A typical State of the Union Address tells us less about a presidency than the other party’s official response to it does. This has been especially true during the Obama years. More crucially, though, it’s an opportunity for the opposition party to try to tell viewers about itself, to trot out one of its best and brightest young up-and-comers to dazzle the camera with a mouthful of startlingly white teeth, to pluck the heartstrings of Ma and Pa Viewer, and to remind us all of that mythical time when the backbone of the economy was 5-cent lemonade stands and the nation’s greatness was embodied by Juicy Fruit and the Marshall Plan. And to try and make the case, with occasional faint praise, that the President is an America-hating disaster.
Bobby Jindal was the first such nine-day wonder thrown into the breach, although he was actually responding to a non-SOTU address before a joint session of Congress, delivered barely a month into Barack Obama’s first term. In and of itself, the choice of Jindal to deliver the response seemed to reflect the flimsy state of GOP political strategizing at the time: Youthful mixed-race President? No problem! We got a young Indian feller right here, and – bonus! – he talks like Forrest Gump. Multi-cultural or what?
Jindal’s uncannily awful performance was so widely panned even by Republicans that, six years on, he has yet to regain “rising star” status in a party still desperately searching for one. Which goes some way toward explaining the GOP’s choice to respond to the first official Obama SOTU the following year, Smilin’ Bob McDonnell. Governor McDonnell was just 11 days into his term and was a Republican matinee idol, reassuringly white, Southern but not too Southern, telegenic in a megachurch preacher kind of way, and articulate without being wonkish. Back in 2010, some in his party envisioned the Oval Office in his future; he was most recently in the headlines a couple of weeks ago after receiving an outrageously lenient prison sentence on 11 counts of corruption.
Things got a little more interesting in 2011, when not one but three Republicans were tapped to try and rebut the SOTU. There was Paul Ryan, an intellectual bantamweight with a fondness for moth-eaten Randian ideas (in other words, the sort of Republican other Republicans actually consider a serious policy guy). There was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an archconservative Florida Congresswoman and cable news darling, summoned to speak to Hispanics after it finally occurred to the RNC that Hispanics don’t much care for Republicans. And then there was Michele Bachmann. Her “official” response on behalf of the Tea Party Express is the only one anybody remembers, less for its predictable teabagger platitudes than for the fact that she appeared to spend six minutes and 36 seconds speaking to someone standing unseen a couple of feet to the left of the camera.
Republicans got back to basics the following year, sending out Mitch Daniels to deliver an aggressively contrary response that took the President to task for high unemployment and “an unprecedented explosion of spending,” Daniels apparently having missed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not to mention Medicare Part D. Straight-faced, Daniels assailed the President’s “grand experiment in trickle-down government” and “constant efforts to divide [Americans].” Daniels was soon on the short list for Mitt Romney’s running mate, but – perhaps sensing the coming electoral debacle – he publicly made clear that he had no interest in the position. He left politics the following year to serve as president of Purdue University, and good riddance to him.
2013’s SOTU response, by contrast, was insanely entertaining. As in 2009, Republicans trotted out a highly touted, non-WASP go-getter, Marco Rubio, who obligingly made a bigger fool of himself than Bobby Jindal had. Rubio prated on about the sanctity of life, about immigrants like his parents pursuing the American dream, about “tax-and-spend” Democrats, about the evils of big government, regulation, taxes and debt, about Obamacare, about the President’s supposedly divisive rhetoric, about securing the borders, about the “moral breakdown of our society.” And nobody cared; his misadventures with a water bottle were all anyone talked about the moment Rubio wrapped up his 14-minute-plus English speech and an even longer Spanish one. Actually, his willingness to laugh at himself over the whole thing would be admirable, if he weren’t still milking it for applause two years later. Continue reading Prate of the Union
If members of any political party can lay legitimate claim to the ill-defined moral high ground represented by wooly catchphrases like “personal responsibility” and “family values,” they sure as hell aren’t Republicans.
Amid all the cataclysm and calamity of this summer’s news, the spectacle of the Bob and Maureen McDonnell trial has stood out garishly. Good God, I hate being embarrassed for Republicans, but it’s impossible to read coverage of Virginia’s former First Couple having their turgid day in court without blushing on their behalf. The trial has been a cavalcade of cringing.
Maureen was described by her chief of staff, under oath, as a “screamer” and a “nutbag,” who once accused the chef at the Executive Mansion of sabotaging Christmas with “bad shrimp.” Bob, once considered a future Republican presidential contender, has been portrayed by his defense team as a well-meaning but hapless boob who couldn’t have conspired with his wife to do anything because, darn it all, she only spoke to him when he pissed her off, so he mostly kept his mouth shut to avoid ugly scenes. An e-mail from the then-Governor to his wife in September 2011 was trotted out in court to bolster this narrative:
I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better. But I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent. You told me again yesterday that you would wreck my things and how bad I am. It hurt me to my core… I admit that I do keep away from you sometimes and don’t talk to you about important things or problems to avoid confrontation.
Of course the McDonnells are just following a trail – if you’ll forgive the metaphor – blazed by their former counterparts in South Carolina. The meltdown that was the marriage of Mark and Jenny Sanford first came to public notice with a weird episode where nobody could find the then-Governor, who had his own cheering section drooling at the prospect of a future White House run. Despite claims that he was impulsively hiking the Appalachian Trail, it turned out he was merely hiking the skirts of his Argentine mistress. But that was only preamble.
Sanford’s fall was swift, but so was his political resurrection. Despite Jenny Sanford filing a trespassing complaint against her estranged husband in February 2013, in which she alleged “a pattern of entering onto Plaintiff’s property, both at her former and current residences, without her permission and against her wishes,” voters in the SC 1st District nevertheless saw fit to elect this clod their Representative in DC in a special election three months later by a margin of almost 9% over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Of course, given the utter pointlessness of the 113th Congress, as scurrilous and useless as any in American history, maybe that’s exactly where he belongs. Continue reading All in the Family Values
Labor Day in an election year. Enjoy it, because tomorrow the gloves come off. Hammer time. Time for the excrement to plot a course for the fan. Time for September call-ups of every last little shred of dubious opposition research that campaigns big and small, Democratic and Republican alike, focus-grouped unsuccessfully all summer. Time for pollsters – good, bad, indifferent, biased or unbiased – to line their spreadsheets up against the wall. Time for the kitchen sink and all who sail in her. Ain’t democracy grand? New season notwithstanding, this might be a very good time to turn off the TV.
Jurors in the trial of Smilin’ Bob McDonnell, who used to be Governor of Virginia, and his wife Maureen, who used to be its First Lady, will receive instruction from Judge James R. Spencer and begin deliberations this week. Jury morale has been kept admirably confidential, but I don’t see how the jurors can feel anything but relief at not having to listen to any more testimony from either of the accused.
On Wednesday, Vice President Biden heads to – gasp! – New Hampshire. He’s going as part of a continuing White House series of speeches and events focused on the economy, but the mainstream media will be crafting its own narrative for the visit. Expect 24 to 48 hours of asinine headlines like “Biden: Serious About ’16?” or “Veep Reads Granite State Tea Leaves” or “Clinton/Biden?” or “Biden/Clinton?” or “Hey, Who’s the Old Guy?” At some point midweek, I predict Wolf Blitzer will wet himself on the air, and he might not be the only one.
Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas’ voter ID law (or, more accurately described, Texas’ transparent attempt to suppress probable votes for Democrats by raising the bugaboo of “voter fraud” and invoking phony concern for “confidence in the system”) will go to court. One election law expert interviewed for the piece at the link believes the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Which, in these days of modern times, as the Firesign Theatre once put it, could be very unfortunate if that’s how things unfold.
The President goes to Europe this week, first to Estonia for a visit designed to reassure that nation it won’t be next on Vladimir Putin’s Back in the USSR Comeback Tour, and then to a NATO summit in Wales, the first time a sitting United States President has visited there. Nobody knows whether the notorious tan suit is being packed for the trip, but you can bet all the “news” networks have deployed “journalists” to the White House for the latest presidential wardrobe revelations. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/1/14
Michael Brown’s funeral will be held at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis on Monday. Brown’s father Michael Sr. has appealed to protesters to suspend their activities temporarily. “We just want a moment of silence that whole day. Just out of respect for our son,” he told hip-hop station Hot 104.1 FM. Along with planned memorial services and vigils across the country, a protest is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. outside the White House.
Now that the Iberia Parish, Louisiana Coroner’s Office has released information flatly contradicting outlandish police claims that Victor White III fatally shot himself while handcuffed with his hands behind his back as he sat in a patrol car last March, his death can be expected to resonate anew.
Protests against yet another example of police violence are likely to continue on Staten Island this week after a large Saturday rally led by Al Sharpton over the July 17 death by chokehold of an unarmed African American, Eric Garner, while in custody.
This week, the administration undertakes a review of federal funding and provision of surplus military-grade weaponry to police departments, practices that, like so many other foolish, wasteful and counterproductive policy decisions, were instituted soon after September 11, 2001. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/25/14
Hostilities intensified over the weekend as assorted anti-American theocrats, terrorists and heavily armed extremists – Republicans, in other words – ratcheted up their rhetoric against President Obama’s latest efforts to help Iraq’s faltering government defeat Islamic State insurgents. If you opted not to spend part of Sunday watching foreign policy luminaries like John McCain and Peter King tell the nearest TV camera just what a mess the President has made of Iraq, you probably won’t be shocked to learn that they believe it’s a terrible mess indeed. Really terrible. Very terrible. Terribly terrible. What a refreshing change from the Bush era, when Republicans strenuously insisted that criticism of the Commander-in-Chief during wartime is inappropriate; nowadays they deem it inappropriate not to be screeching about every decision and announcement emanating from the Oval Office.
Reports began circulating Sunday evening of a coup attempt against Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki, who stated over the weekend that he will pursue a third term.
If that’s not quite ominous enough for you, there’s this: Laura Ingraham, of all people, is urging restraint in assessing the President’s handling of the situation in Iraq. “I don’t think you can judge how he did right now,” she said on Fox News Sunday. While there have been no other harbingers yet of imminent apocalypse, political commentators, theologians and Ingraham groupies are fretfully monitoring the situation.
The Obama family has begun a two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. The President will, however, take a break from his break with a return to Washington next Sunday for what has been cryptically described as “meetings,” before returning to the Vineyard the following Tuesday. Expect Congressional Republicans, currently enjoying their own five-week recess, to hit the airwaves Sunday to complain that the president can’t even vacation competently. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/11/14
Monday, at long goddamned last, the travesty that is the Department of Veterans Affairs might be moved a giant step closer to getting fixed, when a joint Congressional committee announces its roadmap to reform. Among a number of major changes, largely at the instigation of co-chair Senator Bernie Sanders, the committee is expected to recommend a significant increase in funding for additional medical professionals, something likely to cause some Congressional Republicans to balk, given how they much prefer throwing borrowed trillions at creating wounded veterans rather than, you know, spending millions to treat them.
Encouragingly, over 100 House members co-signed a letter last week requesting Congressional leadership to keep both houses in session past the scheduled August recess if a bill hasn’t been completed. The other 335 or so were too busy packing their flip-flops and sunscreen, presumably.
Well, it’s now “official,” or at least as “official” as anything emanating from CNN can be. Their breathless new poll shows that if the 2012 election were held today, Mitt Romney would best Barack Obama 53% to 44%. Interestingly, though equally fictionally, the other 3% of voters would divide their benighted ballots among (in no particular order) George W. Bush, Thomas Dewey, Lyndon LaRouche, Rush Limbaugh, Ross Perot and Ted Nugent. While I won’t be sharing my raw data anytime soon, trust me, that conclusion is rigorously scientific. Just like the CNN-ORC International poll was. Of course, the election of 2012 was actually held in – surprise! – 2012, and Mitt Romney, deservedly, now resides in the “where are they now” file. Just like CNN does, come to think of it.
California Governor Jerry Brown heads to Mexico Monday for three days of meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto, and later with various Central American leaders, as the migrant children crisis continues to develop. Meanwhile, Texas fathead Senator John Cornyn predicts that a “skinnied-down” bill to provide emergency border funding could pass this week, “skinnied-down” being fathead Cornynese for “starved for funds” or “useless” or “c’mon, now, we got us an August recess to get to.”
With 100 days remaining until the mid-terms, Greg Walden, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted over the weekend that November 4 would be a “wave” election for his party. And with 99 days remaining until the mid-terms at time of writing, I predict Greg Walden will be job-hunting beginning November 5. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/28/14
Tomorrow, Virginians choose one of milquetoast Clintonista Terry McAuliffe or Tobacco Belt Taliban Ken Cuccinelli to succeed Bob McDonnell in the Executive Mansion. The Democrat’s lead in the polls still holds, though a low projected voter turnout suggests Cuccinelli could pull off an upset with a sufficiently large turnout of irate Teabaggers and/or plain old Republican electoral tampering. Two Obamas, two Clintons and a Biden have been campaigning on McAuliffe’s behalf, while Cuccinelli’s audiences have, deservedly, been talked at by the likes of Marco Rubio, Reince Priebus, Rick Santorum, the Duggars and Rand Paul.
Speaking of Rand Paul, expect more fun this week centering on his weakness for “borrowing” words and ideas without attribution or shame. If a few more examples of the Senator’s plagiarism turn up, he could be forced to issue a major “clarifying” statement to try and muddy the waters. If it comes to that, I hereby offer him a preliminary draft that he’s welcome to pass off as his own: “I am not a crook and I have not yet begun to fight, or to remember the Maine. It’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times, it’s been a date which will live in infamy, but I have nothing to fear but fear itself and I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. Now, watch this drive and read my lips: no new taxes. For the rich, anyway. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what it can do for me. So long, and thanks for all the fish, and good night and good luck, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are. Oh, and would somebody please tear down this wall?”
Voters in 11 Colorado counties get a chance to weigh in tomorrow on whether they want to secede from the state. One of these rural (meaning Republican) counties would supposedly become part of Wyoming, while the other 10 would form a new state called North Colorado or Brigadoon or something.
Chris Christie is the odds-on favorite to win another gubernatorial term in New Jersey tomorrow, so certain of victory that he spent part of Saturday afternoon indulging in one of his favorite activities, publicly belittling a constituent. Christie wagged his finger in the face of teacher Melissa Tomlinson, who says he told her, “I’m tired of you people.” A Christie staffer later disputed the quote, so you just know Tomlinson described it accurately. Once safely sworn in for another term, Christie will immediately forget about New Jersey and turn his attention to a presidential run.
Boston’s mayoral election is also happening tomorrow, with last-minute polls still showing a tight race between Democrats Martin Walsh and John Connolly, and a significant number of voters still undecided. New York City, by contrast, will shock nobody by electing Bill de Blasio to succeed Michael Bloomberg; a poll released this morning shows the Democrat leading GOP opponent Joe Lhota by 41 points. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 11/4/13
Will HHS Secretary Sebelius fall on her sword? Will Websitegate force Barack Obama from office? Will Republicans ever shut their damn mouths and concentrate, for once, on doing something positive, rather than devoting all their time and tons of public money to futile attempts at de-legitimizing this President? No, no, and hell no.
After initial refusals, followed by scheduling issues, it now appears that Secretary Sebelius will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Expect majority members on the Committee to grandstand vigorously, hoping to compile some tasty video clips they can use for next year’s reelection efforts when they try to convince their constituents to save them from having to go and earn an honest living for another two years.
Wednesday morning, the 29-member Conference Committee holds its first meeting on the budget. Can Democrats and Republicans agree on a way forward? Can anything actually get done? Well, one thing that might get done this week is the passage of a House resolution formally giving the President a wag of the finger for having the colossal temerity to suspend the debt ceiling until February 7. Laissez les bipartisan temps rouler! Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/28/13
After a Martha’s Vineyard vacation that included dinner with Deval Patrick, a cocktail party at the home of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, and a round of golf with Larry David, President Obama returned to Washington yesterday and starts the week with a Monday afternoon meeting with financial regulators to review implementation of Dodd-Frank. Things get a little livelier on Tuesday, when he hosts the 1972 Miami Dolphins in a ceremony belatedly honoring their perfect season.
On Thursday, the President heads to upstate New York for a two-day bus tour. His itinerary includes stops in Syracuse, Buffalo and Binghamton, as well as Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he’ll be joined by Vice President Biden. The trip continues his barnstorming on economic issues, with the focus this time on education.
Work continues this week on the installation of new solar panels at the White House, a move announced three years ago. The mansion will be partially solar-powered for the first time since Ronald Reagan had President Carter’s solar panels removed in 1986.
Saturday has been designated to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. The National Action Network has a range of events planned, the largest of which is a morning rally at the Lincoln Memorial followed by a march to the King Memorial. Both monuments have been receiving some hurried TLC recently, the former because some jerk splashed Lincoln’s statue with green paint in July, and the latter for the painstaking removal of a shoddy paraphrase of an MLK quote, a paraphrase derided by Maya Angelou as making Dr. King “look like an arrogant twit.” President Obama will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at a “Let Freedom Ring” rally on August 28, the actual anniversary of the March.
Yesterday saw the launch of a petition drive to recall creepy old Bob Filner, who was accused of sexual harassment by a fifteenth woman last Thursday. 101,597 signatures are needed by September 26 to trigger a recall election. Somehow I don’t think that threshold will be too difficult to meet.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell continues his downward spiral from Republican rising star to orange jumpsuit model as his legal counsel sit down today with federal prosecutors to try and dissuade them from filing charges. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/19/13
ONE: The Classless of 2010
When this column was launched in December 2010, many now-notorious Republican governors weren’t even sworn in, but within months of taking their oaths of office they began appearing regularly here, lewd exemplars of the very worst of what their party breezily describes as “ideas.” Soon, maddeningly, it seemed as though they’d been around forever, like syphilis or Larry King.
The big story in American politics post-Dubya is not about President Obama or about Washington’s tawdry doings and even tawdrier non-doings; it’s about what’s happening in the 30 governors’ mansions currently occupied by Republicans and in the legislatures where their conservative running dogs frantically attempt to dismantle half a century of hard-won progress.
Republicans in DC have one arrow in their quiver – stubborn obstructionism – but their state-level colleagues have two: not only do they stall and subvert any and all efforts by Democrats to do much of anything, they actually manage to enshrine their own wretched ideas into law. Bad law. The freshman Republican governors of the “classless of 2010” – along with their elder GOP peers – have had a larger impact on people’s lives than this or any President could ever hope to have, and that impact has been dire. At the state level, the Republican Party’s War on Damn Near Everyone has inflicted heavy casualties.
This year and next, 38 states will hold elections for governor, and the results will be every bit as important as the results of the 2014 House and Senate elections. Women’s rights, workers’ rights, voting rights, gay rights, all rights remain at risk as long as Republicans are allowed to control anything.
Either Rick Perry has finally run out of ideas for screwing over Texas or he’s just setting his sights on screwing over something even bigger, like the entire country. Perry announced recently that he won’t seek another gubernatorial term, but there’s lots of in-progress screwing over to complete before he saddles up, rides off into the sunset, and leaves the whole shambling mess to his unfortunate successor.
Perry’s announcement was originally scheduled to be made in June but was delayed due to some of that aforementioned screwing over, in this case involving draconian restrictions on reproductive rights for women. Consistent with most legislation passed during Perry’s tenure, some of the ramifications of the bill can scarcely be guessed at now and the extent of the damage to the body politic can’t be fully assessed until the legislation has metastasized, but metastasize it surely will.
After state Senator Wendy Davis successfully filibustered SB 5, ol’ Rick just went right ahead and convened his darn self a special session of the Legislature and got the bill passed. He explained his determination simply, confirming yet again that the words “Rick Perry” and “simple” have an almost magnetic mutual attraction:
“Texas is a place where we defend life.”
The 261 folks executed on Perry’s watch might take umbrage at the statement, but them’s the breaks if you insist on being an evil-doer in a Rick-rolled state. Of course, restricting women’s rights isn’t the only thing the lame duck governor has on the docket. Almost immediately after the Supreme Court’s transparently political body blow to the Voting Rights Act, the Perry regime took pains to crow – uh, announce that it will enforce photo ID provisions, provisions previously halted by a federal court as discriminatory against minority voters.
In a line from his retirement announcement aimed at friends and supporters, Perry said:
In our time together, we have made the most of this unique opportunity to shape the future of Texas.
That they have, it’s true. And despite the relief millions of Texans will feel on seeing the east end of a westbound Rick Perry, they still have 18 more months to wait, heartsick, while he and his cronies continue to make the most of this unique opportunity. At which point those Texans will have a chance to start repairing the damage by electing a Democrat to replace him, and giving that Democrat a Legislature dominated by Democrats. Implausible? Maybe, but George Bush the Lesser being succeeded in Austin by someone even worse seemed implausible too, 12 years ago.
For a superb, though far from comprehensive, roundup of the damage Perry had done to Texas and Texans, go here.
THREE: Three of a Kind
Perry isn’t the only far-right gubernatorial goober to institutionalize rolling back women’s rights. In fact, the practice is spreading across state lines faster than this summer’s wildfires.
The execrable Scott Walker signed a bill recently that prevents a doctor from performing abortions unless said doctor has admitting privileges at a “local” hospital, and mandates – another Republican fave rave – that women seeking an abortion undergo the scarlet-letter indignity of a medically unnecessary ultrasound. Lawsuits filed by two Wisconsin abortion providers are pending. Continue reading Take Five (States’ Blights edition)