Kevin Drum

An American Lamentation (Two by “Huh?”)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube)

Americans often lament the fact of their essentially two-party political league, and the top of the Libertarian ticket, Gary Johnson, is capable of providing spectacular reminders of why we tend toward the binary. The former New Mexico governor and middle-tier celebrity stoner has managed to reduce a human atrocity to yet another icon of American stupidity, which really is no good legacy to build. Yet it is true, in the American discourse, “Aleppo” is … well, Matthew Kitchen tries to explain for NBC News:

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name a single foreign leader when asked who his favorite was during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night.

“Any one of the continents, any country. Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody,” host Chris Matthews pushed during the event, causing Johnson to sigh loudly as his VP pick Bill Weld tried to jump in.

“I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson finally said, referring to his recent gaffe on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when he asked “What is Aleppo?” after he was questioned about how he would handle the conflict in the Syrian city.

So, yeah. Aleppo is … Gary Johnson being inexcusably stupid. (Look, dude, I mean, you’re, like, running for president, you know, like, aren’t you?)

And then there is Donald Trump.

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The Ben Carson Show (The Value of His Values)

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks to the media before addressing the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida at PGA National Resort on 6 November 2015 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Warren Rojas of Roll Call makes the obvious point:

Whether Ben Carson fudged a bit on that offer of a “full scholarship” to West Point or it’s a question of “semantics,” as he told reporters on Nov. 6, it wouldn’t be the first time a politician misrepresented their military experience.

Thus begins a brief review of Missouri congressional candidate Ron Dickey (D), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), former Rep. Wes Cooley (R-OR), and former Rep. Bruce Caputo (R-NY)

And in some cases it’s worse than others, but we should note that getting caught making stuff up about military service and honors is not necessarily the end of a politician’s career.

And perhaps Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson ought to take a look through these sordid histories. And while it is true the good doctor really does need to work, generally speaking, on how he responds to revelations of exaggeration and fabrication about the telling of his inspiring life story, a candidate who wants us to believe he is “not a politician” faces additional challenges when trying to walk, talk, and play the game like a politician.

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A Problem with the Politics of Distraction

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media in regards to her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State in New York, on March 10, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA)

This would seem one to keep an eye on:

The chairman of the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks asked Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday to appear for a private interview about her exclusive use of a personal email account when she was secretary of state.

(Schmidt)

Obviously, there is more to the New York Times report than just the lede, and for the moment we might pause for an exercise in contrasts. To wit:

Mr. Gowdy said the committee believed that “a transcribed interview would best protect Secretary Clinton’s privacy, the security of the information queried and the public’s interest in ensuring this committee has all information needed to accomplish the task set before it.”

But Mrs. Clinton indicated on Tuesday that she wanted to give her testimony in a public setting. In a written statement, a spokesman for her said she had told the committee months ago that she was prepared to testify at a public hearing. “It is by their choice that hasn’t happened,” said the spokesman, Nick Merrill. “To be clear, she remains ready to appear at a hearing open to the American public.”

There is, actually, a lot going on with this story that amounts to essentially nothing, which in turn allows such moments to slip beneath notice. Kevin Drum noticed―

Go ahead and call me paranoid, but this sure seems like the perfect setup to allow Gowdy—or someone on his staff—to leak just a few bits and pieces of Clinton’s testimony that put her in the worst possible light. Darrell Issa did this so commonly that it was practically part of the rules of the game when he was investigating Benghazi and other Republican obsessions.

Who knows? Maybe Gowdy is a more honest guy. But since Clinton herself has offered to testify publicly, why would anyone not take her up on it? It’s not as if any of this risks exposing classified information or anything.

―and perhaps what is most significant there is the reminder that while much of the nitpicking going on around our political discourse often seems petty and pedantic, it is sometimes important to check these aspects because they are, in fact, revealing about the nature and condition of the discourse itself.

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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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Getting Silly

Eric Holder in Washington, D.C., 1 June 2014. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Every once in a while a politician pops off, like Bill Clinton saying he never inhaled, and somewhere in the world several people are laughing in a specific context: Ha! He really went and said it!

But then there are times when we just want to put our foot down. It is considerably more abstract a sense of outrage, and there really isn’t anything funny about this particular flavor of disgust.

Paul Kane and Juliet Eilperin bring the latest very nearly predictable twist:

President Obama has yet to reveal his choice to succeed Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., but already the Senate confirmation process has begun its march toward contentiousness.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)With Nov. 4 midterm elections potentially tipping the balance in the Senate, some Republicans immediately called for a delay in the hearings and votes on the new attorney general until January, when the possibility of a GOP majority in the Senate might give Republicans almost total control of the outcome.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) issued a political call to arms for conservatives, saying that outgoing senators should not vote on the nominee during the post-election lame-duck session. “Allowing Democratic senators, many of whom will likely have just been defeated at the polls, to confirm Holder’s successor would be an abuse of power that should not be countenanced,” Cruz said in a statement.

It would seem a strange proposition that the United States Senate actually doing its job would constitute some sort of abuse of power. Kevin Drum rightly wonders, “Unless Cruz is suggesting that [lame-duck senators] should be banned completely, then of course business should be conducted during lame duck sessions. What else is Congress supposed to do during those few weeks?”

And, yes, this is the sort of idiocy we have all come to expect from Mr. Cruz; his is a unique brand of fertilizer. And, certainly, it is reasonable to run down the list of reasons why the junior senator from Texas is wrong. In the larger picture of the Beltway Republicans, though, the Senate backbencher and honorary President of the Tortilla Coast Junta in the House is, for once, actually taking his lead from Speaker Boehner instead of working to frustrate him.

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