Friday, July 31, 2015

Politix Update: Does The New York Times Have It In For Hillary Clinton?

When the New York Times commissioned a cover for the January 24, 2014 issue of its Sunday Magazine, the result was an eye popping departure from the norm.  Readers accustomed to covers of political powerhouses like those of Barack Obama looking presidential, a thoughtful Newt Gingrich with his chin resting on intertwined fingers or Sarah Palin flashing her toothy smile, were assaulted with an  unflattering rendering of the head of a hairless Hillary Clinton embedded in a planet orbiting amidst an interstellar array of objects variously identified as the Chelsea Quasar, Friends of Bill Black Hole, Katzenberg's Comet, and so on and so forth.
The cover by artist Jesse Lenz for an article by Amy Chozick titled "Planet Hillary" on Clinton’s influence on the people within her political universe, generated so much comment that Arem Duplessis, then the magazine's design editor, wrote a story about its genesis, including an acknowledgement that earlier versions that presented Clinton in a more humorous and less grotesque light were rejected.  Many readers were merely bemused, but some defaulted to an oft-peddled line: The Times had it in for Hillary Clinton and yet again had gone out of its way to portray her in a negative light.  Indeed, when Clinton's husband had last appeared on the magazine's cover, he was flatteringly photographed in a dark suit with a hot pink necktie and relaxed demeanor.  Indeed, the title of the article was "The Mellowing of William Jefferson Clinton."
"This is a good study into how a merely bad idea turns into fullblown idiocy," wrote one indignant reader. "What woman ever wants to be portrayed as a huge, round, bald blob of head, capable of gobbling up whole galaxies?" asked another.
The Times pleaded that no harm was meant by the cover, but Clinton's defenders were back on the attack against The Gray Lady late last month after an extraordinary series of gaffes that began with an exclusive story published online and then in some print editions stating that the inspectors general for the State Department and intelligence agencies had sent a referral to the Justice Department requesting a "criminal investigation" into whether Clinton "mishandled sensitive government information" on a private email account when she was secretary of state.  The account had become a controversy in its own right, the subject of Republican-led congressional investigations, relentlessly biased coverage on Fox News, and attacks by some of the Republicans who hope to face the presumptive Democratic nominee in the 2016 presidential election.
There followed a series of clarifications, changes and corrections that raised more questions -- about The Times coverage and motivation -- than they answered.  Then came a tough column by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in which she took issue with the paper's seemingly laissez faire use of the "multiple high-level" confidential government sources who "confirmed" the investigation and faulted it for a lack of transparency, and finally an unsigned Editors' Note, certainly written by or at the behest of Dean Baquet, who as executive editor holds the highest ranking position in The Times' newsroom, that obliquely apologized for missteps "that may have left readers with a confused picture."
It turns out that the "criminal investigation" was merely a procedural step in a bureaucratic dance to determine whether sensitive government information was mishandled, rather than  whether Clinton herself mishandled information, but the damage had been done and the impression further cemented that the most influential media outlet on the planet -- that is Planet Earth, not Planet Hillary -- had again gone out of its way to portray her in an unflattering light.
I reach a somewhat different conclusion about the email story and The Times' coverage of Clinton overall, although one not particularly more favorable to the paper.  As a career journalist who sat through hundreds of story meetings, vetted dozens of potentially controversial political stories, and directed the campaign coverage of a major metropolitan newspaper for no fewer than four presidential elections while being involved in 12 presidential elections in all, I believe that The Times made two fundamental errors of judgment that resulted in what Public Editor Sullivan termed "was, to put it mildly, a mess":
* Reporting a less sensational version of the story would have been smart.  Waiting another day to publish the story would have been smarter, but that's not how the news business works in a hyper-competitive 24/7 world when fairness, accuracy and transparency take a back seat to being first.

* Lurking behind those shadowy confidential sources are people who want to embarrass Clinton, almost certainly including Representative Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House's so-called Benghazi Committee and previously the source of intentionally misleading leaks concerning Clinton.
My review of The Times' last 50 Hillary Clinton stories betrays no particular bias, only a pretty damned good paper with a richness of resources that is devoting a fair number of them to covering a person who in great likelihood will be the next president.  But as the most influential media outlet, The Times is going to be second guessed as well as be gamed by people with less than pure motives like Gowdy.  The former comes with the territory; succumbing to the latter in unacceptable.

You'd think that Hillary Clinton was in trouble judging from recent polls showing that her unfavorable ratings are increasing, but the data behind the numbers show that her ratings have not changed drastically.
The Huffington Post Pollster average, for example,  shows that Clinton's favorable/unfavorable ratings were averaging 47 percent favorable/45 percent unfavorable in January and were at 44 percent favorable/48 percent unfavorable in July, which is pretty much a statistical wash when you factor in all the negative private email and Clinton Foundation coverage.
Clinton could of course lose the election, but it's way too soon to be playing "Taps," according to Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth prof who used to be a political reporter for that mean old New York Times.  He notes that Clinton's favorables were bound to go down as she returned to partisan politics, the state of the economy (which is predicted to remain pretty robust) will matter more, and betting markets, in which people have invested real money, put the Democrats' chances of retaining the presidency at about 60 percent.
All of that negative Clinton Foundation coverage has not slowed donations.
Foundation officials say there were 10,516 donors in the first six months of this year, compared with 8,801 during the same period last year.  Among the new donors was golfing great (ex-great?) Tiger Woods, who gave between $25,001 and $50,000.  The Clintons themselves  gave between $5 million and $10 million, a reflection of a recently disclosed report showing they earned over $30 million from January 2014 through mid-May of this year, much of that from speaking fees. 
The foundation has become the subject of controversy -- and rightly so -- because of questions about large donations from Middle Eastern countries known for violence against women at a time when Hillary Clinton was campaigning as an advocate for women, and from foreign donors with dodgy reputations who expect that a President Clinton would side with them when the international going got tough.

Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC is in the forefront of a concerted -- and very expensive -- effort to test and refine the most potent lines of attack against Clinton.  In other words, to see what mud sticks the most.
Crossroads has been running a series of focus groups made up of 50 voters each who are paid $100 and plied with sandwiches and soft drinks to watch 30-second test television commercials.  The focus is on raising unsettling questions about Clinton's character since Republican strategists have found that she and her husband have survived many controversies by dismissing them as partisan attacks.
The ads highlight Clinton’s deletion of some of those emails, try to tie her to President Obama, portray her as distant from middle-class Americans and seek to persuade women that they do not need to support her because of her gender.
"She's got an open wound, and part of our job is to pour salt in it," matter-of-factly says Glen Bolger, a co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies, the Republican polling firm that is conducting the focus groups.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Politix Update: The Republican War On Women Grinds On And On. Why?

Like the White Queen in her youth, the contemporary Republican politician must be capable of believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast. ~ JACOB WEISBERG
The news is going from bad to worse for Republicans when it comes to working women.  You know, the people who give birth to and raise children, take them to daycare and later soccer practice and piano lessons and care for elderly parents while juggling their careers, who pack lunches and cook meals, have to make tough reproductive decisions, balance the family checkbook, sometimes fight for their country and . . . oh yeah, vote.
There has been a gender gap in party identification for at least 30 years.  In 1983, 43 percent of women identified themselves as Democrats and 21 percent as Republicans.  In 2014, 40 percent of women identified themselves as Democrats and 20 percent as Republicans.  Those numbers do not include Independents or swing voters, but that's still bad news for the GOP as it struggles to remain relevant nationally against a deck that it alone has stacked.   
And now there is worse news: Three elections ago, nearly half of all working mothers voted for George W. Bush.  In 2008, that dropped to 40 percent for Senator John McCain.  And by 2012, only 33 percent backed Mitt Romney, who tanked with women because, among his other smug anti-woman overtures to conservatives, he pledged to "get rid of" Planned Parenthood after supporting the lifeline organization as Massachusetts governor and having contributed to it personally. 
I have written often (14 posts and counting) about what I call the Republican War on Women, and an excerpt from a March 2012 piece is typical:
Why would a political party go out of its way to alienate the key bloc of voters -- in this case Independent women -- in a presidential election year? In other words, why would Republicans oppose contraception and preventive health care, favor laws prohibiting abortions for even the victims of rape and incest, and now in essence come out in support of violence against women?
The answer is that some Republican politicians are so beholden to the right-wing and evangelical base that has taken over the party that they'd rather forsake votes that might help them recapture the White House, or end up with a loon like Rick Santorum as their nominee who couldn't capture the White House with a Christo-sized net.
So what has changed since the last presidential election, a period during which some party officials soul searched and concluded that a preponderance of women, notably those all-important swing voters, view the GOP negatively?  Absolutely nothing.
And are any of the many Republicans who are running for president likely to attract women who might otherwise vote for Hillary Clinton or sit out the election?  Absolutely not.
This has Sabrina Schaeffer worried, or although it's not very womanly, perhaps really pissed off.
"For years now, Democrats have been saying: 'We are focused on women in the workplace,' " said Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, a nonprofit organization that promotes conservative policies. "For whatever reason, Republicans keep ignoring these issues. It's the absolute worst thing they can do. They need to understand, engage and offer better solutions. They can’t be afraid."
Some Republican strategists say that many of the party's presidential wannabes are planning to wait until after the bruising primary season to take up such ideas.  Translation: They'll tack to the right so as to not alienate social conservatives and then suddenly morph into moderates a la Romney if they get the nomination.  This rationale is pathetic, as well as unrealistic because many of the candidates make no secret of their view that the little woman should stay at home.  Romneyesque flip-flopping won't fool swing-voting women.
Only 13 percent of American workers, meanwhile, have access to paid family leave or time away from work to recover from a pregnancy and bond with a newborn, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.  Hillary Clinton pledges to change that, as well as push for more affordable child-care options, but about the best Republican wannabes can come up with is expanding the child tax credit.
It's also difficult to imagine any of them endorsing the Affordable Care Act, which has begun to address the disparity in the level of medical care women receive and, according to a new study, saved them $1.4 billion in contraception costs in the first year of Obamacare alone as the price of birth control pills has plummeted.  In fact, under the ACA many women are able to fill a prescription for contraception without paying a cent, while easing financial barriers to birth control reduces unintended pregnancies and ultimately the taxpayer burden.  This result is well documented by health economists but is anathema to Republican social conservatives, many of them fundamentalist Christians, who believe, in effect, that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant . . . and in the kitchen, as well.  And staying at home sure would take care of daycare costs, wouldn't it?
Republicans who acknowledge their woman problem say it's not that they don't want to help them, they just would rather help them "the conservative way."
This enables them to fall back on the party's tried-and-untrue free market mantra, which goes something like this: A rising economic tide raises all boats.  But . . . and you knew there was going to be a but . . . considerations for working women should be balanced against the needs of small businesses.
"The Republican position is: There is only so much employers can bear before they stop hiring people and before the economy starts to suffer," said Katie Packer Gage, a former Romney strategist in an outburst of candor. "Democrats are always going to hand out more tax dollars. But what is the breaking point?"
Some party strategists go so far as to claim candidates might be staying silent on work-life balance issues because "anything we offer, the Democrats will offer 10 times that," as former senior McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin puts it.  Translation: Why bother when we'll be (pardon the pun) out trumped.
Speaking of Obamacare, the Republicans are up to their old tricks. 
Although their very own Supreme Court has validated two key elements of the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land and the House has voted over 50 times to repeal it, the Senate voted the other day to do exactly that on a 49-43 party-line vote, the august chamber's first attempt to get rid of it since Republicans took control in January.  Three-fifths of the Senate would have had to vote to add the repeal to a highway funding bill.
Marco Rubio has been absent from Capitol Hill more than any other senator seeking the Republican nomination, having been AWOL for 42 roll calls, or more than one-third, since announcing his run in mid-April.  Senators Lindsay Graham (37 roll calls missed) and Ted Cruz (33 missed) are a close second and third.
Meanwhile, Senator Rand Paul has missed just two votes.
In 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie singlehandedly killed a planned $8.7 billion commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River that virtually everyone else believed would ensure the future health of the New York region's economy.  Christie argued that it was just too damned expensive for the frugal times in which he governed, an argument that held little water then and has now sprung a ginormous leak as a series of severe commuter rail delays because of the two existing -- and ancient and badly deteriorating -- tunnels threaten to bring regional rail service to a halt.
What Christie planned to do all along was use New Jersey's share of tunnel construction dough to bail out the state's highway and bridge system, which under his "leadership" had been driven deeply into debt.  And he did.
Now semi-chastened presidential candidate Christie is singing a different tune:
"If I am president of the United States, I [will] call a meeting between the president, my secretary of transportation, the governor of New York and the governor of New Jersey and say, 'Listen, if we are all in this even Steven, if we are all going to put in an equal share, then let’s go build these tunnels under the Hudson River,' " said in a radio interview. 
I would say that it took balls for Christie to even allude to his monumental screw-up, but he doesn't have any.
Scott Walker this week became the latest presidential wannabe to founder on the treacherous shoals of Philadelphia cheesesteak diplomacy.  As John Kerry and many another visiting pol had found to their embarrassment, Walker's faux pax was to order the wrong kind of cheese.
The governor of Wisconsin (the cheese state, right?), being careful to not play favorites, made obligatory stops at rival sandwich shops Pat's and Geno's during a campaign swing through the City of Brotherly Love.  His crime was to order a steak wid, in Philly parlance, American cheese and not Cheez Whiz, the local favorite.  He also opted against onions, another local must-have.
While Walker's gaff had the locals clucking, his culinary sin was a far cry from John Kerry's.  In 2003, the then-Massachusetts senator asked for . . . get this, Swiss cheese, at Pat's while running for president.
For the record, I preferred Pat's over Geno's back in my meat-eating days.  Always wid Cheez Whiz, onions and sauteed mushrooms.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Politix Update: Repubs Better Watch Out Fror That Guy In A Funny Hat

As if the Republican Party didn't have enough negative publicity-grabbing problems with a man who is not serious about wanting to be president leading an overcrowded field of people who really want to be president and a president who is doing a pretty good job of being president, now comes (well, pretty soon, anyway) the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Servant of the Servants of God, and Holy Father.

You can call him Francis, but the GOP probably would rather he be calling long distance than embarking on a whirlwind U.S. tour that will include a September 24 address to a joint session of Congress, the first in history by a pontiff.
The visit, which is taking on the hype of a Beatles reunion tour, will be a celebratory occasion for many people, but for Republicans it will be a stark reminder that the man who is the closest thing on earth to God for America's 69 million Catholics (and presumably the 33 percent of congressfolk who are Catholic, as well) is a flaming social liberal who has forcefully staked out ideological positions diametrically opposite to that of the Republican Party at a time when its efforts to broaden its base seem, well, less than holy, which is to say somewhere between halfhearted and desultory.
While the Republicans are pushing for spending cuts that would disproportionately impact on the poor, Francis has called the excesses of capitalism the "dung of the devil."  While Republicans believe that human-caused global warming is either a hoax or a liberal plot against big business, Francis has inveigled against its "devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness."  While Republicans adamantly oppose the new accord with Iran on its nuclear program, Francis believes that the pact "may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world."  And while most Republicans oppose immigration reform, Francis has frequently confronted the "racist and xenophobic attitudes" that often face undocumented aliens and has said immigrant children "must be welcomed and protected."
The pope's visit is especially problematic for House Speaker John Boehner, who is a poster boy for a party that self-righteously jams God (well, that white Christian god, anyway) into just about everything it says and does.  And if the GOP plays its cards right, it will have engineered the latest government shutdown about the time Francis alights on Capitol Hill.

Boehner, who frequently invokes his working-class Catholic roots in Reading, Ohio, where his father was a tavern owner, has invited popes to address Congress for the last 20 years, but Francis is the first to accept.

It should be noted that Francis, while speaking out forcefully on issues Republicans pray will magically disappear for the duration of his Washington visit but will not, has made no changes in church doctrine.  This includes opposition to two Democratic grails -- abortion and same-sex marriage.  And perhaps not surprisingly, the pope's honeymoon with American Catholics is pretty much over.  Although a little more than seven in 10 still have a favorable image of Francis, according to a new Gallup poll, that is a drop of 18 percentage points from last year. The drop is even more marked among conservative Catholics,  just 45 percent of whom have a positive opinion of him.
Despite the potential for conflict, Boehner says he is just thrilled at the prospect of he and his fellow congressfolk meeting and greeting the Holy Father, as well as surely hopes that there won't be any intemperate outbursts from his flock like Joe Wilson's "You lie!" rant during President Obama's rollout of the Affordable Care Act in a speech to Congress in 2009.

"Well, listen, there's one thing we know about this pope," Boehner says. "He's not afraid to take on the status quo or not afraid to say what he really thinks. And I can tell you this: I'm not about to get myself into an argument with the pope. So I'm sure the pope will have things to say that people will find interesting, and I'm looking forward to his visit."
You don't have to be the pope to know that the Republican Party is on the wrong side of history an awful lot these days.  Such is the case with a surprise issue of the 2016 presidential race -- the federal minimum wage.
Raising the federal minimum wage from a paltry $7.25 an hour, let alone doubling it as have New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. this month for certain workers, would hurt business owners, argue Republicans.  The reality is just the opposite: Putting more money in workers' pockets helps everyone, but for the GOP to acknowledge that would undermine "trickle-down" economics, that frayed conservative security blanket that the party has been sucking on for years in claiming that rewarding the rich and screwing the middle class and poor actually helps everyone. 

Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton advocate raising the minimum wage; Sanders wants to double it.  The Fair Shot campaign, as the effort to hike the minimum wage is often called, is bound to give Republicans fits as it spreads, and deservedly so.  It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of curmudgeons.
The U.S. isn't Greece, but there is a lesson in its ongoing financial disaster: Leading Republicans believe in the very policies that have gotten it in such trouble.
"On one side, just about everyone in the GOP demands that we reduce government spending, especially aid to lower-income families," writes economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman in the New York Times.
"On the other side, leading Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan incessantly attack the Federal Reserve for its efforts to boost the economy, delivering solemn lectures on the evils of 'debasing the dollar' when the main difference between the effects of austerity in Canada and in Greece was precisely that Canada could 'debase' its currency, while Greece couldn't. Oh, and many Republicans hanker for a return to the gold standard, which would effectively put us into a euro-like straitjacket."
Got that, kiddies? Slashing spending a la Ryan while blocking any offsetting monetary easing will bring the policies behind the Greek collapse to the U.S.
I would be remiss not to mention Donald Trump, as tiresome as he has become, and there are two developments related to him of note, or perhaps notoriety: Despite his slander of John McCain, he continues to lead in most national polls (which I predicted), has actually extended his lead in some polls, and is guaranteed a spot in at least the first presidential tevee debate.  And he is threatening to bolt the GOP and run as a third-party candidate (which anyone with a pulse could have predicted) if the Republican Party doesn't kiss his ring. 
Party bigs have pretty much resigned themselves to Trump's bomb throwing, which is drowning out the messages of the other candidates in the overcrowded field, and provoking him would clearly backfire at this stage of the game.  That is why a proposal floated at a Republican Governors Association meeting to force Trump out of the forthcoming debates was DOA.
Under the proposal, the three leading candidates not named Trump -- Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio -- would refuse to participate in the debates if Trump was included because of his threat to bolt the party.  The other candidates would then get on board, or so the wishful thinking went, and the television networks would be forced to show Trump the door. 
I suppose there is a third development, as well: It is now widely acknowledged that Trump's ascendancy is a direct result of the toxicity of the Republican brand, an inescapable reality that I first wrote about in May: 
"In the last two-plus decades as the Republican Party's drift to the right morphed into a full-blown gallop and the party's base came to be dominated by Bible thumpers and angry white men -- and frequently Bible thumping angry white men -- the GOP has won only two of six presidential elections, one because the Supreme Court gave the Constitution the finger and the other because Republicans had perfected their fear machine message and the Democratic candidate was weak.  It is probable that Republicans will not halt their losing streak in 2016."
Probable is quickly morphing into likely, and that is not the fault of Trump, who is leading in many polls precisely because he is an unserious man who has no desire to become president.  Put another way: Trump is a symptom of the rot in the Grand Old Party, not a cause.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Politix Update: The Republicans Flail, Trump Sails & Jeb! Gets Caught Out

We won't know until early next week whether Donald Trump's slander of John McCain will slow if not derail his seemingly improbable rise to the top of the Republican presidential polls, but early indications are that the bloviating gadzillionaire's criticism of the war hero for having the temerity to get shot down over North Vietnam and beaten to within an inch of his life at the Hanoi Hilton for five and a half years will barely cause a blip.
This will be further bad news for a Republican Party already well back on its heels in its quest to retake the White House.  The GOP is reaping the whirlwind of years of divisive politics and fear mongering in the service of short-term gains and still smarting from a series of legislative, judicial and diplomatic successes by Barack Obama despite its ferocious opposition to him, while much of the news media is fixated on an unserious man who has no desire to become president, let alone the chops to be nominated or elected, but has now so flummoxed the Republican field that it's terrified of criticizing the people who support Trump. That would be the party's xenophobic and racist white male base.
Polls released earlier this week show that the overheated Trump is pulling away from the overcrowded Republican field.
The Washington Post-ABC News Poll, based on interviews with voters last Thursday through Sunday, showed Trump with almost twice the support of his closest rivals -- Scott Walker and Jeb Bush -- and six times as much support as he had two months ago.  There were some signs in polling interviews on Sunday, the day after Trump went off on McCain, that there was some drop off of support, but the extent of that erosion -- if any -- won't be clear until the next round of national polling is released next week. (It also is being noted that wingnuts by the name of Bachmann, Cain and Santorum were running away from the competition at this point four years ago, but who the heck cares?)
The news media frenzy over Trump is not getting in the way of other candidates' messages, it's trampling them. 
The New York Times has had 10 stories on Trump this week, including four today under the heading "Trump Today," the kind of coverage the Iraq nukes deal and British Open have gotten.  As well as three op-ed columns.  The biggest news piece focuses on the feud between Trump and media mogul Rupert Murdoch and is chockablock with gossipy tidbits, including the awkward aftermath of Murdoch's high-profile divorce from Wendi Deng Murdoch and the revelation that Trump's daughter, Ivanka, unlike many New York society figures, has remained loyal to Murdoch's ex, who is a close friend.  Murdoch makes clear his feelings for The Donald, calling him a "phony," an "embarrassment," and a "catastrophe."  (Murdoch, of course, has done quite well off of Trump, and the record for front-page stories on a single topic in his New York Post is its coverage of Trump's affair with Marla Maples and split with Ivana Trump.)  Then there's this.
The reasons that the least qualified wannabe in the Republican field (apologies to Dr. Ben Carson) is creaming the competition are by now perfectly clear if still largely unacknowledged by the so-called GOP leadership: Trump's red-meat rhetoric resonates deeply with a big chunk of the party's base; the messages of WalkerBushRubioPaul do not.

The McCain flap laid bare an uncomfortable truth: That xenophobic and racist white male base is a lot more concerned about illegal immigrants, income disparity, the power of the elites, and the demographic tide running out on them than disparaging veterans in general and dissing an old war hero in particular, even one who modestly says he was no hero but served in the company of them.  (
"I was able to intercept a surface-to-air missile with my own airplane, which was no mean feat to say the least," McCain has said.)
The Arizona senator is, in fact, the leading Republican voice for the immigration reforms so vehemently opposed by the base, and while the base hates the news media, it worships McCain basher Rush Limbaugh as their Great White God.  (For the record, that Rupert Murdoch, himself an immigrant, also supports reform.)

And if you look at the enormous mess that is the Republican Party, McCain must bear responsibility for one of the deepest self-inflicted wounds.  As the redoubtable Booman put it over at the Booman Tribune, "I  still believe that John McCain ripped a tear in the fabric of the universe and let some alien form of Stupid arrive here on our planet when he gave us Sarah Palin."
Then there is a corollary uncomfortable truth that resonates especially deeply for me as a veteran: Trump's declarations that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers is okay, but impugning a white guy's war record is out of bounds if the vet is a Republican and not John Kerry, Tammy Duckworth or Max Cleland. Kerry's 2004 presidential run may have been dismal, but the Republicans bequeathed us a new term -- swiftboating -- a neologism meaning an untrue political attack, in this instance claims that Kerry had fabricated his heroic Vietnam War record.  The legless Duckworth and Cleland, a triple amputee, caught flak over whether they were sufficiently loyal Americans despite their service in Iraq and Vietnam, respectively. 
Jeb Bush, whose message (whatever it is) is among those getting trampled by Trump, was quick to defend McCain, but any sense of outrage was AWOL 10 years ago when Bush praised Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that led the slanderous (there's that word again) attacks questioning the Vietnam service record of Kerry, who commanded a swift boat (think Apocalypse Now, kiddies) and received a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
"As someone who truly understands the risk of standing up for something, I simply cannot express in words how much I value their willingness to stand up against John Kerry," Bush wrote in a January 2005 letter regarding the group's anti-Kerry offensive. "Their efforts, like their service to their country, speak volumes about what matters most."
Okay, I often write with a barely concealed sense of outrage, but this kind of hypocrisy is truly outrageous. But wait! There's more:
In 1972, Jeb! drew number 26 in the Vietnam draft lottery, which likely meant his induction the following year and the prospect of a trip to the Big Muddy.  He then told his parents, George H.W. and Barbara, that he might file for draft-exempt conscientious objector status in order to avoid the draft as well as protect his privileged status. (Let's not forget that Vietnam was an internal class war as much as it was a war against the Red Menace.) 
According to one Bush family biography, Babs and her husband, himself a World War II hero and ardent Vietnam War hawk, assured young Bush that they supported him.  As it turned out, the U.S. began its withdrawal from Vietnam the next year and the draft lottery was ended, so Bush skated.
Contrast all of that with some of this:
In June 2008, retired Army General Wesley Clark appeared on Face the Nation as an unofficial Barack Obama surrogate. Clark said that while he considered McCain a personal hero, he didn't believe that "getting shot down is a qualification to be president."
The comment was no sooner out of Clark's mouth than candidate Obama disavowed it, saying no one should ever devalue military service, "especially for the sake of a political campaign." Clark, who was on some lists as a potential Obama running mate, was not even invited to the Democratic convention.
More bad news for the Republican Party: The economy is expected to be chug chugging right along for the 2016 presidential election, and a good economy further hurts its crappy chances.

In a New York Times survey of 17 economists, the consensus view was that unemployment would be the lowest it has been during an election since 2000, when it stood at 3.9 percent. The median forecast for the unemployment rate when voters go to the polls in November 2016 is 4.8 percent, down from 5.3 percent last month. The economists saw only a 15 percent chance of a recession starting by next Election Day, while interest rates, inflation and gasoline prices will be slightly higher than they are now, but quite low by historical standards.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Politix Update: What Happens When You Use Bigotry & Hate As Weapons

It is disingenuous to blame Republicans for the xenophobic and racist white male as a force in American presidential politics.  Democrats also must share the blame, and a societal malaise larger than politics is the cauldron for this toxic brew.  But the Republican Party alone is responsible for calculatedly harnessing bigotry and hate as political weapons, and consequentially for the emergence of Donald Trump as someone to be reckoned with despite his celebrity clownhood, a man whose very unfitness for the presidency is a significant factor in his popularity, as well as made the GOP's quest to retake the White House into a mockery.
Mockery is actually a pretty good word to describe the state of the Grand Old Party, which has ignored the best advice of its best minds to plot a course in the last 10 or so years that in the service of short-term gains -- and to hell with the future -- built on Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, an unabashed appeal to racism that fed off of the alienation of whites in the South and elsewhere following LBJ's landmark civil rights initiatives.  And then there was the party's great conservative god, Ronald Reagan, who embraced the Southern Strategy under the moniker of "state's rights," at least when he was campaigning in the South.
And so we have headlines like this one in the New York Times:
Trump's Appeal? G.O.P. Is Puzzled, But His Fans Aren't
Puzzled?  Not really, it's just those short-term gain chickens coming home to roost.  Of course not all of the 15 (and counting) other Republican presidential candidates think like Trump, or even agree with him, but the pushback against the celebrity gadzillionaire has been painfully slow in coming and tepid, at best, because of fears that those xenophobic and racist white males who pretty much are the party's base will have their feelings hurt.  (That began to change on Saturday when Trump dissed Senator John McCain's war record, but more about that in a moment.)

Make no mistake about it: As Democrats showed racists the door, the GOP welcomed them and their fellow travelers with open arms, which is why it also is the party of creationists, gun nuts, anti-abortion wackos, immigrant haters, homophobes and has become known for what opposes, not what it proposes.
Trump is not the first Republican candidate of stature in recent years to dog whistle their appeal to that base; he's merely the loudest and most obnoxious.  There was Sarah Palin, who was described by her zealous supporters in the same glowing terms as Trump before she burned out, and Senator Ted Cruz, a presidential wannabe who skirts the edges of racial demagoguery when it suits his purposes and has praised Trump for his "truthfulness."  (I could only come up with a single Democrat of even vaguely similar inclination, the long-retired Zell Miller, in looking for Democratic comparables in the last quarter century, and then even further back to Lester Maddox and George Wallace some 40 and 50 years ago.)
But Trump takes the cake as he barnstorms the country to shouts of "USA! USA!".

It is one thing to declare that the American Dream is dead, its leaders are stupid, and that "his country" is being stolen from him, which is exactly how Charleston church terrorist and white supremacist Dylann Roof feels.
  Or that George Bush should have invaded Mexico and not Iraq.  Trump's appeal to xenophobic and racist whites is visceral as he surrounds himself at his rallies with "true Americans" whose relatives were killed by illegal immigrants and invites people like the man whose son was crushed under the car of an undocumented immigrant to share their stories with his audiences.
"The illegals come in, and the illegals killed their children," he said recently.  "They never tell you what nationality they are. . . . Most of them are Mexican."
Never mind that Trump is ahead in some national polls.  As a fringe candidate, and he still is despite his vocal following and standing in the polls, what goes up must come down in the cruel physics of politics.
Trump's beyond-the-pale attack on McCain in declaring "he's not a war hero" for being captured during the Vietnam War, never mind that he was held prisoner for five and a half years in Hanoi and refused early release despite being repeatedly beaten, quickly became the excuse the other candidates were praying for (the execrable Cruz excepted) to lock, load and lash back, and the news media needed to stop acting like it was intimidated by Trump and begin piling on.  Or at least do some serious vetting.
Predictably, one of the first post-McCain slander reports concerned Trump being evasive and seemingly embarrassed about why he never served in the military at the height of the war McCain volunteered for despite having a medical deferment he has described as being only "short term."  Next up were stories that he is a closet liberal who has donated more of his fortune to Democrats than Republicans, including Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.  He also has supported universal health care and was pro-choice until recently.  And then came stories about his seat-of-the-pants operation: That he's a less than serious candidate who brags he only spends about half his time campaigning, hasn't bothered to assemble much of a staff, one of whom is a former The Apprentice contestant, and doesn't take advice from anyone who isn't The Donald. 
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post is making a big deal about moving its Trump coverage to its Entertainment section.  As value judgments go, that seems pretty stupid, no? And Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, whose record of getting things wrong is unrivaled in the conservative media and was Sarah Palin's most ardent supporter, told ABC's This Week that Trump would make a better president than Hillary Clinton but criticized him for swiftboating McCain.  Charles Krauthammer, of all people, actually was making sense: "This is the strongest field of Republican candidates in 35 years," he told Fox News. "You could pick a dozen of them at random and have the strongest Cabinet America's had in our lifetime, and instead all of our time is spent discussing this rodeo clown."
According to a corollary law of political physics, Trump's poll numbers should begin dropping now that it's open season on him.  We shall see.
Lost in the firestorm over Trump's attack on McCain (for which he has not really apologized) is that fellow Republican candidates have been comfortable, for the most part, with Trump's politics of fear.  His declarations that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers is okay, but impugning a white guy's war record is out of bounds if the vet is a Republican and not John Kerry, Tammy Duckworth or Max Cleland.  And while Trump may begin to founder sooner than later and eventually will fall, it will take a very long time to wash away the stain of the Republican Party's shame.

President Obama may be on the verge of making history:  Unlike virtually every president before him, his second term may turn out to be better than his first.

It took some effort to get my head around that notion, and when you consider that Obama's first term was pretty damned good in many respects, the accomplishments this time around are pretty impressive: Supreme Court decisions upholding his landmark health care plan and the right of gay Americans to marry, passage of fast-track Asian trade authority, normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, and leading the international effort to curtail Iran's nuclear weapons program.  Then there is the way he has taken command of events, notably his extraordinary eulogy for the victims of the Charleston church massacre.

"Obama is not a modest man," writes Todd Purdum in Politico, "But when it comes to assessing his or any president's place in the long American story, he has been heard to say, 'We just try to get our paragraph right.'  Yet the way a raft of recent events have broken sharply in his favor, Obama suddenly seems well on his way to writing a whole page—or at least a big, fat passage—in the history books."

There is a rather significant irony beyond the fact the chattering classes were writing Obama off as a dead duck -- as opposed to a lame duck -- not that long ago: His fellow Democrats may prove to be as big an obstacle as those bitterly partisan Republicans in the last 18 months of his presidency, witness Democratic opposition to the trade pact, which eventually passed with largely Republican support.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Politix Update: The Bernie Sanders Effect & Return Of Opus The Penguin

Is little old Bernie Sanders the best thing to happen to Hillary Clinton and the worst thing to happen to the overcrowded Republican presidential field? At this point in the long and winding road to the big dance, the answer is an emphatic yes because economic issues such as wage stagnation, job growth and workplace gender imparity are grabbing an outsized -- and deserving -- amount of attention.
Sanders, despite the beyond-long-shot nature of his challenge, is pushing the presumptive Democratic nominee leftward on economic issues, which Americans care about a whole lot more than Iran's nuclear program or the return of the Bloom County comic strip, to name two topics of moment of the moment.  This is having the effect of making the economic message being delivered by Republican candidates, when not trying to scrape Donald Trump off the bottom of their wingtips, look even more antediluvian and out of step with the needs of ordinary Americans.
And that is a beautiful thing.
If Clinton had had her way, she would have sailed into 2016 with a plain vanilla-ish economic platform that would, of course, appeal to the Democratic base and draw in Independents and swing voters, but nothing too dramatic, mind you.   But the feisty (and Sanders has got to just hate that word by now) self-described socialist senator from Vermont has forced her to put some muscle in the economic plan she previewed earlier this week.  One pundit said the plan reflected "the progressive economic zeitgeist of the present-day Democratic Party," which has a nice ring to it even if what it means is a bit murky.  
Clinton's plan, which has a kitchen-sink feel to it, draws on Sanders' ideas: First and foremost, creating jobs and raising wages, which have stagnated so badly that real median household income is lower than it was 20 years ago, and secondly, dividing the spoils of economic growth more fairly, including reaping the fruits of the digital revolution without undermining workers' rights and job security (read labor unions) and, in one of several government interventionist nods, giving tax breaks to firms promoting employee ownership.
Clinton is not taking the bait dangled by Jeb Bush, who boasts that he would raise the U.S growth rate a probably unrealistic 4 percent per year, and asserts that the real barometer of economic success is wage growth.  And she has fired back at Dubya's baby brother, who like the former president is a proponent of "trickle-down" economics, that frayed conservative security blanket that Republicans have been sucking on for years.  ("No government interventionist soup for us!") 
Jeb! did not misspeak, as his handlers disingenuously claimed, when he unwisely wagged a privileged finger at Americans and told them they needed to work longer hours and earn more income for their families through increased productivity.  "Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day or the teacher who is in that classroom or the trucker who drives all night," Clinton declared in a reply made in sound bite heaven. "They don’t need a lecture, they need a raise."
Among Clinton's other economic proposals are two that stand in dramatic contrast to Bush and his fellow Republican clown car poolers:
* Improving America's woeful infrastructure through a government-backed infrastructure bank to finance investment not unlike that which President Obama has proposed.  Republicans apparently like potholes and falling down bridges as much as tax cuts for the rich, while Governor Scott Walker turned down billions in federal dough, never mind all the jobs it would create, for a high-speed rail link in Wisconsin and Bush backed Governor Rick Scott when he did the same in Florida.  
* Increased labor market participation among women, which has been falling, by providing more affordable child care by subsidizing it.  Republicans, almost to a man (and that Carly Fiorina, too) favor expanding the child tax credit.  Oh, and they want to repeal or gut the Affordable Care Act, which has begun to address the disparity in the level of medical care women receive.
The Sanders Effect will not last and the Republican field will be winnowed down, including the eventual implosion of The Donald, while Clinton will find it harder to keep the high ground.  But for the moment the divide in economic visions is stark.  And it's great to have Opus the Penguin, Bill the Cat and Michael Binkley back.

If Hillary Clinton's economic speech was something of a salad bar, Scott Walker's presidential campaign kickoff speech later the same day was all red meat.
Repeal Obamacare and leave Medicaid to the states.  Cut taxes on the rich and ease financial market regulation.  Defund Planned Parenthood and enact draconian pro-life legislation.  Make it more difficult to get public assistance and vote but easier to carry concealed weapons.  Slash education spending.  Kick illegal immigrants out of the country and give states the right to outlaw same-sex marriage because, he implies, gays are pedophiles.  And drill, baby, drill. 
It doesn't bother me that the Wisconsin governor is a college dropout.  What does bother me is his lack of intellectual curiosity, ducking tough questions rather than addressing them, and an inescapable sense that he is soulless despite his frequent references to God.  ("I really think there's a reason why God put all these political thoughts in my head," he wrote in his college yearbook.)
And his repeated boasts about being a political outsider are hokum.  He's only 47, but has been running for office for the last 25 years.  In fact, the reason he dropped out of college was to run for the state Senate after his bid for student government president failed.
It also is troubling that Walker is defined by the enemies he has made: Women, labor unions and anyone who values academic freedom, for starters.  But what struck me most was that in contrast to Clinton's commitment to build on the Obama coalition of blacks, Latinos, women and young people, Walker has no coalition, only right-wingers who want more than anything to turn back the clock. 
Anyone following the ascent of Donald Trump in the polls should be forgiven if they have a case of vertigo.  In a flip-flop that speaks volumes about the state of the game, Trump is now looked upon favorably by nearly six in 10 Republicans in the latest Washington Post-ABC poll, a complete reversal from six weeks ago when 65 percent of Republicans viewed him unfavorably.
I am sure that has nothing to do with Trump's oft-stated view that Mexicans are all-around scum, nor his declaration that his comments about Latinos will help him win their vote, which is about as likely as Greece paying off its debt.  (His unfavorability rating with Latinos is now north of 80 percent and climbing.)
Meanwhile, Congressman Carlos Curbelo has given voice to the privately-uttered view that Trump may be a Democratic plot to undermine the Republican Party.
"I think there's a small possibility that this gentleman is a phantom candidate," the Miami Democrat said. "Mr. Trump has a close friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They were at his last wedding. He has contributed to the Clintons' foundation. He has contributed to Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaigns. All of this is very suspicious."
Republicans thought they had won the lottery when the Supreme Court green lighted unlimited political spending in the  2010 Citizens United decision, but the very crowded presidential primary field has provoked some second thoughts.
The Republican clown car is running on rocket fuel because of an influx of huge donations, including $86 million or so for second- and third-tier candidates Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, who have no business being in the race and wouldn't be without super PACs.  By contrast, the actual presidential campaign committees of these five candidates have raised a paltry $19 million combined and Huckabee, the faded star in the car, a paltry $2 million. 
The big picture: Jeb Bush had $114.4 million from all sources through June 30, including $103 million from outside groups like super PACs, with Ted Cruz raising $52.3 million and Marco Rubio $40.7 million.  Hillary Clinton raised $47.5 million the old-fashioned way through June 30, the most of any campaign, with Bernie Sanders raising $15.2 million and Ted Cruz $14.3 million.  Not surprisingly, Sanders led all candidates in contributions of $200 or less with $13.7 million, or 80.7 percent of all contributions to his campaign, while Donald Trump led the pack in percentage of "burn rate," having spent $1.4 million, or 74.4 percent of his war chest.
When you consider what good could be done with those many millions, it's downright obscene, isn't it?

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.