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The right political move would be for Democrats not to send anyone to be on the “Benghazi! ’til 2017″ Panel, but let’s be realistic: that’s not going to happen. Five slots means five people–five politicians!–not getting what one would imagine would be some national television exposure, at least at first. And, to reiterate, we’re talking about politicians here. Just not going to happen. No way.

So the next-best option would be for Minority Leader Pelosi to pick the five most partisan, aggressive, left-wing Democrats in the House to be on the committee, and tell ‘em to be as rowdy and disruptive as possible. Interrupt, question everyone’s facts and motives, dismiss Republican assumptions as ridiculous. Republicans have been putting on the sober face since the announcement of this committee, being very careful to sensitively phrase what is essentially a fanatical and heavily political witchhunt as a sober examination to get “just the facts” and such. It seems extremely unlikely that this attitude would last long in the face of Democrats treating the thing as the farce that it is, challenging the assumptions and aims of the panel, and the whole thing would undoubtedly become the sort of political-theater fiasco that people just tune out. And after interest dwindles, just have all the Democrats resign from the panel and make it even more of a circus. This sort of thing could obviously backfire but I think it’s better than picking five Alan Colmeses to blandly dispute all this junk (which, let’s be honest, is probably what we’re going to get). There is the possibility here of putting the shoe on the other foot at least.

Anyway, off the top of my head, I think Raul Grijalva, Henry Waxman, Barbara Lee, and Alan Grayson would be obvious choices. Who would be the fifth? It continues to be a shame that Barney Frank is out of Congress, though probably the first time I wish Dennis Kucinich were still in the House.

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The main problem with Republicans’ pursuit of Benghazi conspiracy theories, aside from the problem that they can’t seem to decide if this is going to be a mainstream smash or a purely “for the fans” proposition like Fast ‘n Furious, is that the story we have pretty much adds up. The Watergate story did not add up. Why would a bunch of Cubans and a former CIA employee bug the DNC before an election where the only suspense was whether Nixon would win by a huge margin or an even huger margin? Lots of questions that led to more questions. Benghazi, though, adds up easily: there were a bunch of protests around the Middle East over a web video. There was a protest in Libya that killed some people. Intelligence officials assumed it was also about the video. It was not. Later they corrected themselves. There are obvious critiques to be made about the whole thing which are not positive, but as the starting point to unravel the entire Obama Administration it’s not going to work. Understandable (if incorrect) assumptions and inadequate security practices are not “the tip of the iceberg” necessarily, do not point to anything greater than what they are. There’s really no there there, and asserting there must be something more after a year and a half of intense interest is not really good enough for normal people to care.

I basically view the entire thing as a distraction, though I’ve been thinking that overall it has had a positive impact considering how many MSM hacks have damaged themselves trying to find The Truth About Benghazi. Annoying presences like Lara Logan, Jonathan Karl and Sheryl Atkisson have taken hits with zealous overpursuit of The Real Story, and since the GOP is going to keep going until HRC takes the oath in 2017, in all likelihood there will be more to follow. I fucking hope so. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the MSM step on a rake when racing to try to make conservatives believe they’re not biased, a pursuit which is as absurd, pointless, and endlessly irritating.

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Dave Weigel seems kind of exhausted here, and I sympathize:

OK—the entire argument is about Rhodes mentioning, hours after the CIA had suggested the Benghazi attack grew out of demonstrations in several countries, that the immediate inspiration for the demonstrations was a video. That’s the scandal—that by giving the video all this credit, the administration was distracting people from the real story that terrorism was surging again. Even though the subsequent 19 months have seen no more attacks on embassies. Even though reporting at the time said the excuse for the protests was said video.

I’m convinced Republicans think that Benghazi! is going to be Obama’s Watergate. If you’re wondering why they never give it up, that’s why. There are some similarities from their point of view. Both the incidents took place a little before a big presidential election but failed to sway the outcome, for example. Both had to be pushed hard by dedicated people and the process was a slow burn, to say the least. Republicans are completely convinced that Barack Obama is a lawless president and have latched onto this as the tipping point, which is what Democrats in the 1970s believed and also did.

Of course, this is completely absurd. Richard Nixon was an embittered, drunken monster whose taste for revenge and chasing after ever more power provides a cautionary tale for gripping the reins too tightly. At this point, it’s impossible to argue otherwise, but the media of the time portrayed him in such a way that the public had no idea what the man was really like, and saw him as a basically trustworthy and decent man. I remember my mother telling me how shocked she was when transcripts of Nixon’s tapes were released, just all the anger and delusion and (shocking for the times) profanity were finally all out there, and people just had no idea. The media back then took a near-paternalistic role that no longer exists and can’t exist, which is good, but it also means that blindsiding events like Watergate are less likely to occur since the agenda-setting power that created Nice Nixon no longer exists. Also, you see the divergence between right-wing media and everyone else in the assumptions, since they take as a given that Obama has run a Nixonian Administration and deserves not even the slightest benefit of the doubt. Of course, this is due more to the Validity Effect more than anything else, of just repeating endlessly that Obama is lawless, aggressive, etc. Obama isn’t a drunk, he’s not known to be vindictive (by power politician standards especially so), and if anything he’s been too hands-off with his governance. Which means you need to do more than tear away the veil, you actually need to present a reasonable hypothesis and give evidence, which isn’t known to exist, of course. The basis for a Nixon-like exit from office does not exist for all these reasons. But Benghazi! really has become something of a feedback loop, in which failed investigations and a fathomless hatred of this president lead to more pressure for a “truth” more to their liking.

It’s not incredibly surprising that this has gone on this long. What is surprising is that Benghazi! is gaining momentum rather than plateauing. Is Speaker Boehner’s creation of a Benghazi! select committee is merely the first step? It marks a clear escalation–since Republicans are convinced there’s been wrongdoing, I’m not sure how impeachment is off the table after a few more trips around the feedback loop. I would prefer they try before the midterm if they’re going to, as we could really use a 1998-style midterm boost.

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A little bit of schadenfreude about the racist statements of famous scofflaw Cliven Bundy is inevitable (and warranted), but I am also interested in the episode because it confirms my theory about the decline of the conservative media. I’ve explained this before but briefly put: demand for conservative media has peaked and will soon enter into heavy decline. It’s inevitable given the numbers. The top dogs in this sphere will then be forced to compete ruthlessly with each other for the privilege of continuing to work. Just as the first half of the decade saw a huge boom in conservative media, given the cyclical nature of markets it’s not hard to imagine the latter half having a corresponding bust, as the bubble bursts and the Obama Administration inevitably ends. As this occurs, conservative media personalities will be compelled to push the envelope further and further in attempts to retain their consumers, which will create a vicious cycle in which ever-increasing levels of inaccuracy and ugliness marginalize conservative media even further. It won’t all go away, but within ten years, it will be unrecognizable.

Bundy’s story might well be an inflection point along this arc. Conservatives ran with his story of resistance to the federal government because it hit a couple of right-wing nerves. But from their perspective it wasn’t a very good cause to champion: conservatism loses any sort of appeal when it’s linked to anarchy and lawlessness, as safety and stability are its key selling points. Historically, the biggest conservative victories have been won by men promising boring old stability during times of anxiety and chaos: Harding, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan. Who obviously did not have the same views on all subjects, but all represented the mainstream of conservative opinion during their respective times. On the other hand, Barry Goldwater’s radical campaign and epic defeat suggests the public has little interest in reckless, purist conservatism. A second thought would have told these folks that this might not be the best icon for them, even absent the knowledge of his racial views, but that second thought was never thought. The end result is a massive, earned humiliation on conservative pundits and politicians desperate to find new sources of furious anger to keep their base engaged, one that puts attention exactly where they do not want it, and it proves to an even greater degree that top Republicans don’t really understand the selling points of their own philosophy. Bundy’s story is a cautionary tale but I don’t expect the people who championed it to learn any lessons from it. And onto the next one.


The bullshit’s only this high right now.

Since it’s Jeb Bush season, it’s worth restating that, while wrong on the merits, conservatives who oppose comprehensive reform tend to have the politics of the issue right. There is an assumption that simply will not die that a Republican president who passes a humane round of immigration reform will be in a position to stop or even reverse the GOP’s slide with the Hispanic electorate, but this did not happen after George W. Bush’s sincere (if doomed) attempt to pass such a bill nor after Reagan’s actual, full-on amnesty bill: such attempts to give dignity to large numbers of people are more than balanced out by stuff like Prop. 187 and self-deportation. One step forward and one back, as the problem here is not one of mere willpower so much as a systemic one to do with the makeup of the GOP base. And needless to say, a grudging effort with one eye on the political advantages of passing the bill and the other on providing cheap labor to corporations with a guest program is hardly going to impress anyone. In any event, the GOP will not be able to outflank Democrats on the issue. The issue here is systemic, and while Bush seems to support immigration reform as a matter of principle it would take a mammoth amount of political capital to enact and wouldn’t ultimately help his party much. Also worth noting, Bush wouldn’t fix the GOP’s ideological problems (he seems to buy into neoconservative and laissez-faire assumptions as much as his brother), nor will he fix the problems posed by the conservative media-industrial complex (he will, in fact, have to appear on FOX News many times, as well as radio programs like Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, etc. but not Rush, because that typically means you’ve done something bad and need to apologize). The only real solution to all of these issues is coalition collapse due to attrition, and given how disastrously Bush’s brother’s rule turned out–due in part to his own personal failings but largely to the ideology he (and Jeb) subscribe to–a Jeb Bush presidency would undoubtedly hasten this along.

A bunch of positive new 2014 polls for Democrats. I understand why the media is going with the Republican 20104 narrative, which is because it’s a better story than standing pat, and in the Senate some losses are expected. But I strongly suspect Democrats will net some House and Governor seats and I’ve not seen much yet to change that thinking.
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Is basically the same as the meaning of conservatives deliberately altering Andrew Cuomo’s inescapably accurate quote about the electability of staunch conservatives in New York State* to sound like he was telling them all to move out of the state. This is the way I see it. At this point, it could be argued that the entire conservative movement (including its elected politicians) has become little more than a support structure for the multibillion dollar conservative media industry. People pretend to run for president in order to make a living from it. Powerful Representatives straight-up quit in order to join it. Plausible presidential contenders would rather keep their cushy media gigs rather than bother to attempt the highest office in the land. And so on. And given the prospect of making Limbaugh money, why wouldn’t you? But the problem is basically that conservative media has already peaked. Actuarial tables suggest a deep hit to business over the coming decade, which invariably means that a lot of rich, famous, successful people will find themselves fighting each other for shrinking pieces of the pie. Don’t think I mean that it’ll all fall apart immediately–Lawrence Welk ran for forty years playing music that was obsolete when the show began, after all, and future angry elderly people might well tune into the sweet sweet sounds of Bill O’Reilly for some time to come. But it seems a good guess to bet on steady decline. Which means they’ll need to come up with more red meat, of course, and since there’s only so much fresh stuff made daily, these folks are going to have to chance it with marginal, unhealthy looking stuff, stuff past its expiration date, and so forth in order to fill their viewers’ plates. (You get the metaphor.) And we shouldn’t talk about this as though it hasn’t already started.

* Forty years since the last one depending on how you rate Al D’Amato. Who was sort of a Peter King type if I remember correctly but I could be wrong.