Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Two More Notches In Romney's Belt As He Stumbles On To Super Tuesday

Never mind that Mitt Romney won the Michigan Republican presidential primary yesterday by the hair of his chinny chin chin. If he is the eventual nominee he has no chance of carrying the state where his father was a beloved governor. This because this favorite son has managed to alienate auto executives as well as assembly line workers because of his opposition to the auto industry bailout and pathetic attempts to rationalize it.
As it is, Romney finds himself in dire straits although he once had the most money and has the best campaign organization. This is for two reasons: He is the ultimate empty suit who played the expectations game far too long and he is being nibbled to death by Rick Santorum, a sanctimonious demagogue who acts like he is running for Pope and stands even less of a chance of prevailing in November than he does.
Oh, yeah, Romney also won in Arizona yesterday.
Is there anything that Romney hasn't flip-flopped on?

He decried efforts by Democrats and Santorum to get Democrats to vote in Michigan's open primary as "a new low," but that is exactly what he did in the 1990s in Massachusetts in voting as a Republican in a Democratic presidential primary.

Michigan has no voter registration and voters could request a Republican or Democratic ballot. Voting booths were open only to Republicans, but party rules allow anyone to declare themselves a Republican on the spot — temporarily — and then vote.

From all indications, the efforts in Michigan to undermine Romney did not bring Santorum a substantial number of votes, let alone may a difference.


People like Romney, of course, live in a world where money is how you keep score, as one pundit put it, and by that standard he is a huge winner. But you would think he would be a little more modest when he climbs onto the soapbox.

Yet the real Mitt keeps saying stuff in Tourette's Syndrome-like outbursts that remind us of his wealth and privilege. In the run-up to the Michigan vote he stepped in it twice, first when was asked whether he follows NASCAR, to which he responded, "“Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”

And then for good measure actually bragged at another appearance that his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs," this in a state where nearly one in 10 workers are unemployed.


It is hard to imagine the vituperation among the Republican presidential wannabes getting worse, but they have the better part of a week to prove me wrong as they hop-scotch across the country campaigning for the Super Tuesday primaries on March 6.

The name calling has resulted in an unprecedented level of public scolding from GOP bigs ranging from Maine Governor Paul LePage , who told a meeting of his fellow governors that the primary season has been “too messy” for any of the candidates to enter the fall campaign on a strong footing and urged his party to pick a “fresh face” at the Tampa convention this summer, to Jeb Bush, who says he has found the campaigning "a little troubling" because the candidates are appealing to voters' emotions rather than more overarching political concerns.

"I used to be a conservative and I watch these debates and I'm wondering, I don't think I've changed, but it's a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective and that's kind of where we are," Bush said.


Bush is considered by some Republicans to be the last best hope to derail President Obama although he has repeatedly said he would not accept a convention draft.

This is just fine with Ann Coulter, who says that "I think on closer examination, Jeb Bush would be the worst of all candidates to run, for one thing. We don't need another Bush. That would be embarrassing to the Republican Party.


Even with Santorum's second-place finish in Michigan, the campaigning is far from over.

Polls in forthcoming Super Tuesday states show that Romney is ahead in Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia, Santorum is ahead Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee, and Newt Gingrich (remember him?) ahead in his native Georgia.

A split will insure that the campaign slogs on indefinitely.

Cartoon by KAL/The Economist

Saturday, February 25, 2012

For Romney, There's Nowhere To Go But Down. Then There's The Convention.

The latest Republican-centric Rasmussen nightly tracking poll is out and it's bad news for the struggling Mitt Romney: For the first time, he dropped below 40 percent against President Obama despite a strong performance in the Arizona presidential debate.

Rasmussen tracked the incumbent at 49 percent while Romney got 39 percent, and if the pattern of tit-for-tat primary victories -- with Romney taking one or two and then Rick Santorum taking two or three -- continues, the likelihood of neither candidate having the requisite 1,245 delegates to secure the nomination in Tampa grows.

This, of course, raises the exquisite prospect of a brokered convention, but Republican Party elders who are desperate for a Romney-Obama face-off must surely realized that the GOP has been turned on its ear since the last brokered convention in 1976 when party deal makers sealed the nomination for President Ford over an up-and-comer by the name of Ronald Reagan.

That was when party leaders in the form of monied conservatives, state chairman, governors and influential congressfolk had the clout to broker the outcome, but in acceding to a toxic cocktail of Christianists and Tea Partiers in recent years in the service of short-term electoral gains, they also acceded power, which in the GOP is now pretty much from the bottom up and not the top down.
Long story short, the people with torches and pitchforks do not take orders from party elders.

This is very bad news for Romney and very good news for Santorum since the former Massachusetts governor is anathema to the new party base and the former senator from Pennsylvania is a far better fit even though only Romney has a chance of beating President Obama.

As Dick Polman writes at NewsWorks:

"Elected leaders used to have a lot of sway when the chips were down. But who, down at the grassroots, is going to take direction from John Boehner? Or Mitch McConnell? Or the Bush family? Or any of the governors (Chris Christie, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels) who have already fled center stage in 2012? None of them can speak for the party, much less knock heads together.

"Maybe Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is a pillar of a new kind of establishment. Or Sean Hannity. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or radio host Mark Levin. Or Karl Rove, assuming he has sufficiently distanced himself from the wreckage of the Bush administration he brought to power. But none of those people are brokers, in the traditional sense. They are agitators, not conciliators. If the GOP winds up this summer with a nominee who can't unite the party -- or no nominee, mathematically speaking -- those people are likely to gin up the frenzy, not staunch it by seeking a solution."

Political scientist Larry Sabato offers a compelling alternative: If no candidate wins a delegate majority, the brokers may well be the candidates themselves. Writes Sabato:

"Their delegates are bound for at least one ballot, and most are personally loyal to the candidate and may follow his lead for multiple ballots, if it comes to that. Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul will have slogged through all 50 states by convention time. Why would they permit someone who slept in his own bed and had regular meals for the past year to swoop in and take the big prize? More likely, perhaps through trusted intermediaries, the four contenders would negotiate a solution — a ticket, platform and prime-time speech schedule."

The alternative, Sabato notes, is chaos, and that would be disastrous after a lengthy primary season that has been the very definition of chaotic.

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal News Syndicate

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Supremes: Those Wild & Crazy Lads In The Black Bathrobes Are At It Again

The Warren and Roberts Supreme Courts bookend my life. The court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren from 1953 to 1969, expanded civil rights, civil liberties and federal power in dramatic ways, while the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts beginning in 2005 has inhibited civil rights and civil liberties and expanded the power of the court to make law and cast law aside when it doesn't meet its political criteria.

Chief among the laws it has cast aside is that limiting political contributions in the 2010 Citizens United case, which without question is the worst high court ruling since the Dred Scott outrage in 1857. That's a lot of years and a lot of rulings, and in some respects the Warren court was as liberal as the Roberts court is conservative, but the Warren court was judicious (pun intended) in conferring and ruling on civil liberties while the Citizen's United decision, in which a majority of justices ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals, was a highjacking.

Six years on, the Roberts court could hijack again in ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, but there are indications that it is going slow. Some five and a half hours of oral arguments were originally scheduled for March, but the time allotted has been bumped up to six hours with the extra half hour devoted to whether the Anti-Injunction Act may apply.

This federal statute, promulgated in 1793. states that courts may not halt a tax that hasn't yet been collected, and a tax written into the Affordable Care Act as part of its mandate provision won't be collected until 2014.

If you are a fan of ObamaCare, celebrating would be premature.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit last fall against the mandate on this basis and most courts have stated that the statute doesn’t apply. The Obama administration agrees but argues that the mandate provision functions more as a penalty than a revenue-raising tax.

Some observers have noted that this might just be the high court doing its due diligence, while others say that Roberts may not want a ruling to become an election year issue. I happen to think that the court does due diligence only when it has a particular need to cover its ass, while Roberts and his conservative posse -- Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas -- are far less influenced by public opinion than was the previous court led by Chief Justice John Rehnquist.

This was on offer last week when the court had an opportunity to reconsider Citizens United in light of a Montana state court ruling that upheld a state campaign finance law passed as a result of the political corruption that is rife in that state.

A striking difference between the Montana law and Citizens United decision is that the law was upheld by the state court after a review of political corruption while Citizens United was conjured out of thin air with no evidentiary record whatsoever.

And without question will lead to corruption in the form of corporations and wealthy individuals influencing the outcome of elections -- including the ongoing Republican presidential cage match.

Cartoon du Jour

Jeff Danziger/New York Times News Syndicate

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Musings On A Nightmare Scenario: The Likelihood Of Israeli Strikes Against Iran

There is one scenario that I and others are not taking into account in predicting that President Obama will win -- and possibly win in a landslide -- in November: An Israeli air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities that would plunge the Middle East into war and rupture relations between Washington and Jerusalem.

Such a strike is a distinct possibility, according to an unimpeachable source: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has acknowledged that he was the source for a column earlier this month by David Ignatius of The Washington Post, who reiterated this last Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show that a "timetable exists, and I know nothing that's changed."

That timetable, according to what Panetta told Ignatius, is April, May or June -- before Iran enters what Israelis describe as a "zone of immunity" to commence building a nuclear bomb.

"Let me just say, Leon Panetta is somebody who clearly thinks that it would be a mistake from Israel’s standpoint and from the standpoint of the security interests of the United States for this [attack] to go forward" Ignatius said this morning, "and he has said that very directly to Israelis. My column certainly expressed that, and I think he feels that’s his job. He’s got to tell people what he thinks."

Obama has navigated the minefields of international diplomacy with a deftness that escaped the Bush administration and has taken the lead calling for tougher international sanctions on Iran that have further crippled its ailing economy and squeezed its restive middle class. But all bets on an Obama win in November would be off because of the unpredictable ripple effects from an air strike -- which three of the four Republican presidential candidates have said they would support. These effects include terror attacks on the American homeland.

Sadly, the Israeli government is crazy enough to carry out airstrikes on the Islamic republic without U.S. support.

Never mind that Israel's own nuclear weapons program is an open secret. Iran does pose a threat to the Jewish state that the bellicose Netanyahu government believes sanctions alone will not mitigate.

There are perhaps two dozen suspected nuclear facilities in Iran, as well as warhead and missile plants. The 1000-megawatt nuclear plant Bushehr would likely be the target of strikes, and by some estimates which are disputed by some Iran experts, the spent fuel from this facility would be capable of producing 50 to 75 bombs. Also, the suspected nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak will likely be targets of an air attack.

It would not be the first time that Israel has targeted countries that it believed threatened it.

On June 7, 1981, Israel launched Operation Opera, a surprise air strike on a nuclear reaction under construction about 10 miles southeast of Baghdad. Iraq had purchased the reaction from France and both countries asserted it would be used for peaceful purposes, but Israel viewed it with suspicion and asserted the air strike was an act of self defense. Ten Iraqi soldiers and a French civilian were killed. The reactor, which Israel said would become operational in about a month was destroyed. It probably was not a coincidence that the strike occurred three weeks before elections for the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Iran, with the cooperation of Israel had launched an air strike on the reactor at the outset of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, while Iran allowed an Israeli Air Force F-15 involved in Operation Opera to enter its airspace and make an emergency landing.

On October 1, 1985, Israel launched an air strike on the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Hammam al-Shatt, Tunisia, in all likelihood with U.S. cooperation. The headquarters was completely destroyed, although PLO head Yasser Arafat was not there at the time. Israel claimed that 60 PLO members were killed. According to other sources, 56 Palestinians and 15 Tunisians were killed and about 100 wounded.

Under a worst-case scenario, the air strikes against Iran would commence when Netanyahu ordered perhaps 100 Israeli F-15s and F-16s to fly east toward that country, possibly by violating Saudi Arabian or Iraqi air space or threading the boarder between Syria and Turkey. The region is thick with U.S. warplanes but in all likelihood the U.S. Central Command, on instructions from the White House, would not order them intercepted and shot down.

This is what would happen in the following days:

* Iran's centrifuges, warhead and missile plants would be destroyed or perhaps the nuclear program merely delayed.

* There would be lethal reprisals against Israel lthough Iran's air force is not particularly strong and its navy is puny.

* The price of oil would spike.

* Communities across the Jewish diaspora, including in the U.S., would be put in danger from Iranian-sponsored terror attacks like recent attacks in India and Thailand.

* Relations between Jerusalem and Washington would end, leaving Israel only marginally safer and without the support of its largest benefactor.

Illustration from The Atlantic

Cartoon du Jour

Jeff Danziger/New York Times News Syndicate

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Review: Charyn's 'Johnny One-Eye': A Rum Tale Of The American Revolution

(Republished on the occasion of the great man's 280th birthday)
There has been a tsunami of books about George Washington in recent years, but none has captured a man whose birthday we once celebrated today with such wit and charm than Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution.

No matter that Jerome Charyn's account of Manhattan Island during the Revolutionary War, save for the broad historical overlay and the deeds of the familiar figures, is apocryphal from start to finish. It is a
hoot. Or as the Brits might say, a rum tale.

Johnny Stocking, an orphan who was reared in a brothel a
nd lost an eye during Benedict Arnold's raid on Quebec in 1775, is a man of two nations: He joins up with traitor-to-be Arnold as a secret agent for the British but is drawn back to the American side when he learns that Washington, who is tortured by his love for Gertrude Jennings, the brothel's madam and is or is not Johnny's mother, may be his father.

It seems at times that Johnny is the only person keeping the
Revolutionary Army from losing its hold on the tumultuous island because of the machinations of the Howe brothers, Sir William of the British Army and Lord Admiral Richard of the Navy, while in between intrigues he pursues his true love, the exotic octoroon prostitute Clara from Dominica.

Gertrude and Clara also are spies with split loyalties, and much of Johnny One-Eye's fast moving plot concerns the secret services of both sides in the seven-year war for control of Manhattan, but Charyn keeps returning to Washington, whom he portrays as loving Clara, peas by the plateful and the card game vingt-et-un (blackjack).

Writes Charyn of the man whom the British referred to as the "farmer-in-chief":

"[In 1780] he was near fifty, and he'd had to cobble together an army for the past five and a half years, provide it with shoes, survive the cabals of congressmen and carping generals under his own command. 'T was Washington who fed the army, clothed it, fought the battles, ran his own stable of spies. Congress was bankrupt. Washington could not pay his soldiers. Some officers had already rebelled. But still he cobbled. His critics could not comprehend this. He was larger than their contradictions, relentless in his desire that the army not melt away, and with it the nation itself."

While some readers might have trouble sorting out the fact from the fiction, my only complaint is that at 448 pages, Johnny One-Eye is too long by perhaps a third.

No matter, it is a delight. And I bought my slightly used copy from Amazon for a mere buck and a half.

Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

Cartoon du Jour

Michael Ramirez/Investors Business Daily

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

That Hard Right Turn Is Why Dewey Will Not Be Defeating Truman This Year

You have to go all the way back to 1948 to find an instance where a political party's strategy is predicated on a president being so weak that the voters can pretty much be ignored. That's what the Republicans did in 1948 only to see Harry Truman get re-elected and that's what they have been doing over the past two years only to see Barack Obama take a healthy lead in national horse race and popularity polls.

That is the conclusion of David Frum (minus the 1948 connection) and there is perhaps no more authoritative commentator today on the parlous state of the Republican Party. Frum, a former George W. Bush administration speechwriter, has the values of the Big Tent GOP of yore and for that reason was banished from the temple. Oh, and because he voiced alarm over the party's rush to the racist right and fawning embrace of the Christianist-Tea Party jihad and its political purity tests.

Obama's rebound is helped considerably by the clown car of Republican presidential wannabes.

If you just came out of a months long coma, they included a wingnut of a congresswoman who believes Obama will send citizens to re-education camps, a billionaire birther with a mean brushover, a Texas governor who gets an F in government and foreign policy, and a former pizza magnate with a zipper problem. This leaves a libertarian with a racist bent, a former House speaker who was censured and fined by his own colleagues, a former senator who believes that a child conceived by rape is a gift from God, and a former governor who is an empty suit.

Some recent polling data backs up how asleep at the wheel Republicans have been when it comes to the guy in the Oval Office.

Ron Brownstein, who has covered almost as many president elections as I have, notes that Obama is reassembling the formidable coalition that elected him in 2008.

In 2008, Obama won 49 percent of men; Pew finds him with 45 percent against Romney. Against McCain, Obama won 56 percent of women; Pew finds him drawing 59 percent against Romney. Among white men, Pew finds Obama's support slipping from 41 percent in 2008 to 36 percent now (with all of the decline coming among white men without a college degree, the toughest audience throughout his presidency.) Among white women, though, Pew finds Obama rising from 46 percent in 2008 to 52 percent against Romney -- and recording gains among both college-plus women (whom he carried last time) and the working-class "waitress moms" who strongly preferred McCain.

To which I add that there is no scenario in which a Republican can beat Obama without the support of women who are not conservative Republicans because of the party's institutionalized misogyny.

When House Republicans suddenly decided to comprise last week on extending the payroll tax reduction and jobless benefits for the rest of the year it was an historic moment.

It was historic because it was the first time that the GOP had reached across the aisle since Obama was elected and did what was right. It also was a reflection that two-plus years of a self-indulgent Just Say No strategy -- again predicated on Obama being so weak as to be unreelectable -- has been a disaster that threatens to drag the last man standing in the candidate clown car into electoral ignominy.

Booman over at the Booman Tribune presents a plausible landslide scenario for exactly that in which Obama would win the Electoral College by a 462-76 vote, a margin that has only been bested by FDR in 1932 and 1936, LBJ in 1968, Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

* * * * *

As I have written previously, it is tempting to argue that the ongoing cage match between Karl Rove and the men who would deny him a Mitt Romney nomination is a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Tempting but demonstrably false because the party lost its soul years ago and the man most responsible is Rove himself.

Rove, who is a terrific tactician but a lousy strategist, launched the GOP on a course of
short-term gains at the expense of long-term viability when he engineered the nomination of George W. Bush, an empty vessel into which Dick Cheney and the neo-con brain trust poured their ideas. Ideas like going to war in Iraq while engineering massive tax cuts for the wealthy and shredding the social safety net.

With Rove continuing to be the man behind the curtain, Bush was re-elected in 2004 by making promises to the party's burgeoning Christianist wing that he could not keep and because the Democrats nominated a weakling in John Kerry, who ran a campaign so awful that the attacks on him by Bush-Rove surrogates weren't even really necessary.

In 2006 Rove, was still the GOP's mastermind as it tacked harder to the right, and it is likely that when he awoke on the morning after a Democratic mid-term sweep -- a sweep so complete that no congressional or gubernatorial seat held by a Democrat was won by a Republican and six Senate incumbents were ousted -- he may have had the first inkling that he was losing control of the party.

The 2008 presidential election would not have been a Republican win no matter who the Democratic candidate was. In fact, either John Edwards or Hillary Clinton would have beaten John McCain by a more sizable margin than did Barack Obama, but that reality does not obscure the fact the party was tacking harder still to the right and its whackadoodle ideas as epitomized by the selection of the vacuous Sarah Palin.

By 2010 Rove had, for all intents and purposes, lost control of the party as that Christianist-Tea Party jihad engineered sizable House gains which it, but surely not Rove, took as a mandate for their ideas and not what they really were -- the result of an anger against the Washington establishment fueled by the lingering effects of a recession engineered by Rove's prodigal child.

And so Rove and the GOP itself is now reaping what he sewed -- a party openly hostile to blacks and immigrants (something that he has repeatedly warned that the party will rue) and the middle class and poor -- that has become whiter, older and crankier, a reality reflected in a field of presidential wannabes who are short on ability and long on out-of-the-mainstream ideas.

Somewhere up there Harry Truman is laughing his ass off.

Cartoon du Jour

Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why Rick Santorum Lost Pennsylvania

His name was on the lease but he didn't live there
Rick Santorum was once one of my U.S. senators, but that ended abruptly after the 2006 election when he lost by 18 percentage points, a record for an incumbent. I've been asked a lot recently why he got clobbered since Pennsylvania trends toward the conservative side, and the answer is easy: He went off the deep end.

This took the form of ranting against gays, Iran and religious freedom. He showed his children the dead fetus of a child that his wife had miscarried and remained an outspoken proponent of the war in Iraq at a time when Pennsylvanians, like Americans in general, had turned against it.

Had that been all, Santorum probably would have defeated Robert Casey Jr., who arguably is the most conservative Democratic senator, but there was more. Lots more:

* He make considerable political hay outside the state by visiting the deathbed of Terri Schiavo, the woman at the center of a national right-to-die controversy, but many Pennsylvanians were offended and Casey ran an effective television ad playing up the visit.

* While he listed his legal residence as a small house in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills, he raised his family in northern Virginia and rented out the house.

He cyberschooled five of his children in the Penn Hills school district, which cost it $72,000 in cyberschooling fees. The cash-strapped district was unsuccessful in its efforts to get any of the money back and Santorum was unapologetic about taking it.

He founded Operation Good Neighbor, a faith-based urban charity, in 2000, but most of the money went not to community groups but to salaries, rental fees and consulting fees to a network of politically connected lobbyists, aides and fundraisers.

In summary, Pennsylvanians thought they were being gamed by Santorum. And they were.

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/The Washington Post

Friday, February 17, 2012

Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish

The late great Molly Ivins commented after Pat Buchanan's keynote address at the 1992 Republican National Convention that "it probably sounded better in the original German."

As people given thousands of hours of face time on cable news go, Buchanan was as vile as they come: A virulent homophobe, racist, anti-Semite and apologist for Hitler, who . . . um, was misunderstood and the U.S. should have fought on his side in The Big One.

And so I took some satisfaction when MSNBC dropped Buchanan on Thursday four months after suspending him following the publication of his latest book, Suicide of a Superpower, which contained scrumdiddlyumtious chapters titled “The End of White America” and “The Death of Christian America.”

As is typical of vile people like Buchanan, he denies that he loathes gays, Jews and blacks, and he was quick to denounce MSNBC, his employer for 10 years, as having bowed to us mean libruls.

Cartoon du Jour

Mike Luckovich/Atlanta Journal Constitution

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rick Santorum Is Crazy -- Like A Fox

There is no doubt that Rick Santorum is crazy, but to the distress of Mitt Romney and Karl Rove and other Republican Party elders, he is crazy like a fox.

I have yet to read a plausible scenario through which this right-wing upstart can beat President Obama. He wouldn't even be able to win Pennsylvania, where as an incumbent U.S. Senator he got throttled by 16 percentage points in 2006, the largest losing margin for a Senate incumbent in history. But grabbing the Republican nomination no longer seems like it is outside the realm of possibilities for the simple reason that Romney has proven to be a terrible candidate whose serial attempts to reinvent himself further reveal him to be an empty suit.

Unlike Romney, Santorum has no advance team and does no polling. But he is beginning to attract serious money while Romney, who has relied exclusively on wealthy donors, risks tapping out his campaign fund, which would mean he would have to reach into his own deep pockets. How bad are things for Romney? One pundit has taken to calling his campaign the Death Star.

The best hope for Romney, who trails Santorum badly in his native Michigan and not quite so badly in some national polls, is that Santorum loses his inhibitions and reveals himself more fully to be a demagogue and an extremist as he soars in the polls, and there are indications that is happening.

Speaking at a rally this week in Boise, Idaho, Santorum brought the crowd to its feet. They booed Senator John McCain, called Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg a traitor and reminded Santorum that American revolutionaries had more than muskets. Santorum in turn applauded them, declaring that "I believe that if we are unsuccessful in this election that we will have failed in that duty and it will have horrendous consequences. . . . It will be the end of the great experiment in the order of liberty and freedom."

This is exactly the kind of stuff that the Obama campaign loves to hear.

Combined with Santorum's more nuttier positions like opposing contraception and believing that a child conceived through a rape is a "gift from God," it would take little effort for the Obama machine to eviscerate him in the fall, while Santorum is forcing Romney to tack even further to the right, which would have dire consequences for him in the fall.
Photograph by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Cartoon du Jour

Matt Davies/Universal Press Syndicate

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Birth Control Tempest Grows Sillier Still

Roman Catholic bishops oppose birth control. Many Republican congressfolk and some Democrats oppose birth control. All of the Republican presidential candidates, to one degree or another, oppose birth control. All this despite the fact that a strong majority of Americans are adamant about having the right to decide whether to use birth control and what method to use, and support the Obama administration's requirement that health insurance plans cover the cost of contraceptives for religiously-affiliated employers.

Let's put some perspective on the issue. We're not talking about cigarettes or alcohol here, and because of the attendant risks these addictive substances pose, government at the federal and state levels has every right to regulate their use. What we are talking about is devices and methods for sexually active individuals. These include male and female condoms, spermicides, diaphragms, IUDs, cervical caps, contraceptive sponges, as well as hormonal pills, patches, shots and implants. Then there is natural family planning and the morning-after pill, which pro-lifers regard as a form of abortion.

Beyond those bishops, who remain determinedly out of step with the American mainstream let alone many member of their flock who ignore the church's ban on contraceptives and so-called family values conservatives who believe that women should walk several steps behind their men, can it really be that John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan are against their wives managing their reproductive lives and planning when and whether to have children?

Can it really be that they object to Missus Boehner, Cantor and Ryan taking a sexually active teenage daughter, and a majority are sexually active regardless of their parents' political affiliation, to Planned Parenthood or another clinic for counseling and getting a prescription for birth control to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and, heaven forbid, an abortion?

The answer is of course not. But opposing birth control in general and a provision of the Affordable Care act mandating affordable access to contraceptive services and products in particular is the politic thing to do if you are a member of a party that considers their wives and daughters to be second class and have been handed a ready excuse to declare that President Obama is anti-religion, a claim that becomes sillier every time it is uttered.

The tempest over Catholic and other religious-affiliated hospitals and medical facilities being required to hew to the Affordable Care Act for their employees prompted the White House to offer a compromise in the form of outsourcing contraceptive services to non-sectarian providers, but the bishops and Republicans want to keep the issue alive for as long as they are able.

Incidentally, the overwhelming support for the Affordable Care Act provision extends to Catholics and polls taken since the tempest erupted show that they have not changed their overwhelmingly positive views of the president.

The timing of the tempest is no accident.

With the economy finally showing signs of recovering and Obama's approval ratings climbing back into the low 50s, Republicans and their presidential wannabes are being denied a cudgel that they have been swinging since Obama took office, so they are defaulting to the tried-and-true culture wars. That is, tried and true for them; most voters don't give a spit. And how ironic that the mandate that Republicans now so vehemently oppose was being promoted by them in 1993 as an alternative to HillaryCare.

Darrell "Mr. Republican Oversight" Issa will convene a hearing tomorrow that he is choreographing as "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" All nine witnesses will rail against the Obama administration while none of the religious groups supportive of the Affordable Care Act will be heard from.

As Andrew Sullivan, among others, has pointed out, Obama's greatest skill is in getting his opponents to overreach and self-destruct.

Rick Santorum, who actually believes he can win votes campaigning against contraception -- because birth control makes the gals sexual libertines, ya know -- will sooner or later hit a wall and you can be sure if he backs into the nomination, it will be a killer issue for him in the fall. As in a landslide loss.

In any event, I continue to believe that a compromise will be hammered out sooner or later, but not until the church and GOP have their fill of Obama bashing.

Cartoon du Jour

Stuart Carlson/Universal Press Syndicate

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Onward Thru The Fog: Settling For A Mediocrity & Other Tales From The Crypt

And so we come -- perhaps inevitably -- to the moment in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination when party elders begin to suggest that settling for less than the best isn't so bad if the guy can somehow beat President Obama.

This pearl of wisdom comes from Grover Norquist, one of the key players in the marginalization of the GOP as a national force. Speaking last weekend at the annual CPAC sitdown in Washington, D.C., the head of the Americans for Tax Reform advocacy group all but called Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee even after on-again, off-again thrashings by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, a weak and passive mediocrity.

"All we have to do is replace Obama," Norquist said. "We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don't need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. . . . We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don't need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate."

Wait, it gets worse.

"Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.," Norquist continued. "This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared."

How sad. How very sad.

Meanwhile, approval ratings for the man who occupies the Oval Office -- no mediocrity he -- are back in positive territory while congressional Republicans double down on the dumb.

The Talking Points Memo Poll Average has Barack Obama at slightly over 50 percent while recent approval polls for Congress and Republicans in particular hover around 10 percent. Obama's bump is a result of two months of decent economic numbers as well as a completed Iraq troop withdrawal and accelerated Afghanistan troop withdrawal.

Even with Mitt Romney's ill-advised remarks that Detroit automakers should be allowed to fail, he was once a prohibitive favorite to win the Michigan primary on February 28 because he is, after all, a native of the state and his father was an extremely popular governor, but one poll now shows Rick Santorum leading him by a 15 percentage point margin.

More amazingly, Santorum leads Romney by a 40-21 percentage point margin among Democrats and independents who say they plan to vote in the state's open primary.

Slate's Dave Weigel finds this jaw dropping:

"What a difference a Republican primary makes! Now, Santorum is the de facto blue collar candidate (please pay no attention to his policies) running against a guy who gets the vapors when he fires people, an entertainingly pretentious figure from the 1990s Republican era, and Ron Paul. So of course he's the guy who appeals to moderates."

Nationally, a New York Times/CBS News poll released this morning shows Rick Santorum surging among Republican primary voters nationwide in large part because of support for him among conservatives, evangelical Christians and Tea Party supporters.

Some 30 percent of Republican primary voters say they support Santorum compared with 27 percent for Mitt Romney, and while Santorum’s lead is essentially a tie with Romney because it is within the margin of sampling error, it reflects a significant jump for him from earlier polls.

The two other major candidates are trailing badly with Ron Paul at 12 percent and Newt Gingrich at 10 percent.

Meanwhile, a Pew poll released Monday shows that those all-important independents are abandoning Romney and some are flocking to Barack Obama.

A month ago, 40 percent of independents said they would back Obama over Romney, while 51 percent now say they would support Obama with Romney slipping from 50 percent to 42 percent.

Politico has identified the five most vulnerable House incumbents, and it should be no surprise that four of the five are Republicans. Yes, 15 months after the GOP recaptured the House, it is scrambling to retain these seats and others as well.

The four most vulnerable Republicans aare: Spencer Bachus of Alabama, Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Paul Gosar of Arizona. The most vulnerable Democrat is Edolphus Towns of New York.

Candidates have been distancing themselves from what they might have once said or written since forever, and Rick Santorum is no exception.

Santorum wrote in his 2005 book, It Takes a Family, that "radical feminists" are to be disparaged for giving women the idea that they might find greater fulfillment outside the home, but when confronted on that snippet on the ABC News show "This Week," he replied, "That's a new quote to me."

Which prompted New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni to opine:

"To understand voters’ bottomless cynicism, look no farther than politicians’ boundless revisionism. Republicans have no monopoly on it, but they occupy center stage at the moment, shedding culpability for past deeds even as they ask us — as leaders do and should — to take responsibility for our own."

Photograph by Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

Cartoon du Jour

Tony Auth/The Philadelphia Inquirer

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mitt Already Has Problems & If He Isn't Careful That Could Include His Religion

A person's faith should in no way be a disqualifier for the presidency or any other public office. That certainly was true of John F. Kennedy's Catholicism in 1960 and that is true of Mitt Romney's Mormonism in 2012, but there the similarities end because there are aspects of Romney's relationship with the Church of Latter Day Saints that do not necessarily disqualify him but do raise troubling questions -- questions that are likely to go unanswered.

The fact that some people -- predominantly evangelicals -- believe that Mormonism is a cult and not a religion is not a disqualifier. I happen to believe that it is a bit of both, while there are aspects of other faiths that are . . . uh, unusual compared to the religious mainstream.

The fact that the Mormon church does not respect separation of church and state is not a disqualifier. Highly aggravating, but not a disqualifier.

The fact that the Mormon church, which is referred to as the General Motors of religions is obscenely wealthy with an estimated tax-exempt wealth in excess of $40 billion, is not a disqualifier.

The fact that the Mormon church is anti-gay and spends buckets of money to try to block same sex marriage initiatives, sometimes through shadow groups that intentionally hide their ties to the church, is not a disqualifier.

The fact that the Mormon church was extremely slow to welcome men of African descent into its priesthood, failing to do so until 1978, and remains overwhelmingly white is not a disqualifier.

The fact that some vestiges of polygamy still exist on the fringes of the Mormon church is not a disqualifier. (Romney's great-great grandfather had 12 wives and his great grandparents moved to Mexico to avoid anti-polygamy laws.)

And the fact that Romney refuses to criticize less positive aspects of the church and reaffirms his faith in only the most general terms also is not a disqualifier, nor has he faced the kind of scrutiny that he did in 2008 when he was prompted to give a speech in Dallas reaffirming his faith.

What is at issue is:

* The incestuous relationship between the church, Romney and Bain Capital, the private equity house where he became filthy rich as CEO.

Bain has donated millions of dollars in stock to the church, and while there is nothing illegal about a firm making charitable contributions, the relationship is troubling because neither Bain nor the church are likely to make public any details. Same for Romney, who has released personal income tax information only because his refusal to do so became a drag on his campaign.

* Whether, in the event Romney is elected, he would be influenced by a church that makes meddling in politics a full-time preoccupation. Would he drag its beliefs into our lives?

In 1964, when his father George was in his second year as Michigan governor, he received a letter from a member of the top Mormon governing body reminding him of the teaching of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith that "the Lord had placed the curse upon the Negro" and urged him to drop his support for the 1964 Civil Rights Bill lest God strike him dead for his apostasy.

In response, George Romney redoubled his commitment and led a march the following year in downtown Detroit in solidarity with Martin Luther King for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. It seems less likely that Mitt Romney would have his father's backbone if the church beckoned.

As I noted, questions about Romney and his financial relationship with the church and its relationship with Bain will go unanswered. This is because his faith isn't creating ripples this election year -- a good thing in and of itself -- despite increased interest in Mormonism because of "Big Love," the recently ended HBO series on a fictional fundamentalist Mormon family that practices polygamy.

Finally, Romney fulminates about religious liberty, which he recently has been wont to do, at his own risk. Same for gay rights.

This will inconveniently remind voters of less mainstream aspects of Mormonism past and present, as well as the fact that the church by some estimates dropped $20 million bucks into the fight to pass Proposition 8 in California. The now overturned ballot initiative mandated that there be a provision in the state constitution that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized.

Further Down The Road With The Republican Presidential Clown Car

Is there any connection between Rick Santorum slipping into second place behind Mitt Romney in some Michigan pre-primary polls and the video of a speech he gave in 2008 saying that Satan is systematically destroying America that has now gone viral?

One can only hope so, but the more likely case is that as they have with other presidential candidates, Santorum becomes less appealing to voters when they look under his hook and kick his tires, especially because of his fondness for demagoguery and meddling in our private live

"If you were Satan who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States. And that’s been the case now for almost 200 years," said Santorum in the speech. "The place where he was in my mind most successful, first successful, was in academia. He understood the pride of smart people."

And this:

"This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age. There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America's preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers."

Rantings like this are, of course, just the tip of the Santorum iceberg. He is unapologetically misogynistic, anti-contraception and pro-rape, disparaging of public education, takes American exceptionalism to . . . er, extremes, and never saw a war he didn't like, the latter view very much at odds with his own Roman Catholic Church.

The likelihood of Santorum having the opportunity to nuke Iran is slim to none. The GOP would be committing ritual suicide on a grand scale even if he were the eventual nominee's running mate, let alone the main man.


In yet another indication that the wind continues to go out of Romney's sails (despite some ferocious gusts from Santorum and Gingrich), his campaign is running out of money.

In January, Romney spent more than he took in; his cash flow was negative $12.2 million for the month. He ended January with just $7.7 million in cash on hand.

Romney has relied almost exclusively on wealthy donors because he has been unable to attract the nickel-and-dime voter like President Obama has. In fact, Obama has raised more money from donors who contributed $250 or less than Romney has raised altogether.


As scandals go, double billing for airline tickets is small potatoes, but it's kinda surprising that Ron Paul, that pillar of probity, has been caught out doing just that. Numerous times.

Roll Call reports that Paul was repeatedly paid twice for flights between Washington, D.C., and his Congressional district in Texas, receiving reimbursement from taxpayers and also from a network of political and nonprofit organizations that he controlled.

Paul spokesmouth Jesse Benton said then it was “possible that wholly inadvertent errors were made in a handful of instances” in which flights were reimbursed twice, but he maintained that “absolutely zero taxpayer funds were ever misused.”

I suppose that depends on how you look at it.


There is no such thing as the Catholic vote.

Ed Kilgore notes that polls taking during the recent contraception mandate controversy did not show a significant difference between Catholics and other voters on this issue This should not come as a surprise since lay Catholics differ greatly from the church hierarchy on issues raning from birth control to same-sex marriage.

There is continuing disapproval of abortion on moral grounds among Catholics more than the population as a whole, mostly because of Latino Catholics.


Dan Millbank beautifully captures the special something that Romney elicits in a Washington Post column:

"In terms of sizzle, Senator Rob Portman makes Mitt Romney look like Lady Gaga. So when the two men shared a stage in suburban Cincinnati on Monday afternoon, the result was pure and unadulterated ennui — exactly the sentiment greeting Romney’s presidential aspirations in the Republican electorate.

" 'If you think,' the Ohio Republican exhorted the crowd, 'we need fresh new direction and decisive leadership in the White House, then Mitt Romney is your man.'

"Silence in the audience.

" 'If you’re looking for work or you have friends who are looking for work,' Portman went on, in monotone, 'then Mitt Romney’s your man.' ”


"'If you think government has grown too large,' the senator continued, 'then Mitt Romney’s your man.'


"Five more times, Portman tried the refrain, and each time it produced no reaction. He hurried through his script, straightened out his pile of index cards and called forward Romney, who gave an equally lively speech that praised, among other things, ulcer medication."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Al Qaeda: Was Underestimated Before 9/11 & Was Overestimated Afterward

Hindsight is always 20-20, of course, but it turns out that the widespread fear -- bordering on panic -- that there would be a second wave of attacks in the months after 9/11 was misplaced because it turns out that Al Qaeda was a one-hit wonder.

This reality is revealed in an article in a leftist rag called the Air Force Times that says that the government underestimated the terrorist group before the attacks and overestimated it afterward. The Bush-Cheney cabal cannot be forgiven for the former while the latter is understandable considering the pitiful state of the U.S.'s intelligence capabilities and the lack of brain power in the White House.

"Al Qaeda wasn't as good as we thought they were on 9/11," says Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict. (Do you suppose that his entire title is painted on his Pentagon office door?)

"Quite frankly, we, the American people, we asleep at the switch, the U.S. government prior to 9/11. So an organization that wasn't that good looked really great on 9/11. Everyone looked to the skies every day after 9/11 and said, 'When is the next attack?' And it didn't come, partly because Al Qaeda wasn't that capable. They didn't have other units in the U.S. . . . Really, they didn't have the capability for a second attack."

Sheehan said there is a second reason that America has not suffered a major terrorist attack is that the U.S. "crushed Al Qaeda immediately after 9/11, and continually for the last 10 years," an assertion that does not stand up to scrutiny since the Bush administration had little success against the group after the Taliban was ousted in Afghanistan only to re-emerge.

The further that we get away from those dark days the more the enormity -- even criminality, if you will -- of the administration's misdeeds grows.

One reason that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld beat the drum for invading Iraq is there was a belief because of that lack of brain power that the 9/11 attacks had to have been an inside job executed with the assistance of the Saddam Hussein regime.

That lead to eight and a half deeply tragic years highlighted by the deaths of nearly 4,800 U.S. and coalition forces, at least 100,000 Iraqis and millions of people displaced, the starving of boots and resources for the war in Afghanistan, which is only now just winding down after a series of botched strategies, and a body blow to America's standing in the world because of the Bush administration's embrace of torture and scuttling of civil liberties.

Cartoon du Jour

Ben Sargent/Universal Press Syndicate

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Stuck On Stupid, The Republicans Still Want To Take Away Grandpa's Walker

Having run out of zingers like "what are they smoking?" and "it must be something in the water," I am left speechless if not wordless that the Republicans once again seem ready to embrace Representative Paul Ryan's Reverse Robin Hood plan.

Should you not recall, this was a deficit reduction plan that would given even more tax breaks to the rich while phasing out Medicare and replacing it with a subsidized private insurance system for newly eligible seniors, as well as rip a few more holes elsewhere in the safety net. The cherry atop this confection would be to remove all regulations on Wall Street.

The backlash was fugly, tipping the scales to an unknown Democrat in a special election in an historically Republican district in upstart New York as well as causing agita in a host of congressfolk who had to explain at town meetings why they wanted to take away Grandpa's walker.

"We’re not backing off any of our ideas, any of our solutions," Republican budget chairman told Fox News.

Ryan's plan died a quick death in its crib, which makes it all the more perplexing whe the House GOP would want to resuscitate it after a year of serial brinkmanship and dirty ball playing that is a major reason why the party is well on its way to squandering a chance to take back the White House and Senate.

There are two possible explanations:

* The party's overweaning hubris, which frequently blinds it to electoral realities.

* The party's ultra-conservative base, which demands reducing the taxes of the 1 percenters while rolling back popular federal social programs.

While the revised Ryan plan takes a baby step or two from the right to the left, Medicare benefit guarantees would be handed over to a fickle private market and that will not impress voters who think that Grandpa should keep his walker.

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/The Washington Post

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Mitt Romney's Most Awful Day Off

Consider this as an indicator of how awfully Mitt Romney performed in Tuesday's two primaries and caucus: In Minnesota, a state that he won handily in 2008, he failed to win a single county and got just 17 percent of the vote, a stunning 27 percentage points behind Rick Santorum, who made a clean sweep in Colorado and Missouri, as well.

Wait, it gets worse: Although the voting in Missouri was non-binding, Romney lost all 114 counties.

Wait, it gets even worse: Romney has now gone 1 for 4 in caucus states where turnout is dominated by highly conservative voters and is 0 for 3 in the Midwest, a region that he would have to win if he had a chance of knocking off President Obama.

Wait, it gets still even worse: Romney coasted to victory in Nevada on Saturday but stubbed his toe in Colorado, which has similar demographics and more wealthy voters if fewer Mormons, losing by five percentage points to the GOP Flavor of the Moment.

Romney's handlers began lowballing expectations a couple of days before the Tuesday voting, which is never a good sign when the candidate is supposed to be Mister Inevitable. This certainly did not encourage undecided voters to swing Romney's way, but I suspect they saw the Santorum boomlet coming before the punditocracy did.

My gut, which is somewhat larger than it was when I covered my first of now 10 presidential election campaigns, still tells me that Romney will go into the nominating convention with an insurmountable lead in delegates, but my head in advising caution.

The core of Romney's problem, which will only get worse if he wins the nomination, has been his ceaseless vacillation on two issues that matter a great deal to conservative Republicans: Cutting back if not eliminating popular entitlement programs and immigration.

Romney, as is the case with the other GOP candidates, would slash Medicare and turn over coverage to private insurance companies for up and coming senior citizens. Romney, as is the case with the other GOP candidates, would veto the DREAM Act if elected. But in Florida, Romney vowed in speeches to seniors to not only save Medicare but to preserve it for future generations, while vowing in speeches to Latinos to support a DREAM Act predicated on the child of non-citizens doing military service.

The race has turned into a nightmare for Republican Party elders.

Having united behind Romney and hoping to focus attacks on Obama, Gingrich and now Santorum have stolen a march on him. Both candidates and Ron Paul, as well, are now attacking Romney when not attacking each other. Every time that Romney has to fend off attacks instead of going after the president, he can't act presidential, let alone do the essential work of uniting a splintered party that remains more interested in following its heart than its head.

Oh, and those jokes after each Republican debate, primary and caucus that the big winner was Obama no longer seem funny with the economy improving markedly, thus robbing Romney of his best talking point: That he has the expertise to return America to prosperity.

In a break with tradition, those part elders are going public with pleas for Romney to get with his A-game.

Trouble is, Mr. Inevitability has had five or so years to work on his A-game and has proven beyond a doubt that he is a second-rate candidate competing against a field of third-raters. He is a phony who vacillates between being so obsequious that Uriah Heep would endorse him to having the airs of a salesman who would really like to sell you a vacuum cleaner.

"There is not exactly Romney-mania right now," Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl told Politico, adding that the former Massachusetts governor "absolutely" must shore up the weaknesses with the GOP base that were on such vivid display in Tuesday's voting.

"Playing it safe, which Romney tends to do, is not going to get it for him," said Senator Jim DeMint, a 2008 Romney supporter and a leading voice of his party’s conservative bloc, who called the results "a signal."

Romney is known as an even-keel candidate, but he is said to be dazed from the loses and his campaign has been thrown into disarray.

Meanwhile, the new Daily Kos national survey found that 58 percent of Democrats were "very excited" about voting this fall, compared to 54 percent of Republicans. Six months ago the figures were 48 percent for Democrats and 54 percent for Republicans although you generally you would expect voters to get more excited as the election gets nearer and trend that is not occurring on the Republican side.

In any event, Romney simply cannot afford another positively awful day off.