Melissa Harris-Perry and Rand Paul Agree on One Thing: Hillary Clinton's “Appalling Choice”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has started responding to questions about a Republican "war on women" by baiting the perceived 2016 Democratic front-runner. What authority did Hillary Clinton really have, given her husband's "predatory behavior" regarding a 20-year old White House intern? The attack is ready-made for cable news, but it hasn't been discussed at all on MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry. The eponymous host, an academic whose segments about race, poverty, and gender are roughly 20 grade levels above the rest of TV, hasn't touched the Paul line.
Here's one possible reason why. In Big Girls Don't Cry, her book on the gender politics ramifications of the 2008 election, Rebecca Traister notes that "it was fallout from the Lewinsky scandal that did in Hillary with some feminists." Yes, her overall popularity surged—it made her a stronger candidate for New York's open Senate seat. But for a second opinion, on Page 23, Traister quotes Harris-Perry (née Harris-Lacewell).
I don't doubt that Harris-Perry still feels that way, or would refrain from saying so when the issue came up. But she's not forcing it. And Rand Paul is not wrong that the issue makes some progressives queasy.
The Conservative Man-Crush on Putin
A few months ago, the wonderful Marin Cogan noticed a subculture of Americans, most of them right-leaning, who admired the manliness of Vladimir Putin. They meme'd photos of the Russian president shirtless or hunting or hunting while shirtless. Often, they tried to imagine America's own "metrosexual black Abe Lincoln" doing the same, and collapsed with laughter.
Earlier this year, when Putin supposedly caught—and kissed—a 46-pound pike fish, posters on Free Republic, a major grassroots message board for the Right, were overwhelmingly pro-Putin:
"I wonder what photoup [sic] of his vacation will the Usurper show us? Maybe clipping his fingernails I suppose or maybe hanging some curtains. Yep manly. I can't believe I'm siding with Putin," one wrote. "I have President envy," another said. "Better than our metrosexual president," said a third. One riffed that a Putin-Sarah Palin ticket would lead to a more moral United States.
Now, most of the Putinphilia on the Internet is nonideological—it's only as deep as "hey, this grumpy-looking Russian guy poses shirtless a lot." (Some Putin observers attribute this to overcompensation. The president is 5-foot-7, shorter than many of his world leader peers.) Conservative appreciation for Putin has, generally, tended to move away from the visuals and toward Putin's social conservatism.
In the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell contrasted Putin quite favorably with leftists who "have lately shifted power from legislatures to executives and from voters to bureaucracies," and sided with Islamists on issues of censorship. In his syndicated column, Pat Buchanan wrote with admiration that "Putin says his mother had him secretly baptized as a baby and professes to be a Christian," and noted that most of the world—175 of 190 nations—sided with Putin over the "un-elected judges" who approved of gay marriage.
In his National Review column, Victor Davis Hanson has finally blended the two genres. Putin's problem with America, writes Hanson, is that our leadership is so weak and vacillating. In Iraq, for example, "he despised us for not quickly dealing with the insurgency and then for pulling out abruptly once we did." According to Hanson, the manliness plays out in other ways that should make us feel ashamed.
Bare-chested Putin gallops his horses, poses with his tigers, and shoots his guns — what Obama dismisses as “tough-guy schtick.” Perhaps. But Putin is almost saying, “You have ten times the wealth and military power that I have, but I can neutralize you by my demonic personality alone.” Barack Obama, in his increasingly metrosexual golf get-ups and his prissy poses on the nation’s tony golf courses, wants to stay cool while playing a leisure sport. It reminds us of Stafford Cripps being played by Stalin during World War II. “Make no mistake about it” and “Let me be perfectly clear” lose every time. Obama’s subordinates violate the law by going after the communications of a Fox reporter’s parents; Putin himself threatens to cut off the testicles of a rude journalist.
That last line might include a Freudian slip. Putin never "threatened to cut off the testicles" of a "rude journalist." Twelve years ago a journalist for Le Monde asked Putin (then in his first term) about the use of heavy weapons in operations in Chechnya. "If you want to become a complete Islamic radical and are ready to undergo circumcision," said Putin, "then I invite you to Moscow. We are a multidenominational country. We have specialists in this question as well. I will recommend that he carry out the operation in such a way that after it nothing else will grow." That's been interpreted as a mention of "castration," for some reason—but the journalist was hardly "rude" in the question that set it up.
Congressman: CFPB Is Practicing “Gestapo-Style” Data Collection
Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., is not a fan of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (In the Florida state Senate, Webster was known for unsuccessfully pushing legislation to keep Terri Schiavo alive.) At a House Rules Committee hearing, he compared the CFPB to the Gestapo:
"So this is far more than the NSA. Far more than their metadata, which only collects phone numbers but not names, far more because they have no re-authorization, far more because there is no appropriation restrictions placed on it. This is more than just NSA-style, this is more Gestapo-style collection of data on individual citizens who have no clue that this is happening.
The hearing concerned a bill that would, among other things, require the CFPB director "to consider a rule's impact upon the financial safety or soundness of an insured depository institution." In other words, the bill they were discussing has little to do with data collection, but was a great excuse for House GOP members to harp on Elizabeth Warren's brainchild.
Here's the video of Webster:
The "Gestapo-style" data collection Webster took issue with is the CFPB's credit report data on mortgage borrowers. According to hearing testimony, every federal employee has access to the database, which has credit report data on 53 million American borrowers. Someone giving testimony also compared the CFPB to the IRS, and said it's "totally unaccountable to the American people."
The CFPB could be the Republicans' new whipping boy since the IRS peccadillo has died down. Webster has already proven himself as phobic of government data collection. In 2012 he worked to end the Census American Community Survey, which randomly surveys 3 million households every year, calling the ACS "intrusive" and "unconstitutional." The ACS is used to determine how to distribute federal and state funds for things like hospitals and school lunches. But what of our freedoms?
House Republicans Give Up on Debt Limit, Like Everyone Knew They Would
A week ago I justified my decision to ignore the current rounds of debt limit negotiations in the House by explaining that the GOP would inevitably cave. "The conservative wing fully expects a sellout," I wrote, while "the less conservative wing wants to make Democrats vote to fund Obamacare again but is ready to accept the Senate's inevitable move to split the riders from the debt limit."
Since then, Republicans have huddled three times to talk about the debt limit strategy. Their demands have shrunk from "ending the Obamacare bailout" to "restoring the military pension cuts of the 2013 budget deal" (which would increase spending, but whatever) to, finally—nothing. Here, this should explain:
As expected, the failure of 217* Republicans to agree on demands has ended in total surrender and a clean debt limit bill. They'll put it up and expect victorious Democrats to join a few dozen Republicans, and pass it.
"When you don't have 218 votes," shrugged John Boehner after today's meeting of House Republicans, "you have nothing." Did this mean the end of "the Boehner rule," that any increase in the debt limit would be matched by an equal amount of spending cuts or reforms?** "I hope not."
Spoiler: It does. This isn't even a fun or surprising story—it's a tale of the White House winning a 2013 showdown with Republicans, and of Republicans going on to convince themselves that they should take the loss and try to win the 2014 elections. Yes, at last month's House Republican retreat, the party was talking about some revised demands for the debt limit negotations. But they were also told by columnists and pollsters that the 2013 government shutdown had been a disaster for them, and that repeating it would weaken them in November.
*Given the three vacancies in the House, the majority needs one fewer vote than usual to pass a bill.
**"Or reforms" was added later.
Scott Walker and the Gaffe That Never Was
I spent most of yesterday in an auditorium, working under spotty Internet conditions, so I missed the full-court press from progressive groups that wanted reporters to know about an apparent Scott Walker lie. He was 17 years old in 1984, but seemed to have boasted about his vote for Ronald Reagan. Here was how it looked coming from American Bridge, the Dem oppo-research PAC:
Notice that the quote, given to Right Wing News, was three weeks old. Since January, Democratic groups have calmed their nerves about a Chris Christie 2016 campaign and started paying more attention to GOP donor faves like Walker. So somebody stumbled across this interview on a popular site that isn't much read by the left or the mainstream media.
Somebody found fool's good. John Hawkins, who conducted the interview with Walker, realized yesterday that the quote had been poorly transcribed. Walker didn't say "I had just become a teenager and voted for Ronald Reagan." He said, "I had just become a teenager, and a vote for Ronald Reagan mean limited government," etc. That's boilerplate, and not surprising given how often Walker cites Reagan. (He mentioned him 11 times in his memoir last year, usually in the context of how Reagan would have behaved boldly in this or that situation.)
So, what have we learned? Not much, but this is a useful hook for reminding the pundit class of how many people weren't influenced by the Reagan presidency. To have cast a vote for Reagan, in any of his races, you had to be born before November 1966. You'd be turning 48 this year. Fifty-four percent of the electorate is your age or older, but only about 40 percent of the overall population. Come 2016, there'll be as many voters who weren't old enough to vote for Reagan as voters who were. Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz—all of them fit in that category. And yet our pundits still talk about a successful Republican, one who cuts into the liberal and independent white vote, as one who wins "Reagan Democrats." It's weird. It's like saying, when the Democrats won back Congress in 2006, that they had won back "Nixon Democrats."
The New Republican Obamacare Bailout
When Democrats predict that the GOP will eventually have to embrace the Affordable Care Act, they usually start with the plight of rural hospitals. In the 25 states that have accepted the Medicaid expansion, these hospitals are taking in reimbursements when they cover the indigent who are newly covered. In the 25 states that haven't—no reimbursements. Red states (and red-run blue states like Wisconsin) first embraced the Supreme Court decision that made Medicaid expansion optional, and saved them from putting up 10 percent of the cost of a new annual entitlement. But the costs of doing nothing are burning up the plains.
How can a Republican governor fix this problem without accepting the Medicaid expansion? Ray Henry and Christina Cassidy explain: They've trying to bail out hospitals within the states. In South Carolina the state has agreed to reimburse 100 percent Medicaid spending at distressed hospitals. In Georgia the Republican charged with this year's budget is looking at a bailout worth "tens of millions of dollars." In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant wants $4.4 million for a bailout, and his argument for why is interestingly Leninist:
I mean, here we would be saying to 300,000 Mississippians, "We’re going to provide Medicaid coverage to you," and then the federal government through Congress or through the Senate, would do away with or alter the Affordable Care Act, and then we have no way to pay that. We have no way to continue the coverage.
There's no chance of the ACA being repealed until, maybe, 2017 if Republicans win the presidency. Bryant's looking three years ahead, suggesting that his state (and presumably other holdout states) can help grind down the law with stopgap bailouts to poor hospitals. The alternative: embracing Obamacare.
Doesn't it feel like only six or seven days ago that House Republicans were talking about ending "bailouts" for insurers in a debt limit deal? It was. They've dropped the idea. It's better for the party if they're not seen to be turning the screws on hospitals and insurers.
Ted Cruz Has a Joke About Al Gore
He told it in December.
He told it in January.
"It's cold!" riffed Cruz. "Al Gore told me this wouldn't happen."
He told it again today.
"It is really freezing in D.C.," he told a crowd at the Heritage Foundation, in a speech about energy policy. "I have to admit I was surprised. Al Gore told us this wouldn't happen!"
If it remains cold outside, I predict with 95 percent accuracy that Cruz will make this joke at next month's Conservative Political Action Conference.
Oklahoma Congressman Talks Woman Down From Kill-Obama Stance by Suggesting Other Crazy Things for Her to Think
One week ago a YouTube user named William Martin uploaded four minutes of video from a town hall held by Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine. It took a few days for the media to find a lede: An angry (and blurrily seen) woman told the freshman that President Obama "should be executed as an enemy combant," and Bridenstine didn't tell her that, no, this was probably a bad idea.
Bridenstine apologized after the video blew up, saying he "obviously did not condone and I do not approve of grossly inappropriate language," chastising anyone who attributed the remarks to him. Here comes the #slatepitch: I don't think Bridenstine's failure to reject the "execute" remark is his worst moment. His actual answer is chock-full of paranoid theories about the Obama administration's "lawless" behavior.
- He claims that Colorado "is now the prime location in the world for organized crime, where they are distributing all kinds of drugs," in the wake of marijuana legalization.
- He characterizes the background checks included in the failed Toomey-Manchin gun bill as "national gun registration." The bill prohibited that, as does current federal law.
- He claims that the Obama administration ended up getting a form of gun control by endorsing the Small Arms Treaty in the UN—an "international secretariat" that overrides American law. "The Second Amendment of U.S. is not open for debate by foreign governments," he says.
The effect of Bridenstine's rant: He wins back the crowd. They burst into applause at his defense of the Second Amendment from a threat that is not actually real.
Bridenstine is considering a run for Oklahoma's open U.S. Senate seat.
The GOP Civil War Du Jour: Everybody Versus the Social Conservatives
Jeremy Peters looks at the short, basically forgotten congressional campaign of Virginia state Sen. Dick Black and sees an example of a trend. The "Republican Party establishment," he writes, is trying to smother insurgent candidates by any means necessary, and in Virginia, it worked.
This is a fascinating little skirmish that's played out exactly as most Republicans wanted it to. Ever since the seat in rapidly blueing NoVa opened up, state Del. Barbara Comstock—a Republican lawyer, fixer, and pundit who made a well-timed 2009 run for office and won two terms since—was the front-runner. Comstock wasn't "liberal" in any way. She'd voted for the transvaginal ultrasound bill that became, in 2012, a club for Democrats. But she didn't wave around plastic fetuses and doubt the existence of some forms of rape. As Peters writes, Republicans feared that Black, in the D.C. media market, would become a new Todd Akin. Look at whom he credits with scaring Black out of the race.
First Mitt Romney endorsed her. Then came Citizens United and the president of Americans for Prosperity, the group financed by the wealthy Koch brothers.
Americans for Prosperity is not in the "Republican establishment" as it's generally understood. In other New York Times stories, AFP appears as a pressure group moving the GOP into positions that voters hate. Why did it join the blanket party against Black? Because Black was going to make social conservative gaffes. And that element of the party, not a huge problem in office, causes problems during campaigns.
That's what "stopping the next Todd Akin" means. It doesn't mean crushing the Tea Party or electing moderates. Akin was not the Tea Party candidate in Missouri's 2012 primary—national Tea Party groups endorsed either the former state treasurer or a businessman who was making his first ever political run. Akin was a social conservative who went on to bungle his abortion views in an easy interview. And everyone on the right, from the RNC to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has been working to train Republicans to avoid sounding like Akin. Not changing what they stand for.
Actually, only one Republican in Congress has coupled a new tone with a policy shift. That's Rep. Richard Hanna, who represents parts of central New York, and who voted against the latest version of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. His reward: a radio ad in his district from the Faith Family Freedom Fund, the Family Research Council's PAC, which has a woman (natch) describing her shock at the vote. "When all other Republicans and some Democrats voted to stop federal funding of abortion," says the narrator, "he cast the only Republican vote to keep your tax dollars flowing to the abortion industry. No American should ever be forced to pay for the abortions of others."
The only way to stay politically safe, on abortion? Don't speak up. Don't get noticed.
Marijuana Politics: Now a Campaign Issue in Maryland
Today's minor news on the marijuana front comes in Time's interview with Joe Biden. Asked about the president's comments about marijuana, made during interviews for his New Yorker profile, Biden pivots to sentencing reform. "I support the President’s policy," he says. "I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources." This represents a sort of shift from the norm, when Biden blurts out something and the president has to respond.
The Biden interview, we're told, occured on the Amtrak from D.C to Philadelphia. That means it cut through Maryland, where dark-horse gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, a Democratic state delegate, is asking the front-runners (the lieutenant governor and the attorney general) to join her in backing decriminalization of marijuana. The state's Maryland Marijuana Decriminalization Act, which would reduce penalties for an ounce of the stuff to a $100 fine, may have the votes to pass in a legislature run by Democratic supermajorities. Mizeur wants to make sure.
"I was pleased to read about your support for this initiative," she writes to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in a letter. "Reform of marijuana laws is far from outside the mainstream views of leaders across the country; and here in Maryland, a recent Goucher poll reported just 6 percent of Marylanders favored jail time as a consequence for marijuana possession."