Three Cheers for Thad Cochran
It’s a good thing the old school senator won, and a bad thing that it was so difficult.
Cochran believes in limited government, not no government.
By Peter FennJune 25, 2014 | 5:05 p.m. EDT+ More USNEWS & WORLD REPORT THOMAS JEFFERSON STREET BLOG
I was rooting for Republican Sen. Thad Cochran yesterday. I know, I know, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat and many told me that the “best” thing that could happen would be for tea party candidate Chris McDaniel to win the runoff. Then we might have won in November.
I doubt it.
But regardless of the politics of the general election, it seemed to me that there were larger issues at stake. I could eat my words in November, I suppose, if Republicans take over the Senate by one vote and Mississippi could have made the difference.
You see, I fundamentally don’t think it’s good for the country or the political parties to degenerate into a collection of candidates who are so extreme they make Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan look like flaming liberals. Whether the issue is immigration reform, paying our debts, providing a federal budget, or a whole host of concerns such as education, transportation, agriculture, health and safety, these new extremists don’t believe in a federal role. In short, they do not believe much in government at all.
They claim the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and “remaking America,” but nearly every move they make is intent on destroying what has worked. This is the least pragmatic or problem-solving crowd I have ever experienced.
So I look with some affection at a man like Thad Cochran whose desire is to see government, limited as it might be, work for people.
The good news for the Republic is that he won; the sad state of affairs is that it was so narrow, as were so many other victories by plain, hard core conservatives yesterday.
I do have fond memories of a diverse and vibrant Republican Party with the likes of Jacob Javits, Clifford Case, Ed Brooke, Tom Kuchel, Everett Dirksen, Mac Mathias, John Sherman Cooper, Margaret Chase Smith and Mark Hatfield, just to name a few. There were Senators who worked across the aisle, who accomplished great things, whose beliefs were different, but who knew that compromise was not a four letter word.
That is not what we have today, particularly with the crowd of angry, negative, inexperienced candidates that the tea party has spawned.
So I am pleased that Cochran won, and sad that it was so difficult.
On the heels of Father’s Day, we get a Wall Street Journal missive from none other than Dick and Liz Cheney, the father-daughter duo. Really?
For those who thought they had seen the last of Liz and her ill-fated and absurd challenge to Republican Sen. Mike Enzi from Wyoming, the state she hardly lived in and didn’t know, she’s back! And Dick, who can’t resist a diatribe to justify his ill-fated and disastrous policy in Iraq, has never learned to zip it.
The worst part is the supposed substance of their piece: Iraq is all Obama’s fault. He is “willfully blind,” “he goes golfing,” “he abandoned Iraq,” he is guilty of “simple -minded appeasement.” The Cheney team’s conclusion: “President Obama is on track to securing his legacy as the man who betrayed our past and squandered our freedom.”
There is absolutely no discussion of the dynamics of the Middle East in their article. There is no mention of the deeply religious conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. There is no mention of the Kurds. There is no substantive exploration of the involvement of other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, in this conflict. There is not one reference to policy options that should be considered in response to the attack by terrorist groups associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or ISIS.
In short, this is an article devoid of substance, let alone a reasonable discussion of public policy.
So, aside from being a vitriolic attack against President Obama, why did they write it? The answer is pretty straightforward, I think. The Cheneys are trying desperately to justify the unjustifiable.
Dick Cheney lied to get us into Iraq: weapons of mass destruction; Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11; the people want us there; we’ll be greeted as liberators; chemical weapons are ready to be unleashed. On and on. Dick Cheney was one of the architects of one of the most extraordinary disasters ever in the history of American foreign policy: more than $1 trillion spent, thousands killed, a country destroyed. Al-Qaida was not present in Iraq before the invasion, but what about now? Because of the Bush-Cheney policy, we created more terrorists than we could ever have dreamed of killing.
The line from Dick and Liz that is truly astounding, and they seem most proud of, is: “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” It is truly sad that they don’t recognize that such a line applies so much more completely to them and what they did. Their preferred policy was a complete disaster, and most people know it.
President George Herbert Walker Bush surely understood, when he wrote these words in his book about the policy decisions he made on Iraq back in the early 1990s: “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. … There was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”
Yes, Mr. and Ms. Cheney, and that is precisely what you did and what you recommend now. A disaster then, a disaster now.
June 12, 2014, 12:00 pm
Cantor’s loss is the Democrats’ gain
By Peter Fenn, contributor
John Avlon, in The Daily Beast, quotes Winston Churchill’s famous line: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile — hoping it will eat him last.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) helped make the Tea Party — and it just ate him alive.
A lot has been written about how and why this upset occurred — immigration, out-of-touch, botched campaign, anti-Semitism, etc. — but the bottom line is that the confluence of factors weakens national Republicans.First, it ensures a brutal battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. The Tea Party discord and anger that was thought to be on the decline will now be on the rise. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has a very big smile on his face today.
Second, the issues that drove this insurgency and appeal to the Tea Party — anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-government, anti-choice, anti-tax — are now going to be more hardline than ever in the House Republican caucus.
Third, there is no sense of responsibility among this crowd; they don’t feel they owe anybody anything. They come to Congress not to do the hard work but to rail against the “establishment.” Thus, their approach is to shut down the government, refuse to raise the debt ceiling, behave in as outrageous a way as humanly possible.
Fourth, they are loyal to no one, least of all the congressional leadership or even the Republican Party. They got here on their own and they are the Lone Rangers of American politics.
Fifth, they are way outside America’s mainstream. They are not in sync with the American people — on gay rights, on women’s rights, on civil rights, on climate change, on issue after issue.
The Democrats will benefit from the marginalization of a divided Republican Party that further antagonizes African-Americans, Hispanics, young people, independents and moderates.
This further puts the Republicans out as extreme, too willing to prevent the government from functioning, too ready to prevent Washington from getting on with the business of the day. They become more and more the anti-party — the against party — the party that is mired in the past and has no plans for the future.
The more radical and angry the Tea Party Republicans become, the less likely they are to win elections, especially presidential elections. They may pick off some like Cantor and Sen. Thad Cochran (R) in Mississippi, but this will cost them dearly and the Democrats will be the beneficiaries.
The alligators that the right-wing Republicans have filled the swamp with will proceed to devour them at an alarming rate. Lesson: Don’t feed the animals!
Eric Cantor was a hard core conservative who challenged Speaker John Boehner over a budget deal, caucused with the tea party crowd and was viewed by many as next in line for the speakership. He was no moderate, no big compromiser, no friend of the Obama administration. If anything, Cantor was the choice of many of the most conservative Republicans in Congress to lead them into the future. He stoked the tea party fires in 2009 and 2010.
So what happened?
Those of us who have been around campaigns for a while are constantly frustrated by the armchair quarterbacks who espouse the “silver bullet” theory – one simple reason for a victory or defeat. The press loves to come up with an easy to understand explanation and so do many politicos.
The current “silver bullet” is that Cantor lost because of the immigration issue. Even though he was pretty hard line, and tried to be more hard line at the end of the campaign, he had backed a version of the DREAM Act that allowed kids of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition rates.
There is no question that this was a driving issue and hurt Cantor. There is no question that many Republicans will view immigration reform as the third rail – touch it and you die – and that his loss makes the likelihood of comprehensive reform much more difficult.
I would certainly put it up near the top of the list of problems Cantor had this cycle. But he was the target of the overall anger towards Washington. He was viewed as out of touch and more concerned with being part of the Washington establishment than being a Virginian. After all, he spent nearly $170,000 on steak houses, close to the total of $200,000 spent by David Brat in his entire campaign.
He also made tactical errors in his campaign: attacking David Brat for being a “liberal college professor” when everyone knew that was untrue; elevating Brat’s campaign when he should have been elevating his own; ignoring the importance of a grassroots, volunteer-based organization. I’m sure those closer to the campaign have other critiques.
His opponent, and the right-wing talk show hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin, mobilized the Rush Limbaugh set and built a strong grassroots operation. Christian rhetoric and evangelical fervor from Brat lifted his campaign. He gave credit to God for his win on Fox News.
We have done many campaigns in Virginia over the years. The area represented by Cantor is extremely conservative and one can’t forget the racist history, the closing of public schools after Brown v Board of Education and the opening of “segregation academies,” and the prohibition of interracial marriage. Yes, Virginia is a purple state and has changed since those dark days, but many hold on to beliefs that are racist and anti-Semitic. It is hard to say it, but the fact that Cantor is Jewish and perceived as soft on immigration probably did not do much for him with this subset of conservative Republican voters. To ignore race and religion and not to recognize the anger as part of the mix would probably be disingenuous.
When the polls are so wrong, when the 25-1 cash advantage doesn’t make much difference, when someone like Cantor who is so powerful for the district ends up losing by such a wide margin, you better look below the surface.
The scary thing about this nuclear explosion in Virginia is that it portends a battle royal for the soul of the Republican Party and pits a radical, righteous, reactionary faction against a more traditional, conservative, pragmatic faction. Will we now fail to enact immigration reform? Will we go back to nihilistic refusals to raise the debt? Will we have budget battles that paralyze government and deep-six economic growth?
The paralysis that Brat seems to condemn is precisely what the tea party, Ted Cruz faction so fanatically favors. Not good for Republicans, not good for America.
Make no mistake, this election will reverberate for years to come. And not in a good way.
Attack First, Get the Facts Never
Republicans couldn’t wait to go on the attack after Bowe Bergdahl’s release.
By Peter FennJune 5, 2014 | 4:30 p.m. EDT+ More
Bowe Bergdahl. How long is this going to continue?
Cable chatter, talking heads with little to talk about, Republican orchestrated guests with (surprise!) more Obama attacks, facts be damned.
It reminds me of the disappearance of former congressional intern Chandra Levy, where the cable guys couldn’t get enough but didn’t know enough, or the recent 24/7 coverage of a lost airliner where all the reporting was that there was nothing to report.
Republicans called for action to get Bergdahl released and criticized Obama for not doing enough, then, when he was released, condemned the release. Here are some examples:
- Sarah Palin before: “Todd and I are praying for Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, his family, and all of his fellow soldiers who are putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom and protect democracy abroad,”
- Sarah Palin after the release: “No, Mr. President, a soldier expressing horrid anti-American beliefs – even boldly putting them in writing and unabashedly firing off his messages while in uniform, just three days before he left his unit on foot – is not ‘honorable service.’ Unless that is your standard.”
- Former Rep. Alan West, R-Fla., before: “Then there is Army SGT Bowe Bergdahl still held by the Islamic terrorist Haqqani network, probably in Pakistan, in the same place where Osama Bin Laden was hiding. This past POW/MIA national day of recognition, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated a pledge to secure the young Army NCO being held captive, but have there been any actions? Any time, attention, or even mention from the Commander-in-Chief? Nah, no camera highlights in it for him.”
- Alan West after the release: “Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that Barack Hussein Obama’s unilateral negotiations with terrorists and the ensuing release of their key leadership without consult — mandated by law — with the U.S. Congress represents high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense.”
There are plenty more examples of the before/after effect from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., to name a few.
Some Republicans put up tweets of praise, then withdrew them, but Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., takes the cake with this statement which was later deleted from his website:
“A grateful nation welcomes the news of the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. I have the pleasure of regularly speaking with our nation’s active duty military and veterans and I know that there is nothing more solemn than the pledge to never leave one of their own behind on the field of battle.
“Sgt. Bergdahl is a national hero. It’s my hope that once he ultimately retires from active duty service, implementation of reforms to our nation’s VA hospitals are made so that he will have access to the long-term care he has rightfully earned from the horrors he endured.”
OK, fine, this is politics. This is gladiator cable TV. This is a “hot” story.
But, maybe, just maybe, we ought to let the military examine what we know, what we don’t know, what are rumors and what are facts. Maybe we ought to hear from Sgt. Bergdahl before attacking his family, his friends, anyone who ever knew him. Maybe we should not be so quick to judge and cast aspersions on all involved before we know more.
But that is not how the emotional vice that is our politics works – you sense an opening, go for the jugular, any jugular, even if there is collateral damage.
June 04, 2014, 10:30 am
The president leads on climate change — and it’s about time
By Peter Fenn, contributor
Last week, I was riding back from National Airport in a cab and the driver had Rush Limbaugh on with a multi-day rant decrying the existence of climate change. It was all a political ploy from the left, Limbaugh said, and had no relation to any scientific evidence.
All a hoax, made up, fabricated, to inspire the liberals.
President Obama’s decision to lead on reducing carbon emissions by using the Nixon-era Clean Air Act of 1970 is welcome news and probably will drive the Limbaughs of the world up a wall.This is important not just for the United States but also to show leadership to the world that we are serious and ready to confront the problem.
Take China. Carbon pollution and manufacturing plants have created nearly uninhabitable cities, described by USA Today as a “nuclear winter” last January. China’s premier says they will “declare war” on pollution.
In Beijing last January, there were 671 micrograms of pollution in the air; the World Health Organization has determined that the safe amount is 25. Do the math and no wonder nearly everyone was wearing masks and many were succumbing to asthma attacks, serious breathing problems and heart attacks.
Right now, the United States is responsible for 6,000 million metric tons of carbon pollution, according to The New York Times. China has gone from 3,000 million metric tons in 2000 to about 9,000 today.
Now that is some pollution jump.
If one subscribes to the notion of American Exceptionalism, maybe it is right and proper and smart to take the lead on climate change and truly clean up our act if we expect other nations to do the same.
This is, after all, a problem that does not stop at national borders. We are all in this one together.
But back to Limbaugh and Obama.
Our science has been clear on the dangers of pollution since even before President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established. Since then, it has only gotten worse for the planet.
Would reasonable people deny that the sea levels are rising; our weather patterns are more extreme; our glaciers are melting at an alarming rate; and our seas are warmer and more acidic? Scientists now predict that unless we make the transition quickly to alternative fuels, cut back on the 40 percent of our electricity that comes from coal-fired power plants, and become more energy efficient, it may be too late for future generations.
But people need a crisis that stares them in the face and have trouble looking ahead several generations. So, right now, the Obama EPA tells us that by acting now, we can prevent 6,600 premature deaths a year, stop 150,000 asthma attacks a year and put an end to 490,000 missed school or work days.
Time is long past due for America to move on climate change; and time is long past due for those who deny climate change to wake up and smell the flowers, while they still can.
Focused on the Present, the GOP Has No Future
From Obamacare to immigration to women’s issues, the party is dooming itself.
By Peter FennMay 23, 2014604 Comments SHARE—-USNews & World Report, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog
The vast majority of Republicans have bought into the quick hit, short-term strategy and catered to the right wing. Maybe they believe that Republicans can do a quick pivot, plug in the smoke machine and gloss over the actions of the party after November.
But, right now, Republicans believe that deep-sixing immigration reform, decrying climate change, angering women by ignoring equal pay for equal work and keeping the tea party happy by fighting equal rights for gays and lesbians, will all be forgotten in the coming years. Instead, they believe that by focusing on high profile hearings on Benghazi and the IRS they can motivate their base, ride to victory in November and not pay the consequences down the road.
Their biggest ploy, of course, is the ideologically rigid opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Many Republicans believe that this law will actually work in the long run, be tweaked and improved, and widely accepted by Americans – not unlike Medicare, which was initially opposed, and then became one of the most important and popular reforms of the 20th century. It is my view that Republicans will rue the day when they termed ACA Obamacare. Can you imagine if the Republicans had called Medicare, Johnsoncare? What a boon for Lyndon Johnson that would have been! The difference, of course, was that by 1965 many Republicans had come to their senses and supported Medicare.
My basic point is that the short-term strategy of the Republican Party is going to harm them in the long run, particularly by 2016. They have succeeded over the last three elections at being perceived as anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-young people. Not to mention anti-middle class. By allowing the extreme right to make their political tent smaller and smaller they risk being a serious minority party in future elections, especially in presidential years.
The simple demographics should allow reasonable Republicans to convince their party that this strategy is short-sighted and will come back to bite them. When President Clinton was elected in 1992, the electorate was 87 percent white, in 2012 the electorate was 72 percent white. States like Texas will be in play in the future unless Republicans change their tune. Young people, women, the LGBT community, as well as minorities, who have been voting overwhelmingly Democratic, will continue to do so because of Republicans’ positions on the issues and their seeming insensitivity to their concerns.
I hate to give advice to my Republican friends but their current strategy may sound good for a few months but you will pay the price big time down the road. The sooner you break with the Limbaughs and the Coulters the better off you will be.