Todd Akin

A Note re: Kaine vs. Pence

22 FEBRUARY 2015: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appears on 'FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace'. Guest host John Roberts interviewed Mr. Pence regarding various issues, including his status as a 2016 'dark horse' for the GOP presidential nomination, and the Hoosier State's 'religious freedom' bill empowering discrimination, which Pence signed into law in late March. (Image credit: FOX News)

This is important:

In one important area, Pence has the advantage of being perceived as a mainstream pol. Politico published a piece yesterday that characterized tonight’s vice presidential debate as “Battle of the Normals,” and a “sane moment” in a campaign cycle that’s often seemed insane.

On a certain level, I can appreciate where analysis like this is coming from. As a matter of tone and temperament, Mike Pence is hardly scary: the governor is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken Midwesterner. Unlike the man at the top of the GOP ticket, no one would ever expect Pence to start tweeting at 3 a.m. about his disgust for a beauty-pageant contestant and encourage Americans to seek out a “sex tape.”

But to shift one’s focus from tone to policy is to see one of the most extremist politicians to seek national office in over a generation.

Steve Benen is not wrong. This has been a factor worth considering in recent years, and even more so this cycle. What counts as centrist or mainstream is, in American politics, a roving range. The msnbc blogger and producer continues:

About four years ago, Nate Silver published an interesting analysis of Paul Ryan, who’d just been named to Mitt Romney’s ticket. Nate wrote at the time, “Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative. Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. By this measure, in fact, which rates members of the House and Senate throughout different time periods on a common ideology scale, Mr. Ryan is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900.”

Nate added a chart, highlighting the fact that Ryan’s record put him slightly to the right of Dick Cheney, who was slightly to the right of Dan Quayle.

There are curious circumstances, now and again, in which the GOP hardliners leave me standing shoulder to shoulder with Republicans I generally wouldn’t get along with. George W. Bush on China, and suddenly I’m commiserating with Pat Buchanan? What was it, Jade Helm? How do Rick Perry and I land on the same side? I can tell you, though, that when Lindsey Graham is bagging points off John Kasich being described as a “moderate”, well, at least we have that much in common.

It happens.

We revisit the question for Mike Pence. Benen notes the Indiana governor also has a record in Congress:

In the 107th Congress (Pence’s first, covering 2001 and 2002), for example, out of 435 members of the U.S. House, Pence ranked #428―meaning that 427 members were to his left, putting the Hoosier on the far-right-wing fringe. The results were roughly the same in the 108th Congress and the 109th.

By the 110th Congress, Pence was at #432, putting him to the right of nearly everyone in the chamber. The results were roughly the same in the 111th Congress and the 112th.

Let’s put this another way: during his congressional career, Pence wasn’t just more conservative than Paul Ryan. His voting record also put him to the right of Michele Bachmann, Todd Akin, Steve King, and even Louie Gohmert. That’s not an exaggeration. Bachmann, Akin, King, and Gohmert all had voting records less extreme than Mike Pence.

The problem is the gap between perceptions of Mike Pence and his actual record. To use Politico’s phrasing, the Hoosier is seen as “normal” and “conventional.” But on a substantive level, we’re talking about a politician whose claim to fame is an anti-LGBT law that did real harm to his state. Pence is a climate denier. He rejects the idea that cigarettes are deadly. He doesn’t believe in evolutionary biology, but he does support “conversion therapy.”

There was an embarrassing episode having to do with alleged Iraqi WMDs; something about privatizing Social Security not being conservative enough; something about government shutdowns; oh, right, and some manner of conspiracy theory about Disney film and women in the military.

Unfortunately, that last isn’t a joke.

This is the problem: If Gov. Mike Pence is “normal”, then we might pause to consider how we define normalcy.

____________________

Image note: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence appears on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace, 22 February 2015. Guest host John Roberts interviewed Mr. Pence regarding various issues, including his status as a 2016 GOP dark horse and the Hoosier State’s infamous “religious freedom” bill intended to empower discrimination. (Image credit: FOX News)

Benen, Steve. “Mike Pence saw secret propaganda in Disney film”. 18 July 2016.

—————. “Pence becomes the most far-right running mate in modern history”. msnbc. 15 July 2016.

—————. “To see Mike Pence as ‘normal’ is to grade on a generous curve”. msnbc. 4 October 2016.

Kaczynski, Andrew. “Mike Pence Argued In Op-Ed That Disney’s ‘Mulan’ Was Liberal Propaganda”. BuzzFeed. 17 July 2016.

Salter, Lamar. “‘My party has gone bats— crazy’: Lindsey Graham jokes about killing Ted Cruz and bashes the remaining GOP candidates”. Business Insider. 26 February 2016.

Silver, Nate. “A Risky Rationale Behind Romney’s Choice of Ryan”. FiveThirtyEight. 11 August 2012.

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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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A Meandering Consideration of Absolutism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, 3 March 2015.  (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“Maybe it’s an unfortunate hallmark of contemporary conservative thought?”

Steve Benen

Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan offers an interesting consideration:

It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

SlateIf current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists—mainly AIPAC—are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu—and for Israel—had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been.

There is, of course, much more to Kaplan’s consideration, including the implications of current Congressional momentum and the widening gap between the credibility of favoring and opposing arguments. Toward the latter, he notes, “Most criticisms of the deal actually have nothing to do with the deal”, and that’s about as least unfavorable as his critique of the criticism gets.

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Not Exactly the Moral of the Story

"U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks in Washington on Dec. 2, 2014." (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Compartmentalization. Equivocation. Misdirection.

Watch the birdie.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has once again dug himself a hole, and yes, he’s annoyed that anyone noticed:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday continued to walk back his comments that parents should be allowed to choose whether to vaccinate their children, saying he holds the same position as President Barack Obama on the matter.

“I got annoyed that people were trying to depict me as someone who doesn’t think vaccines were a good idea,” Paul told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday, noting that he had been vaccinated before a recent trip to Guatemala and had vaccinated his children.

“I’m not sure I’m different from the president or anyone else on the position,” Paul said. “We have rules to encourage people to have vaccines in the country, but I don’t think anybody’s recommending that we hold them down.”

(Levine)

Did you catch that?

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A Fallacy in Motion

The President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Charles Lipson is a walking fallcy, a professor of political science who prefers to use that credential that he might promote crackpot theses that ignore the details. To wit:

Charles LipsonWhen presidents become unpopular, they are no longer welcome on the campaign trail. They’re trapped in Washington, watching their party abandon them. It happened to Lyndon B. Johnson, whose presidency collapsed amid protests over Vietnam. He left Washington only to visit his Texas ranch and assorted military bases, where he gave patriotic speeches to silent battalions. Richard Nixon, drowning in Watergate, was confined to Camp David and a few foreign capitals, where he was greeted as a global strategist. Jimmy Carter, crushed by the Iranian hostage crisis and a bad economy, stopped traveling beyond the Rose Garden.

Now, the same oppressive walls are closing in on President Barack Obama. He is welcome only in the palatial homes of Hollywood stars and hedge-fund billionaires or the well-kept fairways of Martha’s Vineyard.

Well-written, indeed, if it was listed as fiction. But it’s not, and that means it’s a fraud.

The simple fact is that President Obama is avoiding states where Democrats are running competitively but against the odds. To wit, why would Alison Lundergan Grimes want President Obama onstage with her? She’s running against one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader who has so botched his handling of the Senate Republican Conference that Grimes can even run close.

Lipson’s criticism about palatial homes is unusual; most political science professors would suggest it very unwise to ignore rich donors during an election season, but Lipson would prefer you believe otherwise because it helps his poisonous narrative. Christopher Keating noted that Obama’s second trip to Connecticut in a week—a scheduled rally—was cancelled because, well, he’s the president and has a job to do. You know, ebola and all that. The palatial home Lipson refers to would appear to be in Greenwich, where Obama spoke at a fundraiser for Gov. Malloy.

The president is also welcome in Wisconsin, hoping to boost support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke.

One wonders what the political science would say of someplace like Kansas? Would the president’s presence in the Sunflower State help or hurt Democratic gubernatorial challenger Paul Davis? Given that the incumbent Republican presently has the slightest edge in an otherwise dead heat (less than a percent), the question might be how Gov. Sam Brownback found himself in such a weakened position that he must actually face the possibility of losing. Then again, it’s not much of a question: Brownback and his Republican allies have wrecked the states finances.

In that context, it’s hard to lose faith in Obama if one never had any.

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Is Jennifer Rubin Sinister or Merely Stupid?

Jennifer Rubin, right-wing blogger for The Washington Post.

Even the simplest of differences can create false appearances. For instance: Is Jennifer Rubin sinister or stupid?

In the end, though, the difference is one of valences. Sinister forgives stupidity in some cases for the fact of reasonable execution, but even the sinister is cultivated around a germ of ignorance.

In the first place, there is Rubin’s arrival at The Washington Post. Eric Alterman of The Nation noted last year—

It is no secret to anyone that conservatives have conducted a remarkably successful, decades-long campaign to undermine the practice of honest, aggressive journalism with trumped-up accusations of liberal bias. They have made massive investments of time and money in groups and individuals devoted to “working the refs,” and these have yielded significant ideological dividends—which, as might be predicted, have only encouraged them to keep it up.

—as a preface to his discussion of Jennifer Rubin as “The Washington Post’s Problem”. She was the third in a string of quota hires made as part of an attempt to deliberately throw their political coverage rightward in order to fend off attacks of being too liberal. Ben Domenech, their first hire for the position, turned out to be a sharp-tongued plagiarist, which was kind of embarrassing for the Post, as you might imagine. Next they plucked Dave Weigel from Reason.com, and one can reasonably say the Reason franchise has never been the same. Yet for all the quality of this pick, Post editors deemed him unsuitable for the task after realizing that he just wasn’t conservative enough. So the newspaper turned to rabid right-winer Jennifer Rubin, and the disaster of her term as a staff blogger really is hard to describe. Alterman’s review for The Nation is an excellent read, but it is also something of a headache insofar as truth is stranger than fiction and the twists and turns of Jennifer Rubin’s greatest contribution to our political discourse would seem to have something to do with mainstreaming hardline rightist tinfoil in major news media. After the 2012 election, Rubin’s ability to change her story without the slightest hint of shame, or even decency, was pretty much on display for anyone to see. Simon Maloy tried to sketch the degree of self-contradiction in her coverage of the Romney loss; it isn’t pretty.

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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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Your Republican Party: Equal Rights Edition

Republican family values

“They seem to understand the problem, at least on a national level. But they seem to think this problem is simply one of tone and messaging. It goes way beyond. It’s a problem of policy.”

Maria Cardona

File under “O”, for obvious; Emma Margolin strikes a nearly Revolutionary tone:

RNC Chair Reince Priebus tried to do some damage control on Thursday, telling msnbc host Chuck Todd that neither “party can do a victory lap here.”

“The poll’s gist wasn’t, ‘Oh, the Republicans are stuck in the past,'” he said. “The gist of the poll was, 50% of women are saying they have a negative view of the Republican Party and 40% of the women are saying they have a negative view of the Democratic Party.”

But any way you spin it, the message is clear: Republicans haven’t done enough to close the gender gap that’s plagued their party since the Reagan Administration. And that could spell trouble for their hopes to take over the Senate in November and win the White House in 2016 – especially if Hillary Clinton throws her hat into the ring.

“This is a ‘good news’ story for the Democrats – period,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. “It becomes even more of an issue if Hillary Clinton is running for president. She will mobilize women to be engaged.”

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. With the gender gap, the GOP can certainly cross that one off the list, having published a comprehensive “autopsy” report last year that prioritized female voters, who chose President Obama over Mitt Romney 56% to 44%.

But if recovering the women’s vote – and in turn, the White House – involves its own 12-step program, it’s steps two through 12 that pose a bit more of a challenge for the GOP.

(Boldface accent added)

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