave up lucrative gigs to join her family's philanthropic foundation....
Look, Chelsea is clearly going to be involved in the campaign if her mother runs for president, so she needs to weigh every word. In this case, she didn't.

On the other hand, she didn't mean what the haters want you to believe she meant. Here's the Fast Company story:
... For a decade after graduating from Stanford in 2001, Chelsea experimented with the world beyond the Clinton machine. In peripatetic bursts, she tried out international relations, then management consulting, then Wall Street, then a PhD. She even signed on for (an embarrassingly lightweight) gig as an NBC News "special correspondent." ... And now, finally, she has decided to join the Clinton family business. As vice chair of the recently rebranded Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, she is helping one of the world's most notable philanthropies grow up....

"It is frustrating, because who wants to grow up and follow their parents?" admits Chelsea. "I've tried really hard to care about things that were very different from my parents. I was curious if I could care about [money] on some fundamental level, and I couldn't. That wasn't the metric of success that I wanted in my life. I've talked about this to my friends who are doctors and whose parents are doctors, or who are lawyers and their parents are lawyers. It's a funny thing to realize I feel called to this work both as a daughter--proudly as a daughter--and also as someone who believes that I have contributions to make."
In other words, she tried to care about working in the money business and she couldn't. Not the same thing as airily suggesting that she doesn't care about money.

So: a failure to weigh words painstakingly, nothing more. And now you're going to tell me I should stop defending these people, and I'm going to tell you that you need to find another candidate who can make it to the general election and beat the Republicans. Rinse and repeat.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Just spotted this on Twitter a little while ago:

Tea party favorite Chris McDaniel is trying to knock off incumbent Thad Cochran in the Mississippi GOP Senate primary. At least one poll shows McDaniel winning handily -- and, Mississippi being Mississippi, McDaniel is likely to win the election if he wins the Republican primary. So who's this Wayne Allyn Root guy who's speaking ay a McDaniel rally?

I've written about Root before -- he's a former sports handicapper, broadcaster, and libertarian political candidate who attended Columbia University at the same time as Barack Obama and argues that there's something suspicious about Obama's time at Columbia, something that reveals anti-white bias in society:
Matt Welch: So tell us what we should know about Barack Obama that we don't?

Wayne Allyn Root: I think the most dangerous thing you should know about Barack Obama is that I don't know a single person at Columbia that knows him, and they all know me. I don't have a classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia. Ever! ...

Welch: Were you the exact same class?

Root: Class of '83 political science, pre-law Columbia University. You don't get more exact than that. Never met him in my life, don't know anyone who ever met him. At the class reunion, our 20th reunion five years ago, 20th reunion, who was asked to be the speaker of the class? Me. No one ever heard of Barack! Who was he, and five years ago, nobody even knew who he was....

Welch: That's peculiar! Do you have any theories?

Root: ... I'm pretty sure I know the answer. He had a lower average than me and he got into Harvard and I didn't.

And so my answer is, has America really been unfair to minorities? No it hasn't. It was unfair to me. A white butcher's kid, whose father had no money, but nobody gave me a break. And do I have a chip on my shoulder? You're damn right I do. And I represent millions and millions of poor people in this country who weren't lucky enough to be poor and black, they were unlucky enough to be poor and white, and they can't get into Harvard. So maybe that country Barack's fighting for, he's got the wrong country here....
Root later elaborated on this:
If you could unseal Obama's Columbia University records I believe you'd find that:

A) He rarely ever attended class.
B) His grades were not those typical of what we understand it takes to get into Harvard Law School.
C) He attended Columbia as a foreign exchange student.
D) He paid little for either undergraduate college or Harvard Law School because of foreign aid and scholarships given to a poor foreign students like this kid Barry Soetoro from Indonesia.

If you think I'm "fishing" then prove me wrong. Open up your records Mr. President. What are you afraid of?
Not that it's any surprise that a teabagger candidate would consort with a guy like this. Oh, but Root is a Fox News regular, so I guess that makes him respectable.

A new New York Times/CBS poll says that only 42% of Americans think the U.S. has a responsibility to get involved in Iraq. Only 29% think President Obama should do more, and a majority think that what's going on in Iraq will have no impact on terrorism against the United States, or will actually cause terrorism here to decrease.

Guess which political group is on the hawkish/terrorized side on each of these three questions? Go on, take a guess!

Folks like Conor Friedersdorf and Ross Douthat keep telling us that Republicans really, really might nominate Rand Paul in 2016 and go after Hillary Clinton from the left on foreign policy.

Er, no, I don't think so. The party of war is still the party of war.

There isn't a huge difference on the "responsibility" question, but I think that's because a lot of Democrats are expressing loyalty to the president, who's taking some responsibility. The difference on the other two questions is huge. You'd expect Democrats and Republicans to split on the "do more" question, but Republicans are all alone -- independents aren't pounding the war drums. And it's Republicans far more than others who are feeling that delicious frisson of absolute terrorist fear. (They love that feeling of fear because it justifies the belief that their enemy is pure evil, which they love even more.)

As it is, Rand Paul is seriously damaging his chances for the Republican nomination by saying inadequately hard-line things about immigration; Cantor-killer Laura Ingraham has been calling him on this. Paul is definitely not going to be the nominee if he continues to be an apostate on both of these issues. He's much more likely to be the Giuliani of 2016, with war and immigration as his abortion and gay rights.

This New Republic piece by Danny Vinik is accompanied by a big picture of Hillary Clinton and has the clickbait title "Hillary Clinton's Biggest Vulnerability: Her Economic Agenda," but it's really about what a terrible liability the Democratic economic agenda could be in 2016 regardless of who the Democratic nominee is -- and it's an utter crock:
Amid all the midterm hoopla over Benghazi, the IRS and Veterans Affairs scandals, and Obamacare, it's easy to forget that presidential elections are mostly defined by the economy. Even today, Americans' top priority is the economy and that's unlikely to change by 2016. For Democrats, that's a problem. They have several smart ideas to help the economy fully recover from the Great Recession, but as we enter the latter half of Barack Obama's second term, the public increasingly blames him and his party for the weak recovery....

Herein lies the problem for Democrats: They have an economic agenda that would help return the economy to full employment.... But those ideas have lost their political salience, because of their supposed lack of success in the Obama era.
Yes, and obviously the Republicans are going to run against Clinton (or Biden or O'Malley or Warren or Sanders) with the message that we've had eight years of failed economic policies and it's time for a change. But they're also going to run specifically opposing wildly popular policies: raising the minimum wage (71%-28% favorability according to a May CNN poll), paid family leave (which 86% of Americans support; Hillary thinks it's politically difficult right now, but she backs it), and job creation and infrastructure spending programs (77% and 75% support respectively, according to Gallup in 2013).

Vinik warns that Republican ideas might look awfully good to voters:
In contrast, Republicans will have a policy agenda that seems substantial and is untested. Whoever the GOP nominee is for 2016, their economic platform will almost certainly contain spending and tax cuts along with a deregulatory plan -- the same policies they have supported throughout the Obama presidency. As the minority party, the GOP does not need to change that platform, and it might just appeal to voters if Democrats can't find a better way to sell their economic ideas.
Right --and these are the same policies that have lost Republicans the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections: tax cuts that will almost certainly be skewed toward the rich, along with deregulatory schemes that warm the hearts of Fox viewers and attendees at Koch confabs but have absolutely no kitchen-table appeal otherwise. The next GOP nominee may not come off as a new Mitt Romney personally, but he's going to have a set of economic positions that's 100% Romney. Sure, talk of spending and the debt will connect with a lot of centrist voters, but we're going to have the same economic debate we have every four years -- and even though it's always a close contest, Democrats win that every four years.

I agree that after eight economically woeful years, Republicans ought to be able to find an opening. But they've lost the ability even to fake empathy with ordinary citizens -- they don't think you're a real American unless you own a small business and they've drunk so much Randian Kool-Aid that many of them are afraid even to say that a minimal safety net should exist. Remember, the 2016 Republican nominee may not even be willing to say that America should have a minimum wage. (Marco Rubio in 2013: "I don’t think a minimum wage law works." Also see Rand Paul.)

Vinik is wrong. Economics is the biggest vulnerability for Republicans in 2016.


Oh, and here's my point made in visual form. The numbers are from a March Abc/Washington Post poll (PDF):

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Is Hillary Clinton saying tone-deaf things about wealth that could cause her political problems? Yes.

Is the fact that she's well off a political problem for her? No.

Yes, this a gaffe:
Clinton responded to criticism of her wealth in an interview with the Guardian newspaper published Saturday night by suggesting Americans won't be concerned about the more than $100 million her family has reportedly earned in recent years because they're not "truly well off."

"They don't see me as part of the problem," Clinton said of Americans who are upset about income inequality, adding, "Because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work."
That's not politcally savvy, and it wasn't smart to say the Clintons were "dead broke" when Bill left office, even though the couple was in debt. (The debt was recouped quickly, thanks to book royalties and speaking fees.)

But if these remarks are jarring, this is utterly ridiculous:
Some influential Democrats -- including former advisers to President Obama -- said in interviews last week they fear that Clinton's personal wealth and rarefied, cloistered lifestyle could jeopardize the Democratic Party's historic edge with the middle class that powered Obama's wins.

"I don't know whether it's just that she's been 'Madam Secretary' for so long, but she's generating an imperial image," said Dick Harpootlian, who recently stepped down as Democratic Party chairman in South Carolina, which hosts an early presidential primary.

Harpootlian, who backed Obama over Clinton in 2008 and is a longtime ally of Vice President Biden, added: "She's been living 30, going on 40 years with somebody bringing your coffee to you every morning. Is it more 'Downton Abbey' than it is America?"
OK, stop. Who are the most beloved Democratic presidents? Let's look at Gallup's presidential popularity list from 2011:

Top Democrat on the list? Um ... Bill Clinton, who wasn't noticeably poorer in 2011 than he is now. Hillary, of course, was "Madam Secretary" then. She was accompanied by those coffee-fetchers -- and was extraordinarily popular.

Who are the next two Democrats on the list? Er ... JFK and FDR. As I recall, their wealth was a tad higher than the national median.

Look, if you're earning six figures -- as the wives of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were before they became president -- you're already out of most ordinary Americans' league. And most Americans don't let that bother them, much less the fact that most pols are truly wealthy. It's just the way things work.

If you want to run for president, you have to seem as if you understand what it's like to be an ordinary American -- but voters don't expect you to be an ordinary American.

Yes, Hillary has to stop talking like this. But she doesn't have to don sackcloth and ashes. Both her husband and President Obama have made a habit of saying taxes should be raised on wealthy people like themselves. Hillary should do the same -- and I suspect she will. Meanwhile, she needs to watch the gaffes.

As I expected, the New York Post is pulling out all the stops to promote Edward Klein's new book, Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas -- here's one excerpt in the Post on the general outlines of the alleged feud between the two First Couples, and here's another excerpt on Benghazi. Meanwhile, over at Fox Nation, the first Post excerpt is the lead item. (As I said on Friday, wingnut bootlicker Mark Halperin was wasting his time chiding the mainstream press for ignoring Klein's books -- they get all the publicity they need from Murdoch.)

So what's in the excerpts? What Klein seems to have written is a bad pulp novel, disguised as non-fiction, made up exclusively of right-wing gossip, right-wing talking points, and right-wing punch lines. For instance, we "learn" from the main Post excerpt that a typical quiet evening at home for Michelle Obama is spent in the company of one special friend:
On most evenings, Michelle Obama and her trusted adviser, Valerie Jarrett, met in a quiet corner of the White House residence. They'd usually open a bottle of Chardonnay, catch up on news about Sasha and Malia, and gossip about people who gave them heartburn.
Yes, Valerie Jarrett -- History's Greatest Monster, the supposed Svengali whose alleged evil influence on the president is the subject of sinister speculation on the right. Valerie Jarrett said "we" (the "royal 'we'"!) in reference to the White House! Valerie Jarrett's father-in-law was a big commie! The preident has a "strange dependence" on Valerie Jarrett!

And what do Michelle and this female Antichrist chat about on those quiet evenings?
Their favorite bete noire was Hillary Clinton, whom they nicknamed "Hildebeest," after the menacing and shaggy-maned gnu that roams the Serengeti.
Right -- the Chicago Democrats just so happen to use an infantile slur that gained currency on right-wing message boards back in the 1990s. (The earliest example I can find is comment #21 in this 1996 Free Republic thread, though I'm sure the nasty nickname is older than that.) Do you really think the Obamas and Valerie Jarrett live in a world where that's a familiar expression? I don't -- but I think it's a very familiar expression in the world of Edward Klein.

Beyond that, what we "learn" from Klein is that the Clintons and Obamas are so consumed with mutual hate that they can't resist needling one another when they're together, and they're so indiscreet and impolitic that they follow-up with trash talk to (anonymous) friends -- who, in turn, report the trash-talking to Edward Klein, as in this account of a golf-course chat between the two presidents:
"Bill got into it right away," said a Clinton family friend. "He told Obama, 'Hillary and I are gearing up for a run in 2016.' He said Hillary would be 'the most qualified, most experienced candidate, perhaps in history.' His reference to Hillary's experience made Obama wince, since it was clearly a shot at his lack of experience when he ran for president.

"And so Bill continued to talk about Hillary's qualifications . . . and the coming campaign in 2016. But Barack didn't bite. He changed the subject several times. Then suddenly, Barack said something that took Bill by complete surprise. He said, 'You know, Michelle would make a great presidential candidate, too.'

"Bill was speechless. Was Barack comparing Michelle's qualifications to Hillary's? Bill said that if he hadn't been on a mission to strike a deal with Barack, he might have stormed off the golf course then and there."
Is there tension between the Clintons and Obamas? I can believe that there's some. Do they actually talk like this when they're together, as if they embody circa-2008 right-wing caricatures of themselves? You'd have to be a wingnut to believe that.

The only surprising thing about what Klein writes is that the Benghazi excerpt depicts Obama as the main driver of what every right-winger regards as the most consequential and disastrous foreign policy decision in U.S. history -- the decision to ascribe motivation for the Benghazi attack to that YouTube video. What?! That wasn't the Hildebeest's doing? Oh, but if Hillary isn't guilty of the crime, she's at least guilty of the cover-up:
"Hillary was stunned when she heard the president talk about the Benghazi attack," one of her top legal advisers said in an interview. "Obama wanted her to say that the attack had been a spontaneous demonstration triggered by an obscure video on the Internet that demeaned the Prophet Mohammed."
(Klein's dialogue is always plausibly conversational.)
...After her conversation with the president, Hillary called Bill Clinton, who was at his penthouse apartment in the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, and told him what Obama wanted her to do.

"I'm sick about it," she said, according to the legal adviser, who was filled in on the conversation.

"That story won't hold up," Bill said.

"I know," Hillary said. "I told the president that."

... Hillary's legal adviser provided further detail:

"During their phone call, Bill started playing with various doomsday scenarios, up to and including the idea that Hillary consider resigning as secretary of state over the issue. But both he and Hillary quickly agreed that resigning wasn't a realistic option. If her resignation hurt Obama's chances of winning re-election, her fellow Democrats would never forgive her. Hillary was already thinking of running for president in 2016, and her political future, as well as Obama's, hung in the balance."
In the epistemically closed world of the right, invoking the video was the worst crime any administration has ever committed in the history of the Republic. In Klein's fan fiction, therefore, it's what most concerns the secretary of state after four Americans die.

Klein isn't even making a serious effort to persuade any sensible person that this is journalism. But he doesn't need sensible readers. The rubes will eat this up.