Bill Clinton

About as Bad an Idea as You Might Think

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks during his first campaign rally in Michigan at Eastern Michigan University 15 February 2016 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

So …

Less than a week before its official launch on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders’ new political group is working its way through an internal war that led to the departure of digital director Kenneth Pennington and at least four others from a team of 15, and the return of presidential campaign manager Jeff Weaver as the group’s new president.

(Dovere and Debenedetti)

… the thing is that I ought to have been thrilled by Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. He announced the day before my forty-second birthday; what a gift, right? Until the Bern scorched the landscape, most people thought of me as something of a leftist. It’s a little hard to tell anyone what to think of that notion at present, but I am and remain a cynical revolutionary, and thus the decision to wait, to see what Bernie brought before jumping on the bandwagon, feels more than simply justified.

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Speculation on Murmur and Buzz (HRC Horizon Remix)

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2016. (Photo: Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

And yet this is all about me. Should I apologize, or can we just admit that’s an inherent aspect of this valence of the blogosphere?

Because the truth is that the great “candidate” post is something you always want to get around to but somehow gets put off because any starting point leads to seemingly daunting prospects.. Whether it’s Ezra Klein’s article about how, “It’s time to admit Hillary Clinton is an extraordinarily talented politician”―and it’s a very good article, but still you want to argue about what do you mean “it’s time”?―or perhaps reminding my Sanders-supporting neighbors why he’s endorsing Hillary Clinton, it’s actually a really big pitch; there’s a lot going on.

But the post need not be some grandiose presentation; nor is that a repudiation of the basic idea of pitching the campaign.

Let’s try it this way: Steve Benen considers the murmur and buzz around Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential shortlist, mainly reports that the leading contenders are Tom Vilsack, presently Secretary of Agriculture and formerly governor of Iowa; and Tim Kaine, presently the junior U.S. Senator from Virginia, previously serving as that state’s governor, and in between managing an overlapping gig as chairman of the Democratic National Committee:

Clinton seemed to tilt her hand a bit on Monday during an interview with Charlie Rose, which included the presumptive Democratic nominee emphasizing “experience” as the key factor. “I am afflicted with the responsibility gene,” she added.

The interview turned into a sort of word-association game. Asked about Kaine and his self-professed “boring” personality, Clinton said, “And I love that about him. I mean, he’s never lost an election. He was a world-class mayor, governor and senator, and is one of the most highly respected senators I know.”

Asked about Hickenlooper, Clinton said, “First class.” Asked about Warren, she added, “Amazing. I mean, what she has done in relatively few years to put the agenda of inequality front and center is something that I think we should all be grateful for.”

Sanders supporters, of course, will be disappointed; I would in turn suggest that hope is not yet lost. While it is true that on this occasion I can read the conventional wisdom as well as any other, it is similarly true that this is a year in which I presume the conventional wisdom unstable. To wit, while it is unlikely, Hillary Clinton is perfectly capable of turning the screw in order to mean the manner, relative dimension, and quality of experience, thus turning to the essential newcomer, Elizabeth Warren.

Yeah, it could happen.

(cough!)

(ahem!)

But there is a hidden gem, there.

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The Clinton Nexus: Critique and Purpose

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, 7 June 2016, after vote projections achieved a majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic presidential primary. (Detail of photo by Steve Sands/WireImage)

As editorials in the guise of reportage go, Niall Stanage’s effort to get into the presidential race for The Hill isn’t as completely terrible as it could be:

In the general election, Clinton can offer a depth of policy experience that far exceeds that of Trump, who has never held elected office. But she also has no slogan as simple and straightforward as his exhortation to “Make America Great Again.”

It’s a failure that some Democratic insiders find perplexing.

“It’s not clear what the over-arching message is yet,” said New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “It is clear that being the anti-Trump has some value; it is clear that offering economic policy has some value. But there is no over-arching message.”

An anonymous Democratic strategist asks, “What’s her vision for the country?” In a way it seems a pertinent question, but in the end it is just another reporter complaining about a non-traditional year.

Part of the difficulty, Democrats say, resides in Clinton’s cautious personality and her past political experiences. Her tendency toward incrementalism doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker slogans, but she learned the hard way how tough it is to enact sweeping change. Her push for health care reform during the first term of her husband, President Bill Clinton, ended in utter failure.

Those past political experiences help explain why Clinton exhibits a mild disdain for the soundbites that Sanders and Trump―and other candidates―can deploy so readily.

When Clinton met with Black Lives Matter activists almost a year ago, she told them, “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”

Her arguments are such moments may well be fair, or at least plausible. But “change allocation of resources” is not the kind of call to thrill the masses.

In addition, some people suggest that the sheer length of Clinton’s record means that it is hard for to her to gin up the same enthusiasm as new arrivals on the political scene.

Trump “can say anything and he gets applause because he’s fresh and new. She doesn’t get the same applause because she’s not fresh and new,” Sheinkopf said. “It’s more difficult for her than it is for him because Trump has no political history and can therefore say anything and do anything.”

The answer exists within the explanation; it’s just not necessarily apparent because we are all supposed to be looking elsewhere. Stanage’s entire article orbits a presupposition that Hillary Clinton is making a mistake, yet here we encounter an occasion when the question of a mistake seems counterintuitive.

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The Clown Car Breakdown

Detail of 'Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal' by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015.

Four paragraphs from Steve Benen:

Nine candidates would be a big field under any circumstances, but in this case, just the governors alone―Bush, Christie, Gilmore, Huckabee, Kasich, Jindal, Pataki, Perry, and Walker―had enough to field a baseball team. Add Democratic governors to the mix―O’Malley and Chafee―and the number swells to 11.

And at a certain level, this is understandable. For many in both parties, it’s long been assumed that governors have the edge in the party’s nominating contests, in part thanks to history―Reagan, Carter, Clinton, W. Bush, Romney, et al―and also because of the nature of the job. Being the chief executive of a state, the theory goes, offers ideal training for being the chief executive in the White House. Governors learn how to manage and respond to crises. They learn how to oversee a massive, bureaucratic team, while working opposite a legislature. They learn how to lead.

How many sitting GOP senators have ever been elected to the White House? Only one. It was Warren Harding, who was elected nearly a century ago. This is hardly accidental―Americans tend to hate Congress, so they don’t necessarily look to Capitol Hill for national leaders.

And yet, here we are. Two of the most experienced candidates of the cycle―Rick Perry and Scott Walker, both governors―have already quit (as has Lincoln Chafee). George Pataki and Jim Gilmore were excluded from the debates altogether this week, while Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee were relegated to the kids’ table, where they joined Bobby Jindal. Jeb Bush and John Kasich made the prime-time stage, but both are struggling badly. The latter faced booing.

This is actually important in its own right; in an anti-institutional year when career politicians who achieve governorships are actually being viewed as career politicians, the landscape really does seem strange from an unradicalized perspective. Indeed, how strange might we now find the recollection that back in April, even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was pitching for senators against governors in the presidential context. Even in unhinged quarters, gubernatorial experience was actually respected earlier in this cycle.

With a flaccid RNC and impotent Congressional leadership, the anti-institutional movement driving Donald Trump and Ben Carson to the top of the polls would seem to get the nod: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican Party.

Nor might we begin to speculate at what that means. Still, as Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post explore the now perpetual chatter of growing discomfort and even “panic” among establishment Republicans, it is hard to fathom the idea that even in the GOP, this is starting to become an American existential question:

The apprehension among some party elites goes beyond electability, according to one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the worries.

“We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” this strategist said. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”

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Image note: Detail of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner, 12 June 2015

Benen, Steve. “Governors find a hostile 2016 landscape”. msnbc. 13 November 2015.

Rucker, Phillip and Robert Costa. “Time for GOP panic? Establishment worried Carson or Trump might win.” The Washington Post. 13 November 2015.

The Donald Trump Show (Un-Obama)

Donald Trump pauses during a speech while making a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Thursday, 10 February 2011. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

This really is putting the cart before the horse, as excerpts go―

Trump is likely to have a tough time getting the Republican nomination. Back in 2000, John McCain had exactly the right message after Bill Clinton: straight talk. But conservatives didn’t trust McCain. McCain had challenged conservatives’ ascendancy over the Republican Party, so conservatives rallied behind George W. Bush. And ran a vicious campaign in the South Carolina primary to stop McCain.

Now another Bush is trying to stop the frontrunner by attacking his conservative credentials. “Mr. Trump doesn’t have a proven conservative record,” Jeb Bush charged last week. “People will vote for a proven conservative leader.” Bush is going to have to get a lot tougher than that. The Bush family proved in 1988 and 2000 that they can get pretty nasty.

Trump offers decisiveness, which is something a lot of voters are missing in President Obama. That’s why Trump has acquired a following. But brashness and boorishness come with the package, and that will make it tough for Trump to expand his following. Most voters find those qualities repugnant. And unpresidential. Too much unlike Obama.

―but the path Bill Schneider forges to that reach conclusion really is worth the time to read.

He makes a reasonable point.

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Image note: Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Thursday, 10 February 2011. (Detail of photo by Gage Skidmore)

Schneider, Bill. “The Un-Obama”. The Huffington Post. 23 August 2015.

The Donald Trump Show (Plants and Potsherds)

Donald Trump.

“If the DNC had scripted the last month or so, the party probably would have come up with a scenario that looks quite a bit like the one we’ve seen.”

Steve Benen

This is one of those occasions upon which I must disagree with Mr. Benen:

A Republican carnival barker would use racially charged, xenophobic rhetoric, which would propel him into the GOP’s top tier, pushing minority communities even further from the Republican Party. All the while, the GOP would find itself on the defensive, and more serious candidates would struggle to gain traction.

That is to say, no proper screenwriter would script such an episode except as naked farce. There is a reason truth insists on being stranger than fiction.

Benen also notes that some have made what seems the obvious point, that Trump, who has formerly identified with both parties, is a secret Democratic plant trying to wreck the Republican Party.

And also that for some, such as Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26), the conspiracy theory is the best they’ve got: (more…)

The Jeb Bush Show (Launching the Light Fantastic)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs autographs from the window of a food truck afterhe formally announced that he would join the race for president with a speech at Miami Dade college, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Miami.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

“It depends how radically Mr. Bush plans to restructure the economy.”

John Cochrane

Okay, work with me, here: If we bear in mind that a writer should always accommodate the intended audience, then what are we supposed to think about articles like “6 takeaways from Bush’s launch” by Niall Stanage of The Hill, which actually does, in fact, feature a sentence that reads, “Here are six takeaways from a positive day for the Bush campaign”?

To the other―

Jeb Bush had a lot riding on his official presidential launch on Monday.

Stumbles over the last few months have stripped the sense that the former Florida governor is the front-runner for the Republican nomination next year.

Bush has looked rusty at times on the campaign trail, and a reshuffling of his campaign team just last week highlighted the sense that he needs to get his candidacy in order. But the professionalism of Monday’s launch is likely to calm the nerves of some early Bush backers disconcerted by the early missteps.

Here are six takeaways from a positive day for the Bush campaign.

―it really is a pretty good primer, and carries the metavalue of aptly demonstrating the lowered expectations permeating the GOP’s 2016 nomination contest.

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The Carly Fiorina Show (One Percenter Hope Pilot Episode)

Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co., pauses while speaking during the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. The talent show that is a presidential campaign began in earnest saturday as more than 1,200 Republican activists, who probably will vote in Iowa's caucuses, packed into a historic Des Moines theater to see and hear from a parade of their party's prospective entries. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Welcome to the Carly Fiorina Show. By most accounts, it will be a short run. Then again, compared to the rest of the clowns in the GOP campaign car, one might expect Ms. Fiorina would bring some significant, serious presence to the present.

These are, of course, Republicans.

Former Hewlett-Packard Co Chief Executive Carly Fiorina on Monday announced she is running for president, and took a shot at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who she said represents a political class that Americans are “disgusted” with.

Once one of the most powerful women in American business, Fiorina registers near the bottom of polls of the dozen or so Republican hopefuls and has never held public office.

She is positioning herself as an outsider with real-life experience earned through years in the corporate world.

As Alistair Bell and Bill Trott report for Reuters, the newly-minted Republican candidate faces the obvious consideration:

Fiorina, 60, said the former first lady and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, belong to an out-of-touch political elite.

“She reminds people that there is a huge disconnect between that political class and the hopes and concerns of hard-working Americans everywhere,” she told reporters on a conference call.

“I see that disconnect everywhere I go. I see people just disgusted, honestly, with the way the playing field is tilted against them, the disconnect between what they’re thinking about and what they perceive people in Washington are thinking about,” Fiorina said.

Previously described as the “anti-Steve Jobs”, Ms. Fiorina will likely struggle to define herself as the anti-Hillary. Reuters puts her at less than one percent in a recent poll; this is problematic, but hardly an impossible challenge. Given the early critique of Hillary Clinton’s performance, one wonders whether Fiorina will last long enough to endure the sort of scrutiny normally reserved for the former Secretary of State.

And these are, after all, Republicans. There really is nothing to be done about that.

She said on Monday that her first phone call as president would be to the prime minister of Israel to assure the Jewish state of America’s support.

The second call, she said, would be to the supreme leader of Iran to warn him of U.S. sanctions unless he allowed unfettered access for inspectors to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Boilerplate is as boilerplate does; it serves a function of some sort. But calling Hillary Clinton out of touch, or an elitist, and then pandering to Israel are not exactly compelling opening bids. If she wishes to double her support to somewhere near two percent, Carly Fiorina will need an actual pitch.

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Image note: Carly Fiorina speaks at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, 24 January 2015. (Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bell, Alistair and Bill Trott. “Former HP CEO Fiorina enters 2016 race, takes shot at Clinton”. Reuters. 4 May 2015.

A Long Note on Political Tradition in These United States

President Barack Obama, delivers his State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Charles Dharapak/AP)

By now of course we have become accustomed to the proposition that Republicans, once elected, would rather sit around. To some it actually seems a very sick idea; not only did the Speaker of the House demonstrate that Republicans conisder their job description to include going on vacation instead of actually working because, well, the most important part of the job is election and re-election, but in recent months the GOP has shown more and more willingness to simply admit that the inherent failure of government is more of a conservative goal than anything else.

Boehner and the band skipped out on gigs that might need Congressional attention, such as the Daa’ish question, the Ebola question, and the Immigration Reform question; despite their howls of rage regarding the latter, the fact of executive action occasionally arises when Congress refuses to pass a bill and the Speaker of the House calls on the President to use his executive authority. They could have skipped screeching themselves hoarse by simply sticking around and doing their jobs. Then again, the prior statement is controversial if only because it would appear that Congressional Republicans appear to believe their first, last, and only job is to win votes. Given their reluctance to undertake day-to-day Constitutional functions of Congress, such as advising and consenting to presidential appointments—or, as such, formally refusing the nomination—we ought not be surprised that the latest duty Republicans wish to shirk is sitting through an annual speech.

Nearly 16 years later, another Democratic president, also hated by his Republican attackers, is poised to deliver his penultimate State of the Union address. And like Pat Robertson, the idea of denying the president a SOTU invitation is once again on the right’s mind.

“Yes, there’s a risk to overreacting, but there’s a risk to underreacting as well,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “And I fear that’s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.”

Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.'”

Lowry may not dictate GOP decision making the way Limbaugh and Fox News do, but it’s important to note that he isn’t the only one publicly pushing the idea.

Politico reported yesterday that congressional Republicans are weighing a variety of tactics to “address” their disgust over Obama’s immigration policy, and “GOP aides and lawmakers” are considering the idea of “refusing to invite the president to give his State of the Union address.”

Late last week, Breitbart News also ran a piece of its own on the subject: “Congress should indicate to President Obama that his presence is not welcome on Capitol Hill as long as his ‘executive amnesty’ remains in place. The gesture would, no doubt, be perceived as rude, but it is appropriate.”

(Benen)

Wait, wait, wait—sixteen years ago?

Yes. Like impeachment chatter and stonewalling, Republicans want to make refusing to hear the State of the Union Address part of their standard response to any Democratic president.

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The Logic of Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL05)

Chris Hayes discusses immigration reform with Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL05), who cannot explain why he thinks President Obama, out of several presidents who undertook the issue within executive purview, is the only one who ever broke the law in doing so.  On Hayes' msnbc show, "All In" (21 Nov. 2014), the Alabama congressman was incapable of even recognizing that President Ronald Reagan had granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants.

Any number of questions come to mind. There are the humorous musings about whether we might include political conservatism under the spectrum of disorders and disabilities requiring reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And, yes, that sounds cruel for any number of reasons; first, let us clear up that yes, one of the problems with such a joke is that it trivializes much more established and objective disabilities; but then we might also point out that we are already bending over backwards to accommodate delusional behavior from many Republicans, and yes, there are mental health issues that land squarely within the ADA.

Denial can be a powerful emotional response, can’t it? If the right believes President Obama’s economic policies have failed, and they’re confronted with evidence of a falling unemployment rate, then there must be a conspiracy involving the jobless numbers. If the right believes Benghazi conspiracies are real, and they’re confronted with proof to the contrary, then the proof must be rejected.

But on Friday’s “All in with Chris Hayes,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) took this to a whole new level.

Brooks, you’ll recall, believes President Obama’s executive actions on immigration may be criminal acts that could land the president in prison. With this in mind, Chris asked a good question: “When President Reagan granted deferred action from 200,000 people from El Salvador who come here illegally, was he breaking the law in the same way?” It led to this exchange:

BROOKS: I have not examined what Bill Clinton did. This is a very serious manner. The Constitution imposes a heavy burden on us–

HAYES: No, no, no, I’m sorry. President Ronald Reagan. President Ronald Reagan, sir?

BROOKS: I think the individual facts are important, the mental intent of the actor. That case, Bill Clinton, now Barack Obama, those factors are important.

It really is a smooth evasion. He does not even try to deflect the point, just moves past it as if it doesn’t exist. One wonders how much calculation and practice goes into that maneuver, or if it is just pathological.

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Benen, Steve. “Mo Brooks and the power of denial”. msnbc. 24 November 2014.

Hayes, Chris. “Rep. Mo Brooks: Obama encouraging illegal immigration”. All In with Chris Hayes. msnbc. 21 November 2014.