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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.

“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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Recent centrist moves and minor steps toward compromise on the part of Ohio Republicans has apparently angered the Ohio Tea Party, with the advent of the election of Matt Borges, who once lobbied for the gay-rights group Equality Ohio, breaking the proverbial camel’s back.

From an article in the Columbus Dispatch:

Feeling betrayed by the Republican Party and its leaders, tea party groups in Ohio appear to be uniting and moving toward either a split from the GOP or action to punish Republican candidates who fail ideological purity tests.

A series of events, culminating with the April 26 election of Matt Borges as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, spurred a flurry of meetings and conference calls among tea party leaders last week to plot a course of action heading into the 2014 statewide election.

Options being discussed, according to Seth Morgan, policy director for Americans for Prosperity, range from breaking off into “a third party, to an insurrection (within the Republican Party) and everything in between.”

As I see it, any outcome here could be good. The tea party’s waning influence has left them with much less power than they had at the height of the movement – according to the article, “a 2012 poll by The Washington Postand the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 28 percent of Republicans identified themselves as tea party supporters.” If they do decide to split off and form a third party – which is probably the best possibility – then their last remaining bit of influence and clout, which is derived entirely from their position as part of the Republican Party, will be gone. They will once and finally be relegated back to the fringes of the political spectrum where they belong, and from whence they came. Even if they attempt to join forces with another extremist group – such as the Ohio Constitution Party, the chairman of which, Don Shrader, met with Portage County Tea Party executive chairman Tom Zawistowski to discuss just such an alliance – in an attempt to substantiate themselves, the would no longer be on the main stage of the political theater, and thus their influence would not constitute the credible threat that they may still represent now.

“An insurrection” within the Republican Party could be just as beneficial, and even more detrimental to the entire right wing by splitting up the conservative vote. Whether they start backing independent third-party candidates, or do it from within the Republican Party, they will rob the Republican candidate of as much as 28 percent of conservative voters, meaning the possibility that a Democratic candidate could only need 30 or 31 percent to win. (This is not to mention that the tea party itself is plagued by fragmented leadership and a lack of clearly defined organization and goals.)

Would they really do this? Yes:

“The suggestions range from everybody leaving the party in a mass exodus, to staying in the party but get challengers in primaries for every race of anybody who ever crossed us, to under-voting in certain races,” [says Lori Viars, vice chairwoman of the Warren County GOP and leader of Warren County Right to Life].

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As I have written about here many times, I consider myself a left-leaning centrist. I believe open-mindedness, moderation, and pragmatism are the keys to successful governing, and my views on many of the social issues I care about – separation of church and state being probably the biggest one – tend to skew left. In recent years, however, the failures of the current Democratic administration to live up to many of its important promises has caused me to take a serious look at the ideals of conservatism, and truth be told in many instances I like what I see. I’m in favor of individualism, of individual rights over group rights, I believe that citizens should be responsible for themselves, and should solve their own problems rather than expecting something from the government. I believe each citizen of appropriate age should be considered a rational, responsible adult, and treated as such, until there is evidence to the contrary. We should be given the benefit of the doubt by our government. Innocent until proven guilty. So why can’t I vote Republican for a high public office? Well, there are the social issues…

And then there’s this (and, as a bit of supplemental material I happened to find today, this): an article by John Avlon, writing for the Daily Beast, titled “False Flags, Sharia Law, and Gun Grabs: GOP Lawmakers Embrace The Crazy.”

It begins:

A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.

“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”

She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing is Staged Terror Attack

Tremblay’s post, though, stood out from the wave of post-attack crazy because of her day job: she is a New Hampshire state legislator.

Like too many enthusiastic dupes, the Republican representative was echoing conspiracy entrepreneurs like Beck and InfoWars’ Alex Jones, who blend dark alternate history with a dystopian future, offering the listeners the “secret truth.”

Tremblay is part of a disturbing trend of – conservative state legislators and even congressmen entertaining conspiracy theories that are creepy and unseemly coming from average citizen, but a sign of civic rot when they start getting parroted by elected officials.

Of course, craziness is a bipartisan issue, with Republicans frequently pointing to former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a Democratic example – but the right has been particularly prone to paranoia since Bush Derangement Syndrome on the leftt gave way to an epic case of Obama Derangement Syndrome from the other side.

Derangement on the right has reached a peak as the proliferation and influence of gangrenous conspiracy theories creep into core beliefs and take hold, as Avlon puts it, as “civic rot,” causing the rational brain to have to be (at risk of over-extending the metaphor) amputated.

What is unprecedented is not so much the zaniness of the beliefs, but the fact that the people promoting them are often those in power. Fringe belief used to be called that for a reason; it was relegated to the fringes of society. But now fringe belief has entered the mainstream of political discourse in a disturbing and damaging way, one which those receptive to such belief find destructively compelling. From the same article:

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manatee_7.15.11Still think the Tea Party is relevant? More power to you, but they sure aren’t doing themselves any favors.

Everybody knows what the tea party members oppose. High taxes. Big government. Obama’s health care plan. High-speed rail.

Now, for at least some local tea party members, there’s one more to add: manatee protection.

A Citrus County tea party group has announced that it’s fighting new restrictions on boating and other human activities in Kings Bay that have been proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Tea Party members in Citrus County have revived what is apparently a decades-old issue.

Kings Bay, famed as the one place in Florida where humans can swim with and even touch the manatees, is facing a renewed battle over how much protection for manatees is too much. That argument has been going on there since Jacques Cousteau featured Kings Bay’s manatees in his 1972 documentary Forgotten Mermaids.

Granted that manatees are merely a sticking point or a touchstone – or, if I dare, the sea-elephant in the room. But the Tea Party is not going to be helped by headlines – announcing a story that has attracted nationwide coverage for its comic appeal, and a furthered effort to make the Tea Party a punchline – like: “Tea party members tackle a new issue: manatees.”

Their argument on the issue doesn’t help in the take-us-seriously department, either:

“We cannot elevate nature above people,” explained Edna Mattos, 63, leader of the Citrus County Tea Party Patriots, in an interview. “That’s against the Bible and the Bill of Rights.”

Federal officials “want to restrict the entire bay,” she contended. “They don’t want people here.”

What travesty shall they protect us from next?

The Republican establishment is reasserting control. It’s purging some of the hucksters who’d taken the party’s reins — or at least the airtime — in recent years. It’s resisting much of the brinkmanship that marked the last Congress and trying to present a more fearsome, united front against counterproductive strategies favored by the right. All of the major 2016 presidential contenders have made the same political calculation: It’s better to build a reputation as one of the party’s adults than as one of its firebrands.

Just don’t call this process moderation. The Republican Party isn’t reinventing itself so much as reverting to its previous form. There’s little evidence of a rethinking of core Republican policy ideas.

– Ezra Klein, as reported at Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire.

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A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

-Winston Churchill

A post I’ve discovered on Daily Kos, from almost exactly a year ago, has gotten to the heart of the problem, more succinctly and concisely than I have yet to put it. One needn’t even look past the title to find its insight: “An open letter to the people who hate Obama more than they love America.” This is the bone-deep problem with the extremist elements on the right, and a trait by which those known as “extremist” can be defined: their hatred for Obama and what he represents takes precedent over anything and everything, including the well-being of the nation, the economy, the health of the citizenry, and on, and on. This is the root of their obstructionism, from which stems all the actions they’ve taken, and even seems at times to be obstructionism for its own sake – they oppose whatever Obama does and says simply by virtue of him doing or saying it. Opposing him is what they stand for, is what defines them, and is their overwhelming and superseding goal.

And they have just about said as much. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is a big player in the Republican party, is widely quoted as having said, two years into Obama’s first term, “my number one priority is making sure president Obama’s a one-term president.”

Number one priority.

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