State of the Union

Hillary the Hawk: Who Will Challenge Her?

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

In her much-parsed interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Hillary Clinton reveals that she believes nothing in the American political landscape has changed since October 2002. That’s when she cast her vote to go to war against Iraq. That vote gave oxygen to Barack Obama’s campaign against her in 2008, leading to an eight year delay to Clinton’s presidential ambitions. It was a vote to destroy one of the secular regimes in the Mideast, a brutal dictatorship certainly, but one which kept the religious jihadists, including Al Qaeda, at bay. If you believe, as Peter Hitchens put it, that every politician and commentator who supported the Iraq war should have that fact noted, in large red letters besides everything they write and displayed on the podium every time they speak—a penance which can removed when those who were killed and maimed as a result are no longer killed or maimed, Hillary should now be known as the most important Iraq war enabler still active in presidential politics. George W. Bush has retired to portrait painting. Cheney is not running, nor Tony Blair. Of the political pillars of that era, major figures whose collaboration with the neocons helped shut down a meaningful national debate about whether to go to war, Hillary is the most substantial still standing.

When speaking to Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton claimed to be all “hepped up” about the rise of jihadism—particularly the advance of ISIS. But oddly enough, no policy position she staked out in that interview had anything to do with combatting ISIS. Who are the major mideastern opponents of the Sunni jihadist group in the region? Apart from the Kurds, there are two: the government of Syria, which has actually been winning a war against fundamentalist Islamic rebels, and Iran. Like Iraq under Saddam, Syria is a secular dictatorship, strongly backed by the country’s Christians. Hillary laments only that the United States hasn’t done more to overthrow it.

Then there is Iran—the Shi’ite regime which is the most powerful opponent of Sunni jihadis in the region. But Hillary’s stance towards Iran is pure hostility. Seemingly disowning her own record as secretary of state, which paved the way for Iran nuclear negotiations even before the election of the reformist president Rouhani, she stakes out a position adjacent to the hawkish Israeli one. She says “I’ve always been in the camp that held that they (Iran) did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right.” Hillary barely avoids a direct snub of Wendy Sherman and other American negotiators who began speaking to Iran when she was secretary of state, but the thrust of the interview contains the notion that Iran is an evil place which can’t be trusted with enriching uranium. Adherence to this position is a recipe to for war, because Iran quite clearly is not going to stop enriching uranium.

So to sum up: Hillary regrets the lack of American action against Syria, while seeking to lay the rhetorical foundation for a subsequent war against Iran, all the while claiming to be “hepped up” about the rise of Sunni jihadism. Read More…

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Development of Non-Toxic 2016 GOP Agenda Continues Apace

The release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty “discussion draft” last week marks another milestone in a long, painstaking, and necessary project: the development of a non-toxic policy agenda on which the next Republican presidential nominee can run.

Zooming out, we see Republicans, like Tiktaalik, slowly transitioning out of the primordial soup of supply-side dogma. There was Rep. Dave Camp’s comprehensive tax reform proposal. It’s revenue neutral and maintains progressivity. Relatedly, Ryan takes care to insist his own proposal is “not a tax cut.” It’s true the conservative movement didn’t exactly leap for joy at Camp’s proposal—and there’s a myriad of reasons to doubt that the GOP could ever muster the courage to eliminate as many loopholes and deductions as it would take to reconcile the math of the Ryan budget.

But the larger point is this: a net tax reduction for the rich is now a radioactive position on the mainstream right.

Climbing down the income ladder, Ryan, in presenting his anti-poverty plan, with its devolution to states and consolidation of public assistance spending, noted that “this is not a budget-cutting exercise.” Yes, there’s the matter of reconciling these reforms with the harsh math of the Ryan budget. And the “accountability standards” to which states and local agencies would be held smells an awful lot to me like the anti-poverty version of No Child Left Behind.

But—and again—the larger point is this: a net reduction in spending on the poor and vulnerable is now a radioactive position on the mainstream right.

The recovery from “The 47 percent” and “You built that” will remain a tough slog over the next 18 months. However, the momentum is clearly in the direction of rational reform. The Tea Party era—in which “conservatism” for all practical purposes stood for an unholy alliance of plutocracy and Dixie revanchism—is clearly coming to a close.

Just how the all the manic energy of the last five years will be brought into the fold of a plausible governing agenda remains to be seen. The Room to Grow agenda represents the seedbed of ideas that might eventually become an appealing campaign platform. I like, in particular, Andrew Kelly’s ideas on higher-ed and job training, and Carrie Lukas’s emphasis on fiscal reforms that improve work-life balance.

Broadly speaking, the “reformocon” carriage is an interesting one, fraught with tension but full of possibility: that of the nontechnocratic wonk; of superintendence of the welfare state in a pro-market direction. Of bottom-up or middle-out reforms that issue from the top. The idea of a Medicare premium support system is qualitatively different than, say, Ronald Reagan’s original position on Medicare. But if the arrow is pointing in a rightward direction, can each faction of the right buy into it? Can you sell the idea of “reform” to people on a steady diet of Mark Levin, Ted Cruz, and Sarah Palin? Personally, I think the right would be better off it admitted—no, more than admitted—that “spontaneous order” does not and will not ever lead to a safety net or social insurance for the elderly.

But perhaps I worry too much. One of my themes in this space is the belief that the Tea Party was a cultural temper tantrum more than a granular programmatic shift. It may turn out that tea partiers can be lead to the water of an essentially neoconservative domestic agenda more easily than anyone currently imagines.


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Republicans Wreck the Vote

This week, seven college students and voting-rights advocates are challenging a North Carolina voting regulation law, alleging age-based discrimination. They argue that the law, which does not permit state university IDs or out-of-state driver’s licenses as acceptable voter ID and ends a DMV pre-registration program for teenagers, violates the 26th Amendment that enfranchised citizens 18 and over. Separately, efforts to shut down voting sites at universities are adding to complaints that the Republican-dominated state and local governments are deliberately blocking the youth vote, which turned out overwhelmingly for President Obama twice in North Carolina and nationwide.

The irony is, Republicans may be moving to depress the youth vote just when it could be starting to turn in their favor. While the millennials who comprise young voters now look to be strongly Democratic in the short term, David Leonhardt argues that today’s teenagers may grow up conservative:

In the simplest terms, the Democrats control the White House (and, for now, the Senate) at a time when the country is struggling. Economic growth has been disappointing for almost 15 years now. Most Americans think this country is on the wrong track. Our foreign policy often seems messy and complex, at best.

To Americans in their 20s and early 30s — the so-called millennials — many of these problems have their roots in George W. Bush’s presidency. But think about people who were born in 1998, the youngest eligible voters in the next presidential election. They are too young to remember much about the Bush years or the excitement surrounding the first Obama presidential campaign. They instead are coming of age with a Democratic president who often seems unable to fix the world’s problems.

As Leonhardt argues, college students and young voters in general are not inherently liberal groups. In the 1980s, Republicans dominated the youth vote: Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush won first-time voters, under-29 voters, and voters with some college education by large margins. Those then-young voters remain a consistently Republican constituency, lining up with Leonhardt’s argument that politics are more generational than anything. Young voters are entering the electorate while making their political allegiances in reaction to ongoing policies, forming beliefs that they will carry throughout their lives.

Legislating away unfriendly voters is rarely a productive path to long-term future success for a party seeking democratic legitimacy, and voting blocs generally aren’t courted by efforts to impede their franchise or deny their voting rights. With their gaze fixed firmly backward at their past two presidential setbacks, North Carolina Republicans and their counterparts nationwide are at risk of scoring a series of own goals.

This generation in particular could be a political opportunity ripe for Republicans’ taking. The teenagers who voted in the last election, and those entering the electorate now, are voting increasingly Republican in reaction to the current administration’s failures. A Democratic president that leans interventionist and is misleadingly ineffective on student debt makes for even more fertile ground for conservative alternatives. Rather than trying to inhibit the youth vote, Republicans should craft policy solutions that could serve to swing young voters to their side and take advantage of their momentum.

Instead, the GOP seems to be one step behind the data, once more.


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Stop the Impeachment Talk

Matt Cadwaller / Flickr

Increasingly, across this city, the “I” word is being heard. Impeachment is being brought up by Republicans outraged over Barack Obama’s usurpations of power and unilateral rewriting of laws. And Obama is taunting John Boehner and the GOP: “So sue me.”

Democrats are talking impeachment to rally a lethargic base to come out and vote this fall to prevent Republicans from taking control of the Senate, and with it the power to convict an impeached president. Still, Republicans should drop the talk of impeachment.

For the GOP would gain nothing and risk everything if the people began to take seriously their threats to do to Barack Obama what Newt Gingrich’s House did to Bill Clinton. The charges for which a president can be impeached and removed from office, are “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” With Bill Clinton, the impeachers had a solid case of perjury.

With Richard Nixon, they had a preponderance of evidence that, at least for a time, he had sought to obstruct justice in the investigation of the Watergate break-in. Article II of the impeachment of Richard Nixon was for misuse of the IRS in what turned out to be futile and failed attempts to have the agency harass political enemies by having them audited. As yet there is no evidence Obama knew of the IRS plot to delay and deny tax exemptions to Tea Party groups, which would be an abuse of power and a trampling upon the constitutional rights of Tea Partiers, who were denied the equal protection of the laws.

The GOP response to the lost emails of Lois Lerner and crashed computers that went missing should be a drumbeat of demands for the appointment of an independent counsel, not an impeachment committee in the House. Obama claims he did not learn of the IRS abuse until years after it began, and weeks after his White House staff learned of it. In the absence of those emails, the claim cannot be refuted.

In the Benghazi scandal, the president’s defense is the same.

He had no idea what was going on. And cluelessness appears here to be a credible defense. Two weeks after the Benghazi atrocity, Obama was at the U.N. still parroting the Susan Rice line about an anti-Muslim video having been the cause of it all. Has the president unilaterally rewritten the Obamacare law, while ignoring the Congress that wrote it? Indeed, he has.

But would a Republican Party that failed and folded when it tried to use its legitimate power of the purse to defund Obamacare really stand firm in an Antietam battle to impeach a president of the United States? Or is this just “beer talk”?

Impeachment is in the last analysis a political act. The impeachment of Nixon was a coup d’etat by liberal enemies who, though repudiated and routed by the electorate in 1972, still retained the institutional power to break him and destroy his presidency. And, undeniably, he gave them the tools.

In the case of Nixon, political enemies controlled both houses of the Congress. Washington was a hostile city. Though he had swept 49 states, Nixon lost D.C. 3-to-1. The bureaucracy built up in the New Deal and Great Society was deep-dyed Democratic. Most crucially, the Big Media whose liberal bias had been exposed by Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew were hell-bent on revenge. All three power centers—the bureaucracy, Congress, the Big Media—worked in harness to bring Nixon down.

No such powerful and hostile coalition exits today with Obama. Read More…

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The Lie of Richard Nixon’s Racism

Richard M. Nixon presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington, 04/24/1969
Richard M. Nixon presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Duke Ellington, 04/24/1969

“For the first time since President Richard M. Nixon’s divisive ‘Southern strategy’ that sent whites to the Republican Party and blacks to the Democrats …” began a New York Times story last week. Thus has one of the big lies of U.S. political history morphed into a cliche—that Richard Nixon used racist politics to steal the South from a Democratic Party battling heroically for civil rights.

A brief stroll through Bruce Bartlett’s Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past might better enlighten us.

Where Teddy Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner, Woodrow Wilson re-segregated the U.S. government and had the pro-Klan film “Birth of a Nation” screened in his White House. Wilson and FDR carried all 11 states of the Old Confederacy all six times they ran, when Southern blacks had no vote. Disfranchised black folks did not seem to bother these greatest of liberal icons.

As vice president, FDR chose “Cactus Jack” Garner of Texas who played a major role in imposing a poll tax to keep blacks from voting. Among FDR’s Supreme Court appointments was Hugo Black, a Klansman who claimed FDR knew this when he named him in 1937 and that FDR told him that “some of his best friends” in Georgia were Klansmen. Black’s great achievement as a lawyer was in winning the acquittal of a man who shot to death the Catholic priest who had presided over his daughter’s marriage to a Puerto Rican.

In 1941, FDR named South Carolina Sen. “Jimmy” Byrnes to the Supreme Court. Byrnes had led filibusters in 1935 and 1938 that killed anti-lynching bills, arguing that lynching was necessary “to hold in check the Negro in the South.” FDR refused to back the 1938 anti-lynching law.

“This is a white man’s country and will always remain a white man’s country,” said Jimmy. Harry Truman, who paid $10 to join the Klan, then quit, named Byrnes Secretary of State, putting him first in line of succession to the presidency, as Harry then had no V.P.

During the civil rights struggles of the ’50s and ’60s, Gov. Orval Faubus used the National Guard to keep black students out of Little Rock High. Gov. Ross Barnett refused to let James Meredith into Ole Miss. Gov. George Wallace stood in the door at the University of Alabama, to block two black students from entering. All three governors were Democrats. All acted in accord with the “Dixie Manifesto” of 1956, which was signed by 19 senators, all Democrats, and 80 Democratic congressmen.

Among the signers of the manifesto, which called for massive resistance to the Brown decision desegregating public schools, was the vice presidential nominee on Adlai’s Stevenson’s ticket in 1952, Sen. John Sparkman of Alabama. Though crushed by Eisenhower, Adlai swept the Deep South, winning both Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. Do you suppose those Southerners thought Adlai would be tougher than Ike on Stalin? Or did they think Adlai would maintain the unholy alliance of Southern segregationists and Northern liberals that enabled Democrats to rule from 1932 to 1952?

The Democratic Party was the party of slavery, secession and segregation, of “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and the KKK. “Bull” Connor, who turned the dogs loose on black demonstrators in Birmingham, was the Democratic National Committeeman from Alabama.

And Nixon?

In 1956, as vice president, Nixon went to Harlem to declare, “America can’t afford the cost of segregation.” The following year, Nixon got a personal letter from Dr. King thanking him for helping to persuade the Senate to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Nixon supported the civil rights acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968.

In the 1966 campaign, as related in my new book The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority, out July 8, Nixon blasted Dixiecrats “seeking to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice.”

Nixon called out segregationist candidates in ’66 and called on LBJ, Hubert Humphrey, and Bobby Kennedy to join him in repudiating them. None did. Hubert, an arm around Lester Maddox, called him a “good Democrat.” And so were they all—good Democrats. While Adlai chose Sparkman, Nixon chose Spiro Agnew, the first governor south of the Mason Dixon Line to enact an open-housing law.

In Nixon’s presidency, the civil rights enforcement budget rose 800 percent. Record numbers of blacks were appointed to federal office. An Office of Minority Business Enterprise was created. SBA loans to minorities soared 1,000 percent. Aid to black colleges doubled.

Nixon won the South not because he agreed with them on civil rights—he never did—but because he shared the patriotic values of the South and its antipathy to liberal hypocrisy. When Johnson left office, 10 percent of Southern schools were desegregated. When Nixon left, the figure was 70 percent.

Richard Nixon desegregated the Southern schools, something you won’t learn in today’s public schools. For history is a pack of lies agreed upon.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.” Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

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David Brat’s Half-Cocked Theological-Economic Fusionism

Michael Tanner recently—but before the shocker primary in suburban Richmond—lamented that the tea party’s influence was waning because it had strayed from its core mission:

Sparked by outrage over the Wall Street bailouts, the original Tea Party was motivated by an opposition to Big Government. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest and most influential groups, was “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” The Tea Party’s core issues were the skyrocketing national debt and opposition to Obamacare.

Social issues were not part of the platform. In fact, Jenny Beth Martin, leader of the Tea Party Patriots told the New York Times, “When people ask about [social issues], we say, ‘Go get involved in other organizations that already deal with social issues very well.’ We have to be diligent and stay on message.”

Tanner is one of an unfortunate many who took the tea party at face value. As I’ve been arguing for years, economic issues, for tea partiers, are inseparable from social ones. It’s the (largely) Protestant version of the seamless garment: capitalism is part of God’s blueprint for human society, just like traditional marriage and heteronormativity. Ironically echoing the atheist Ayn Rand, this worldview values capitalism not merely as an instrumental good, a man’s-estate-reliever, but as a moral imperative.

Research by David E. Campbell and Robert Putnam and long-form reporting by Jill Lepore have lent empirical weight to my intuition that the tea party is a religious movement by proxy. Ed Kilgore put it bluntly: “scratch a ‘fiscal conservative’ and you’ll find a culture-warrior of one sort or another right under the surface.”

Along comes David Brat, professor of economics and slayer of the dragon Rep. Eric Cantor, to bring the argument into sharp relief. The parsing of Brat’s academic writings and theological-economic beliefs has become a cottage industry. The Washington Post called Brat’s primary election an indication of a “rise in the crossroads of religion and economics.”

At first blush, Brat seems to draw from the tradition of thinkers like Wilhelm Roepke, who believed that, to properly function, markets depend on bourgeois virtues. As Brat once put it: “If markets are bad … that means people are bad.” There’s an interesting wrinkle to Brat’s fusionism, however. Where proponents of what can only loosely be called “Christian economics,” such as R.C. Sproul, Jr., tease out capitalist principles from the Bible, Brat teases out a biblical influence on secular economic writing. As Kevin Roose writes:

In one unpublished paper from 2005, “Adam Smith’s God: The End of Economics,” (Word doc here), which I accessed through a Google Scholar search, Brat makes the case that even though Adam Smith (the father of modern economics and author of The Wealth of Nations) is thought of as one of the great figures of the Enlightenment, his “invisible hand” theory should properly be seen in the context of Christian moral philosophy.

“In fact, [Smith’s] system really retains most of the fundamental features of the Judeo-Christian system,” Brat writes. “On paper he places Stoic reason above Christian revelation. But on the other hand, he chooses the Christian God over the Stoic God. And in the end, his choice of virtues and ends take a decidedly Christian turn.”

In a sense, Brat’s brand of Protestant-ethic revivalism completes a circle: now, not only can Christians find Adam Smith in the Bible, they can find the Bible in Adam Smith too!

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Eric Cantor’s Defeat Is Also Netanyahu’s

Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO
Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO

Of course it isn’t yet clear what Eric Cantor’s stunning and decisive defeat at the hands of an unknown challenger with one twentieth the campaign funds means for the direction of the House GOP. On domestic issues, including immigration, Cantor has been a chameleon—an establishment figure, a reformer, a “young gun,” a Tea Party insurgent with legislative tactician skills, a supporter of immigration reform (aka amnesty), and then a professed opponent of the same immigration reform. (I should note there was a time, in the 1990s, when immigration “reform” meant tightening the borders and tinkering with the legal immigration system so it was more skills-based, less based on “your brother’s wife got in a few years ago, so you are now eligible for a visa.”) The only ads I’ve seen from David Brat, the surprising victor, attacked Cantor’s readiness to hang out with big-money immigration boosters (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) while ignoring the labor market and wage impact large-scale immigration has for voters in his district.

One issue wasn’t talked about, though I wonder if it subliminally registered with some anti-Cantor voters. Cantor in 2010 more or less presented himself as Bibi Netanyahu’s congressman. Newly elevated by the GOP House takeover as the incoming majority leader, he held a private meeting with the Likud leader at the New York Regency. No other Americans were present; Netanyahu was joined by Israel’s ambassador and national security advisor.

It was a tense time in American-Israeli relations: the Obama administration was pushing hard for progress on peace talks and trying to get Israel to stop expanding settlements on the West Bank during the negotiations, an idea vigorously resisted by Israel’s government. During the meeting, Cantor gave Netanyahu assurances that the House would have his back in any showdown with the Obama administration. The Republicans, he told Bibi, “understand the special relationship” and would obstruct American initiatives which made Israel uncomfortable. Ron Kampeas, a veteran and centrist observer of U.S.-Israeli relations, said he could not “remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president.” So Cantor was, in his way, making history.

The ties to Israel made Cantor popular in the GOP caucus. Cantor could raise money more easily than other southern congressmen—from pro-Israel billionaires, for example—and spread it around. Sheldon Adelson poured millions into his PAC. Cantor knew his way around the Regency.

More recently, Cantor has spearheaded House opposition to Obama’s negotiations with Iran, speaking frequently of Iran in terms that echo Netanyahu. His Mideast positions track completely with Likud’s, whether it be aid to the Syrian rebels or aid to Egypt after the Sisi coup. He may be hard to pin down domestic issues, one day a moderate, another a hard rightist, but he is always a hawk—whether it be Ukraine or Syria or Iran, he will be a force pushing the most belligerent policies.

I wonder if this registered in the district in some ways. Pat Lang, of the interesting Sic Semper Tyrannis blog, meditated on Cantor (his congressmen) several years ago, wondering whether this sophisticated Richmond lawyer was a natural fit for a district that trends barbecue. Some have pointed to an ethnic angle, which could well be a factor. But it may be simply that conservative southern Republicans are beginning to get tired of neocons telling them they have to prepare to fight another war. Antiwar Republican Walter Jones won his North Carolina primary earlier this spring, standing strong against a major media assault by Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel. Now, in an election result that stunned political observers more than anything that happened in their lifetime, Cantor goes down before an underfunded Tea Party candidate.

We’ll see what happens with David Brat, but he’s already made history.

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Eric Cantor Rides Tea Party Tiger, Is Devoured

If you look at the arc of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s last three years of service in Congress, it begins, in 2011, with an ambitious insider’s game to undermine the Speaker of the House. Cantor was the tea party whisperer; he was their not-so-secret champion; he was the guy—“Yes, it’s probably an accurate conclusion”—who stood between John Boehner and a “grand bargain” on fiscal policy with the Great Satan.

Unrest within the House Republican conference boiled over in January 2013 with a hapless attempt to oust Boehner from the speakership (including three votes for Cantor). It was at this point, as symbolized by his loud and clearly irritated voice vote for Boehner to retain his position, that Cantor seemed to have recoiled from his game of sabotage. Sure, just days before, Cantor split with Boehner on the vote to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Yet, from that point until now, Cantor played the role of dutiful deputy. Maybe it was simply another tack: play nice until the next GOP wave, wait for Boehner to step aside, and smoothly ascend to the speakership.

I’d like to think, however, that Cantor was growing tired of the decrepit state of the GOP governing agenda in the wake of a resounding repudiation of Mitt Romney. At a party retreat earlier this year, he recognized the need for the party to appeal beyond the ranks of small-business owners and entrepreneurs and substantively address middle-class anxieties.

In his concession speech tonight, you could hear echoes of the embryonic reform-conservative movement:

What I set out to do, and what the agenda that I have said we’re about, is, we want to create a Virginia and an America that works for everybody. And we need to focus our efforts as conservatives, as Republicans, on putting forth our conservative solutions, so that they can help solve the problems for so many working middle-class families that may not have the opportunity that we have.

Add that to Cantor’s gestures toward some kind of constructive movement toward immigration reform, and we’ve got a sad and stunning moment in our politics: a conservative leader who ended, limply, where he should have begun. He rode the tea party tiger and discovered, too late, that he and his party might have profited from more bull sessions with Yuval Levin.

That’s a pity.

I know nothing of Prof. Dave Brat. But I know he is a political novice and, as he’s cheered tonight by the likes of Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, I can’t help but suspect he will be yet another useless crank in a still-troubled caucus.

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Chris Christie Isn’t Dead Yet

Chris Christie’s perpetual “town hall meeting” tour across New Jersey subjects the governor to at least a modicum of unscripted public scrutiny. Though held lately on weekday mornings or afternoons in suburban areas, dissension could theoretically erupt without warning at these events, notwithstanding the legions of State Police, municipal police, plainclothes security personnel, and Christie staffers on hand to promote order. Setting the tone of unpredictability is the governor himself, who famously advises prospective questioners that any topic is fair game, and that if necessary he won’t hesitate to put loudmouths, know-it-alls, smart alecks, etc., in their respective places.

Amidst such anticipation, no citizen afforded the opportunity to directly query Christie at recent meetings has asked him any variation of “Will you or won’t you” (run for president). This must bewilder the national political media, as journalists these days lob some variant of The Question at Christie whenever circumstances permit.

Similarly bewildering to them must be how little interest town hall questioners have evinced in what is almost certainly the most famous U.S. political scandal ever to arise as a result of dubious traffic lane closures: “Bridgegate.” Each development in this saga continues to receive copious media coverage, while interest among the general public appears rather less than ardent. Nonjournalists who show up to town hall meetings and get called upon by the governor largely demonstrate concern with the familiar slate of parochial issues: flood preparedness, public employee compensation, and property taxes.

When at an April 24 town hall—after over an hour of placid Q&A mostly related to Superstorm Sandy recovery issues—Point Pleasant Borough resident Len Ludovico finally did pose a question about Bridgegate, journalists suddenly rustled into action and surrounded the 71-year-old. Presenting himself as a staunch Christie supporter in search of effective rebuttals to deploy when friends and family accuse the Governor of wrongdoing, Mr. Ludovico told me it had never even occurred to him that the question could engender such frenzy. But there he was after the town hall meeting, conferring with CNN personnel and displaying a photo of himself posing with the governor at a recent Princeton University football game.

Even if these meetings are demographically unrepresentative of New Jersey, the apparent discrepancy in priorities between political media and the general public is instructive. Consider the narrative propagated by political media since January 2014, when the release of salacious emails triggered national media attention to Bridgegate. The theory went that any potential Christie presidential campaign had been rendered “toast.” Four months later, the vigorous certitude once shown in those heady initial post-scandal days has ebbed—perhaps owing to a steady stream of headlines like this one, from CBS News on April 30: “Could strong fundraising be Chris Christie’s road to redemption?”

Christie’s entrenched support among monied elites affiliated with the Republican Party establishment ought to have been better highlighted all along in the waves of calamitous Bridgegate analyses. The scandal obscured the fact that by January 2014, powerbrokering elements of the party had already exalted Christie for upwards of three years, and there was never good reason to believe this support would totally evaporate as a result of Bridgegate.

For an especially vivid reminder of the depth of Christie’s establishment backing, one need only think back to the night of September 27, 2011, when the governor addressed the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. During the Q&A, a woman rose to beg that Christie seek the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. “Your country needs you,” she pleaded. Then-frontrunner Mitt Romney likely felt at least a tinge of unease when this tearful entreaty led to a thunderous standing ovation. What could constitute a symbolic show of support from GOP establishment actors if not that (melodramatic) episode? Read More…

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Walter Jones Repels a War Party Attack

The GOP Beltway establishment is celebrating the victory of Thom Tillis, Speaker of the North Carolina House, over his Tea Party and Evangelical rivals in Tuesday’s primary for the U.S. Senate. But the story ended less happily for the Beltway elite in the Tar Heel State’s 3rd Congressional District. There, the planned purge of Rep. Walter Jones was repulsed by his loyal Republican base.

Yet, this massively funded effort, to kill the career of a 20-year House veteran, whose father held the seat for decades before him, testifies eloquently to the intolerance of the ideological and monied elite of the party to which conservatives give allegiance. Reportedly, a million dollars of super PAC money poured into the 3rd, from Republicans, in support of a brazen Big Lie campaign to paint Walter Jones as a liberal. But what is the Congressman’s real record?

In the Bush I era, he voted against No Child Left Behind. In the Obama years, he voted against Obamacare and the bailouts of the big banks, Wall Street, and Detroit. He voted against cap and trade, and TARP, the trillion-dollar stimulus package. Jones voted against every increase in the debt ceiling in 10 years and refuses to vote for any U.S. budget not in balance. He stands against same-sex marriage, has a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life, and receives a consistent A from the NRA. A national organization opposing illegal immigration gives Jones an A+ for battling to secure America’s borders and block amnesty. Camp Lejeune is in Jones’ district, and he has received awards from every veterans organization from the American Legion to the Disabled American Veterans. FreedomWorks cited Jones last year as the most conservative member of the North Carolina delegation and one of the 10 most conservative members of the House. And he had the endorsement of Dot Helms, widow of conservative legend Jesse Helms.

Why, then, was the Beltway elite so determined to destroy Jones that they spent a million dollars backing a Bush II apparatchik-turned K Street lobbyist who moved only last year to the district? Why was the War Party determined to kill Walter Jones?

First, Jones has voted for years to end foreign aid, a capital crime to the Israeli lobby AIPAC. Second, though Jones was so pro-war in 2003 that when France opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq he had the House dining room rename French fries “freedom fries,” when the caskets began to come home he starting having second thoughts. Walter Jones came to believe that voting to send Americans to fight and die in Iraq was the worst mistake of his career. So now Rep. Jones spends hours each weekend writing personal letters to every family that lost a son or daughter in a war he wrongly supported. And he has resolved to oppose every idiotic war into which his country is being stampeded. Walter Jones is a pro-peace conservative, a principled patriot who votes his convictions, puts his country first, and refuses to take dictation from the War Party. Read More…

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