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This article in the New Republic – an admittedly liberal publication – gives Rand Paul and his presidential aspirations a fair shake, and is worth reading either for its prescience, or so that years from now you can look back on 2013 and go, ‘How crazy was that?’ when discussing the dark and hopefully final throes of the Tea Party. Could be either, or, really, both.

When Paul launched his political career three years ago, he was viewed in much the same way as his father, or, as Senator John McCain once called him, a “wacko bird.” He was identified with the same marginal issues (drug legalization, neo-isolationism) and the same marginal constituencies (anarchists, goldbugs). But this year, Paul has emerged as a serious candidate. He has started actively campaigning for the nomination earlier than any of the other Republicans mulling a run. Already, he has racked up multiple meet-and-greets, dinners, and coffee gatherings in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. While his father may have been an also-ran, national polls show Rand Paul as one of the top contenders for the GOP nomination. In private, Paul has been meeting with key GOP power brokers, including the Koch brothers, and he has courted techies at Silicon Valley companies like Google, Facebook, and eBay. “We’re doing something that Ron never did; we’re reaching out to major donors,” says a Paul adviser. “Not everyone is giving us money, but there’s definitely some flirtation going on.” According to this adviser, in the last six months, RAND PAC, Paul’s national political operation, has raised more than a million dollars. “He’s very politically talented,” says a former senior official at the Republican National Committee. “He is absolutely a contender.”

In his efforts to court new audiences, or to bring what he calls “tough love” to friendly ones, Rand Paul is aiming for a bigger, broader base than Ron Paul—or, for that matter, Mitt Romney—ever captured. But though he has staked out more moderate or traditionally Republican positions than his father, at his core, Rand retains the same pre–New Deal vision of hyper-minimalist government and isolationist foreign policy. In other words, Paul has managed to take the essence of his father’s radical ideology—more radical than that of any modern presidential candidate—and turn it into a plausible campaign for the Republican nomination.

I have increasingly mixed feelings about Rand Paul as a Senator, or Rand Paul as a legislator, or Rand Paul as a Person of (Any) Influence. He’s very closely aligned with issues I personally support (the aforementioned drug legalization, his series of Verb the Noun bills “intended to make senators more diligent: the Read the Bills Act, the Write the Laws Act, and the One Subject at a Time Act”) and issues that I strongly oppose (the dismantling of the New Deal, the defunding of the federal government, institutional racism), and likewise with certain constituencies (Libertarians and Tea Partiers, respectively). So the idea of Rand Paul as President is a bit hard to muster.

Rand Paul as a candidate, however, is not hard to imagine – we are, after all, currently witnessing it – but it is hard to imagine him winning.

The biggest argument against Obama in 2008 – and one that has not faded too far from memory, as we are bearing witness to it as well – was his lack of experience, an argument made, I might add, by many people who may consider themselves Rand Paul constituents. Two terms in the Illinois State Senate, one term in the U.S. Senate, then president. Rand Paul, however, does not even have the pre-U.S. Senate experience Obama had. Before the current term – his first term – as Senator, Rand Paul was an ophthalmologist, a position that may or may not lend itself to governmental leadership (though I admit it does lend credibility to his anti-Obamacare stance). But it is not political experience, and it is a definite soft spot with a target painted on it for whoever his opponents will be, both in the primary and in the general. Hillary, particularly, if 2016 lines up that way, would tip the experience scales pretty drastically. So would Biden, though they almost certainly would not be pulling from the same pool of voters. The problem for Republicans, though, is that Paul could very possibly win the primary, based on current circumstances. His outsider, anti-government image could sufficiently rile up the base and build a new super-conservative, neo-Tea Party movement on which he rides to primary victory, essentially being to conservative Republicans what Obama was to Democrats in 2008. But nationally he is seen as too much of a symbol of the far-far-right, of the sort that both scares and infuriates liberals, while the whole of the country, as we’ve heard about with the rise of minority groups and young people, is swinging left. No time for a Rand Paul presidency. The Republicans would be best served, when the time comes, with nominating someone with much more broad popular support, who can win nationally, rather than trying to tern anti-Obama super-con fervor into its own party. If Republicans “fall in line,” as the saying goes, Paul is not the establishment candidate here to form up the ranks. It’s the wrong time.

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I would like to point out two articles I read recently that perfectly sum up the state of the national circus known as our political process, and those individuals who may be gumming up the works. One of the articles is as short as the other is (moderately) long, and one is as partisan as the other is (mostly) decidedly not.

First, the former, which is an essay by Mark Warren, writing for Esquire magazine, on the mostly self-induced situation our leaders on the right find themselves in:

The energetic right wing of this new Jacobin Republican party (which has swallowed the party whole) lately has been going through a purification ritual, turning on conservative stalwarts deemed insufficiently radical. In this atmosphere, merely participating in the essential acts of democracy — negotiation, compromise, legislating — becomes suspect. Worse, and perhaps the root of this phenomenon, is the party’s now decades-long habit of trying to win elections not on the basis of its governing strategy or vision for the country but rather on scandal-mongering and defamation, the two biggest targets being Bill Clinton, who was impeached by the Republican House, and Barack Obama, whom a majority of Republicans, according to some polls, consider to be an illegitimate president because they believe he was born in Kenya.

There are obvious problems with pursuing scorched earth as a long-term strategy. First, movement conservatives have become so ill-equipped to govern that when they do win elections (as with the Gingrich revolution of 1994), they don’t know what they are doing; second, and more important, what started as a tactic to win elections became, over time, a literal belief in the actual evil of their opponents. The party’s committed constituencies became conditioned to ascribing the very worst motives to people who in saner times would merely have been their political opponents. A poll conducted in the spring found that 20 percent of Republicans believe Obama could be the actual Antichrist.

If there is an error in Warren’s argument, it’s that he indicts all Republicans without specifically naming who he’s talking about, like Tea Party Republicans or the Republican Congressional leadership. But that is perhaps only a vagary of journalism or an issue of semantics. No one is claiming that every single last person in the Republican Party thinks or behaves this way. The people he’s talking about are the people he’s talking about. Res ipsa loquitur.

(Personally, I would very much like to hear the well-crafted, intelligently thought-out counterargument to Warren’s piece, and by counterargument I do not mean a similar ad hominem indictment of the Democrats.)

The latter article is by Peter Beinart, writing for the Daily Beast, and though titled “The Rise of the New Left,” it is more an assessment of the current transformations undergone by both parties and put in a historical context than it is a promotion of the left wing or a treatise on liberal values.

Maybe Bill de Blasio got lucky. Maybe he only won because he cut a sweet ad featuring his biracial son. Or because his rivals were either spectacularly boring, spectacularly pathological, or running for Michael Bloomberg’s fourth term. But I don’t think so. The deeper you look, the stronger the evidence that de Blasio’s victory is an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left. It’s a challenge Hillary Clinton should start worrying about now.

To understand why that challenge may prove so destabilizing, start with this core truth: For the past two decades, American politics has been largely a contest between Reaganism and Clintonism. In 1981, Ronald Reagan shattered decades of New Deal consensus by seeking to radically scale back government’s role in the economy. In 1993, Bill Clinton brought the Democrats back to power by accepting that they must live in the world Reagan had made. Located somewhere between Reagan’s anti-government conservatism and the pro-government liberalism that preceded it, Clinton articulated an ideological “third way”: Inclined toward market solutions, not government bureaucracy, focused on economic growth, not economic redistribution, and dedicated to equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was lower than it had been when Reagan left office. 

For a time, small flocks of pre-Reagan Republicans and pre-Clinton Democrats endured, unaware that their species were marked for extinction. Hard as they tried, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole could never muster much rage against the welfare state. Ted Kennedy never understood why Democrats should declare the era of big government over. But over time, the older generation in both parties passed from the scene and the younger politicians who took their place could scarcely conceive of a Republican Party that did not bear Reagan’s stamp or a Democratic Party that did not bear Clinton’s. These Republican children of Reagan and Democratic children of Clinton comprise America’s reigning political generation.

It provides some enlightening answers to the questions of where we are going and where we have been – worth a read.

In the current print issue of The Economist, Lexington’s Notebook has noticed something that makes me think Christmas may have come early: several recent attempts by the great silent rational majority to drag us back to sanity.

Revolts of the reasonable are hard things to pull off, not least because zealots and partisans have catchier slogans. Yet that does not dismay a growing number of America’s not-very-strident. Pointing to record levels of public disgust for the political classes, moderates fizz with innovative schemes for grabbing power from extremists of the left and right. Some are wiser than others.

This is exactly what we need, and is also where I stand personally. Nothing has been more damaging to the political reality of this country in the past couple decades than the rise of extremists, caused by the rest of us allowing them to seize the reins of influence, and in some places power. They exist on both sides of the aisle, though I think one has been far more damaging than the other (again, power). The country needs moderates in power, and seems to want them in power – the backlash against the GOP after their comprehensive and widespread defeat in November has said as much, including the reelection of Obama itself, a man whose pragmatism was the central theme of his argument to elect him and his claim to the presidency.

More than 50 members of Congress have joined the bipartisan No Labels group, chaired by Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from struggling West Virginia, and Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah whose 2012 presidential ambitions were undone by wonkishness and a general lack of belly-fire. Members are called “Problem Solvers” rather than centrists, and insist that staunch conservatives and liberals are welcome.

I took a look at No Labels and if they are what they appear to be, I’m signing up.

Books and newspaper columns talk of an “insurgency of the rational” and of the “sane, pragmatic majority” taking charge. A political action committee founded by New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, plans to spend millions backing moderates and independents in state and federal elections, with a nicely balanced focus on promoting gun control (angering the right) and school reform (which makes teachers’ unions seethe). The Common Sense Coalition, set up by entrepreneurs and fund managers, wants an online “Army of Moderates” to lobby candidates and elected officials. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is said to be poised to launch a group pushing education and immigration reforms, using Republican and Democratic strategists.

The same arguments are cited, repeatedly, to explain why the time is ripe for a centrist insurgency. First, Americans are fed up with both big parties, especially in Congress, a body with an 11% approval rating in one recent poll. Self-styled “independents” account for up to 40% of the electorate by some measures. Finally, great faith is put in the power of technology to help new groups out-organise and out-campaign incumbent party machines, like small furry mammals scampering beneath dinosaur feet.

And if this small, scampering approach could become a full-fledged movement, maybe something could actually get done. But this is a good start. As it stands, the obstinancy, intractability, and obstructionism in Washington has turned the nation’s capitol into a place where momentum and progress goes to die. The 112th do-nothing Congress has turned into the 113th do-nothing Congress – most notably on the recent issues of immigration, about which there is little to be optimistic from what I’m hearing, and gun control – because of the extremists gumming up the works.

Some innovations have already sputtered out. Americans Elect, an online project to find a third-party presidential challenger for the 2012 election, failed to attract either voters or heavyweight candidates. The White House was the wrong goal, argues “The Centrist Manifesto”, a new book with a different plan to sell. The book’s author, Charles Wheelan, a teacher at Dartmouth College (and former Economist journalist), argues that a Centrist Party should focus on the Senate, aiming to win just four or five seats in moderate states. Thanks to quirks of Senate arithmetic, a handful of centrists could hold the balance of power.

This is apparently true. In the first chapter of the book Wheelan writes:

The Centrist electoral strategy revovles around the U.S. Senate. The party will ofcus on winning an handful of U.S. Senate seats in states where moderate candidates traditionally do well. With a mere four or five U.S. Senate seats, the Centrists can deny either traditional party a majority. At that point, the Centrists would be America’s power brokers. Nothing could happen without those swing votes. And when those swing votes represent sensible, moderate voters – rather than the non-compromising extremists of the Left and Right – good things can start happening again.

Sounds like a plan.

If details need to be redacted, fair enough. But why fight wars both in court and on Capitol Hill to maintain secrecy about the law itself? Secret law, for good reason, is often regarded as no law at all.

– Garrett Epps, writing for the Atlantic (emphasis mine), in regards to the perplexing, ineffective, and poorly-advised way the Obama Administration has been releasing information on the parameters of the drone program, and how the law will impose regulation, after Rand Paul’s much-discussed filibuster before the Senate. Epps described the Administration’s approach as “ham-fisted” and also said, “The drone war may not be a cancer on the Obama presidency, but a wise doctor at this point would order more tests,” and I can’t help but agree.

Continuing the topsy-turvy, down-is-up cognitive dissonance perpetrated by the wagonload in Congress over the past few months, Lindsey Graham demands some consistency from his fellow Republicans, and proclaims his “disappointment” in them for criticizing the Administration’s continuation of Bush’s drone program. So, yes, he is, in effect, standing up for Obama.

It’s really quite something, and you should watch it.

As far as Epps’s point goes, I’d back him up by asking, “how can justice that has to be served in secret be justice?”

Connor Friedersdorf, writing for the Atlantic, suggests a new form of journalism – or rather, an optional new mission statement for journalism – that shuns the typical infatuation with inside baseball and “crisis of the hour” fascination, that avoids becoming mired in the intricacies or theatrics surrounding an issue, and that would likely yield far better results from our political leaders than we are getting now.

One way of looking at things is that governing is complicated, and journalists need to roll with it, doing the best that they can to explain the inside baseball. When Bob Woodward says, “I spent two months reporting on how they came to the sequester,” he’s presumably operating on that theory. But covering politics in that way is a choice. What if the political press is doing a disservice to Americans by making it? What if we’re needlessly tailoring our content to the prejudices and preferences of insiders without even fully realizing that there are other options available? What if this particular option more often than not empowers whoever is most adept at spin?

I see no way around explaining something as complicated and jargon-laden as the sequester, even though many educated Americans will either misunderstand it or tune it out completely. But daily accounts of the closed-door negotiations? Regular analysis of their tenor? Pieces on the inner thoughts and feelings of the people involved? Capturing all that accurately, given that every source involved has an incentive to lie or spin, seems impossible to achieve with any consistency. Perhaps it can be achieved, occasionally, by reporters who spend many months reconstructing events with as many sources as possible. But the press as it now operates attempts to publish this sort of journalism on an up-to-the-minute, look-what-just-happened basis.

Isn’t there a better way?

Well fear not – and go ahead and crawl back out from under the couch now – because it turns out there is.

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First, see my initial take on the Obama skeet-gate photo from earlier today.

It turns out, Daily Kos beat be to the analysis by a few hours, and threw in the inception of a juicy conspiracy theory to boot.

The White House has now released the photo above, showing the president shooting a gun at Camp David in August, months before the Sandy Hook killings made guns a major political issue. But wait! Kessler also suggested that a reader’s demand for more than one such photo was reasonable. Will this be enough for him?

Also, too, no sooner had the White House released the photo than the right began saying it was suspicious; a Washington Times editor tweeted:

This Obama skeet shooting photo looks odd to me because the clays come high or low, not straight.  http://t.co/…

— @EmilyMiller via Safari on iOS

And knowing Republicans and the media, there’s a very good chance that kind of thing gains real traction. And while we’re talking about whether the president has shot a gun enough times to be able to even breathe the word gun, actual people will keep getting actually shot. So, yeah. Our political discourse, ladies and gentlemen.

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