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Apples and Oranges

They Are Not the Clintons

The comparisons between Weiner and Clinton are absurd. One’s a loser, the other a great historical figure. And don’t get me started on Huma. By Michael Tomasky

Here’s a piece of adulterated nonsense about the Anthony Weiner situation that needs nipping in the bud and quick: that this is somehow “like” the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky scandal. I hate a number of things about my chosen profession, but as I slouch toward my third decade of doing this, I’ve come to hate nothing more than glib, facile, reflexive, and just ignorant comparisons. Clinton and Weiner: two powerful men caught up in sex scandals. They must be alike! Please.  The differences between the men and the circumstances are legion, and the blurring of those differences, aside from just making our culture that much stupider, do a profound disservice to what was at stake back in 1998.


Former secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives a note from her aide Huma Abedin as she testifies on Capitol Hill on March 10, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/Getty)

Those differences begin with the personal. Say what you will about what Clinton did. It was bad, and he should not have been doing it with her. But at least the behavior fell broadly within the realm of stuff that normal human beings do. And at least he didn’t do it again within less than a year of being caught. About Weiner, on the other hand, we can make neither of those claims. If I were a woman, or gay, I’m pretty clear on which one of the two I’d rather be on the receiving end of advances from.

But that’s a side point. The real differences are political, and the essential fact is this: Clinton had a presidency to protect. Yes, yes, he almost threw it away; granted and stipulated. But whomever you choose to blame, the fact is that he was the sitting president, and there was no way—no way—he could possibly let the right wing set the precedent of forcing a president from office over a sex scandal that, it is well to recall, a quite large majority of Americans never considered grounds for removal from office.

Go Away

Weiner &c.

I'm going to be writing a column later today for posting tomorrow morning giving some of my fuller thoughts on this Weiner situation, but I'll just say now that it ought to be obvious that this man has no business being mayor of my dear Morgantown, let alone New York. The man really has no shame. And it would seem that his oft-pitied spouse--who according to what Weiner said yesterday knew all about this new woman before they decided he deserved to be the mayor--doesn't have much either.

What happened to shame? Bill Bennett wrote that liberal humanism destroyed shame. Then, Bennett proved that he himself was a pretty good liberal humanist, having the gall to lecture the rest of us about our morals while he was losing tens of thousands of dollars at crap tables.

I say the market is the chief culprit. In a nutshell, you can get rich and famous by being outrageous. Some people want wealth and fame so much that they'll endure these rituals of public humiliation, knowing that they'll pass and they'll get book or television deals on one of these many absurd cable channels that make a business of recycling publicity whores. Who can doubt that if Weiner does  quite the race or lose it, we'll have an Anthony and Huma reality show within six months?

If I'd read my post-modern philosophy more recently and more thoroughly, I'm sure I'd have at hand the apposite cutting quote from Baudrillard or one of those guys about all this. But I don't, so I'll just have to. say it more prosaically. It's a real sickness in our culture, that people become famous for doing appalling things. I'm on the train right now, up to NY, and I'll be on Alex Wagner's show at noon, for those of you interested.

New Lows

Repeal John Boehner

The speaker says Republicans should be judged on how many laws they repeal. This is unprecedented, irresponsible, and terrifying. Michael Tomasky on the desperate need for thinking GOP leaders.

It would be impossible to name the craziest thing said by a Republican so far this year. This year? This week.


House Speaker John Boehner holds a news conference on Capitol Hill on July 11, during which he talked about immigration reform, student loans, and Obamacare. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

New entrants arrive constantly and the competition is feral. And yet paradoxically they don’t even shock anymore. But one recent Republican remark should arrest you and deserves your contemplation: John Boehner’s statement on Face the Nation Sunday that he and his House Republicans “ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

It’s not an outrageous statement in the Obama-wants-to-impose-Sharia vein, but in its way it’s more disturbing. The Republican Party now sees dysfunction as not just an unfortunate consequence of a set of historical factors, something that they might work every now and again to correct. Now, the Republican Party sees dysfunction as its mission.

Mara Liasson had a report on NPR this morning about next year's Senate elections (can't find a link). She definitely makes it sound as if the R's are in a great position to take control of the Senate.

Here's the skinny. Democrats now have a 54-46 advantage. Democrats are retiring in three states—West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana—where the Republicans seem poised to pick up. Those three would get them almost there, and they're pretty much givens (possible exception is Montana, depending on who runs).

The other best chances for Republican pick-ups are four red states where incumbent Democrats are fighting to keep their seats: Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Alaska (Mark Begich), and North Carolina (Kay Hagan). If the R's pick off two of those, which can certainly happen, they get to 51.

But that's provided they don't lose any seats. The math there just changed yesterday in Georgia, where Sam Nunn's daughter Michelle just declared to run as a Democrat. The leading R's are way out there. If Nunn can win, that's a bit of a firewall. Then there's Kentucky. A McConnell loss has to be considered a longshot at this point, but at the very least it's going to be a high-profile race against an incumbent who isn't exactly adored.


The Case for Cruz

If 2016 pits Clinton against Cruz, the Democrats will carry Georgia, writes Michael Tomasky.

So Ted Cruz is off to the races. Don’t know if you caught his This Week segment yesterday, but he was (a) in Iowa, and (b), insisting that he’s not thinking about 2016, the combination of which is a sure-fire sign that he’s in (it was for a guy named Obama in 2006). And what do we make of this? Seven months in the Senate! That’s less than Obama by two full years at a similar point. It seems preposterous and impossible, but in today’s Republican Party nothing is preposterous or impossible. He will run. He could win the nomination. But could he actually win the presidency? The real question is how far out there the GOP is prepared to go before it faces up to reality and comes back to the planet the rest of us inhabit. And the answer to that question, I think, is pretty damn far, far enough for it to benefit Cruz even as it kills the GOP.

Iowa Republicans Senators

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) waiting to speak at a fundraising picnic for the Iowa Republican Party on July 19, 2013, in Des Moines. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Let’s start by acknowledging that Cruz isn’t a yahoo. He takes the wildest yahoo positions arguably of any prominent politician in America, although of course the competition for that distinction is increasingly fierce. I mean, he is way out there. The right 30-second attack ads could just shred him to bits. Plus, smooth-tongued though he is, he’s bound to say crazy things on the campaign trail, about women, gays, undocumented immigrants, what have you. He practically makes Paul Ryan look like Paul Wellstone.

But in spite of that, he is at the same time something of an intellectual. He’s Harvard Law. He has argued before the Supreme Court. He is widely read. He can quote Rawls, they tell me (John, not Lou). He’s no Dubya and is not to be misunderestimated.

Mildly Disappointing

Obama's Race Remarks

There was nothing to be gained politically by Obama making those remarks today. In fact there was, and is, a lot to be lost politically, and the hate machine is starting already (although I am watching Fox right now, and they're only revved up to about third gear; just wait til prime time!). Obama is being accused by the usual suspects of making this racial. Anyone who thinks it wasn't racial, as I wrote the other day, is in fantasy land. So I give him credit for doing something risky that isn't going to have any immediate payoff.

That said, I would say that while I think he struck generally the right tone, he could have said more to show that he saw the question--not about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but the larger questions of race and crime and criminal justice--from its many different sides. The first half of his 20-or-so minute impromptu speech was him explaining to white America how black America felt about the verdict. That's fine. He's black, after all. When he noted that he had experienced himself some of those things white people do when a young black man comes near them, and when he said that 35 years ago that could have happened to him, it was pretty powerful and rang true.

He did make sure to acknowledge that young black men are more often perpetrators of crime, and he did say that that history of prejudice that informs how African Americans see things like the Zimmerman verdict don't excuse crime. But I have to say, as one who urged him to make remarks along these lines and who still thinks it was good of him to try to do this, I felt he didn't really talk with the same feeling to black people about how others (not racists, but just other Americans of all colors, because we come in many colors now) see these questions.

A case in point. Toward the end, on his last point about about we all need to do some soul-searching, he said we need to ask ourselves, "Am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?" There, the sentiment would have been improved by him saying right after that: "And by the way, I mean that to apply to African Americans as much as to anyone else; no one is completely clean here." Just a little signal like that would have said to the broader audience that this wasn't intended as a lecture. A few more tough words for his side were, I think, in order, and loathe as I am to give some wingnut the license to write "even Tomasky says..," if I'm being honest, I have to say that I felt it came off a little bit lecture-y.

Senate Change

Mitch Loses His Iron Grip on GOP

After calling ‘bullshit’ on McConnell, Bob Corker said he was ‘glad that that occurred.’ Michael Tomasky on the minority leader’s restless caucus.

This has been a really important week in the United States Senate, as important a week as we’ve seen there in a long, long time. No, not because Harry Reid out-pokered Mitch McConnell on the filibuster fight. No, not because President Obama finally got some long-scuttled nominees approved on bipartisan votes. No, not because John McCain decided to become, for a while at least, the mavericky McCain of the 1990s and early 2000s. And no, not even because of the bipartisan (did I really use that word twice, to describe the Senate?) deal to keep student-loan rates low, on which they’ll vote next week. Rather, it was a really important week because of the upshot of all those things, or the reason they all happened: this is the week that Mitch McConnell lost his iron grip on the Senate Republican caucus.


Mitch McConnell is losing influence. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

That McConnell has had that grip is beyond question, I trust you’d agree. When people like Olympia Snowe (now retired) and Lisa Murkowski (effectively thrown out of the party by Alaska’s voters) vote no on virtually everything, as they did for the duration of Obama’s term, when major items on the president’s agenda (jobs bill, infrastructure banks, etc.) can’t even get a hearing, let alone a vote ... well, it’s not entirely provable, but Senate watchers all know there is only one reason for that: the opposition party’s leadership is basically telling senators, “You vote for X, and I can’t protect you if someone decides to primary you.” That’s a McConnell deal straight up and down.

There were a few, very few, exceptions on high-profile votes. Four Republicans actually voted for the Dodd-Frank bill. There was the fiscal-cliff vote, when, in the late innings, even Fox News hosts were warning Republicans about the polls showing clearly that Republicans would shoulder the bulk of the blame if the government went over the cliff. Even McConnell voted for that one.

This, as some of you know, is one of my pet issues. There are moderate Republicans in this country. Or even if maybe not very many of those anymore, then at least there are conservative Republicans in the Reagan mold who aren't full of social rage and aren't hell-bent on destroying Democrats and would welcome seeing Washington work better and seeing the two parties get something done once in a while. There are millions of such.

The problem is they have little to no voice on Capitol Hill, and no pressure-group vehicle through which to make their views and collective power known. So consequently, the hardened assemblage that is Capitol Hill Republicans listens only to the most extreme people back home, the ones who make the most noise, threaten primaries, and all that.

This, my friend Greg Sargent, is in my view the answer to the question you pose. Sargent writes up a new poll showing that 60 percent of Republicans support either the Senate bill as is or the Senate bill with toughter border security. Sargent writes:

It’s been widely accepted at face value that House Republicans can’t support comprehensive immigration reform because they will face a massive backlash from their voters and even will face primaries and all but certain political destruction. (Buzzfeed’s John Stanton has been one of the view to challenge this conventional wisdom.) But is it even true? The above poll suggests a solid majority of Republicans want action on reform, even including citizenship under certain conditions. and that only a minority of Republicans support reform without citizenship or no action at all.

Republicans on Parade

Liz Cheney's Agenda; Ted Cruz's Prospects

When Hillary Clinton was first considering running for Senate, Harold Ickes once told me, the first thing he said to her was something like this. The first thing to ask yourself is whether you really want that job. It's a hard job. Nonstop fundraising. Back and forth between Washington and New York on that shuttle all the time. Weekends up in Watertown and Oneonta listening to people bitch about their SSI payments. Being one of 100, very, very difficult to pass signature legislation. Yes, it's glamorous in some ways. But it's a slog.

Wise words, equally applicable in the Liz Cheney case. Why would she want to be a senator? She has enough standing in the GOP that she could already, conceivably, be someone's vice-presidential pick. She nails down the neocons for any candidate, and that could be important because none of the leading candidates right now is much of a neocon.

I don't know the woman. But I think Matt Duss at the Prospect has it correct here:

Cheney’s run can be seen as another escalation in the ongoing battle for control of Republican foreign policy. In a 2010 piece for the Nation, I looked at the developing alliance between the Cheneys and the neoconservative network led by The Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. Their goal, I wrote, was “to resuscitate the neocons' post-September 11 vision of a world in which the United States, unbound by rules or reality, imposes its will on friend and enemy alike.” The key instrument of that effort was Keep America Safe, a 501c4 organization (now shut down, its website and Twitter feed have disappeared) whose main function was to keep America scared with wild stories of the terrorists that Obama couldn’t wait to release into your neighborhood.

While you were watching the Zimmerman trial, the narrative about the IRS targeting Obama’s enemies has been thoroughly debunked, writes Michael Tomasky.

The IRS “scandal,” lately dormant, is returning soon to a cable-news channel near you: tomorrow, Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general who produced the original report at Darrell Issa’s request, is going back before Issa’s committee, and this time he’s in for some pretty serious grilling from Democrats. The evidence is now even more preponderant than it already was that there was absolutely no political agenda in the IRS’s review of 501(c)(4) applications. In fact, evidence is mounting that if anyone was behaving politically here, it was George—and, of course, Issa and the other Republicans who launched into their baseless tirades about “enemies lists” and other such nonsense.

Tea Party Rally

Nancy Riordan holds a sign at a Tea Party rally outside the U.S. Capitol on June 19, 2013. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Here’s what has happened while you were watching the Zimmerman trial or the immigration debate. Last Friday, Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on Issa’s oversight committee, sent Issa a letter asking that he recall George. Here are three examples of things Cummings’s investigators turned up about which they might like to hear George’s answers:

First, George apparently failed to disclose to the committee an interaction with his top investigator, who reviewed (at George’s request) some 5,500 emails from IRS employees. The investigator determined after his review that there was “no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated.” They were singled out for review because the IRS employees weren’t sure how to process them. The investigator shared this finding with George, so evidently he knew about it. One might have thought that this would have been a relevant fact for George to share with the committee. But he did not.

Stand Together

Reid Crushes McConnell

I pondered the above headline; maybe too strong. But Senate life presents so few opportunities to write a headline that fun, and this is one of them, so I'm doing it.

Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell struck a deal this morning, abetted apparently by John McCain, that averted the invocation of the nuclear option by Reid and the Democrats. Reid got just about everything he wanted. The Senate is going to pass through all seven nominees that Reid brought up in this skirmish. It just confirmed the first of them, Richard Cordray, by a substantial margin, 71-29. C-SPAN just said 17 Republicans voted yes; it'll be interesting to see which ones.

It is important and useful to remember here that two years ago, when Cordray was made a recess appointment by Obama, Senate Republicans swore up and down and sideways and backwards that he would never, ever pass a Senate vote. He was toxic for them, mostly because they hate the agency. It's rather amazing that he got through.

Later, the EPA nominee, Gina McCarthy, and Tom Perez at Labor will be approved, as will some others. The only capitulation on the Democratic side is that the two NLRB members Obama wanted will be withdrawn in favor of two others. But the reason is that they, too, were recess appointments, and a conservative panel of jurists from the DC circuit said such appointments were invalid. So Republicans are honoring that judicial decision and demanding that the pair be withdrawn. However, the Republicans have agreed to approve anyone--anyone!--Obama and the Democrats put forward in their place.

Juries, Oy

Juror B37. Holy Smokes.

Did you see or hear that interview with her on CNN? Seems very clear that she makes no effort to be informed about the world at all, and that she carries around a set of racial assumptions, let us say, and is utterly and totally unconscious about them. She thinks Zimmerman's--get this--"heart was in the right place." She thinks this would have gone down the same way no matter what color anybody was. Including, as she put it, "Spanish." Spanish?

Juror B37 said Zimmerman's 'heart was in the right place.'

What's more incredible than her proud ignorance is that the prosecution didn't strike her in the first place, as Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate. She kept bragging--bragging--that she doesn't pay any attention to the world. That she worries about her life and that's it. That she doesn't trust the media, which no one does, but she doesn't even read a thing, not one thing. That "you never get all the information." That last point should have been the clincher. Lithwick:

Gail Brashers-Krug, a former federal prosecutor and law professor, is currently a criminal defense attorney in Iowa. She also jumped back when B37 said, ”You never get all the information.“ “That's exactly what a defense attorney loves to hear,” says Brashers-Krug. “That's reasonable doubt, right there. If I were a prosecutor, that would make me extremely nervous about her.” She adds that B37’s devotion to animals might raise flags for her as well. “The animal thing is weird. She doesn't know how many animals she has, and she mentions her animals far, far more than her two daughters. She strikes me as eccentric and unpredictable. I never, ever want eccentric, unpredictable people on a jury.”

Go, Harry, Go

The Nuclear Senate

This is just too much, all this babyish caterwauling from Mitch McConnell. This is only about executive-branch appointees. That's the only kind of vote that Harry Reid & Co. would seek to permit passage on a simple-majority basis.

A president has the right to appoint the people he wants. Period. And yes, I will say this if and when Ted Cruz or Rand Paul is president. If Cruz were to win a presidential election, and he wanted to name some Texas nut as his attorney general, well, he won the election; so be it. And of course if the voters in their wisdom elect a President Cruz and a Democratically controlled Senate, then he might not get everyone he wants, but that will be because the voters decided to split the White House and Senate, not because a small band of willfull men decided to hold up dozens of appointments.

It's a ridiculous situation. The founders did think about all this, by the way, and they went well beyond the saucer-cooling-the-tea line that conservative readers are itching to post in the comment thread. This is from a piece I wrote in The New York Review a couple of years ago:

But aside from limited instances, such as the expulsion of a member, it does not follow that the founders wanted supermajorities. As Sarah A. Binder and Steven S. Smith show in their book Politics or Principle? some founders—George Mason of Virginia among them—backed supermajority requirements, but many were suspicious of them. The Continental Congress, under the Articles of Confederation, had been run on the supermajority principle—most legislation needed the support of two thirds of the states, or nine out of thirteen, to pass—and the results were unsatisfying. James Madison acknowledged that “more than a majority” might be justifiable in limited instances but argued that requirements for a supermajority were open to a decisive objection:


America’s Racial Regression

If Obama talks honestly, the right-wing media will howl about how he’s ‘racializing’—but decent and empathetic Americans will listen, writes Michael Tomasky.

It seems … I can’t quite call it a good moment, since what just happened down in Sanford, Florida, is decidedly un-good, but an opportune one to think about race in Barack Obama’s America. I never went in for that “post-racial America” foolishness (at least, I’m pretty sure I didn’t!), and in fact I believed from the start that there would be remarkable examples of both progress and powerful backlash against that progress. Four-plus years later, however, that looks only half right, and sad to say, it’s the depressing half that’s correct: Once you get past the fact of Obama’s election itself, there hasn’t really been much racial progress, but the backlash has still been ferocious. One might have thought that Obama could, on occasion, gently educate white Americans about some facts of black life, but of course his enemies won’t permit that. Thus, the cruel paradox that the country’s first black president can’t really talk about race.

Obama Trayvon Martin Death

President Barack Obama answers a reporter's question, about the death of Trayvon Martin, in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 23, 2012. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

Think back to when Obama made his only substantive remarks about Trayvon Martin back in March 2012, when he said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.” Obama said other things that day. Like this: “I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. And that everybody pull together.”

That was a nice thing to say, and the kind of thing I suppose a president ought to say. But it was a lie, and he knew it, and we all know it. Every parent in America didn’t relate to being Trayvon Martin’s parents. Every black parent did. But not many white parents. Most white parents, I’d wager, thought to themselves deep down what we all know to be true but don’t like to say—that what happened to Trayvon in all likelihood would never have happened to their kid, because George Zimmerman wouldn’t have felt threatened by their kid in the first place, or even if he had felt threatened, he’d damn well have thought twice before shooting a white kid, because he’d know in his bones that white lives are accorded more value in this society than black ones, and you don’t go around shooting white people and expect not to pay a price.


Reid Awakening

Harry Reid finally appears ready to confront Senate Republicans over nominations. Michael Tomasky says it will be ugly—and necessary.

Remember High Noon? No, of course you don’t. Nobody these days seems to have heard of a movie made before 1988 or so. But you get the concept. And in the Senate, metaphorically, it’s about 11:45 right now. Today Harry Reid will finally start the clock ticking on 11 Obama-administration presidential nominations that have been languishing in the Senate because of Republican obstruction—and forcing a long-overdue showdown over Senate rules that have been flouted and basically destroyed by the GOP since Barack Obama took office. With any luck, this will someday prove to have been a pivotal moment in Senate history, leading to radical reforms of the ossified culture and rules of the chamber where things go to die.


Sen. Harry Reid is finally pushing Obama’s nominations through. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

If you’ve been following Capitol Hill politics at all, you know that Republican senators have held up an inordinate number of Obama’s judicial- and especially executive-branch appointees. Look at some numbers. On judges, Obama has gotten 81 percent of his nominations confirmed. Bill Clinton got 82 percent. But George Bush got 94 percent. In other words, the Democrats were less obstructionist toward him than the Republicans were toward the last two Democratic presidents.

On executive nominations, the numbers are far more striking. By the July 4 recess, the Senate of this current Congress had confirmed 34 Obama nominees. In a parallel time frame in the middle of Bush’s presidency, the Senate sent 118 Bush nominees through (even though the GOP controlled the Senate then, remember, the Democrats always had more than 40 seats and thus could have filibustered anyone they chose). Nominees have been waiting an average of 260 days to get a vote. The Republicans conducted the first-ever filibuster of a nominee to head the Pentagon and the first-ever filibuster of a nominee simply because they didn’t like the agency he was named to head (Richard Cordray, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Senate historian Don Ritchie said, “We searched through past cases and could not find anything that fit the current circumstance”). Both sides play games along these lines when the other team has the White House, but Mitch McConnell has pushed it to heretofore unmapped extremes, aware that there exist enough examples that he can paint a false picture of equivalency and the public will just throw up their hands and say, “They all do it.”

About the Author

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Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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