Kinsley gaffe

An Abiding Question: Sinister or Stupid?

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

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

“Take a moment to imagine the feeding frenzy that would exist right now if, just two weeks after the election, the Clinton Foundation quietly told the IRS it broke the law.”

Steve Benen

The msnbc producer and blogger has a point. For all the scandalmongering about family foundations, we knew before the election that the Donald J. Trump Foundation had some skeletons in its closet.

We might, then, turn to the Washington Post and the incomparable David A. Fahrenthold:

President-elect Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has admitted to the IRS that it violated a legal prohibition against “self-dealing,” which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.

That admission was contained in the Donald J. Trump Foundation’s IRS tax filings for 2015, which were recently posted online at the nonprofit-tracking site GuideStar. A GuideStar spokesman said the forms were uploaded by the Trump Foundation’s law firm, Morgan, Lewis and Bockius ....

.... In one section of the form, the IRS asked if the Trump Foundation had transferred “income or assets to a disqualified person.” A disqualified person, in this context, might be Trump―the foundation’s president―or a member of his family, or a Trump-owned business.

The foundation checked “yes.”

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A Necessarily Inevitable Point

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton works from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya, 18 October 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press)

What seems most bothersome about the so-called email scandal is the number of people who ought to have known better, by which we ought to mean among those pretending to be shocked and appalled. Matt Yglesias phrases it delicately for Vox: “The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign”.

Because Clinton herself apologized for it and because it does not appear to be in any way important, Clinton allies, surrogates, and co-partisans have largely not familiarized themselves with the details of the matter, instead saying vaguely that it was an error of judgment and she apologized and America has bigger fish to fry.

This has had the effect of further inscribing and reinscribing the notion that Clinton did something wrong, meaning that every bit of micro-news that puts the scandal back on cable amounts to reminding people of something bad that Clinton did. In total, network newscasts have, remarkably, dedicated more airtime to coverage of Clinton’s emails than to all policy issues combined.

This is unfortunate because emailgate, like so many Clinton pseudo-scandals before it, is bullshit. The real scandal here is the way a story that was at best of modest significance came to dominate the US presidential election―overwhelming stories of much more importance, giving the American people a completely skewed impression of one of the two nominees, and creating space for the FBI to intervene in the election in favor of its apparently preferred candidate in a dangerous way.

When all is said and done, who else do we treat this way? Who else would tolerate a quarter-century of this? Who else could endure it yet still find ways to flourish? Seriously, they can even tell us it’s bullshit, and there is still a market sector anxious to gobble it up like manna from Heaven.

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Image note: Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press.

Yglesias, Matthew. “The real Clinton email scandal is that a bullshit story has dominated the campaign”. Vox. 4 November 2016.

A Confession (Kevin’s Kinsley)

The U.S. Capitol is pictured at dawn in Washington D.C. on Oct. 15, 2013. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

CQ Roll Call“But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23)

File under, “We already knew, but thanks for telling us”.

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The Republican Jobs Agenda

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH8)

“That’s the cruel irony in Boehner’s tweet. It would be funny, but it represents the massive economic damage that the Republican Party has unnecessarily inflicted on the country the past six years. And that’s not funny at all.”

Danny Vinik

It is easy enough to enjoy something that sounds like refreshing honesty from Speaker Boehner (R-OH8), an admission that the GOP does not have a jobs plan nearly four years after employment and economic concerns won Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives.

(1)(2)(3)(4)(5) #5pts4jobs→Speaker.gov/5pointsCertainly, there have been signs along the way, and many Democratic sympathizers have become familiar with the Maddowism, “Jobs, jobs, jobs, j’abortion”. But beyond the record number of reproductive health prohibition bills sponsored in the states since 2010, Republicans have managed to highlight their own dearth of ideas and actions on the employment front. Northeastern carpetbagger Senate candidate Scott Brown, formerly of Massachusetts and now seeking office in New Hampshire, recently explained his outlook: “Here’s the thing. People say, ‘What are you going to do to create jobs?’ I am not going to create one job, it is not my job to create jobs.” Supporters will certainly point to the rest of the quote, which is about keeping government out of the way because it’s an individual person’s job to create his or her own job. And while that is a tremendously unrealistic outlook in and of itself, a twist of rhetoric conservatives have used for years, Brown’s amateurish phrasing reminds of two things at least; first, the former Senator still isn’t ready for the office, and more importantly to our consideration at the moment, that unreadiness opened him to a Kinsley gaffe. Remember that to Republicans, child labor prohibitions, workplace safety regulations, anti-harassment rules, and the need to pay wages in general are all examples of government getting in the way. If only we would kick the kids out of school and send them to work in unsafe factories and mines where they are vulnerable to bullying, harassment, and exploitation by others, everything in the world would be great. Really, isn’t this the sort of argument we should have settled about our labor politics a generation ago? Except, of course, that some aren’t ready to let go of their hopes for such regal privilege in American society, so here we are amid a slow economic recovery from damage inflicted by related conservative economic policies, Republicans are doing everything they can to stall the recovery and inflict more damage against their society, and all so they can complain about the unemployment rate.

Can we at least stop pretending Republicans are decent people? Sure, say what you will on behalf of the rank and file voters, but this has been going on so long that if they wish to claim some sort of ignorant detachment from the actions of their chosen political representatives they are either lying or in need of psychiatric intervention.

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The Twenty-First Century Carpetbagger Blues

Scott Brown missed all border security hearings in Senate, records suggest (Sean Sullivan/Washington Post)

It’s really easy to pick on Scott Brown. The former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, once the GOP wunderkind who won the seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy, continues to amaze as he struggles through a new campaign in New Hampshire that sees him trailing Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Whether forgetting which state he’s running in, boasting his antipathy toward job creation, pretending (we hope) ignorance of his own anti-abortion legislation, or—well, right—whatever, he is a tragic clown singing the carpetbagger blues.

Or, as Sean Sullivan’s headline suggests:

The Washington PostFormer Massachusetts senator Scott Brown (R) has run several attack ads criticizing Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) for failing to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. But as a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he missed all six hearings on border security that he was eligible to attend, records suggest.

Brown was absent from five hearings in 2011 and one in 2010, according to a review of public records and congressional transcripts and video. Of the six, four were full committee hearings and two were meetings of the subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs, to which he belonged.

A review of all Homeland Security Committee hearings during the time Brown was senator shows those were the six he could have attended, based on his subcommittee membership.

Cole-ScottBrownIt is not uncommon for senators to miss committee hearings. Scheduling conflicts, including other committee meetings, can complicate matters. Shaheen has also been criticized for absences from committee meetings.

But Brown’s absences from border security hearings are especially notable since he has sought to elevate the issue in the campaign. He has routinely railed against “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and argued that Shaheen been too soft on border security.

You know, just because.

No, really. At this point, just what does anyone expect? It’s Scott Brown.

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See a previous note on the Kinsley gaffe, as this was one for the ages.

Oakes, Bob and Shannon Dooling. “Analysts Say Scott Brown Must Galvanize GOP Base In N.H. Senate Race”. WBUR. 15 August 2014.

Waldman, Paul. “In Horrible Gaffe, Scott Brown Straightforwardly Explains Conservative Philosophy”. 3 September, 2014.

Benen, Steve. “A faulty memory trips up Scott Brown again”. msnbc. 25 September 2014.

Sullivan, Sean. “Scott Brown missed all border security hearings in Senate, records suggest”. The Washington Post. 1 October 2014.

More Mitt, But Why?

"In the two years since Romney was caught on tape, he just cannot come up with a clear explanation of an easy-to-understand short series of sentences that were responsive to the question presented. But there is one possible explanation he hasn't yet put forward: He said what he believed." (David Corn)

“In the general election, you don’t have to be any one ideological thing in order to win over the country. But you have to not be a liar.

“Here’s how else Mitt Romney is like an Etch a Sketch. It is not just speaking French, it is not just outsourcing jobs to China, it is not just fudging his conservatism, it’s fudging everything, all the time. And this is hard to talk about in the day-to-day news context, because there are such low expectations for politicians to be truthful, and because the word ‘lie’ is underused and overused to the on the where everybody’s a little bit touchy about it.

“But the degree to which Mr. Romney lies all the time about all sorts of stuff and doesn’t care when he gets caught is maybe the single most notable thing about his campaign.”

Rachel Maddow

While the old axiom that there is no such thing as bad news no longer seems so axiomatic, perhaps the best reason to speculate whether or not Romney will run for president is that he generates a lot of press attention. Over at msnbc, Chris Matthews today raised the spectre of the GOP’s low-yield crop of contenders in the wake of Mark Leibovich’s swooning vignette, while David Corn of Mother Jones drives home the takeaway:

Leibovich is right; this seems to be the first time Romney has tried to place responsibility for his comment on the person who asked him the question. That supporter was not rambling. Here’s what he asked: “For the last three years, all everybody’s been told is, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’ How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you’ve got to take care of yourself?” That was a straightforward query, succinctly put, not rambling at all. It was Romney who took the point to the next level and proclaimed that a specific number of Americans were lazy freeloaders who could not and would not fend for themselves.

To recap: Romney has gone from side-stepping the remark, to owning the thrust of this comment (though noting it was not well articulated), to saying he was wrong, to denying he said what he said (and contending his words were distorted), to claiming he was only mirroring the rambling remarks of a big-money backer. This last explanation is certainly not fair to the 1-percenter who merely expressed his very 1-percentish opinion. Does this mean that Romney was thrown off his game by a simple question—or that he was trying to suck up to a donor?

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Why Mitt Will Run for President … Or Not … NYT Magazine Edition

Mark Leibovich, dreaming of Willard.

With a war on, one might expect the news media to give this kind of attention to whip counts, but apparently that’s something wonky that needs to be reserved for more politically specialized discussions of current events. After all, what proportion of voters actually know what a whip count is?

Of much greater fascination, perhaps because it is something journalists can pretend is simple and human and episodic like reality television, is pressing Mitt Romney to run for president. Leibovich tries his spin for the New York Times Magazine, opening with a picturesque description of the Romneys at home—nine paragraphs about tchtchke, geese pooping on the lawn, and the troubles of being rich and having more stuff than anyone actually needs.

Then comes four paragraphs on the troubles of being rich and losing a presidential election, and while it’s true that everyone has their troubles, and privilege doesn’t mean a person is without worry, and, sure, there must be a “human story” in Mitt Romney, somewhere, they are really bad paragraphs setting up the inevitable:

Romney, for his part, is noticeably playing along. He recently told a radio host that he was not planning on running for president but allowed that “circumstances can change.” A recent column by the conservative pundit Byron York noted that Romney had kept in close contact with many of his advisers and aides. As we spoke, Romney compared the barrage of 2016-related questions to a scene in the film “Dumb and Dumber.” After Jim Carrey’s character is flatly rejected by Lauren Holly, she tells him that there’s a one-in-a-million chance she would change her mind. “So,” Romney told me, embodying the character, “Jim Carrey says, ‘You’re telling me there’s a chance.’ “

This was the obvious opening for me to ask if there was a chance. Romney’s response was decidedly meta—”I have nothing to add to the story”—but he then fell into the practiced political parlance of nondenial. “We’ve got a lot of people looking at the race,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

As deftly as Romney plays the self-deprecating bridesmaid, he is open about his dread of becoming irrelevant. After his father, George Romney, a three-term Michigan governor, lost the state’s primary in 1968, he struggled to get meetings. “I remember my dad becoming quite frustrated,” Romney said. “He used to say that Washington is the fastest place to go from ‘Who’s Who’ to ‘Who’s That?’ ” In the saturated media landscape of today, the son has been luckier. “I have been able to get on TV, get key interviews, get op-eds published,” Romney said. When I showed up in Wolfeboro, as Romney led me to the living room, he made sure we were on the record. “You have a tape recorder? Notebook?” he asked me as he was describing the potential mold problems of New Hampshire storage. He wanted to make sure I got this.

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A Note on Narrative and Context: Life and Death Edition

 Henry Lee McCollum wiped tears at a hearing Tuesday in Lumberton, N.C., where a judge declared him and his half brother Leon Brown innocent and ordered them both released from prison. Credit Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer

“I feel very, very sorry for them and I’m glad to know they’re out. At least the process worked, it just took too long.”

―State Rep. Thom Tillis (R-NC98)

Context … is … everything.

At first blush, North Carolina State Speaker of the House Thom Tillis seems to have the right answer, politically speaking, to the inherent question of just what happened the now-infamous case of Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown. Mr. McCollum spent thirty years on death row, and his half-brother Leon Brown the same period under a life sentence; as the fact of their innocence echoes from sea to shining sea, the tragic tale is also boosted into the realm of the political circus, courtesy the one and only Justice Scalia:

The exoneration ends decades of legal and political battles over a case that became notorious in North Carolina and received nationwide discussion, vividly reflecting the country’s fractured views of the death penalty.

The two young defendants were prosecuted by Joe Freeman Britt, the 6-foot-6, Bible-quoting district attorney who was later profiled by “60 Minutes” as the country’s “deadliest D.A.” because he sought the death penalty so often.

For death penalty supporters, the horrifying facts of the girl’s rape and murder only emphasized the justice of applying the ultimate penalty. As recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party put Mr. McCollum’s booking photograph on campaign fliers that accused a Democratic candidate of being soft on crime, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.

In 1994, when the United States Supreme Court turned down a request to review the case, Justice Antonin Scalia described Mr. McCollum’s crime as so heinous that it would be hard to argue against lethal injection. But Justice Harry A. Blackmun, in a dissent, noted that Mr. McCollum had the mental age of a 9-year-old and that “this factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in this case is unconstitutional.”

It was a spectacular line Scalia uttered; far beneath the dignity of any court in this fair land. Jonathan M. Katz and Erik Eckholm were kind enough to omit it from their New York Times article describing this week’s acquittal of McCollum and Brown, but still manage to make the point, anyway. This was just one of those cases, and in his own, inimitable way, Justice Scalia may well, by the fact of these acquittals, see what was merely crass and inflammatory rhetoric transformed into an icon of his shameful tenure on the Nation’s Highest Court.

But, yes, at first glance, it might seem Tillis has said exactly the right thing. The Devil, of course, is in the details:

Now middle aged, the two brothers have been in prison — one of them on death row — since they were teenagers, wrongfully accused of raping and murdering a child. When ThinkProgress asked Tillis if anything needs to change in light of this case, he said that because they were eventually exonerated, “It’s an example of how we have protections in our judicial system in North Carolina.”

“I feel very, very sorry for them and I’m glad to know they’re out,” he said. “At least the process worked, it just took too long.”

(Ollstein)

It’s called WYWA. The point is to answer the question you Wish You Were Asked. This is, of course, standard fare, and as much as it might annoy us, it is also true that voters respond affirmatively; if you cannot answer WYWA, you do not stand a chance.

But in this case, Tillis’ answer would seem to leave a certain issue unresolved. If the question is if anything needs to be changed, and the answer is that at least the system worked and an example of how we have protections, then what about how it just took too long?

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