Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sam Brownback

Jindal, Brownback, and the State-Led Conservative Opposition

Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

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Since the one bright spot for Republicans in this past November’s general election was the party’s performance in gubernatorial elections, it’s no surprise that the states have become battlegrounds for conservative opposition to the Obama White House. The GOP increased its share of the country’s governorships to 30, and well before November had been leaning on those governors for conservative policymaking. The most visible issue was the role and power of public-sector unions, something John Steele Gordon wrote about earlier, but education reform and the battle over state health insurance exchanges as part of Obamacare have been and will continue to be high-profile policy fights as well.

Energized by a string of such victories, Republican governors seem to have identified the next element of President Obama’s big-government agenda to push back on: taxes. A recent USA Today story details plans to cut certain taxes (and in some cases, raise others to compensate) from Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Florida’s Rick Scott, Idaho’s Butch Otter, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Today, the New York Times reports on Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s dramatic tax cut plan:

This month, the largest tax cut in Kansas history took effect, and most of its Medicaid system was handed over to private insurers. The bill introduced this week would pare taxes further, with the goal of eventually eliminating the state’s individual income tax. Mr. Brownback has already slashed the state’s welfare roll and its work force. He has merged government agencies and is proposing further consolidation. He is pushing for pension changes, to change the way judges are selected and for altering education financing formulas.

“I think it is the leading edge of the conservative economic and political movement,” said State Representative Tom Sloan, a Republican representing the area around Lawrence. “As such, it is the example that other state leaders will look to to determine whether the political philosophy can mesh with the expectations of the public.”

The Washington-centric focus of the press and the drama over negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and the Obama White House tend to overshadow the far-reaching economic reforms taking place at the state level. And that focus is exactly what Jindal plans to take aim at in his keynote speech tonight to the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. Jindal, who has been at the forefront of conservative education reform and is a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, plans to argue forcefully against his own party’s concentration on Washington. As the Washington Post reports:

“By obsessing with zeroes on the budget spreadsheet, we send a not-so-subtle signal that the focus of our country is on the phony economy of Washington, instead of the real economy out here in Charlotte, and Shreveport (La.), and Cheyenne (Wyo.),” Jindal is set to say at one point in the speech. At another, he will argue that “Washington has spent a generation trying to bribe our citizens and extort our states,” adding: “As Republicans, it’s time to quit arguing around the edges of that corrupt system.”

It will be interesting to see just how clearly Jindal can pair his critique of Washington with a conservative alternative. On the broad strokes, Jindal is certainly correct: Washington’s buddy system and its self-perpetuating bureaucracy make it ripe both for bad policy and for cronyism that often too easily seduces Republicans as well as Democrats.

But there’s also a trap here Jindal is setting for himself, and his party. Conservatives are on firm ground when they talk of the need to reform Washington, but they should be careful not to treat the capital as incidental. Congress’s approval ratings may be low, and there is certainly a limited amount of policymaking the GOP can do with only one house of Congress and Harry Reid’s refusal to permit even basic Senate business from taking place in the other house. But conservatives should learn the right lesson: they need to be in a position to legislate.

Nothing proved this more clearly than the Obamacare debacle. Republicans didn’t have enough seats in Congress to block it, and then Chief Justice John Roberts allowed himself to be bullied and intimidated into ruling in favor of the president’s constitutionally suspect legislative overreach out of concern for his legacy and his public stature rather than his own best judgment. Roberts is an example of how the conservative movement cannot rely on the courts to protect the country from unconstitutional big-government schemes. Conservatives have the right idea on state-level reform to act as a bulwark against some of the terrible policy coming from the White House. But they also can’t ignore the battles on Capitol Hill.

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The Fallout

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

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Another Approach to Iran

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

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Silly Season for McCain

There are several stories today about John McCain’s possible vice-presidential picks. This is absurd for many reasons. Here are a few:

1) It is a 95 percent certainty that McCain will not announce his pick until, at the earliest, a few days before the convention. There is no upside whatever to an early announcement. If it provokes excitement, the excitement will dissipate, leaving the campaign with nothing. If there are any problems, it will be the only subject of discussion surrounding McCain for weeks and weeks and weeks, with the worrisome subtext — Look, here is McCain’s first major decision, and it isn’t going well.

2) There is literally no way of knowing whether most of the people on the supposed short list —  Sanford, Pawlenty, Ridge, Crist, Rob Portman, John Kasich — can actually pass muster. The cardinal rule of the VP pick is — First, do no harm. The vetting process for a VP candidate is brutal. Any personal problem — any — might prove disqualifying. Too many speeding tickets? Too much money spent at the track? A friendship with someone who was later indicted? Marital troubles? A wife with too many speeding tickets? A son caught on a YouTube video sucking on a bong? A daughter who got drunk during Spring Break and is in the background of a YouTube dirty dancing?

Once one of these short-listers becomes acquainted with the horribly intrusive nature of the vetting process, he might just drop out. I know one case of someone who was practically offered the slot many cycles ago who realized an unhappy period in a close relative’s life would surely come to light and therefore turned it down.

The only really vetted people are the ones who have run for president — Romney and Huckabee particularly (though I’m not sure I would entirely count out either Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter, though they did badly in the primaries). But here we bump up against McCain’s own character. He is a very personal politician. He likes people he likes, and has contempt for people he doesn’t. He really seems not to like Romney, and though Romney would be the most conventional choice, McCain is unlikely to make a choice entirely based on convention and prudence when he has to pick someone with whom he is going to work closely for months and maybe years.

I’ve been joking that McCain might feel differently if Romney were to pony up $75 million for the general-election run. But this too raises the problem with a Romney candidacy — wouldn’t there be intense speculation of precisely this kind of quid pro quo, that McCain effectively sold the VP slot to Romney because of his great wealth?

In the end, the process to pick the Veep will take months, not weeks. There’s a reason people don’t name their pick early. McCain won’t do it either.

There are several stories today about John McCain’s possible vice-presidential picks. This is absurd for many reasons. Here are a few:

1) It is a 95 percent certainty that McCain will not announce his pick until, at the earliest, a few days before the convention. There is no upside whatever to an early announcement. If it provokes excitement, the excitement will dissipate, leaving the campaign with nothing. If there are any problems, it will be the only subject of discussion surrounding McCain for weeks and weeks and weeks, with the worrisome subtext — Look, here is McCain’s first major decision, and it isn’t going well.

2) There is literally no way of knowing whether most of the people on the supposed short list —  Sanford, Pawlenty, Ridge, Crist, Rob Portman, John Kasich — can actually pass muster. The cardinal rule of the VP pick is — First, do no harm. The vetting process for a VP candidate is brutal. Any personal problem — any — might prove disqualifying. Too many speeding tickets? Too much money spent at the track? A friendship with someone who was later indicted? Marital troubles? A wife with too many speeding tickets? A son caught on a YouTube video sucking on a bong? A daughter who got drunk during Spring Break and is in the background of a YouTube dirty dancing?

Once one of these short-listers becomes acquainted with the horribly intrusive nature of the vetting process, he might just drop out. I know one case of someone who was practically offered the slot many cycles ago who realized an unhappy period in a close relative’s life would surely come to light and therefore turned it down.

The only really vetted people are the ones who have run for president — Romney and Huckabee particularly (though I’m not sure I would entirely count out either Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter, though they did badly in the primaries). But here we bump up against McCain’s own character. He is a very personal politician. He likes people he likes, and has contempt for people he doesn’t. He really seems not to like Romney, and though Romney would be the most conventional choice, McCain is unlikely to make a choice entirely based on convention and prudence when he has to pick someone with whom he is going to work closely for months and maybe years.

I’ve been joking that McCain might feel differently if Romney were to pony up $75 million for the general-election run. But this too raises the problem with a Romney candidacy — wouldn’t there be intense speculation of precisely this kind of quid pro quo, that McCain effectively sold the VP slot to Romney because of his great wealth?

In the end, the process to pick the Veep will take months, not weeks. There’s a reason people don’t name their pick early. McCain won’t do it either.

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Light, Truth, and the New Republic

At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, I decided that a part-time student job at Yale University Press would be a good line-item on my resume. At the interview, the editor, in a proud voice, told me that the “Yale Press is the second-largest university press, after Oxford. But Oxford’s not really a university press, of course.” This assertion—with its implied disdain for the black-fingernailed tradesmen at Oxford University Press—stuck, to the point that it’s been part of my table talk for eight years.

Now, it’s true that in November of 2005, a small crack appeared in the wall of separation: Yale launched a new imprint with the New Republic. But the books slated to be published were serious works of free inquiry: TNR‘s EIC Martin Peretz on Zionism, foreign policy expert Joshua Kurlantzick on China, historian Michael Makovsky on Churchill. Books, in other words, meeting Yale’s high standards. But no more. In today’s mail came Election 2008: A Voter’s Guide, by Franklin Foer and the editors of the New Republic. No! Is it possible? Is a “university press”—my university press, not those trade traitors at Oxford!—publishing a collection of magazine articles? A volume of unremarkable, tawdry candidate profiles, complete with illustrations and essays on Newt Gingrich and Chuck Hagel, neither of whom is running for president, and Sam Brownback, who is no longer doing so? And publishing it as a “Voter’s Guide,” no less?

I imagine Election 2008 is intended to be a “special gift” included with subscriptions to the New Republic. Is this what Yale University wants as its copyrighted intellectual property? The book is a compendium of the New Republic’s usual doses of too-clever-by-half partisan shtick. With the publication of a gift-offer book, Yale University Press has abandoned the proud claims made by the editor. And Yale has tarnished itself as a school: can you imagine the hysterical outcry that would result if a collection of articles from, say, the National Review, was published under its auspices?

At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, I decided that a part-time student job at Yale University Press would be a good line-item on my resume. At the interview, the editor, in a proud voice, told me that the “Yale Press is the second-largest university press, after Oxford. But Oxford’s not really a university press, of course.” This assertion—with its implied disdain for the black-fingernailed tradesmen at Oxford University Press—stuck, to the point that it’s been part of my table talk for eight years.

Now, it’s true that in November of 2005, a small crack appeared in the wall of separation: Yale launched a new imprint with the New Republic. But the books slated to be published were serious works of free inquiry: TNR‘s EIC Martin Peretz on Zionism, foreign policy expert Joshua Kurlantzick on China, historian Michael Makovsky on Churchill. Books, in other words, meeting Yale’s high standards. But no more. In today’s mail came Election 2008: A Voter’s Guide, by Franklin Foer and the editors of the New Republic. No! Is it possible? Is a “university press”—my university press, not those trade traitors at Oxford!—publishing a collection of magazine articles? A volume of unremarkable, tawdry candidate profiles, complete with illustrations and essays on Newt Gingrich and Chuck Hagel, neither of whom is running for president, and Sam Brownback, who is no longer doing so? And publishing it as a “Voter’s Guide,” no less?

I imagine Election 2008 is intended to be a “special gift” included with subscriptions to the New Republic. Is this what Yale University wants as its copyrighted intellectual property? The book is a compendium of the New Republic’s usual doses of too-clever-by-half partisan shtick. With the publication of a gift-offer book, Yale University Press has abandoned the proud claims made by the editor. And Yale has tarnished itself as a school: can you imagine the hysterical outcry that would result if a collection of articles from, say, the National Review, was published under its auspices?

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Giuliani’s Pseudo-Coup

Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president today. This is a coup, but not for any substantive reason. Taken strictly as an electoral matter, the Robertson imprimatur is almost certainly a wash — meaning that any votes it will generate will be offset by votes it will cost among those, even on the Republican side, who find Robertson a singularly unappetizing figure (including among Evangelical Christians, many of whom come from a different eschatalogical tradition from Robertson’s).

There are times when an endorsement really does mean something substantial — when, say, a governor with a powerful political machine at his disposal anoints a presidential candidate with the understanding that his machine will do whatever it can to get the candidate elected. This is not the case here, for the reasons I’ve outlined.

That Giuliani has managed to secure the endorsement of a formerly significant leader of the Religious Right was to be expected, if for no other reason that the endorser was bound to get a lot of attention from a hungry media that can’t get enough of this pre-primary season and the intriguing fact of a pro-choice candidate sitting atop the Republican leaderboard. That Giuliani’s endorser would be Robertson is also not surprising, because he has spent years trying to make up for his disgusting assent to the repugnant claims of the late Jerry Falwell that the American Civil Liberties Union and other secularist organizations bore some responsibility for the attacks of 9/11.

What we have here, then, is a Giuliani “pseudo-coup,” to adapt Daniel Boorstin’s great neologism about staged media events that have no intrinsic meaning. In 1961, Boorstin described a “pseudo-event” as a

happening that possesses the following characteristics:

(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.
(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported…

Endorsements these days are almost exclusively pseudo-events, and this one more than most. The reason it’s a pseudo-coup is that it’s become the story of the day. It will be discussed for the remainder of the week. It is an attention-generator, and a spotlight-stealer, since the news has drawn the media’s attention away from the endorsement of John McCain by Sen. Sam Brownback, who just dropped out of the presidential race.

Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president today. This is a coup, but not for any substantive reason. Taken strictly as an electoral matter, the Robertson imprimatur is almost certainly a wash — meaning that any votes it will generate will be offset by votes it will cost among those, even on the Republican side, who find Robertson a singularly unappetizing figure (including among Evangelical Christians, many of whom come from a different eschatalogical tradition from Robertson’s).

There are times when an endorsement really does mean something substantial — when, say, a governor with a powerful political machine at his disposal anoints a presidential candidate with the understanding that his machine will do whatever it can to get the candidate elected. This is not the case here, for the reasons I’ve outlined.

That Giuliani has managed to secure the endorsement of a formerly significant leader of the Religious Right was to be expected, if for no other reason that the endorser was bound to get a lot of attention from a hungry media that can’t get enough of this pre-primary season and the intriguing fact of a pro-choice candidate sitting atop the Republican leaderboard. That Giuliani’s endorser would be Robertson is also not surprising, because he has spent years trying to make up for his disgusting assent to the repugnant claims of the late Jerry Falwell that the American Civil Liberties Union and other secularist organizations bore some responsibility for the attacks of 9/11.

What we have here, then, is a Giuliani “pseudo-coup,” to adapt Daniel Boorstin’s great neologism about staged media events that have no intrinsic meaning. In 1961, Boorstin described a “pseudo-event” as a

happening that possesses the following characteristics:

(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.
(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported…

Endorsements these days are almost exclusively pseudo-events, and this one more than most. The reason it’s a pseudo-coup is that it’s become the story of the day. It will be discussed for the remainder of the week. It is an attention-generator, and a spotlight-stealer, since the news has drawn the media’s attention away from the endorsement of John McCain by Sen. Sam Brownback, who just dropped out of the presidential race.

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Making DREAM a Reality

Mickey Kaus is gloating about the Senate’s failure to pass the DREAM Act. This legislation, which would create a new path to citizenship for minor children of undocumented immigrants who have clean records and either join the military or attend college, attracted 52 votes on a “cloture” motion, while only 44 senators voted against closing off debate. (For the vote breakdown, see here.) Most of those voting for cloture were Democrats, but they were joined by a dozen Republicans, including such conservatives as Orrin Hatch and Sam Brownback. Since 60 votes are required to end debate on controversial proposals, the DREAM Act effectively has been killed, for now.

Kaus is happy because he thinks the DREAM Act would have provided an incentive for more illegal immigration. (So does the Bush administration, which opposed this measure.) I don’t think that’s true of the DREAM Act, which applies only to those who have already lived in America for five years prior to the enactment of the law.

In any case, no extra incentives are needed for people to come here, especially from countries such as Mexico that don’t offer as much economic opportunity. They will come no matter what; the question is whether we are going to give them an avenue toward becoming tax-paying citizens or force them to remain underground. There is no better way to assimilate immigrants than through military service, one of the pathways specified by the DREAM Act.

As I’ve argued before on contentions, I think this a good piece of legislation that takes a major step toward one of my dreams: to offer American citizenship to anyone anywhere in the world willing to serve in the American armed forces. This would vastly broaden our recruiting base, allowing the armed forces to sign up all sorts of talented people who are currently prohibited from joining. They would, of course, have to pass background investigations and meet all existing criteria for military service, including English-language proficiency.

I’ve been advocating this idea for several years, and even though it’s not currently possible, I’ve gotten emails from Canadians, Chinese, Dutch, and other foreigners wanting to sign up for our armed forces. All it would take to make their dreams a reality would be for the Secretary of Defense to certify that enlisting them is in the national interest. Legislation isn’t required, although that’s another way this objective could be achieved.

Mickey Kaus is gloating about the Senate’s failure to pass the DREAM Act. This legislation, which would create a new path to citizenship for minor children of undocumented immigrants who have clean records and either join the military or attend college, attracted 52 votes on a “cloture” motion, while only 44 senators voted against closing off debate. (For the vote breakdown, see here.) Most of those voting for cloture were Democrats, but they were joined by a dozen Republicans, including such conservatives as Orrin Hatch and Sam Brownback. Since 60 votes are required to end debate on controversial proposals, the DREAM Act effectively has been killed, for now.

Kaus is happy because he thinks the DREAM Act would have provided an incentive for more illegal immigration. (So does the Bush administration, which opposed this measure.) I don’t think that’s true of the DREAM Act, which applies only to those who have already lived in America for five years prior to the enactment of the law.

In any case, no extra incentives are needed for people to come here, especially from countries such as Mexico that don’t offer as much economic opportunity. They will come no matter what; the question is whether we are going to give them an avenue toward becoming tax-paying citizens or force them to remain underground. There is no better way to assimilate immigrants than through military service, one of the pathways specified by the DREAM Act.

As I’ve argued before on contentions, I think this a good piece of legislation that takes a major step toward one of my dreams: to offer American citizenship to anyone anywhere in the world willing to serve in the American armed forces. This would vastly broaden our recruiting base, allowing the armed forces to sign up all sorts of talented people who are currently prohibited from joining. They would, of course, have to pass background investigations and meet all existing criteria for military service, including English-language proficiency.

I’ve been advocating this idea for several years, and even though it’s not currently possible, I’ve gotten emails from Canadians, Chinese, Dutch, and other foreigners wanting to sign up for our armed forces. All it would take to make their dreams a reality would be for the Secretary of Defense to certify that enlisting them is in the national interest. Legislation isn’t required, although that’s another way this objective could be achieved.

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Flexibility or Flip-Flopping?

In Sunday’s GOP presidential debate, Senator Sam Brownback went hard after former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for changing his position on abortion. Governor Romney explained his recent shift to a pro-life stance, adding: “I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have.” This exchange raises a larger question: in what instances should changing a position on issues be held against a candidate? When does it help, and when does it hurt?

One way to answer is to examine the explanation for the change. Is it plausible and serious? Another has to do with the magnitude of the change. Are we talking about an evolution in views, or a dramatic alteration? Yet another factor has to do with timing. Did the change in position coincide with other (higher) political aspirations and the political calendar?

The other matter that comes into play is the reputation of the candidate. Ronald Reagan changed his views on abortion, and he even violated his own administration policy when he sold arms for hostages. Yet Reagan was seen as a man of deep and admirable convictions. He had been a warrior for conservatism, especially during its wilderness years. And so he had stored up a great reservoir of trust and good will, which he had to draw on from time to time.

Romney is in a different place. He is seen (with justification) as highly intelligent and competent. But he has not yet established himself as a person of unshakeable convictions. On abortion, Romney’s change has been especially dramatic. That’s fine; better he embrace a culture of life than distance himself from it. But when you combine this with his shifts on guns, gay rights, and (to some degree) immigration, you can’t help noticing that he has created a stress fracture that could turn into a clean break—which was exactly what Senator Brownback was trying to investigate during Sunday’s debate.

Mitt Romney is still in good shape. He’s done reasonably well in the debates, he’s raised a lot of money, and he’s in a strong position in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is clearly trying to position himself as the conservative alternative to Rudy Giuliani (a position Romney will soon share with Fred Thompson). Many conservatives like Romney, but are a bit wary. A candidate’s shifting on issues is not unprecedented or disqualifying. It may even be understandable. But Romney has just about used up the number of times he is able to do so before permanently alienating his constituency.

In Sunday’s GOP presidential debate, Senator Sam Brownback went hard after former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for changing his position on abortion. Governor Romney explained his recent shift to a pro-life stance, adding: “I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have.” This exchange raises a larger question: in what instances should changing a position on issues be held against a candidate? When does it help, and when does it hurt?

One way to answer is to examine the explanation for the change. Is it plausible and serious? Another has to do with the magnitude of the change. Are we talking about an evolution in views, or a dramatic alteration? Yet another factor has to do with timing. Did the change in position coincide with other (higher) political aspirations and the political calendar?

The other matter that comes into play is the reputation of the candidate. Ronald Reagan changed his views on abortion, and he even violated his own administration policy when he sold arms for hostages. Yet Reagan was seen as a man of deep and admirable convictions. He had been a warrior for conservatism, especially during its wilderness years. And so he had stored up a great reservoir of trust and good will, which he had to draw on from time to time.

Romney is in a different place. He is seen (with justification) as highly intelligent and competent. But he has not yet established himself as a person of unshakeable convictions. On abortion, Romney’s change has been especially dramatic. That’s fine; better he embrace a culture of life than distance himself from it. But when you combine this with his shifts on guns, gay rights, and (to some degree) immigration, you can’t help noticing that he has created a stress fracture that could turn into a clean break—which was exactly what Senator Brownback was trying to investigate during Sunday’s debate.

Mitt Romney is still in good shape. He’s done reasonably well in the debates, he’s raised a lot of money, and he’s in a strong position in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He is clearly trying to position himself as the conservative alternative to Rudy Giuliani (a position Romney will soon share with Fred Thompson). Many conservatives like Romney, but are a bit wary. A candidate’s shifting on issues is not unprecedented or disqualifying. It may even be understandable. But Romney has just about used up the number of times he is able to do so before permanently alienating his constituency.

Read Less




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