New Hampshire Points to the Future

DDThe real story of the 2014 midterm election can be found in New Hampshire’s Senate race. More than any other states, its votes show how American politics is being redefined. Its results show how rapidly voters are shifting away from the old political paradigms of party and local issues to agenda-driven national issues that drown out regional and state concerns. In New Hampshire, look beyond the winners and losers, at the details and trends. There you’ll find the emerging politics of tomorrow.

First, New Hampshire was the place of Scott Brown’s third try in four years for the US Senate, with only his first attempt being successful but short-lived—but each of his last two races were competitive. New Hampshire was Brown’s second try in two years to win a Senate seat; he moved to the state in December 2013, after losing to Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, losing a seat he won after a special election.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH.

His 2014 Democratic opponent was the incumbent Senator, former Governor and state legislator Jeanne Shaheen, who had a string of eight election victories in New Hampshire, and was without scandal or personal negatives. She had lived in New Hampshire for 40 years.

In the end, the difference was 17,000 votes out of a rough count of a quarter-million votes cast. That means over 225,000 voters voted for a man who had never served in New Hampshire politics and only jumped into its Senate race last April. Brown had never lived there until 11 months ago, and was clearly using the state as a stepping stone for his singular ambition to win a Senate seat. He had a single plank in his platform: Obama is bad news.

Make no mistake, Republicans want that slogan’s conclusion to resonate as they interchange the names: Hillary is bad news; O’Malley (of Maryland) is bad news; Warren (Massachusetts) is bad news; any and all Democrats are bad news, because they allowed the nation to elect Barack Obama. It is a negative cult of personality tied more to race than reality.

Brown’s boldness, changing states, running on a single plank devoid of state issues, represents a remarkable shift in American politics. It shows conclusively that local politics do not matter (witness Tillis’s win in North Carolina against Kay Hagan!), and that political rhetoric is separating and decoupling from political reality. In one debate, asked about the local economy in Sullivan County, Brown said he saw no difference between it and the than the rest of the state. Shaneen, on the other hand, clearly articulated a list of important local issues. Continue reading New Hampshire Points to the Future

Stormy Monday, 3/17/14

StormyMondayEven before yesterday’s secession “referendum” in Crimea, Washington and the European Union had declared that the process didn’t pass the smell test. Sure as dammit, there was an off-putting spoor to exit polls suggesting 93% support for breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. European foreign ministers gather today in Brussels to discuss freezing Russian assets, with a Thursday conclave of EU leaders also scheduled.

Stateside, John Kerry has been spending a lot of time on the phone with Russian foreign minister Lavrov, much as Secretary Kerry’s boss has been chatting a lot with Lavrov’s. In Congress, bipartisan pressure continues to build for sanctions against Russia; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared a sanctions bill last week that also guarantees $1 billion in loans to Ukraine. Just back from a meaningless but self-aggrandizing Ukraine junket, and ever the bilge – er, bridge over troubled water, John McCain yesterday unhelpfully described Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Hmm. What with “that one” in the White House for a second term, poor Senator McCain is running out of wars. Shill, baby, shill.

Fred Phelps, former capo of the Westboro Baptist church, reportedly begins the week “close to death.” Which would be a shame, except that he’s Fred Phelps.

Cyberspace could be in for a rude shock this week if Republicans make good on their excited bleating about deploying some spanking new “.gop” websites. Wow! Talk about seismic shifts: same stale, dim, destructive ideas, totally new domain!

The search continues for Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370, amid new suspicions that the plane’s disappearance was linked to a 9/11-style plot to attack India. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Peter King, one of his fellow Republican doofuses thereon, continue to insist that a terrorism connection is unlikely, which leads me to suspect that it’s very likely. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/17/14

Take Five (Way Stranger than Fiction edition)

Take-FiveIf those present at the March on Washington imagined anything about the national conversation on race half a century hence, they might well have assumed it would at least be an adult conversation, because of course they had no way of knowing that the Republicans of the new millennium would so decisively abandon any pretense of maturity, emotional or intellectual.

The GOP Dog-Whistle Philharmonic haughtily eschewed the high-profile 50th-anniversary celebrations of the March, opting instead to stage a series of energetic but stridently off-key recitals by its few minority soloists, like Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz.

In an op-ed supposedly penned to commemorate Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, Jindal, stunningly, used the occasion to criticize – wait for it – minorities:

Jindal accused minorities of placing “far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’ our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans…

“Here’s an idea: How about just ‘Americans?’ That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our ‘separateness’ is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot,” the governor opined.

Jindal underscored that waste of electrons with an appearance on Meet the Press last week that included a jaw-dropping rationalization for the tidal wave of bigotry to which the nation’s first not-entirely-white President has been subjected:

David Gregory asked Gov. Jindal about Colin Powell’s opinion that there is a dark vein of intolerance within the Republican Party. Jindal answered by comparing the Republicans’ Obama racism to Democratic treatment of George W. Bush.

The same day Jindal was pitching that idiocy, Senator Ted Cruz, touted, toasted, hyper-hyped Cuban-Canadian-American Demagogue Extraordinaire, appeared on CNN and claimed that his party’s vigorous efforts to destroy Obamacare are based in part on trying to help Hispanics and African Americans:

“… it’s not working and it’s hurting Americans,” Cruz insisted. “And by the way, the people that it’s hurting the most are the most vulnerable among us… The people who are losing their jobs are young people, are Hispanics, are African-Americans, are single moms. I don’t think that’s fair, I don’t think that’s right.”

Sure you don’t, Senator. Your party is all about minorities, after all. Case in point, the government’s figures for 2012 show African Americans at 13.1% as a percentage of total population, and Hispanic Americans at 16.9%, while a 2012 Pew study found that 31% of African Americans and 22% of Hispanic Americans have received SNAP benefits at some time in their lives. Yet, strangely, the party you and your doughy cohort of sophists insist is on the side of minorities has yet to reinstate food assistance funding after summarily stripping it out of the Farm Bill, the legislation through which SNAP money has traditionally been disbursed.

If it’s no longer mind-boggling that the stubbornly self-congratulatory “Party of Lincoln” is so utterly, offensively worthless on race and every other issue of minority rights, it’s only because everybody got used to it ages ago. And not a single po-faced minority conservative mouthing glib clichés in the direction of the nearest TV camera is going to do anything but make it worse.

TWO: Crass from the Past

Leave it to Republicans to keep their presidential campaigns in the news long after the campaigns have ended. You might remember a fellow by the name of McCain who ran against Barack Obama back in 2008. You know, the mavericky guy? Thought his long-suffering wife would be a fabulous “Miss Buffalo Chip”? Recklessly chose a running mate who had never heard of the Bush Doctrine and couldn’t name a single newspaper she read? A POW in Vietnam, although his campaign only ever mentioned it on days of the week with names ending in “y”?

Five years on, the FEC has managed to reach a “conciliation agreement” with “Five-Plane” McCain’s campaign for taking excessive campaign contributions and sundry other violations, all of which would have been easily avoided if anyone working on the campaign had cared enough to care. The agreement stipulates $80,000 in fines. Chump change in the grand scheme of things? Sure. And it certainly won’t be coming from the spouse-subsidized pockets of Senator “Keating Five” himself, but it’s a mildly gratifying little story nonetheless.

You might also recall that while the 2008 Obama campaign was running an impressively web-savvy operation (modeled on but expanding greatly on the blueprint of Joe Trippi’s groundbreaking work for Howard Dean in 2004), the hapless John McCain was reduced to admitting he relied on his wife and aides to get online, with the almost pathetically hopeful postscript:

“I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself…”

Well, times sure have changed. McCain’s just a regular old cybernaut nowadays, as he proved Tuesday at a Senate hearing on Syria. As his colleagues mulled over matters of life, death, international law, and scruffy old domestic politics, Senator McCain was photographed by the Washington Post‘s Melina Mara playing online poker on his iPhone.

There are three possible takeaways here, as I see it. One is that McCain is so fixated on the idea of raining explosive ordnance on Syria that he doesn’t give a nickel-plated crap what he might hear at a hearing intended to furnish him with the sort of information important decision-makers supposedly need to make their decisions. The second is that McCain is a goldbricking charlatan who owes his state and the nation a formal apology and his immediate resignation. The third is he’s both.

Then there’s Rick Santorum, whose granitic façade of moral rectitude has long been suspected of masking an inner sleazeball. Well, suspected by me, at least, but also by electoral watchdog groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, who recently filed a formal complaint with the FEC alleging that Santorum directed a $1 million donation to the Red White and Blue Fund, a Super PAC, in violation of federal election law.

If true, it’s disgusting behavior for any politician, let alone one who wants the world to believe he invented ethics, but the most disturbing allegation is that Bill Doré, the Louisiana businessman whose donation is at the heart of the complaint, actually thought it was sensible to cough up a million bucks to try and get Rick Santorum elected President of the United States.

Last, and almost certainly least, there’s Michele Bachmann, whose ill-fated 2012 campaign has already resulted in a probe by the House Ethics Committee for possible financial violations, a lawsuit over an allegedly stolen mailing list, and an active investigation into Kent Sorenson, a state senator who chaired her campaign in Iowa and may have received improper payments for so doing, in addition to more recent allegations that he solicited money from the Ron Paul campaign in exchange for switching his support.

The newest Bachmann scandal-in-waiting revolves around possible illegal coordination between her campaign and the National Fiscal Conservative PAC, coordination that might have involved her husband Marcus Bachmann. The Justice Department subpoenaed financial and other records from the Super PAC last week. It seems Bachmann’s imminent retirement from Congress could prove fortuitous, freeing her to spend more time with her attorneys.

THREE: The Mire Next Time

And then there are the horrors and hilarity of Republican presidential campaigns yet to come. If you thought ’08 and ’12 were grotesque spectacles of dank depravity, untrammeled ugliness and anti-intellectual pandering to the scummiest side of human nature, you were right, but ’16 is going to be much worse. Or better, depending on how entertaining you find all this stuff.

Former centerfold model and temp Senator Scott Brown, having nothing much else to do these days, recently went to the Iowa State Fair, and explained to the Boston Herald why. He wants to find out if the country is collectively deranged enough to consider putting him in the White House:

“I want to get an indication of whether there’s even an interest, in Massachusetts and throughout the country, if there’s room for a bi-partisan problem solver… It’s 2013, I think it’s premature, but I am curious. There’s a lot of good name recognition in the Dakotas and here – that’s pretty good.”

Yeah, real good. Hey, maybe Cosmo can do a sort of “where are they now?” follow-up shoot, with a naked President Brown stretched out on an Oval Office couch, a copy of the Constitution barely preserving his modesty.

As I noted here a couple of weeks ago, Congressman Peter King of New York is on a jihad to neutralize what he calls the “Rand Paul isolationist wing” of his party, and if that means he has to get elected President to do so, well, so be it. At least he wouldn’t do any nude modeling, or so we can hope.

Ted Cruz, of course, has been running all over the country, most recently to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa, pretending that a presidential run is the last thing on his mind, while hurriedly initiating the process to divest himself of the Canadian citizenship he pretends he didn’t know he had. If it were up to Texas Teabagger Christine Katok (a woman on record as doubting President Obama’s eligibility) Cruz wouldn’t need to bother:

“As far as I’m concerned, Canada is not really foreign soil…”

With no Democratic incumbent to face in ’16, Republicans, theoretically, have a shot at retaking the White House, but these early stirrings already hint at their determination to ensure it won’t happen. Continue reading Take Five (Way Stranger than Fiction edition)

Take Five (Busyness as Usual edition)

ONE: Brainy Nights in Georgia

In the wake of the Newtown massacre and other recent mass gun murders, the NRA helpfully busied itself with supporting secession for Wisconsin, decrying the “vicious, violent videogames” that they insist provoke (conveniently well-armed) people to indulge in vicious violence, and, um, rolling out their new videogame.

In vivid contrast, Georgia legislator Paul Battles, being a pragmatic guy, thought and thought and thought about how best to protect children, and after all that thinking came up with House Bill 35:

The Georgia House of Representatives Rules Committee will consider a bill this week that would let school systems arm their staff members. House Bill 35 allows school systems to designate administrators, teachers, or other staff members to carry concealed weapons.

Now, before you go making any mistaken assumptions about Battles, a – surprise! – Republican, he emphatically rejects the suggestion that he’s, you know, a gun nut or something:

“From the very beginning, I’ve said this is a school security piece of legislation,” said Battles. “It’s not about guns. It’s about securing our schools.”

House Bill 35 immediately made me think of Mrs. Hale, my 6th grade teacher, who had a pronounced esotropic strabismus. Forgive me, Mrs. Hale, but I’m very glad you were never packing in our placid Savannah classroom. That I know of, anyway.

The bill passed out of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee last week. And Rep. Battles says that was the biggest hurdle, adding, “I’m sure we’ll have a lively debate on the floor, but I feel like it has great momentum.”

Oh. Great, then.

But inane legislation in Georgia is often a bipartisan thing. State Rep. Earnest Smith, a – crap! – Democrat, is all riled up about Photoshop, especially when it’s used to make fun of Earnest Smith:

… Smith pointed, as proof of the problem, to a picture of his head that was recently edited onto a porn star’s body. That image was created by a blogger who used the image to mock Smith.

Last word to Andre Walker of Georgia Politics Unfiltered, the pixel surgeon responsible for the digital transplant:

“I cannot believe Rep. Earnest Smith thinks I’m insulting him by putting his head on the body of a well-built porn star.”

TWO: “Nothing has changed.”

Attendees at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference can expect to see the likes of Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Allen West and Marco Rubio whip up the sort of rank gumbo of exaggerations, distortions, outright falsehoods and nutrition-free bromides that has kept previous CPAC crowds in drooling thrall.

But wait, there’s more!

Someone named Mitt Romney, who apparently once ran for President, will speak, as will someone named Sarah Palin, who apparently once ran for Vice President.

Of course, I’m being facetious. While I really have no idea who Mitt Romney is, I do remember Sarah Palin. She’s the former mayor of Wasilla who burdened the town with astonishing municipal debt, before going on to become the former Alaska governor who resigned halfway through her term, after burning through many thousands of dollars of public money for no good reason. She did leave her successor a tanning bed, though.

Indications are that Alaska voters have put down their bongs and would now prefer Hillary Clinton over Palin by a 16-point margin in a hypothetical presidential election cage match. Even better, Public Policy Polling also asked respondents to choose their preference of Congress or Palin, and Congress, for all its legendary disapproval ratings, beat Palin 50% to 35%.

And wait, there’s less!

AMERICABlog pointedly notes that CPAC 2013 will again feature the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, a man determined to live the rest of his wretched life being less popular than gonorrhea, but the conclave has once again barred GOProud, a high-profile gay conservative organization.

“We got kicked out last year because we are gay,” tweeted GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia. “Nothing has changed. We won’t be at CPAC.”

However unintentionally, Mr. LaSalvia has just given CPAC a perfect new slogan. “Nothing has changed,” indeed.

THREE: Squawking Heads Redux

In light of recent news that Palin and Fox News have parted company, followed shortly after by the network axing Dick Morris (the World’s Wrongest ManTM), you might be concerned that Fox is going to suffer an acute stupidity deficit. Fear not. They’ve announced with great fanfare that both Herman Cain and Scott Brown have joined the Fox conservative commentator crew.

Proving that he has never actually watched the network, Cain enthused:

“I’m excited about joining the FOX family as a contributor because it is an opportunity to be one more voice for intelligent thinking in America.”

Cain hit the ground running, which is to say he ran aground, in his first appearance with Bill O’Reilly. When the discussion turned to President Obama’s popularity, Cain gave viewers this taste of his intelligent thinking:

“We have a severe ignorance problem with the people who are so mesmerized by his popularity that they are not looking at the facts…

“Martin Luther King Jr. said 50 years ago in 1963 something that is so appropriate to today… There is nothing more dangerous than serious ignorance, and that’s what we have and he gets away with it with the help of establishment media.”

Really? Cain’s new employer has spent more than a decade atop the cable news network heap, which strikes me as pretty much about as establishment as you can get, but maybe I just have a severe ignorance problem.

As to Brown, his first appearance was with Sean Hannity, who asked him why he didn’t want to run for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat:

Brown… told Hannity that the pace of special elections would have put him in five campaigns in six years and that he might have had to raise another $30 to $50 million, only to “participate in a Congress that’s really dysfunctional and extremely partisan.” Instead, he said, “I felt I could make a difference being on this show…”

Mm-hmm. Far better to participate in a “news” network that’s really dysfunctional and extremely partisan than a Congress that is. Presumably, the Fox gig pays better. Continue reading Take Five (Busyness as Usual edition)

When Politics Plays Hide and Seek

I’m afraid the Republicans have misrepresented their sins. Their private conversations seem to be out of touch with their public stance. They are playing verbal hide and seek. Shouldn’t they really be telling the public—the American people who they claim to speak for and represent—what they are telling each other?

I wonder why Republicans are saying something different and closer to their hearts to each other than they share in news outlets in every American hamlet. And why, when they do share, elements of the story are often missing.

A January 2011 memo to Maine’s incoming Republican governor Paul LePage from his communications director and legislative liaison, sent to Maine’s top GOP leaders and the newly elected governor’s inner circle, certainly did not intend to be found out: “Once we take office, Paul will put 11,000 bureaucrats to work getting Republicans re-elected,” he wrote. The governor’s public stance, repeated as an offered promise during his campaign? “People over politics.”

The memo’s ripples jarred a spokesperson for Maine’s Senator Olympia Snowe to deny any knowledge of what seems to be the use of state employees as political pawns. In the Kennebec Journal, the communications director explained his email referred to “effectively enacting our agenda.” The memo breaks no laws. It was written before the governor or his staff took office.

At least Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown had a public change of mind. After “thanking God” that House Budget Committee chair and Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan presented a budget plan that Brown announced he would vote for, he then said in a POLITICO op-ed that he will vote against the Ryan plan, in part because: “I fear that as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support–and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays.”

Erza Klein published a recent column with eight common sense questions he wanted to ask and have answered by Paul Ryan about his budget proposal, especially on Medicare. Ryan could, if he chooses, use those questions as a take-home interview and provide written answers. He could put up a video, write an op-ed, or go face to face, having the unique benefit of the questions in hand. But even when the questions are advanced to him, he ducks.

On the other hand, first-term Congressman and Illinois Republican Joe Walsh never ducks. In a Daily Caller op-ed, Walsh, who once asked how many alligators it would take to secure the US border with Mexico, offered his blunt assessment of the positions of American Jews on Israel’s security: “too many American Jews aren’t as pro-Israel as they should be.”

Joe Walsh’s theory on the Obama election:

“Why was he elected? Again, it comes back to who he was. He was black, he was historic. And there’s nothing racist about this. It is what it is. If he had been a dynamic, white, state senator elected to Congress he wouldn’t have gotten in the game this fast. They were in love with him because they thought he was a good liberal guy and they were in love with him because he pushed that magical button: a black man who was articulate, liberal, the whole white guilt, all of that.” [emphasis mine.]

Yet David Brooks, writing in his New York Times column “Medicare Survival Guide” tells of unnamed Republican Congress members who whisper to him in dark corridors they want to save the country “in peril,” without committing “political suicide.”

Why is the choice between saving the country and electoral suicide? Where is the intractable conviction and courage Republicans fondly allude to when they discuss tax cuts that amount to corporate welfare while stifling middle class entry into business ownership because they seek to kill insurance transportability? (Under cover of Obama, they can all switch sides and be welcomed into the Democratic Party!)

After Democrats won a 2011 special election in a western New York district that voted 74 percent Republican the previous November (the sixth most Republican congressional district in the country!), losing with only 42 percent of the vote in a district that had been Republican for more than 40 years, Ryan’s assessment of the loss as a “couple million dollars and a Democratic acting like Tea Party candidate” doesn’t inspire any more confidence than his budget numbers.

The real unspoken point in the political hide and seek is that Republicans at the national level are now simply creating diversions and distractions as Republican state governors and legislators consolidate the politics of command and control at the resource-rich local level.

New Republican governors in sixteen states have shape-shifted from their campaigns, swiftly moving to dismantle barriers to standards in the environment and education, to transfer public funds to private firms without oversight or guaranteed returns, to block ballot access, dismantle programs for women’s health, and to give themselves new powers that are unchecked and absolute.

Some restrictions are micro-managed control, others are seismic. In Ohio, reporters were only allowed to bring pens, notebooks, and recorders to the governor’s budget release event, for example. No video feeds were allowed.

Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin turned down money for building infrastructure for future high-speed rail, guaranteeing jobs now and laying the groundwork for economic progress in the future.

Environmentally, Maine wants to open up 3 million acres of its North Woods for development as a part of the governor’s 63-point plan to remove state environmental protections. Florida is taking the lead in rolling back public funds used for land conservation and protection; its Everglades are in danger. In New Jersey, the governor has said the legislative act that protects 800,000 open acres near the state’s supply of fresh drinking water is “an infringement on property rights.” In Iowa, the governor is overseeing a transfer of regulatory controls to departments serving the industries they will now be in charge of regulating. Among the areas affected will be environmental protections, safe drinking water, and clean air. Continue reading Digging Deeper: When Politics Plays Hide and Seek

TSW #20

Clinton isn’t the only one who could replace Obama (don’t get excited Joe Biden, it’s not you). There is Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who could appeal to moderates; Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who would appeal . . . → Read More: TSW #20