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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 this past 2012 election, we North Carolina voters finished giving the entire state government to Republicans – and not the moderate, “business-minded” Republicans North Carolinians are accustomed to, but the same far-right social conservatives who are plaguing the rest of the country – as we had begun to do in the Tea Party wave of 2010, shepherded along as we were by the massive amounts of money from conservative leader and corrupting influence Art Pope (a subject I have written about previously here, among other places). Apparently aware that their extremely conservative proposals are likely to precipitate an imminent backlash from historically moderate and increasingly young and progressive NC voters, Republicans in the statehouse have tried to cram in as many bedrock-conservative agenda items as possible as quickly as possible, and in so doing destroy some of the best things about North Carolina.

From an expansive and enlightening article from Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis, writing for The American Prospect:

Recognizing that this conservative moment might not last long, Republican legislators are moving swiftly. Despite the headlines, the most notorious bills—like the resolution to establish a state religion or the measure to outlaw public nipple displays—have been nonstarters. But the core of Pope’s agenda is going ahead. Every lawmaker in North Carolina knows that agenda: Scale back taxes, especially for businesses and the wealthy; slice away at the social safety net; and reverse the state’s focus on public schools as an engine for social and economic progress.

In February, lawmakers decreased maximum weekly unemployment benefits from $535 to $350 and shortened the period in which workers can receive them—an especially harsh measure given that unemployment in North Carolina is the nation’s fifth highest at 9.2 percent. North Carolina is one of 15 states that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have covered about 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians with the federal government picking up the tab. Now Governor McCrory is pushing to privatize management of the state Medicaid program, which would funnel North Carolina tax dollars to out-of-state managed-care companies while raising costs and reducing access to care.

Taxes became more regressive when lawmakers voted to end the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which was claimed in 2011 by more than 900,000 low-income, working North Carolinians. Senate Republicans are now considering a bill to cut the state’s corporate income tax from the highest to the lowest in the Southeast, which would be low indeed. It could have been worse. An earlier Senate plan, promoted by Pope’s Civitas Institute, would have abolished corporate and personal income taxes altogether, replacing them with a higher sales tax—the most regressive form of taxation. Even Pope shot down that idea, saying sales-tax increases would “hurt the economy.” (They would definitely have affected sales in his retail chain.)

Republicans have also set their sights on gutting environmental laws, proposing to repeal the state’s renewable-energy standard, speed the way for fracking, and allow offshore drilling for oil and gas. The party is also taking aim at the historic centerpiece of North Carolina progressivism: public education, which has long been a target of Pope’s network. Last session, cuts to schools eliminated more than 4,300 teaching jobs. This time, one Republican bill would shift $90 million of public-school funding to private schools through vouchers. Another would eliminate teacher tenure. A proposal to shutter at least one UNC campus is on hold, following a public outcry.

We gave them the state, and this is what they are doing with it. Perhaps the most tragic effort is what they are trying to do to North Carolina’s exemplary voting procedures, which had “become a national model for clean elections and expanded turnout, thanks to reforms like early voting, same-day registration, and public financing of some races.” Because of the advantage the expanded turnout gave to Democrats in 2008, Bill Cook of the state senate – under the influence of Art Pope – has proposed the following:

So the senator introduced a strict measure to require government–issued photo ID at the polls, slash the number of early-voting days, eliminate same-day registration during early voting, and delay by five years the time it takes for former felons to regain their voting rights. None of these proposals is original; they’re the same voter-suppression measures floated in recent years by Republican legislators from Wisconsin to Georgia. But then Cook got creative. He co-sponsored Senate Bills 666 and 667, both of which would ban parents from claiming their college children as dependents on their state taxes if those children vote on campus (as most students do). Then he filed Senate Bill 668, prohibiting the “mentally incompetent” from voting. Why? Because, as Cook told The Charlotte Observer, he had once seen such a person be “manipulated” at the polls.

If you live in North Carolina you should definitely read the entire article.

From Sally Kohn, in a post for Salon.com:

My friend John Fugelsang likes to say that the Democratic Party is like an S&M submissive who forgot his safety word. After the lame performance of Democrats in the immigration reform markup, I would say Fugelsang is being generous. Republicans are incredibly skilled at holding no actual power but nonetheless making wildly effective threats. Democrats on the other hand display the unique and vexing ability to have every political advantage and still cave on their own goals, more often than not preemptively.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I would not be surprised if the modern Democratic Party’s strategy is secretly being bankrolled by Eli Lilly as a ploy to sell Prozac to liberals.

That’s pretty much the takeaway, full of enough colorful analogy to keep us all fat and happy, but if you require more substance, well, read on:

In the latest example of this disconcerting trend, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) proposed an amendment to the Senate immigration markup that would arguably harm American workers. In fact, it wasn’t just Democrats and labor unions that opposed this amendment; Republican Sen. Charles Grassley also opposed the amendment. But Democrats nonetheless backed the change in order to woo Hatch’s committee vote. Meanwhile, not only was Hatch’s committee vote not needed to approve the bill but Hatch has explicitly said he may still not vote for the legislation unless other changes are made. In other words, Hatch got to water down the legislation and Democrats got, er, well… nothing.

By comparison, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) proposed an amendment that would let lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans sponsor their same-sex spouses for purposes of immigration visas. Republicans threatened to pull their support for the entire legislation if this amendment stood. And so Democrats on the committee and, reportedly, in the White House, publicly and privately pressured Leahy to withdraw his amendment.

“I don’t want to be the senator who asks people to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country,” said Leahy, articulating the sort of principles for which Democrats recently purported to stand firm.

“I don’t want to blow this bill apart,” said Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.). “This is the wrong moment, that this is the wrong bill,” said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).  Feinsten, Durbin and others articulated the cowering spinelessness that Democrats now seem to embody.

In case you didn’t know, there are ten Democrats and eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And, by the way, Democrats hold the majority in the Senate. However, Democrats preemptively watered down their own legislation in the face of Republican threats and a fear that an immigration reform bill that actually reflects ideals of equality and inclusion might not be popular enough with the Republican-dominated House.

Sad but true.

[A concerned reader – who is also a close relative of mine – emailed me regarding my last post, about the  vacant, ephemeral nature of the recent scandals, and the Ezra Klein article I used to support my assertions. In the email he expressed some doubt as to the veracity of Klein’s claims (I believe the phrase used was “full of shit”), and made it clear that it was crazy to claim there had been no wrongdoing in any of these instances. The email got me thinking and made me want to better clarify the original post, in something like an addendum.]

In my previous post, I definitely didn’t mean to imply that there was no wrongdoing at all – there were some IRS agents in Cincinnati who were certainly in the wrong in way overstepping their discretion prerogatives, and perhaps some of their superiors as well for allowing it to happen, and there were some employees of the Justice Department who clearly violated black and white regulations that are meant to protect the press. I can barely tell what the Benghazi debate is even about these days – there was a question of why the main embassy could not fulfill a request to spare four soldiers to help the consulate ahead of the incident, but its not clear that would have made any difference, and anyway the main accusations have shifted from the actual incident to what the White House said about the incident, like whether the word terrorist was actually used, for example, so I suppose there might be some low level bureaucratic wrongdoing there.

My overall point was that, based on current information, the impropriety of any of these scandals didn’t even expand to the White House, much less Obama himself. The question of his involvement needed to be asked at first, and it has been, and the evidence has shown the administration had little to do with any of it. Many pundits have taken this defense as an opportunity to slam Obama for the opposite sort of conduct, saying that he is too aloof, too uninvolved, too uninterested in his own government, which may have some amount of merit, but the way the argument came about does a lot to denigrate its credibility, and to what level it exists at all it is a separate issue (and it’s not just the right taking up this argument, but some on the left too – here’s an example, and here’s another one).

I think the focus surrounding these scandals stems from the premise that some people dislike Obama so much that they think he must be guilty of everything he is accused of. There are plenty of worthwhile things to criticize the man for, without saying every worst fear about him must be true, as some in Congress have done. People can keep looking, and even hoping, for something to go catastrophically wrong with his presidency, but this isn’t it, and my bet is that his presidency won’t go down in anything but overreaching, maybe arrogance, and mild neophytism.

As of today, even Newt Gingrich and some other top Republicans have offered a similar argument to what I was trying to say, and on NPR no less (here).

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was front-and-center during the Republican-led impeachment of President Clinton in 1998, is cautioning his GOP colleagues about the risk of appearing to be too eager as they dig into the scandals now dogging the Obama administration.“I think we overreached in ’98 — how’s that for a quote you can use?” Gingrich told NPR’s Mara Liasson for a story on Friday’s broadcast of Morning Edition.

And:

Gingrich’s view about how Republicans should proceed echoes those expressed by other GOP leaders in a piece published Thursday evening by Politico:“Republicans are worried one thing could screw up the political gift of three Obama administration controversies at once: fellow Republicans.“Top GOP leaders are privately warning members to put a sock in it when it comes to silly calls for impeachment or over-the-top comparisons to Watergate. They want members to focus on months of fact-finding investigations — not rhetorical fury.”

The Politico article contains another an interesting perspective. It looks like even most Congressional Republicans (and even a Fox News pundit) agree that the calls for Obama’s resignation and the comparisons to Watergate are preposterous, an example of overreaching. And that was my main point: these scandals are largely a result of overreaching in an effort to condemn Obama by people who hate him, and contain far less actual wrongdoing and effectual substance than is being claimed.

“Scandal” seems to be the watchword of politics lately, and if you’re to believe the mainstream media it seems that the only things being done in Washington this week are either the discovery of new scandals, or the reactions to/investigations of already-discovered scandals. But despite what would appear to be a plethora of wrongdoing in our current government, the whole things is a farce, devoid of any substance. As Ezra Klein wrote for the Washington Post, “absent more revelations, the scandals that could reach high don’t seem to include any real wrongdoing, whereas the ones that include real wrongdoing don’t reach high enough.” Scandals require “the prospect of high-level White House involvement and wide political repercussions.” So far, the reality of each scandal does not suggest this is the case.

Benghazi is the biggest farce, as the scandal surrounding a truly tragic incident has devolved into being not actually about anything. No one is arguing anything important to the actual event, or even anything important to the administration’s reaction to the event. The worst thing Obama has stood accused of – and it’s worth noting that this is still in dispute, and in some places has disintegrated into an argument over semantics – is not calling the incident an act of “terror” soon enough. It has also come down to accusations that the administration may have “air-brushed” its talking points, and its accusers are grasping so hard and reaching so far as to call this a more significant event than Watergate, and saying Obama will eventually have to resign, which makes their argument even more preposterous. Klein writes:

We’re long past the point where it’s obvious what the Benghazi scandal is supposed to be about. The inquiry has moved on from the events in Benghazi proper, tragic as they were, to the talking points about the events in Benghazi. And the release Wednesday night of 100 pages of internal e-mails on those talking points seems to show what my colleague Glenn Kessler suspected: This was a bureaucratic knife fight between the State Department and the CIA.

As for the White House’s role, well, the e-mails suggest there wasn’t much of one. “The internal debate did not include political interference from the White House, according to the e-mails, which were provided to congressional intelligence committees several months ago,” report The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung.

The AP phone records scandal, while not as preposterous, does not actually include any wrongdoing or law-breaking. While this is true – and, in fact, because its true – what is troubling in this case is that something like this could happen without a law being broken. As a Washington Post heading stated, “the real scandal is what’s legal.” It seems like something must have gone wrong here. But from a legal standpoint, using this as an attack on the Obama administration does not hold water. Again from Klein:

This is the weirdest of the three [scandals]. There’s no evidence that the DoJ did anything illegal. Most people, in fact, think it was well within its rights to seize the phone records of Associated Press reporters. And if the Obama administration has been overzealous in prosecuting leakers, well, the GOP has been arguing that the White House hasn’t taken national security leaks seriously enough. The AP/DoJ fight has caused that position to flip, and now members of Congress are concerned that the DoJ is going after leaks too aggressively. But it’s hard for a political party to prosecute wrongdoing when they disagree with the potential remedies.

Insofar as there’s a “scandal” here, it’s more about what is legal than what isn’t. The DoJ simply has extraordinary power, under existing law, to spy on ordinary citizens — members of the media included. The White House is trying to change existing law by encouraging Sen. Chuck Schumer to reintroduce the Media Shield Act. The Post’s Rachel Weiner has a good rundown of what the bill would do. It’s likely that the measure’s national security exemption would make it relatively toothless in this particular case, but if Congress is worried, they always can — and probably should — take that language out. Still, that legislation has been killed by Republicans before, and it’s likely to be killed by them again.

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