HAT TIP TO JOE GANDELMAN
It's not true that Republicans never learn from their mistakes. It's just that they don't most of the time.
True enough that House Republicans have voted 61 times to repeal Obamacare, bringing fresh meaning to the cliche that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. True enough that John Boehner announced a new partisan farce, the Select Committee on Planned Parenthood, the very day after the Benghazi Witch Hunt Committee rained on its own parade. Perhaps Boehner was sleeping off a hangover in a tanning booth somewhere and missed what even the conservative media concedes was a debacle in kicking off a new one.
But out in Old Nevady, Republicans have wised up and are doing everything they can short of strangulation to not repeat another big misteak . . . er, mistake by allowing Sharron Angle to again run for Harry Reid's Senate seat.
Angle, you might recall, plucked defeat from the jaws of victory in 2010, when Reid was viewed as weakened, vulnerable and unpopular, in conducting a campaign in sync with Republican family values but with positions otherwise nuttier than a fruitcake. This included admonitions to women that they shouldn't work if their husbands do, repeated claims that abortion leads to breast cancer, and a ferocious conviction that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape.
"You know, I'm a Christian," Angle explained at the time, "and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things." In other words, a rape victim who gets pregnant shouldn't want or need an abortion because God would really like her to have that beautiful baby.
TELL ME WHY
Remember the childhood playmate down the street who insisted that you play by his rules, no matter how ridiculous they were, when you visited his house? This is reminiscent of why Republicans typically don't learn from their mistakes: They're takers and not givers, and determinedly secure in the belief that they should get their own way.
The party's blood lust vendetta against Planned Parenthood is an excellent example. Trying to strangle the organization by refusing to fund it is a losing issue except for one teensy reason.
One fifth of all American women have used Planned Parenthood's facilities, the vast majority for contraception and health services. In 2013, its affiliated clinics provided nearly 10.6 million services to 2.7 million women and men, including contraception, abortions, and other women's health services, including 900,000 cancer screenings and millions of tests for sexually-transmitted infections. But abortion services -- the target of Republican wrath -- make up just three percent of its activities, and federal law already prevents any federal funding from going toward this minuscule portion of their work.
The teensy reason is the fact that right-wing Republicans are held hostage -- willingly, mind you -- by a voter base opposed to just about anything good for women, including leveling the playing field, and they reliably curtsy to their base even if it means further diminishing the support of a demographic the GOP must attract if it is to remain a national contender -- women who can think for themselves and don't want their lives micromanaged by a bunch of neolithic white men with prescriptions for Viagra.
THE STRAWBERRY SMOOTHIE MADE HIM DO IT
This brings us to our favorite presidential wannabe governator, Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Christie is nearly out of cash and stuck in the low single digits in every poll (he's in 11th place in Iowa and New Hampshire) mainly because he keeps getting in the way of himself. No, not because of his sizable girth. You see, the headlines he generates are not about his latest bold declaration of conservative goombahood, but his but his abjectly corrupt conduct as governor, his penchant for self-inflicted irony, and his bullying and anger management issues.
He barely made the cutoff for the third debate on Wednesday night and didn't so much shine as glower, seemingly more intent on being a tough guy by criticizing the moderators, who did happen to lose control of the proceedings, than showing why he would be good president. The debate was ostensibly about the economy, about which Christie has shown knows painfully little as New Jersey, one of the per-capita richest states in the nation, has become one of the biggest laggards in economic growth, resulting in repeated credit downgrades on his "watch." He did succeed in one thing -- scaring old people by declaring that "the government lied to you and stole your money [and you'll] never see it again." (And how about that Jeb Bush death spiral?)
Christie might as well make one of those bright orange traffic cones his campaign symbol because the long-running fallout from the Bridgegate scandal keeps churning up victims -- most notably his own presidential campaign.
There are, of course, the folks under federal indictment for the public safety mess resulting from the closing of several lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee in September 2013 in retaliation for the mayor of that fair burg not backing Christie in his re-election bid. There also is a parallel lawsuit against his administration, the timing of which could not be worse. Then there are the two United Airlines execs who were axed after being caught in a Bridgegate tentacle, the failure of a New Jersey state lottery privatization scheme that benefited Christie cronies, including a Bridgegate person of interest who screwed the pooch in the United flap, and the sudden dismissal of Christie's transportation chief, who had been gifted the job by Christie although he was a walking conflict of interest, including being a top lobbyist for the airline. And we're just scratching the surface here.
Then there's Christie's penchant for self-inflicted irony.
He claimed on Face the Nation the other day that Hillary Clinton was "unaccountable" because she left the Benghazi compound's security arrangements to lower-ranking State Department professionals. Host John Dickerson then pointed out that Christie gave a similar explanation to try to exonerate himself in Bridgegate. Oops!
Meanwhile, Christie's bullying and intemperance -- shouting down citizens at town hall meetings, declaring that public school teachers are worthless slugs, screaming "Keep walking, keep walking!" when he was stopped by a man on a Jersey shore boardwalk who wanted to talk about his lousy response to Superstorm Sandy -- was seen as an asset when he first climbed aboard the Republican clown car. But it has become an obstacle because Christie is unable to control himself.
Over the weekend, Christie was kicked out of an Amtrak quiet car en route to New Jersey from Washington when he yelled at his bodyguards, ignored requests for him to tone it down, and then, with a strawberry smoothie in one hand and a cell phone in the other, bellowed into the phone.
SHED A TEAR FOR POOR MITTENS
There was a time when Mitt Romney could boast openly of his greatest accomplishment, establishing a successful state-regulated health insurance system in Massachusetts that became the model for the Affordable Care Act, which has provided access to health care for 16 million or so Americans who couldn't afford health insurance and prompted other much-needed reforms that otherwise never would have occurred if good old profit-driven market forces continued to determine who would get care, get healthy and perhaps even stay alive.
"Without Romneycare, we wouldn't have had Obamacare," Romney boasted to the Boston Globe the other day, and without it "a lot of people wouldn’t have health insurance."
Romney quickly tried to walk back his lapse into candor by saying that the plan he promulgated as a moderate Massachusetts governor willing to work with a Democratic legislature was very different than Obama's plan, which he said has been a failure.
While not perfect, Obamacare has in fact been enormously successful despite tireless Republican efforts to kill it, including those 61 House repeal votes. Romney indeed has the right to boast, but belongs to a political party that believes that health care is a privilege and that conservative political correctness trumps suffering.
THE COWARDS GET THEIR DUE
The Freedom Caucus, that bloc of 40 or so ultra-conservative House Republicans who are expert at never learning from their mistakes, have had Americans by the short and curlies because of their refusal to help govern while repeatedly threatening to shut down Washington. But they got a triple dose of their own medicine this week.
The conservative media and hard-right constituents are calling caucus members sellouts for:
* Not standing in the way of Paul Ryan's bid to be the next House speaker because he's not right wing enough. The caucus thought it could skate by not actually endorsing Ryan, who is the biggest sellout of the bunch. As one pundit put it: "Ryan's transformation from safety-net-obliterating, Ayn Rand-worshipping conservative hero to RINO squish Obummer-enabling sellout is complete."
* Rolling over on a budget deal struck by John Boehner, the outgoing speaker, and the White House to avert another government shutdown by modestly increasing spending, raising the debt limit, and making vague promises to cut social programs. This was a huge victory for the economy and the caucus's arch enemy -- Barack Obama -- and a crushing defeat for fiscal reality deniers who believe raising the debt limit invites an apocalypse but advocate tax cuts that would as much as $10 trillion in the next decade.
* Being insulted by Boehner, who in a parting shot gave the caucus the middle finger in saying he needed to "clean up the barn" in doing the budget deal before handing the gavel to Ryan. Translation: Process is sometimes more important than policy, guys. Ryan did not sound especially grateful as he set out to attempt the feat of walking on so many conservative eggs without cracking them.And so these poor babies are confronted with defending themselves against the very people who empowered them. Waa!
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.
Using Nazi analogies is typically a loser's game. Comparing someone or something to Hitler or the Third Reich stifles debate, almost always is in bad taste and triggers inevitable side debates about whether calling someone a Nazi is as bad as calling them a "kike" or "nigger." Then there is Godwin's Law, which states that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches inevitability.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have broken what for me has been a cardinal rule about not using Nazi analogies. This is when I have written about the Bush administration's embrace of torture techniques right out of the Nazi playbook, as well as the deafening lack of response from most Americans to this and other outrages not unlike the Germans who failed to speak out against the excesses of the Third Reich. My first such reference was in 2007, and I feel even more strongly now that these analogies were apt given the circumstances.
All of which brings us to present circumstances and Dr. Ben Carson, who is an especially nasty example of how really smart people can be profoundly ignorant. Carson's stock in trade -- and presumably a reason that he leads Donald Trump in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll and only narrowly trails him in other polls -- is to use Nazi analogies in characterizing the kind of America that Democrats would bequeath us.
Carson, who has been infatuated with Nazi Germany for years, warns that a Hitler-like figure could emerge in America, that Hitler's Mein Kampf manifesto provides insights into the presidency of Barack Obama, that the Affordable Care Act is akin to something that would have been endorsed in Nazi Germany, that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and eugenics advocate Hitler had much in common, that political correctness is a tactic reminiscent of the feared SS, the armed wing of the Nazi Party, and most incredibly of all, that the Holocaust would have been "greatly diminished" if Jews had been allowed to possess guns.
If you haven't been disturbed, let alone revolted, by the myriad aspects of the Republican presidential primary race that are beyond the pale, then you probably need to be medicated. This would seem to especially be the case in Iowa where those stereotypical corn-fed and flannel-shirted folks with high cholesterol levels have elevated Carson to the top of the pack and he now has a double-digit lead over The Donald.
(This may not seem so shocking when you consider that Iowa Republicans have gotten cuddly with other fringe candidates in the past, including Pat Robertson, Rick Santorum and Pat Buchanan, who had his own Third Reich infatuation, all of which further burnishes Iowa's reputation for going gaga over people who are neither fit to be president nor have a chance of becoming president, which is why the vaunted Iowa Caucus doesn't mean squat except to the mainstream media.)
Part of the good doctor's appeal to Iowans, among fringers elsewhere, is that he projects a calm demeanor -- he's so mild mannered! gush his enthusiasts -- which makes his despicable Nazi analogizing less like the ranting of an Allen West, Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, who are all unrepentant Nazi analogizers, and might seem reasonable to someone who may be ignorant of the profound evil of Hitler's Germany, which visited the greatest carnage in history on humankind.
More frightening is when Carson seems reasonable to someone who knows damned well what Hitler was all about and approves of these vile linkages, and more frightening still is that Carson pretty much has gotten a free pass from his competitors over his infatuation with Third Reich comparisons, which he adamantly refuses to back down from, while Trump was excoriated for dissing John McCain's war record. The reason Carson gets a pass although he is the sickest of the presidential wannabe sickos, is that he's the right kind of Negro to many Republicans while Obama is not. And as I have written, he can glower from behind that invisible shield so many of us white folks instinctively erect to seal off strong feelings when we don't necessarily like the message and the messenger is black.
Perhaps most frightening of all when it comes to Carson is that 96 percent of Iowans said in a new poll that they are attracted by his leaps of lunacy because these views show he has a "common sense"-based approach to issues. Overall, 84 percent have a favorable view of him and are especially supportive of his opposition to a Muslim being allowed to serve as president and his dog-whistle suggestions that Obama secretly is one.
THE GHOSTS OF MUNICH
Beyond the fear mongering of a Ben Carson, contemporary politicians too often feel a need to inject Nazi Germany into what passes for discourse. Take Bill Clinton, Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush and Benjamin Netanyahu, to name but a few.
In 1999, Clinton justified his decision to bomb Serbia by asking, "What if someone had listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolf Hitler earlier?"
In 2007, Putin justified Russian bellicosity by stating, "[T]hese threats are not diminishing. . . . [and] in these new threats, as during the time of the Third Reich, are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world."
In 2008, Bush justified his refusal to talk to terrorists by noting that "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals. . . . We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' "
And just the other day, Netanyahu sparked an uproar in Israel for justifying his hatred of Palestinians by suggesting that a World War II-era Palestinian leader persuaded the Nazis to adopt their Final Solution to exterminate 6 million Jews, a fallacy that was long ago proven to be false. (Netanyahu also happens to be something of a darling of Carson and other Muslim-loathing Republican theocrats.)
CUE THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
Carson hasn't been scrutinized as has Trump, and won't be in the debate tonight although he was barely coherent in the first two debates, which of course enhanced his popularity. He has zero foreign and public policy experience, has a tendency to think out loud, let alone outside the box, has been spending buckets full of money to attract more money, not broaden his tiny base, and has nothing that could be remotely described as a personality unless you like a guy who, as one pundit put it, always "sounds like a doctor prescribing painkillers."
The conventional wisdom therefore is that Carson will eventually fade and Republican voters will magically become all serious. But the conventional wisdom has been wrong an awful lot of the time this political season. Just ask Jeb Bush.
The easy rejoinder to people like myself who take offense at the Ben Carsons of the political world is that we're against discussing history when it's particularly unpleasant. Wrong. What we're against is what Carson and his ilk do: Use Nazi analogies to stifle discussion, not to broaden it, and as a scare tactic, not as a reminder of the evil that can be visited upon societies that are not committed to embracing all people and their cultures.
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.
Scientists specializing in metrics don't know how he's done it. Sports statistic wonks don't know how he's done it. Even David Murphy doesn't know how he's done it.
Murphy, an otherwise middling player, is in possession of what is arguably the hottest streak in the 139-year history of the big leagues, a genuine yowza in sports slang, and all eyes will be on the New York Mets second baseman when he steps up to the plate tonight in the World Series opener against the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City.
Over the last nine games, Murphy is hitting .421 with a 1.026 slugging percentage against top-flight pitching, including a record-breaking 1.294 in the League Championship Series. He's hit seven home runs, including one in each of the last six games, a post-season playoff feat that's never happened before. In fact, Murphy has never hit more than 14 home runs in an entire season, nor ever hit a homer for more than two games in a row, and yet he's now one homer away from tying Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran, and Nelson Cruz’s record of eight in a single postseason.
To compare Murphy with those greats is to strain credulity, and supposedly smart numbers nerds explain his streak by saying that it's so much statistical noise and really no different than flipping a coin and having it repeatedly land on heads.
That's horse hockey, as Colonel Potter was found of saying. Every athlete, including a mediocrity like myself, knows when they're "in the zone."
Frank Messina is the Mets' official poet (I'm not making that up) and an old friend.
"Murphy's 'Ruthian' accomplishment thus far can only be attributed to one thing: the four leaf clover he found at his Aunt Rosie O'Malley's front lawn," Frank told me. "That, and an incredible eye. He sees everything and has incredible intuition with regard to pitch sequence. In short, he's on fire!"
Murphy has made adjustments that help to explain his hot hand: He's stepped closer to the plate and started pulling the ball a little more, so he's striking, grounding and flying out less. The rest of the explanation may be as simple as him being a pretty darned good hitter all along who has suddenly, if inexplicably, come into his own. And it should be noted that no one was paying much attention to him when he had cold streaks.
The Mets are favored to win the World Series, but not just because of Murphy. He's merely a surprise star on an already solid team.
"I can't explain it," Murphy says. "It's just such a blessing to be able to contribute to what we’ve been able to do. I'm excited to be able to do something to help us win ballgames, but I can't explain it."
While it's not All The President's Men, the new Robert Redford movie about how Dan Rather's distinguished career at CBS News imploded over a controversial report on our favorite chickenhawk president's problematic military service, does several things: Truth reminds us of the power of the right-wing media and malleability of the mainstream media, the cowardice of George W. Bush and, for people paying close attention, a certain hypocrisy that the foundering Jeb Bush shares with his presidential brother.
In All the President's Men, Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) tells reporters Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl
Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) that as the enormity of the Watergate scandal became apparent, he realized that he'd never seen anything like it in a long career of going after the high and mighty. The story, Bradlee mutters, is no longer just about journalism, it's about no less than the future of the freaking country.
GEORGE W. BUSH (ca. 1971)
Truth -- both the movie and underlying story -- are not quite in that league, although there is a disheartening connection between the scandal that toppled a presidency because the WaPo stood behind its young guns in the face of enormous pressure from the White House to reassign them to something less incendiary, and CBS, which caved in after Rather and producer Mary Mapes (Kate Blanchette) were unable to prove the authenticity of six memos central to a report broadcast on 60 Minutes II in September 2004 even if the underlying premise was accurate -- a young George Bush skipped out on his Texas Air National Guard service and got away with that, as well as getting away with not having to serve in Vietnam, both because of his influential father.
There is no way that the 60 Minutes II report would have toppled the Bush presidency even if CBS hadn't wimped out and stood behind Rather and Mapes, nor would the story have derailed Bush's then-close race with John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. But Truth does remind us, in a round-about way, of public figures who question people's patriotism but in the contemporary application of the term chickenhawk avoided the Vietnam War themselves. While chickenhawks aren't confined to the GOP, it's hard to find a Democrat who is one while the number of prominent Republicans are legion: In addition to Bush, they include Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Rush Limbaugh and Ted Nugent.
Irony of ironies, it was Kerry who ended up with serious credibility problems about his service record when he was repeatedly slandered by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that led the attacks questioning his Vietnam service. Never mind that Kerry, who commanded a swift boat (think Apocalypse Now) served meritoriously 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," a guy by the name of Jeb 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."
JEB AND GEORGE (2001)
In 1972, Jeb had drawn 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, something that his big brother was scrambling to avoid as he tried to transfer to a non-flying unit Texas Air National Guard Unit.
Anyhow, Jeb told his parents, George H.W. and Barbara, that he might file for draft-exempt conscientious objector status in order to avoid the draft and protect his privileged young ass. (Remember that Vietnam was an American class war as much as it was a war against the Red Menace, and political nobility ran from their obligations, some all the way to Canada and Sweden.) According to one Bush family biography, Babs and her husband, himself a World War II hero and ardent hawk, assured young Bush that they supported him. Bush skated because the U.S. began its withdrawal from Vietnam the next year and the draft lottery was ended.
Truth is unabashedly sympathetic to Rather although less so to Mapes, who is depicted as being too hasty in getting the Bush story out.
Only months before the 60 Minutes II episode aired, the hair-on-fire producer had won major awards for a story about the scandalous treatment of prisoners by their American captors at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a story doubly embarrassing to the Bush administration because it also blew the lid off of the administration's approval of the secret use of torture. Its veracity was never questioned.
Truth, which is told from Mapes' perspective, implies that CBS News executives were pressured to quash the Bush story by corporate owners Viacom, which
had business reasons to maintain friendly relations with the Bush White House, an allegation that was not proven because it was a sideshow to the main event -- the accuracy of the six Air National Guard memos. Meanwhile, the blowback from the right-wing media was ferocious, and it didn't matter if it obsessed on the memos while ignoring the larger point that when it came to military service, Bush was a quitter.
RATHER INTROS THE BUSH STORY (2004)
CBS has refused to run advertising for Truth and says that it is a disservice to the public and journalists.
"It's astounding how little truth there is in Truth," said Gil Schwartz, chief spokesman for CBS Corp. and a character in the movie. "There are, in fact, too many distortions, evasions and baseless conspiracy theories to enumerate them all. The film tries to turn gross errors of journalism and judgment into acts of heroism and martyrdom."
Brad Fischer, one of the film's producers, expressed surprise about CBS' denunciation.
"I don't think anyone expected them to send flowers," he said. " . . . [But] I'm excited for people to see the film, and talk about the issues and ask the questions themselves, because I don't think the movie really draws a conclusion about these things. I don't think it's our job as filmmakers to draw a conclusion, but rather to pose the questions."
Truth has opened to mediocre box offices. (It's tough to compete with low brainpower juggernauts like Goosebumps.) National theatrical release will follow.
The movie doesn't try to resolve the veracity of the memos, and film critic Stephen Holden of The New York Times offers a caution while praising the performances of Redford, Blanchette and others: "The title of Truth, a gripping, beautifully executed journalistic thriller . . . should probably be appended with a question mark. More than most docudramas about fairly recent events, it is so well written and acted that it conveys a convincing illusion of veracity."
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.
Considering that big target on her back, Hillary Clinton is having a pretty good week. She emerged from a marathon grilling before the Benghazi Witch Hunt Committee relatively unscathed, her most formidable primary opponent bowed out before bowing in, and a former member of the vast right-wing conspiracy gave her a big smooch.
Let's be clear that Clinton doesn't get a go-free card for her conduct as secretary of state.
But as the seven other committees investigating the incident that took the life of the American ambassador and three others found, Clinton could have neither prevented the attacks or done anything within the realm of plausibility to better defend the U.S.'s Libyan assets. The fault lies not with a woman who happened to have a private email server. It lies with the terrorists.
"Retreat from the world is not an option," Clinton told her interrogators in a contempt-edged near whisper in the best line of the 11-hour day. "America cannot shrink from our responsibility to lead. That doesn’t mean we should ever return to the go-it-alone foreign policy of the past, a foreign policy that puts boots on the ground as a first choice rather than a last resort."
(And howcum we were told in various news accounts that Clinton was wearing a blue pantsuit but not what the interrogators were wearing? How else would we have learned witch hunter-in-chief Trey Gowdy was splendid in a Dracula outfit and fangs?)
Speaking of fault, the nihilistic Gowdy brings new meaning to the word dumbass. Gowdy promised shocking new disclosures at yesterday's hearing. There were none. No smoking guns, no gotchas, no nothing but partisan clownery and a lot of lung clearing. (Gowdy's implication that Ambassador Stevens either lacked access to Clinton or that Clinton prioritized her communications with Clinton family leech Sidney Blumenthal was flagrantly false, and Gowdy knows that.)
Gowdy had attacked Clinton the other day for putting the name of a CIA source in one of those emails, then named the source himself. And the Stop Hillary PAC running those appalling TV ads blaming Clinton for abandoning the Benghazi Four? It's an operation run by, among others, Dan Backer, who also served as treasurer of Gowdy's leadership PAC and is underwriting a robocall campaign in support of Gowdy.
Asked Slate semi-seriously in a headline:
Do Republicans Really Think
Christopher Stevens Died
Because He Didn't Have
Clinton's Email Address?
"Unless something happens," tweeted conservative columnist Matt Lewis, "it's starting to look like Hillary Clinton won't merely survive this hearing -- she will have come out on top."
Meanwhile, much is being made in the wake of Joe Biden's announcement that he won't be challenging Clinton of the supposed bad blood between them.
As if rivals for the same office -- the highest office in this instance -- sometimes don't see eye to eye? That Biden wasn't supposed to feel that Hill and Bill were . . . a bit too venal for his more down-to-earth tastes? And she didn't feel like he was looking over her shoulder? A better question is why so many pundits and others were sure Biden was going to run. I was convinced from the jump that he would not run unless . . .
So what did I know that the Beltway crowd didn't? Maybe it's because I'm not a red meat guy and knew that Biden understood he would be run through the grinder in a quest that wasn't just unrealistic for all the wrong reasons, it was foolish for all the right reasons. The unless explains why he took his time, and that was in case Hillary Clinton imploded, as opposed to him hoping that she would, and that's an important distinction.
Remember David Brock?
The writer, once a member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that hounded the Clintons, is calling for the Benghazi committee to be disbanded. "There's no reason to keep this farce going," Brock declared to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.
Brock's super PAC, Correct the Record, is opening a "war room" of researchers and spokespeople to handle rapid-response defenses of Clinton and counterattacks on the committee, and this attack dog's soon-to-be-released book will make waves. In Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary Clinton and Hijack Your Government, Brock accuses Carolyn Ryan, The New York Times senior politics editor and former Washington bureau chief, of helping to turn the paper into a "megaphone for conservative propaganda" by unfairly targeting Clinton.
Okay, folks, it's time to recalibrate.
Clinton had been trending upward in the four major national polls before the first debate, let alone Biden's announcement and neutralizing her Benghazi attackers. Other than herself, and she does have a history of shooting herself in the Guccis, who's gonna to stop her now?
WHEN IS AN OUTSIDER NOT AN OUTSIDER?
As the third Republican presidential debate nears, much continues to be made of the "outsider" status of the three front runners, and perhaps too much.
I've believed that calling third-ranked Carly Fiorina an outsider to be idiotic. She is an establishment conservative with establishment conservative ideas ginned up to attract the drool cup crowd, and I'll be damned if I can tell much difference between her and Mitt Romney other than how they dress. And where are her supporters going as she slides in the polls? To establishment candidates like Jeb Bush and John Kasich.
Dr. Ben Carson, who is second ranked in most polls while leading Donald Trump in two, is an outsider only if you consider religious conservatives outsiders, which they stopped being several Republican presidential election cycles ago. Can you say Pat Robertson, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee? If there is a difference between those three and Carson, it's only that the good doctor is even nuttier.
This brings us to the front running Trump, who is an outsider by almost any definition, although it's pretty much impossible to determine whether his support has more to do with that or his longstanding celebrity status. I suspect the latter.
Nate Cohn of The New York Times makes a good point when he notes that voters who say they want change don't necessarily support what he calls "highly unorthodox candidates" like Trump, and polls pretty consistently show that while voters say they want an outsider, they're split on whether Trump has the experience to be a good president. Put another way, do candidate preferences drive the answers to issue questions rather than the other way around?
A FINAL WORD ABOUT JOE
We want to believe our personal narratives even when they seem a bit taxed. My Joe Biden narrative is that despite the corrosive culture of Washington and the enormous pressures to sell one's soul, he has remained a good man. I look no further than the fact he made the announcement that he would not challenge Hillary Clinton by running for president the day before her grilling by the Benghazi Witch Hunt Committee.
As longtime readers know, Joe and I have a little bit of history. But then so does anyone who grew up in postage stamp-sized Delaware, as we both did. I know some people who positively detest Joe. When I arranged through his Senate office for a friend's elderly father to receive a long deserved but long denied war medal, he turned it down because Joe would be the presenter and he hated the guy.
Delaware voters are notorious ticket splitters, having once elected a Republican governor and a Democratic lieutenant governor, and have a history of throwing out longtime incumbents when they feel they're no longer effective. That's how Joe was elected to the Senate in the first place. Delaware voters sent Joe back to Washington five more times, each time by a larger margin than the last, and that's not because he had the most successful hair weave in Senate history. Most of them, my friend's father notwithstanding, say they kept voting for Joe because they thought he was effective and did much to put little Delaware on the big map, but most of all because he was honorable.
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.
When Donald Trump noted the other day in yet another example of the hackles-raising political theater characteristic of the Republican presidential race that George W. Bush happened to be president at the time of the 9/11 attacks, he broke a longstanding taboo in stating the obvious.
"When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time," Trump noted. "He was president, okay?"
An outraged Jeb Bush sought to shift blame to Bill Clinton, who was not president at the time, and harrumphed that "my brother kept us safe."
Beyond the fact that I have never felt less safe than during the Bush interregnum, Trump's jab at Jeb betrayed a truth that no Republican has dared utter: George Bush spent the entire month of August 2001 vacationing at his Texas ranch posing for photo-ops in a 10-gallon hat as he flashed his frat boy smirk, cleared brush and otherwise pretty much ignored what was going on in the larger world.
Stuff was happening, including the 9/11 hijackers trickling into the U.S. and assembling the pieces of their intricate plan to destroy the World Trade Center, Pentagon and perhaps the White House or Capitol building. And although historians are a little shaky on the details, Bush was so busy not being presidential that he never read or at least didn't pay any particular attention to an ominous memo from CIA Director George Tenet sounding the alarm that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike the U.S. by flying hijacked passenger aircraft into high-profile targets.
Tenet's memo was one of several detailed warnings that Bush, Vice President Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, then National Security Adviser, received in the months before the attacks, including repeated unheeded pleas from their top counterterrorism expert to take bin Laden seriously. Tenet's warning was part of the "Presidential Daily Brief," which lends further . . . uh, credence to Bush being president at the time even if he did steal the election.
But back to that political theater thing:
Trump coupled his claim on Fox News Sunday that Bush was president on September 11, 2001 with the assertion that had he been president, he would have prevented the attacks, which in the cosmic scheme of things would make deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, as the lighter-than-air Trump avers he would do, seem like so much child's play.
Jeb, reaching into his grab-bag of facial expressions (he has three or four), put on his exasperated look and rejoinded on CNN that "I don’t know why he keeps bringing this up. Across the spectrum of foreign policy, Mr. Trump talks about things that-- as though he's still on 'The Apprentice.' "
He suggested Trump might next try to blame FDR for Pearl Harbor, adding "It just calls into question Mr. Trump's credibility as a commander in chief."
Now as entertaining as this stuff is, it is clear that Jeb Bush is almost as big a chucklehead as Donald Trump, and if he is half as smart as his big brother was dumb, he rues the day he decided to run for president, because he is making an extraordinary hash out of it. (It also occurs to me that part of the problem is that we've given him too much credit from the start; we've unknowingly put the bar too high.)
Jeb's success was going to be determined, to a great extent, by not allowing his brother's legacy to define him, but he has gone from not wanting to be defined by his brother to using his brother's legacy to define the Republican frontrunner. Dumb or what?
SLICK & SLICKER
Is Paul Ryan one slick dude or what? Well, maybe not as slick as Harry Reid.
Ryan the con man has a con plan: He may move himself to become House speaker, ending a weeks-long impasse following the implosion of Kevin "Truthiness" McCarthy, but only if all factions of the fractious Republican caucus unite. "We have become the problem," Ryan said. "If my colleagues entrust me to be the speaker, I want us to become the solution." But here's the deal: Ryan requires unconditional my-way-or-the-highway acceptance from the Gang of 40, which prefers to shut down government to governing.
It ain't gonna happen, and Ryan emerges unscathed with a big "Well, I tried, boys," with an unsolicited assist from Senate Minority Leader Reid, who administered a kiss of death the other day in saying that "I'm a Paul Ryan fan," which of course makes Ryan even more toxic to hard righters.
TYRANNY & JACKBOOTS
Ted Cruz may be a drama queen, but he's a damned scary one. Every time I turn around, the senator from Texas is advocating violence against the government.
Asked to comment on the first Democratic presidential debate, Cruz declared "It was more socialism, more pacifism, more weakness and less Constitution. It was a recipe to destroy a country." Turns out Cruz hadn't actually seen the debate, but that didn't slow him down: "We're seeing our freedoms taken away every day and last night [the debate] was an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously. Last night was an audition for who would embrace government power for who would strip your and my individual liberties."
As Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly points out, Cruz, and Dr. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee, as well, are on dangerous ground when they "claim the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to revolutionary violence against their own government if it engages in 'tyranny' or doesn’t respect our rights."
Even Dubya himself, who has kept an admirably low profile in the years since he trashed the Oval Office, was moved to speak up against Cruz at a recent fundraiser for Jeb, calling him cynical and self-serving.
"I don't like the guy," he said.
THE LONG WAIT IS OVER
Joe Biden might have "gotten in."
Political insiders thought he was getting in. Hillary Clinton's staff thought he was getting in. My one decent source with ties to his family thought he was getting in. Yet I don't know of anyone beyond some sycophantic friends who wanted him to get in. That, it turns out, is how Biden himself felt, who ended three months of speculation on Wednesday.
Biden's explanation was plainspoken and dignified: He has not been himself since his son Beau died in May of brain cancer.
"As my family and I have worked through the grieving process, I said all along" that the window for a presidential run might close before they were ready," he said in the White House Rose garden with President Obama and his family at his side. "I've concluded it has closed. Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time, time necessary to run a winning campaign."
Note that Biden's announcement was the day before Hillary Clinton's long scheduled interrogation by the Benghazi committee. That's class, and dampens the endless media speculation that he had it in for the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Meanwhile, let's hope that Jim Webb doesn't waste any time pondering a third-party run now that he's left the big dance. His chances of making a credible run hover between zero and none, which are the odds I'd have given Biden in taking on Hillary Clinton.
(Please click here for my earlier thoughts on Biden.)