The Republican Party claims—once again—that it's ready for change. But really, all this fanfare seems more like a howl for Washington's attention and a ploy for PR.
There were two important developments in the Republican Party last week. Let’s take stock.
First, after years of saying that yes, they would develop and introduce an alternative to Obamacare, three GOP senators finally presented one: Orrin Hatch, Tom Coburn, and Richard Burr unveiled what they call their PCARE plan (yes, it’s another one of those syrupy, dopey Washington acronyms that have become such a pestilential constant in our city). Conservatives exulted; “See? We can be serious about policy!” But as Jonathan Chait wrote, the thing was awfully general and sketchy, and as soon as people started asking serious questions about how this or that would work, “things began to fall apart.” As of now, the plan has evanesced into something that no one really takes seriously and everyone recognizes for what it is—a mere talking point, a general outline that exists solely so Republicans can go on teevee and say they have a plan.
The second development occurred several days ago when John Boehner promised big movement on the immigration front. We’ll do a bill this year, he said. No citizenship, no “amnesty,” but a process toward legal status. The Republicans were ready to cut a deal. Boehner posted his guidelines for reform on his web site Monday. By Friday, 4,500 comments had been posted, roughly 95 percent (or more!) of them negative (“Please tell the Jews that we don’t want their One World Order. If they like immigrants send them to Israel[sic],” wrote user “Barbara Cornett”). At the end of the week, Boehner suggested that immigration reform might not, after all, be on the docket this year. (Update: I softened this language from the original, at the suggestion of Greg Sargent, and he's right about Boehner's words, although I remain a hard-shell skeptic.)
In Fox News Land, no one does anything in the public interest. It’s just Obama’s commie thugs bullying a corporate giant to do what the president thinks is ‘good for you.’
Bravo, CVS. That’s a bold and even historic move, banning cigarettes. It’s true it isn’t costing the company much—the sticks accounted for just $2 billion of its $123 billion in revenue last year, according to The New York Times. But even so, it’s a decision by an American mega-corporation that was made in… sit down and steady yourself… the public interest! Everyone’s for that, right? Right? Wait, what’s that rumble I hear over the gloaming?…
Why, it’s Fox News! And they aren’t happy. Yes—you read that right. On Fox News, CVS’s decision not to sell an addictive product that kills hundreds of thousands of Americans prematurely every year stinks of a big commie plot. Daytime host Gretchen Carlson said something idiotic Wednesday even by daytime Fox News’s idiotic standards. From Media Matters:
“Is it OK legally… to restrict tobacco availability in a private store like this?” She questioned her guests as to whether they would continue shopping at CVS and observed that, “For people who smoke, you know, they have a right to buy cigarettes. It’s not illegal.”
Is it legal?! Good God. Quintuple bacon cheeseburgers are legal. And yet, some restaurants choose not to offer them! Lawbreakers! Pinkos!
So much for his fairytale campaign. In the wake of Bridgegate, the New Jersey Governor stands to lose much more than his dignity, and there are quite a few candidates willing to prove it.
Is Chris Christie out of the running? This is the question everyone is asking. But it’s not the most important question. The most important question is a different and more subtle one: How, specifically and exactly, is Bridgegate hurting his presidential ambitions right now?
The way to answer this question is to begin by imagining a Christie to whom Bridgegate didn’t happen. He was overwhelmingly reelected. Half the Latino vote. Approval ratings near 70 percent. Media swooning. Speeches all over the country as head of the Republican Governors’ Association, with audiences treating him like the rock star he was instead of the potential felon he is.
You’ve thought of all that. But here’s what you may not have thought of. That Chris Christie could have spent the next six months meeting with every single big-money Republican in the country; every head of every important super PAC; every state chairman; and so on. He could have shown all of these people what the polling suggested—that he could beat Hillary Clinton. They all wouldn’t have backed him, of course. But a lot of them would have. Barring some strange development, he could have effectively ended the nomination fight before it even started.
Enter that stranger development, and poof! All gone. The Bridgegate Christie can’t do any of that stuff. He can still try. But with a federal investigation hanging over him, he’s not going to be able to lock money people down. Super PACs and state chairs aren’t going to touch him. He still might have to resign, or be impeached. There’s an off chance he could be...indicted!
With nothing at stake, Fox's pre-Super Bowl interview between the president and O'Reilly was just going for bread and circuses. Get the ratings, go after Hillary.
Well, that was just stupid. The first time, in 2011, the last time Fox had the Super Bowl, it was kind of exciting when Bill O’Reilly interviewed Barack Obama. Obama’s aides, you’ll recall, had been knocking Fox, calling it not a real news station. Roger Ailes & Co. returned fire and then some. The tensions were deep.
Remember how much was at stake in February 2011: The GOP had just started running the House; we all knew huge showdowns were coming; and of course all of it was prelude to 2012. That O’Reilly interview—I remember a definite sense of drama around it—was a sort of Peoria tryout for everything the right would throw at Obama in his reelection campaign.
This time? It was mostly like both of them were actors playing “Barack Obama” and “Bill O’Reilly.” Going through the motions. Oh, there were brief moments of frisson. O’Reilly’s best assay was the Kathleen Sebelius question. “I’m a taxpayer,” he said; I’m confused about why she still has her job. Of course, Obama totally ducked that one, talking in vague and general terms about accountability. Here’s what he should have said, what I’ve always thought he should have said whenever anyone asked about her: It wasn’t her fault. It was my fault. I can’t fire myself, and I don’t think it was quite a fireable offense given all the other stuff I have to do, but it’s on me, not her.
Outside of that...I was genuinely surprised that O’Reilly devoted, what, half of this brief interview to Benghazi and the IRS. Again, Obama sort of ducked his direct question, about what then-SecDef Leon Panetta told him, and stuck to the White House talking points. But outside the Fox News swamps, no one thinks it’s scandalous. This was just for ratings. He’ll get a whole week’s worth of segments out of that exchange, and that’s all he wanted.
Dear, NFL. You’re killing the serious fun we could have watching the big game—because we have to WORK the next morning. You’ve already moved to the North. Why not try a night earlier?
Well, it’s Super Bowl Saturday, and boy am I… not excited.
I am doing absolutely nothing to prepare for the big day. Tomorrow, I’ll go load up on the artery-busting repast of my choosing and a few libations. But I should be doing that today, because they should be playing the damn game on Saturday.
This is as open-and-shut as cases come. The Super Bowl has become one of the biggest social events of the year. It’s a party. You want to have fun, you want to drink. What you don’t want to be doing is looking at your watch as you’re cracking open that fourth beer and thinking about that presentation you have to give tomorrow at 10 a.m.
Even as we celebrate the Super Bowl, football fans can’t ignore the violence and danger of the sport, especially when it extends beyond professional stadiums.
Remember what Chris Christie said about David Wildstein in his endless Jan. 9 press conference? No? This:
It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school...We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time.
David Wildstein, former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Director of Interstate Capital Projects and an ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, appears at a hearing to testify in front of state lawmakers at the New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton, New Jersey, January 9, 2014. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
I remember hearing those sentences and thinking gee, that's not very nice--and not very smart. What if Wildstein is sitting on some goods? Is he going to be happy being dismissed as too geeky for Christie to waste his time on back in high school?
The executive order stuff was good, but Obama didn't go at the GOP in the way he should have.
Was that really only the sixth Obama State of the Union address? Because somehow after watching this one, I felt I’d seen at least eight or nine and made the same complaint every time.
It was...fine. There were moments, a few moments, where it was better than fine. The Obamacare section came across to me as the most spirited, the one part where he dropped the guarded formality that characterizes his approach to SOTU addresses and talked a little bit, just a little bit, of street talk: “Let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first forty were plenty. We got it.”
That was sort of a throw-down. At least it had to make Republicans feel pissed off. And that’s always what I want Obama to do at these speeches. Here’s the most obstructed president in the modern history of the country. (Yes, there’s no serious disputing this.) His approval numbers are down, dragged down by the opposition party, which does everything it can to make sure there will be no economic recovery while he’s president. He’s got three years left, three years during which he stands only one remote shot of getting anything positive done—have the Democrats win back the House this November. If that doesn’t happen, with the party simultaneously holding the Senate, then pffft.
He acknowledged this reality with all that executive order business, and that was good. But by and large, he didn’t go at the Republicans in the way I think he should have. I see it like this. Nothing’s going to pass. That’s a given. So, given that nothing’s going to pass, then what? The only thing you can do—and this ain’t very uplifting, but it’s where we are these days—is set it up so that when nothing passes, the country blames the other guys.
It’s been 50 years since The Beatles invaded America and changed, well, everything. What made the boys from Liverpool so unique and so damn great?
This February 7 marks 50 years since The Beatles first came to America. A thousand tributes will tell you what happened. But how and why did it happen the way it did? What was America really like then, culturally and socially, that allowed the group to strike such a deep nerve? And what was it about The Beatles themselves—their backgrounds, their style, and of course their music—that made them so unlike anything Americans had seen before?
In this Feb. 9, 1964. file photo Paul McCartney, right, shows his bass guitar to Ed Sullivan before the Beatles' live television appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (AP)
In his new e-book Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles and America, Then and Now, Michael Tomasky explains the group’s impact in the context of the times in a richly detailed, often surprising, I-never-knew-that! account of why they became the phenomenon they did. Kurt Andersen says of Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: “This book was a revelation. No one has more lucidly and entertainingly distilled the whys and hows and look and feel of the moment the Sixties began.”
Birth control and data mining used to be things they believed in, now both are Big Government plots to be stopped.
I’m sure you chuckled at this weekend development as much as I did: At its winter meeting, the Republican National Committee, , passed a resolution condemning the NSA’s data-mining policy. The language about “unwarranted” government surveillance being an “intrusion on basic human rights” passed by voice vote, with only a few dissenters.
This is being read in the media as evidence for the party’s continuing turn away from war-mongery, Ari Fleischer-style, “watch what you say and do” Big Brotherism and toward a Pauline (as in Rand) libertarianism. And I wouldn’t deny that there’s something to that. The libertarian streak is very in vogue on the right, and neocons can’t seem to get Americans agitated about anything.
But let’s not kid ourselves. The passage of this resolution is mostly about the guy in the White House. If you want to try to tell me this was an act of principle by the RNC, then put Mitt Romney in the White House for a moment. Do you think the RNC would have considered such a resolution? Please. Reince Priebus would have had a stroke. He’d have quashed it in minutes. But with Barack Obama in the White House, the rules are different. The RNC passed this resolution to kick a little extra sand in Obama’s face.
This isn’t new of course, this rancid hypocritical sand-kicking, but it keeps getting worse, more comically transparent and more brazen. You may have read last week, for example, after Mike Huckabee’s birth-control throw down, that back in 2005 when he was Arkansas governor, Huckabee approved legislation requiring health-insurance plans in the state to cover contraceptive pills and devices. In fact, according to The Arkansas Times, Huckabee’s exemption for religious employers and organizations was narrower than the exemption in Obamacare.
What galaxy do Republican men live in? Apparently one where ladies who use contraception are ‘helpless’ and this potential 2016 contender could have been the fifth Beatle.
A few weeks ago, right after the dark clouds gathered over Chris Christie’s presidential prospects, some friends and I were having the usual Washington conversation of discussing the rest of the field. After we agreed that it was an awfully B-list bench, someone piped up: Hey, don’t forget Mike Huckabee! He’s losing all the weight!
Clearly, some of that vaporized body mass came out of his brain matter, based on his unhinged comments Wednesday at the Republican Party’s winter meeting. Discussing the GOP’s need to get more of the women’s vote, he said the Democratic Party tells women “they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.”
He said this, amazingly, in a speech that, in his mind anyway, was all about how the Republican Party is the true friend of women: “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.”
Here we go again. What galaxy do these right-wing men live in? So now contraception is like welfare? I’m reading him right, right? This is what he said—in essence, that birth control, provided by people who think women can’t control their libidos, makes women “helpless.” It’s the culture of dependency again, but this time transferred from the ghetto to the uterus. The Democrats, I guess, want women to go out and have unrestrained sex, so Democrats can then go out and destroy America by distributing these sinful contraceptive devices. So women, you see, are not human beings with agency and volition about their sexuality in Huckabee Land. They’re nothing more than the cat’s paws of the godless, baby-killing Democrats, who want to keep them on the Democratic plantation. The Pill, the welfare check, the Earned Income Tax Credit—all the work of Satan, propagated by the party of Satan.
Big news this morning to be filed under Yes, Elections Matter: The state of Virginia is changing its position today and endorsing same-sex marriage.
This is the announcement of the state's new attorney general Mark Herring, a Democrat. Herring told NPR's Steve Inskeep that he will stop defending Virginia's same-sex marriage ban and place the commonwealth on the side of the plaintiffs, two same-sex couples fighting for the right to be married in the state in a case called Bostic v. Rainey. "As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians' rights," Herring said. "The commonwealth will be siding with the plaintiffs in this case and with every other Virginia couple whose right to marry is being denied."
The former attorney general, of course, was Ken Cuccinelli, who was on the side of bigotry. Herring's Republican opponent, Mark Obenshain, made it clear that he was going to defend the state's ban if elected.
Herring himself waffled on the question, so he's no trailblazing leader on the issue. Eight years ago as a state senator, he was against letting gay couples marry. But to his credit, he switched during the campaign last year. He beat Obenshain by just 165 votes out of 2 million cast.
Looking at the electoral college map, it's clear that the Republicans need someone like Chris Christie to run for president. The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky joins MSNBC to explain.
After surviving a prostitution scandal and a dead madam, the Republican wants to be the Bayou State’s next governor.
I was once shooting the breeze with a Democratic senator I knew fairly well. This was a few years ago, back when the toxic atmosphere wasn’t quite as hideous as it would become. Just on a personal level, I asked: Who on the other side is surprisingly nice, and who’s just a real prick? I don’t remember the surprisingly nice answers, but on the S.O.B. factor the senator’s response was immediate: David Vitter.
He’s a nasty piece of work, the junior senator from Louisiana. He doesn’t seem to like anybody. He loathes senior senator Mary Landrieu, he detests Governor Bobby Jindal, he despises the media. They all pretty much hate him back. And yet, by merely announcing, he immediately became the odds-on favorite to win the governor’s race in 2015. Why?
The announcement may seem surprising to those of us outside the state, but “this was the worst-kept secret in Louisiana,” a political operative with knowledge of the state told me Monday. Vitter has been holding a series of town-hall meetings and tele-town-hall meetings, signaling the obvious intention.
I’ll get to race handicapping in a few paragraphs, but first let’s deal with the only thing most people know about David Vitter (who has not, by the way, distinguished himself in the Senate in any way). I’ve always wondered: How in the world did he survive that hooker business? Not only did he admit he was a client of Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s escort service. She then went and hanged herself. Not over him personally. Over the whole mess, and staring at serious jail time. But still. Extramarital relations are one thing, with a staffer or a woman of accomplishment; politicians almost always slog their way through that. But here we had the guy calling on hookers, and the dead body of the madam. And Vitter skated through it and sailed to reelection two years later. How?
Without the scandal-engulfed New Jersey governor, Republicans don’t have a candidate who could even come close to the votes needed to win the presidency in 2016.
Well, well, well, today is an interesting day: it’s Chris Christie’s re-inauguration day. It was just two weeks ago, a little more, that this was going to be a day of shimmering triumph. I was just reading this CNN dispatch, from January 6, that talks about how the governor is planning on starting his day at a black church (whose reverend presided over Whitney Houston’s funeral) and ending it at Ellis Island. There’s nary a word in it about bridges and subpoenas.
Back then, today was supposed to be the official beginning of the slow and ineluctable ascent to the White House. He didn’t have to do or prove anything in this putative second term. Lose a little weight, maybe. But otherwise, he was on the glide path to the GOP nomination, not that Rand Paul and others wouldn’t have something to say about it, but the party establishment and most of the big money all set to gather around Christie and make sure that he didn’t have to spend too much time crossing swords with the crazies.
Now? Things are a little different, aren’t they? I trust you’re enjoying the Christie panic among Republican establishment types as much as I am. That New York Times story on Sunday, with big boosters like Home Depot’s Kenneth Langone fretting publicly that he really must surround himself with better people (so it’s their fault!), combined with the cable damage-control efforts by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, really shows the extent to which the party big shots have been counting on Christie to save them.
What does the rest of the world think of Chris Christie?
You’ll have to pry incandescents out of their cold, dead hands. How one little-noticed new budget provision keeps alive the most ridiculous element of Republicans’ culture war.
You may not be following the budget debate wrapping up on Capitol Hill right now. Between Chris Christie and Bruce Springsteen and the Oscar nominations and the Justin Bieber cellphone controversy, it got kind of lost.
But one fact about this new budget is worth contemplation. It carries forward the culture war over light bulbs. Yes, light bulbs. And the reasons for the light-bulb culture war? Well, pretty much the same reasons for the rest of the culture war. Light bulbs became culture-war fodder about three years ago when they started to look like curly fries at Arby’s. They started costing more. They got… funny. And confusing. Now we had to learn about things like “lumens”—which sounds vaguely European, like some legume favored by those socialized-medicine-loving people of Scandinavia. Of course this happened after Obama became president. And, of course, libruls and gummint people started talking them up.
But it was George W. Bush’s Department of Energy that got this ball rolling, back in 2007, and the light-bulb industry immediately embraced the switchover to CFL bulbs (compact fluorescents—the squiggly spiraley ones) because they had the technology on hand to start making them and capture market share. They last far longer than incandescent bulbs and save enormous amounts of energy. If every American household replaced 15 old-style bulbs with 15 CFLs, or better yet LED bulbs (the ones that often have that kind of fan-like look on the narrow part of the body leading up to the bulb), we’d save an equivalent of more than 40 power plants’ energy output.
But as Groucho sang in Duck Soup, “Whatever it is, I’m against it,” and so it is with conservatives: If liberals are for it, they automatically turn anti. A study last spring by a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania found the following: She took two sets of liberals and conservatives and explained to them that CFL bulbs cost more upfront but saved money over the long haul and could reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. At this point, liberals and conservatives reacted with more or less equal enthusiasm. But then? As Grist reported it: “Slap a message on the CFL’s packaging that says ‘Protect the Environment,’ and ‘we saw a significant dropoff in more politically moderates and conservatives choosing that option,’ said study author Dena Gromet.”
From 'principled fiscal conservative protest' to 'Obama derangement syndrome:' John Avlon talks to CNN's Carol Costello on the fifth anniversary of the Tea Party.
As hangovers cleared, on panels and in booths, Day 2’s momentum drained away from the GOP’s aging “values” peddlers—in favor of the young, energetic followers of Rand Paul.