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There are all manner of things Dick Cheney doesn’t understand, I’m sure, but ultimately I think this paranoia is widely shared on the right. He doesn’t know what makes Obama tick? Well, that’s understandable, given that the president has only written two books (and, unlike Cheney, he didn’t use a second author on either), not to mention thousands of delivered speeches by this point, and he has as well as an actual record in office as president. That’s clearly not enough material to form a working understanding of how the man thinks and works. Now, granted, if you assume that all that is just for public consumption and that the real Obama is some kind of insidious bad guy with a plot to impose radical change on America, then it’s a lot harder to know what makes him tick, because he constantly seems to do things that undermine that strategy and make it hard to build a general theory. For example, by bailing out the banks and doing nothing for the public, Obama inadvertently empowered the increasingly ascendant Elizabeth Warren contingent, highly critical of finance. His troubled push for TTIP Fast Track is being viewed so skeptically partly because of bad trade deals the public has in memory, but then again, it may be that Obama himself has inked one too many deals too favorable to Republicans that liberal Democrats simply don’t trust him on this sort of thing anymore, spurring a more procedurally radical Democratic Party. Man, that guy is so sneaky. What appears to be giving away the farm and not being aggressive enough is actually a long-term radical plot. Who knew?

It is pretty fascinating how conservatives misunderstand liberals in ways that are simply not reciprocated. It’s fair to say that the left may exaggerate the extent of certain right-wing ideas from time to time (despite the visibility of the detestable Duggars, Quiverfull is a fairly modest movement), or it may be less than charitable in various interpretation of things, but there’s simply no equivalent to the sorts of things that conservatives pull out of their butts when it comes to trying to understand liberals. There’s simply no liberal Jade Helm. Stuff that may be similar in bugnuttitude, like the antivaxxers or 9/11 Truthers (which is hardly an exclusively left phenomenon) exists at the margins, and hardly get large cross-sections like the silly Texas stuff did/does. I do sort of wonder why this is. Residue from McCarthy perhaps? An intentional conservative media operation? Something else? At this point, given how easy it is to find actual liberals’ thinking online, it seems less acceptable than ever for this kind of ignorance to exist. And while turning liberals into cartoon villains may fire up the base, it’s going to make it very hard to actually defeat them in the near future.

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I don’t think George Pataki knows which party he’s running to lead.
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I haven’t seen this point made yet, but it’s worth noting that the Party of Propriety and Family Values selected three men in a row to be Speaker of the House who had committed significant sexual improprieties: Gingrich, Bob Livingston and Hastert. All the while impeaching Bill Clinton for something either less awful or equivalent to what they had already done.

Obviously, it’s not fully clear what happened with Hastert, consensual affairs are different from coercive ones, etc. But the fact remains.

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So Jeb Bush has finally executed one of the most public, painful 180s ever by a politician, taking nearly a half dozen separate stances on the Iraq War before finally just admitting that it was a mistake. So, now it’s over. Just another gaffe that will be forgotten about within a couple of weeks, right?

I actually don’t think so, in part because it points to something unusual about this particular Bush candidacy. Jeb Bush not only bears the burden of his brother’s disastrous presidency, but also of his father’s better-looking-in-retrospect but still not particularly beloved presidency. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that GOP hawks were beating up on Bush because he considered James Baker an adviser. Bush’s views bore little resemblance to Baker’s–the latter being the dean of the GOP Old School of restraint and prudence in foreign policy. But the fact remains that he’s said some things about Israel (and, frankly, because he is James Baker) and thus called back to Poppy Bush’s foreign policy, which is (to say the least) out of fashion in Republican politics these days. So within the space of a month, Bush has been publicly savaged for being both too meek on foreign policy, as well as for being idiotically stubborn. That’s pretty impressive.

I think this points to the fundamental problem with Bush’s candidacy: he has to pay for two wildly different sets of sins, his brother’s and his father’s. This is nothing new. Garry Wills’s book The Kennedy Imprisonment argues persuasively that Ted Kennedy wound up taking a lot of shrapnel from his brothers’ mistakes and for how they used power. To name some examples: Teddy got slammed for womanizing, even though his forays into the area were both less voluminous (and, Wills argues, less selfish and narcissistic) than John’s. He was continually mocked for his drinking in ways that few national figures are, because of the fetishization of control and machismo that were linked to the Kennedy brand. He took more fallout for his (admittedly inexcusable) college plagiarism than John took for his phony authorship of Profiles In Courage (in actuality, the book was fully written by Ted Sorenson). And even Chappaquiddick–which hung (not unfairly) over his entire career–was linked to the sins of his father and brothers. If you dispense with the conservative conspiracy theories that posit that the whole thing was some weird version of Death Proof, what you’re left with is a man so used to using the personal power of the Kennedy family, of keeping things within closed doors, of making use of family “fixers” that it never occurred to him that his first call should be to the police, instead of to family cronies in order to lock it down and hush it up. He abused the power of the Kennedy family to save his hide, and was horrendously wrong to do so. But he was hardly the first Kennedy man to do that. He was not even the third.

Point being, Kennedy’s 1980 run–even on its face, a tough proposition to unseat a sitting president in a primary–was hobbled by this stuff. As the brother who lived, he became the channel for people to punish everything that was wrong with the Kennedys, even though his character flaws were objectively of a substantially lesser degree than his father and his still-beloved brothers’ were (Wills argues this). The ways in which the Kennedy family used power in effect formed a prison that trapped Ted Kennedy. And this is with a family that is hugely popular among the American public! The Bush name may still have meaning among a large subset of Republicans, but among the general public, it isn’t much of an asset. And the Iraq controversy provides an interesting example of just how bad this dual imprisonment of Jeb’s can be. Today’s GOP hawks are very willing to use Jeb’s father’s legacy against him, to extract more substantive promises from him. On the other hand, his adoption of certain positions simply makes them poisonous because of the Bush legacy. Jeb’s embrace of the Iraq dead-enders turned that position into something of a dead letter in Republican politics, as other GOP hopefuls couldn’t wait to hang him out to dry. This surprises some, but it’s basic politics. They realize what a weakness it is to have the brother of the guy who started the Iraq War–and indirectly gave us Obamacare, if you think about it–sitting out there, defending it. It’s in the interest of Bush’s opponents to make him run against his brother (and father) as much as they can, because it undermines the rationale of his candidacy. It’s a weakness that’s just sitting there to be exploited. Ironically, the exact same thing happened with Robert Kennedy’s presidential run, in which Gene McCarthy constantly tried to use John against him. Wills writes about when McCarthy sprung a clever trap by which he promised to fire J. Edgar Hoover as FBI Director if he were elected president, which not only highlighted Bobby’s refusal to do so (and John’s earlier refusal to do so), but also made the irresistible subtext poignant that the reason why they couldn’t was because Hoover had something on (at least) John. McCarthy explicitly used the strategy that other Republicans made use of so recently, and this really explains why Kennedy struggled so mightily against a (no offense intended) second-tier Minnesota Senator (not to mention the man outpacing both of them, Vice President Hubert Humphrey) to compete despite the still very recent, and very raw, memories of his brother’s assassination.

The other thing it’s important to say is that we’ve merely seen the beginning of this dynamic. What happens when Jeb Bush becomes an official candidate and releases his tax plans? You can immediately imagine Grover Norquist (and other Republican candidates) invoking the memory of George H.W. Bush’s tax hikes to try to get more out of him. You can also imagine Bush receiving lots of mainstream criticism for following the legacy of his brother when he introduces a plan with hugely regressive cuts, which he undoubtedly will, and being again befuddled by this dual onslaught. Obviously, his immigration position follows closely those of both his brother and his father, which is also a liability in Republican politics as well. Wherever you look, Bush has to constantly try to thread the needle, to emphasize the family legacy that allows him the chance to run. But that legacy also makes him uniquely vulnerable to being attacked, since he is connected to two presidential legacies in very direct ways. Ted Kennedy–the best politician of the entire family–fell flat on his face when attempting to do that. Jeb Bush, it must be said, is running a less difficult race than the one Ted chose in 1980. But he faces a similar situation: his greatest asset is also his greatest weakness. He may yet still win the nomination: it’s difficult to imagine Marco Rubio defeating Bush since Rubio is Bush’s base’s second choice, and Scott Walker remains a hothouse flower who seems to wither once outside of the safe environment of the Milwaukee suburbs. I say it’s still Bush’s race to lose. But after the past week, it’s a lot easier to see how that happens than it was before.

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Interesting article over on The Guardian counterintuitively argues that the reason why the main parties over in the UK are struggling is because both of their leaders aren’t really able to fight against the negative perceptions of their party. It’s well argued. It may explain why Jeb Bush is struggling as a candidate in 2016: while he does have a genuinely multicultural family and outlook, post-Romney, post-no House action on immigration reform, post-near government shutdown on Obama’s executive order on same, the idea that all the Republican Party needs is a friendly pro-immigration president seems remarkably dated. Meanwhile, the Bush candidacy seems to mainly be an exercise in big business influence, which is hardly going to counter perceptions of the Republican Party.

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I didn’t realize that Rand Paul signed onto the now-infamous Iran letter. A true man of principle. This seems applicable:

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When I first heard about Senate Republicans’ letter to Iran, I figured it was a pretty stupid idea that mostly just underlined how weak their position was. It’s pretty poor politics as well. So this is hardly a surprise to me. What concerns me is that, in the long run, how Congress remains a viable institution if it is unable to exercise its prerogatives to declare and oversee wars initiated by the executive, but takes it upon itself to sabotage negotiations for peace. How Republicans intend to sell this stance to people not getting their id on, Fox-style…also a mystery.

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