Larison’s discussion of the increased unpopularity of Pres. Obama’s foreign policy (parts one and two) is highly interesting, and got me thinking a bit. For example, why was the first-term Afghanistan “surge” something that did not hurt Obama, while the proposed Syrian bombing, which was about as wrongheaded but less destructive and dangerous, ultimately was? I can think of several reasons why this might be:
- The process was handled much better for the first case. In both cases Republicans attacked Obama for being irresolute, taking too long, and so forth, but those attacks didn’t stick because it was plain that there was a decision-making process in place, discussions were being had, different perspectives were being heard. I think the public understood this and the deliberative tone probably helped, especially since that debate was only a year removed from the brash impulsiveness of Bush. Last year, though, one saw a very different process, perhaps even a lack of one. We don’t have the benefit of the many, many books published about Obama’s Afghanistan decision in understanding how things worked with Syria, but there seemed to be no process at all, new principles were being developed on the fly, the Administration was clearly only listening to themselves and the hawkish pundits they choose to care about and the rhetorical overkill couldn’t mask the lack of an argument to use force. I do think Americans are a bit more willing to deploy military force than I would be, but you hardly need be a full-on dove to know the Administration’s case stunk.
- Republican critiques accomplishing an ironic resonance. Republicans have sought again and again to portray Obama as weak-kneed, irresolute, and weak from the start. Ironically, it might have been his attempts to avoid these labels that made them stick, as his apparent insistence on leaving his options open and not committing to any course of action has had the effect of forcing him into situations he didn’t want to be in, as happened with Syria. I’m reminded of the line from Ulee’s Gold to the effect that there are lots of different kinds of weakness, not all of which are evil. Of course, backing down from poorly chosen words is not necessarily a weakness, nor is flatly refusing to involve the country in the conflict in a military sense.
- In the same vein, while I welcome Obama’s joined opposition to bulk NSA data collection, this seems to be poorly timed to say the least. As with financial reform, it’s a reasonably good idea that ought to have been proposed much earlier to have much more political impact. Instead, Obama suffered months of backlash and spent political capital to defeat legislative measures that would have done this. The damage is done. Fairly reactive and slow-moving.
I suppose the differences are (a) an apparent decline in the professionalism/ability of the Admin.’s foreign policy team from the last term to this, and (b) this pushing perceptions of Obama’s similar conduct in both from positive to negative connotations. Any other ideas?
My low opinion of Scott Brown’s intellect is well known I guess, but passing up a winnable race for Kerry’s seat last year–as well as a slam-dunk race for Governor of Massachusetts–in order to fight a tough primary against a more conservative former senator who’s from the state as well as a popular general election incumbent surprises even me. There are three basic theories to explain this:
- Vanity – Brown felt so disgusted with being rejected by Massachusetts that he bolted the state in order to go to a state that would better appreciate his awesomeness. That it’s an early primary state that would ensure that Scott Brown gets more attention during the 2016 presidential race, whether he runs or not.
- Delusion – Brown lucked out in 2010 in an all-the-planets aligning kind of situation and thought it was because he was a political genius, and that he could do anything as a result.
- Stupidity – Kind of mean to suggest this, perhaps, but this is a guy who thought it was wise to tie his campaign to domestic terror attacks and got pranked by a chain email. He’s not shown much ability to ferret out the bullshit if you know what I mean. Regardless of whether he has a path to victory or not–and recent polls suggest not–if anyone would be more likely to trust in ephemerals rather than cold hard data, Brown would likely qualify.
These aren’t, of course, mutually exclusive. The other possibility is that the GOP hype machine has reached such a pitch over 2014 and Obamacare that Brown thinks this will be easy. I suppose we’ll see. My basic sense is that Brown is an idol not much worshiped by the Tea Party Republicans he briefly personified and that this bugs him, and that this is more a desperate bid to stay relevant than anything else. I just don’t see 2016 primary voters going for a socially-liberal former Massachusetts senator who failed to actually stop the Affordable Care Act from being passed and then got defeated by someone to the left of Teddy Kennedy.
At the end of a short and friendly interview, I asked Paul whether the darker associations of Ron Paul, his father, could be used against him. If Republicans were looking to tar him, couldn’t they bring up the racist newsletters published under Ron’s name, or the donations from white supremacists that Paul never solicited but declined to give back?
It was like an arctic blast came through my receiver. I don’t see how anyone could think that, Rand Paul said. That has nothing to do with this campaign. [...]
As long as Paul’s in the Senate, as long as he’s a fascinating, quotable, and potentially successful libertarian iconoclast, stories about his associations and his movement will be relegated to the think-piece pile. If he’s a credible presidential candidate? The jackals run loose, and they know where to hunt. Years of experience and evidence tell us that Paul can be rattled by that. His potential opponents know this.
It’s a latent and undiscussed problem, exacerbated when Paul criticizes Hillary Clinton because of her husband’s infidelties with a White House intern. “In re-invoking Bill Clinton’s track record,” writes Carl Cannon. “Paul seemed to serve notice that the checkered pasts of other (male) Democrats is fair game as well.”
True. But the Clintons have put up with decades of reporting and embarrassment about their pasts. When Paul’s received the same treatment, it hasn’t gone very well.
In a word: nerves. Which I think is true, but above and beside that I really have to question the basic sanity of the notion that Paul is the frontrunner. How on Earth does this guy get the nod and enthusiastic backing of such a resolutely hawkish party? The Kristols and Krauthammers and Cheneys of the party almost certainly have veto power over who gets the nomination, and they will shiv him every chance they get, and if it gets down to it and he wins I’d be almost positive they’d try to steal the nomination away from him the same way it happened the last time a relatively dovish Republican rightly won (i.e. 1952). After all, allowing that would be like letting the Russkies, er, I mean Islamofascists win! And I wouldn’t bet against their ability or willingness to do it. Rand Paul mocked their idol, Chris Christie, before everyone was doing it, and while he’s hardly a pacifist he’s a few notches too reticent about “leadership.” He might try to mend fences but there’s a pretty good reason why in 2008 and 2012 even the minor candidates sounded just like Bill Kristol.
I do suspect that Paul will build on his father’s core following and might even be able to garner enough clout to make some changes to the party platform. Undoubtedly he’ll be able to shape the debate a bit, and this could in fact be very interesting in both bad ways and good. But party nominations are the result of consensus of party actors and not necessarily of fame and the ability to fundraise. We’ve seen plenty of candidates with either or both of those coming way short. Paul’s connections in and of themselves might not doom him among the faithful–he could just say something about how the media should have spent more time vetting Barack Obama and he’ll win South Carolina–but the crazy extreme connections and the crazy extreme domestic policy positions might draw people to make connections between the two that Republican officials likely do not want accentuated. The connection between neo-Confederate ideology and, say, an opposition to the Voting Rights Act is clear enough but a Paul nomination would inevitably take the connection to a new level of explicitness, to where this might actually become a public conversation, as opposed to an intra-progressive one. Really, it would probably become unavoidable were he nominated, so the GOP will have every interest in keeping him from getting the nod.The only way Paul wins is if the Republican Party has changed in a way that no credible observer has noticed, and has changed to such an extent that his less orthodox positions are no longer radioactive. This might be plausible in the future but my guess is: not in 2016.
This is just wild speculation, but if I had to guess what happened it would go something like this:
- Religious right lobbyists write the bill and pass it to sympathetic Arizona lawmakers.
- Bill is described to colleagues with Republican-friendly buzzwords: you know, “freedom” and “entrepreneurs” and the dreaded “homosexual agenda.” Nobody reads it.
- Bill passes.
- Uproar! For which the dumbasses who voted for the thing are wholly unprepared because they don’t know what’s in it and can’t defend it. Some of them even claim they wouldn’t have voted for it if they knew what’s in it, which is both mockable and sadly believable.
- Jan Brewer bails them out with a veto.
What’s surprising about this is…oh wait, there’s literally nothing surprising about it. It seems like a prime example of Jonathan Bernstein’s “post-policy GOP” thesis, which fundamentally states that the Republican Party has no real interest in policy, but rather in punditry and media types of things. All the details point to this, and are eerily reminiscent of the regrettable “forcible rape” bill the House passed in 2011, which went through exactly the same cycle. How could these guys be completely unaware of what they’re passing? I don’t buy the “this bill is longer than fifteen Bibles” or whatever dumb-populist stuff the right uses to reject bills, because reading the text of them is like trying to read binary code. The people voting for the ACA knew the gist of what they were voting for, and defended it. These guys…have no idea.
The scary part of this episode is that elected legislators were beside the point at all times: this was a squabble between the religious right and business, with minor roles for politicians. It’s almost as though the putative decisionmakers on the Republican side are utterly unimportant except to validate what the lobbyists want.
The current crop of anti-gay bills in red states signals, to me at least, that the Republican Party has more or less accepted that the country is pretty much fine with the gays at this point and has figured out how to respond, in typical fashion. Obviously, there are various ways they could go about this. One would be to just give up, though the decreasing minority who opposes marriage equality seems highly reluctant to do so. Another would be to give up and declare victory, Vietnam style. One can even imagine a Scott Walker type saying something like, “Look, I got married to my wife in a church. I believe God was there and I know He approved. What do I care about what the state has to say about it? Marriage is a spiritual matter, the state’s recognition is just a bureaucratic detail. I’m a small-government Republican. I really couldn’t care less.” It seems to me at least somewhat possible that this logic could square the peg, but the problem again would be getting equality opponents to accept it, as they tend not to accept this nuance. In my personal experience they mostly complain a lot about how inevitably their church will be forced to perform gay weddings, though there seems to be virtually no interest (and no legal possibility) in doing so. They tend to see it all as one thing (The Institution Of Marriage), while secular liberals have little trouble in making the distinction between state and religion, with the latter being private and protected but the former a subject of contention. It’s possible they’ll suddenly find an interest in making the distinction when they have no choice, but who knows. Anyway, yet another strategy a couple of rungs down the ladder is to simply whine a lot about how your religious freedoms are being trampled upon because not everyone is doing what you tell them to, i.e. the Damon Linker strategy. But nobody really gives a damn about Linker and endless whining has some drawbacks as a strategy: as in, people just tune it out after a while.
The worst way to react to this, though, would be to pass the law that Arizona’s legislature has. The bill flat-out permits mistreatment of minorities for no justifiable reason, and what’s more, it once again shows the Republican Party to be one that cares only about the interests of business owners and has no capacity for empathy for anyone else at all. It feels like a gratuitous, spiteful swipe, which it no doubt is for a lot of these folks, but it’s almost bizarrely selfish and indefensible, terrible policy married to terrible politics, the product of an ossified and out of touch party network more interested in maintaining lucrative business connections than in doing what’s right. They might want to stop and take a breather, think if this is really the best way of advancing their interests, since opposing discrimination is something that virtually all Americans claim to support.
From this, I’m not sure they have gotten the message just yet. Here’s the Congressional generic ballot as of now, which gives Democrats over a 4-point advantage with positive trendlines:
I really have no idea how the midterms will turn out–I do have some hunches*–but it’s critically important for people to remember that the Republican media machine is such a ceaseless, relentless organ of hype, founded or not. That is one of its main functions. Remember how the 2012 presidential field was going to be awesome, until it obviously wasn’t. Or how the Affordable Care Act was going to be a total albatross around President Obama’s neck, until it wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and then wasn’t again. One saw the exact same phenomenon with the 2016 field, which was supposed to be a juggernaut until Chris Christie’s typical modus operandi stopped being an open secret. And how many utterly mediocre pols have been hyped as great talents and presidential material by the likes of Bill Kristol, Chuck Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and the like? Remember when we all felt the inexorable pull of Pawlentymentum? Republicans hype their prospects to high heavens all the time. This is, by the way, very smart, since having hundreds of pundits saying the same thing tends to build resonance and influence the media and, by extension, conventional wisdom and perhaps even public perception. But let’s not forget that this telescopic reality shaping is exactly what is happening now, and as with the aforementioned events, it often falls apart when it comes into contact with reality.
(* Specifically, a net Democratic loss in the Senate but not enough to flip it, a handful of Republican governor losses, and a small number of net seats gained by House Democrats. Probably not all that dissimilar from 1986, Ronald Reagan’s sixth year midterm, though despite massive Koch money Republicans are not going to have a great Senate candidate in North Carolina and are unlikely to win any potential blue state seats, which means running the table on the remaining possibilities. Certainly doable, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. And then there’s Mitch McConnell’s issues and the very likely prospect of a catastrophe in Georgia. So, yeah, I’m not all that worried at this point.)
…if the mainstream media allows Scott Walker to introduce pure propaganda points into the public record like so:
If the other Republicans in the Rust Belt are trying to moderate their message, Mr. Walker in Wisconsin argues that independent voters do not want Republicans to move to the center.
It is the lesson he draws from the unusual 2012 electoral year in Wisconsin. In June, Mr. Walker won his recall election by 7 percentage points. A few months later Mr. Obama carried the state by the same 7 points. The governor calls these “Obama-Walker voters,” independents who voted for both.
Oh, come on NYT! It’s possible there are some people who voted for both men but are we seriously going to argue that a recall election held at an odd time for an election had the same electorate as a presidential election? This is apples and oranges, folks. If Wisconsin were like the dozen or so states that held gubernatorial elections in presidential years, Scott Walker would in all likelihood have remained the Milwaukee County Executive to the present day. Are the differences between midterm turnout and presidential turnout, and the associated falloff in Democratic turnout, really much of a mystery at this point?
I’ve heard many times that Walker has been aided in his tireless attempts to stick it to working people by co-opting Wisconsin’s media. Don’t think it can’t happen here (i.e. everywhere).
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