I see that Oklahoma has potentially gotten itself into a bit of a pickle.
You see, the good, conservative Christian politicians of the Sooner State decided they were going to show everyone who was boss by putting up a Ten Commandments monument on the state capitol grounds. This decision, of course, runs contrary to the Constitutional prohibition of the establishment of a religion, but that’s what you’ve got to love about conservative Christians who yammer endlessly about how much they believe in the Bible and the Constitution: they’re never in a hurry to disregard either one of those sacred documents the second it serves their purposes to do so.
Well, it turns out that the Devil is in the details, and Oklahoma might just have Hell to pay.
The Satanic Temple of New York City has stepped up to the plate to request its equal treatment under the Constitution. It has designed a statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed little devil, to grace the capitol grounds along with the Ten Commandments. While it is not necessarily a Satanic figure, the fact that the Church of Satan decided to adopt Baphomet as its symbol certainly has not helped the billy goat’s reputation any.
The folks in Oklahoma have decided not to just take this lying down. They cleverly moved to deny the original b-a-a-a-a-a-d boy his place in the sun by placing a moratorium on new monuments at the Capitol.
You see how that works, don’t you? Aw, shucks, Satanists, now that we’ve placed the Ten Commandments monument, well, the Capitol grounds are all full now. Sure is a shame about that charmin’ Billy Boy y’all had in mind, but you were just a little too late. Y’all come on back when we build a new state Capitol, sometime around the 23rd century. You know, when the Rapture comes and we move the Capitol to Uranus. Your-Anus! Get it? Haw haw haw haw! Ain’t that a good one? But just in case y’all didn’t get it—we know you heathen New York City boys are a bit slow—you can stick your statue, and all your fancy talk about the Constitution, where the sun don’t shine! Now don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you.
See, this is how they’re going to show us all that they’re going to do what they damn well please in Oklahoma. In much the same way that a dog urinates on a bush—and for essentially the same reason—the State of Oklahoma has decided to demonstrate that Christians are the favored class in that state; that everyone else belongs to an inferior class with fewer rights; and that those in a lesser class must accept the dominance of the favored class.
But here’s the funniest part of all, folks—you’re going to spend years, and God knows how much taxpayer money, fighting this case in court. Because no matter what some of the more fringy right-wingers would like you to believe, the states do not have the right to nullify federal law. We fought this battle—literally—150 years ago, and your side lost. You cannot legally extend a particular right to one class of people while denying it to all others.
So, God help you, Oklahoma, because you’re going to have a Devil of a time with this one.
Doesn’t that really get your goat?
When I got home from work last night, HBO West was showing Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I hardly ever miss a chance to see this classic, which I believe came out in 1983. (For anyone who has been living in a cave for the last 30 years, the basic storyline is a year in the life of a group of teenagers at a typical American high school, learning how to be adults one youthful mistake at a time.) I’ve always thought it was a pretty good representation of that era, as best as I can recall (I was 10 at the time). Every time I see the movie, I can’t help but ponder the societal differences between then and now.
It struck me last night that the society of the 1980s, in some ways, was simultaneously more naive and less sheltered than today’s society. To wit: Stacy and Damone never gave a second’s thought to using birth control when they had sex—and yet, when Stacy became pregnant as a result, she immediately owned and took charge of the situation in a decisive, clear-headed way that I don’t think some adults could do today.
And that brings me to a related point which I think also demonstrates a major societal change in the last 30 years: confronted with an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 15, Stacy decides to have an abortion. The movie conveys that this is just a matter-of-fact thing: She’s 15 years old; of course she’s going to have an abortion. End of story. She has the abortion and goes for ice cream. There’s no long, drawn-out, agonizing decision-making process, no wailing, no seeking out of counseling, no crisis of conscience—either before or after the abortion.
Does anybody think that situation would be dealt with in the same way on screen today? I think it is clear that it would not. In most TV or movie productions we see today, characters who face unplanned pregnancies do not even consider abortion except obliquely and momentarily (such as in Juno, Knocked Up and Fools Rush In, to provide three cinematic examples), and then, they dismiss the option almost immediately. In fact, it seems the very word “abortion” can’t even be used. The most outlandish circumventing of the word comes from a character in Knocked Up, who hints that the procedure the Katherine Heigl character should consider “rhymes with shmashmortion.” Seriously?
Even more interesting is the fact that when abortion is summarily dismissed as an option in these films, it always results in a positive and “ideal” outcome. Let’s examine the three movies I’ve cited:
In Juno, the title character is “saved” from her appointment at an abortion clinic by a well-meaning protestor, and she ends up finding the perfect person to adopt the child she will bear. Of course.
In Fools Rush In, two total strangers, connected only by the fetus they conceived during a one-night stand, magically overcome tremendous cultural differences and fall in love.
Worst of all, in Knocked Up, a successful career woman’s pregnancy, resulting from a one-night stand with a perpetually stoned slacker, causes said stoner to straighten up, overnight, and fulfill his responsibilities.
So this is what the American cinema is selling—just have the kid, ladies, and everything will work out? Yeah, sure, because that’s realistic.
I wonder if anybody in 1983 thought we would be at a point today where we can’t even hear the word “abortion” in a movie, much less see a female character actually decide that abortion is the most appropriate choice for her. What’s next? Are we going to get to a point where we cannot view a movie about Charles Darwin in most American theaters because it focuses on his Theory of Evolution?
First of all, I consider the Republican position unreasonable because the Republicans are offering the Democrats only one choice, which they know the Democrats cannot accept: either destroy or delay the program they worked very hard for many years to get. The Republicans are offering no other alternatives. They are demanding that Democrats give them 100 percent of what they want, or they will shut down the government and possibly default on the nation’s debts, with potential catastrophic effects for the economy of the country and the world. This is not a good-faith attempt to negotiate; it is blackmail.
Secondly, I consider the Republican position unreasonable because the Republicans are trying to block the health care program before the government has even had a chance to implement it and see if it works or not. Even though the program was enacted in 2010, it has taken time to get it ready, and it won’t be fully functional until 2015. Naturally, Democrats think “Obamacare” is a good idea, or they wouldn’t have enacted it, and Republicans think it is a bad idea. However, there isn’t a single person alive who can tell us, with any certainty, how it is going to work out. Anybody who says he can tell you that it will succeed or fail is either 1) just guessing or 2) lying. Most people would say that it is perfectly reasonable to get rid of the program if it fails. What is not reasonable, in my opinion, is to keep the program from ever being tried out, and that is what Republicans are attempting to do, by trying to force Democrats to defund it or delay it. To defund it would keep it from getting started at all. To delay it for a year inevitably would lead to another Republican demand, a year from now, to delay it again, and another, and another, until such time as a Republican president and Congress are elected and can overturn it. The Republican object is, clearly, to keep it from ever getting off the ground. I do not think this is a reasonable position.
Third, the implementation of “Obamacare” has nothing at all to do with funding government operations or raising the debt ceiling. Changing the health care program is not required to do either of these things. Republicans are simply holding the country’s fiscal health hostage in order to gain leverage to destroy a program they oppose, before anyone knows whether that program will be good for the country or not.
In short, the Republican Party is the party that is making what I consider unreasonable demands, and I do not think the Democrats are at fault for refusing to give into unreasonable demands. To do so would only encourage more unreasonable demands in the future.
It should also be noted that Democrats are attaching no demands to their own legislation that would fund the government, and in fact have already compromised on many of the things they would like to do. The bill the Democratic-controlled Senate passed already had much lower levels of government funding than the Democrats wanted.
And in fact, it is also true that the health care law Democrats enacted in 2010 was much less than what Democrats wanted, or the president campaigned on. The law did not include a “public option,” which would have created a government-based health insurance option to compete with private carriers; Democrats left this out as a concession to conservatives, even though it was a centerpiece of President Obama’s 2008 campaign and very popular with the people who voted for him. The president took a lot of political heat from his own base by leaving the public option out of the final proposal. So to claim that Democrats are being stubborn about government funding or health care is to ignore the fact that they have already made substantial concessions. It is the Republicans who are not making any concessions.
Even though I am a committed and partisan Democrat, I feel a bit sorry for U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Sure, the man has his faults, but generally speaking, he strikes me as a reasonable adult who would love to make some sort of far-reaching deal with President Obama.
The problem for Boehner is that there are, by most estimates, about 40 of his 232 members that are dead set against making any kind of deal with the president or the Democrats. And without those people on board, and needing (currently, due to vacancies) 217 votes to pass anything, the only way he can get a deal done is with Democratic votes. This, of course, sets up a problem for the speaker—retaining his speakership. He can only lose, at this point, 15 Republican votes and still win a majority of the House at the next speakership election. That number will go up a little, or down a little, after the current vacancies are filled and the next general election is held in 2014, but the bottom line is this: if he gets crosswise with the Tea Party element of his caucus by bypassing them and doing a deal with the Democrats, he loses his speakership.
But there’s another problem, which is this: if this shutdown goes on or, even worse, Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling in two weeks and the economy tanks, most polling shows that the voters, correctly, will blame Republicans. That could mean, as Boehner himself has reportedly warned his caucus, Democratic control of the House in 2015, or at the least, a loss of Republican seats and a narrower majority. In either case, Boehner probably loses his speakership—definitely so if the Democrats win the House, but probably so if his party loses seats in a midterm under a Democratic president, which almost never happens. The last time that happened to Republicans, in 1998, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) was obligated to resign.
Boehner’s dilemma, in short, is that if he cuts a deal with Democrats, he probably loses his speakership; and if he doesn’t, and things get bad for the Republicans, he probably loses his speakership. It’s a real damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario. Maybe he can hang on if Republicans do lose seats but keep their majority, or perhaps the voters will forget all about this by next year (entirely possible, sad to say) and Republicans will increase their majority, in which case Boehner could keep his job. But those possibilities, at the moment, look unlikely.
So at this point, Speaker Boehner really has to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask himself this question: “If I’m going down one way or another, how do I want to go out?” And one hopes that he will decide it’s better to go out with some honor and dignity, and that he will work a deal with the Democrats, and a few reasonable Republicans in swing districts who are scared to death of losing their seats next year, to prevent an economic calamity. History will be far kinder to him if he sacrifices his speakership in a good cause. It would be far better to go out with his boots on than to be found, at the end, hiding under his desk, in fear of his own caucus, and going down as a coward.
With a government shutdown perhaps a little more than a day away, the nonsense emanating out of Washington is heavier than usual, but this bit of claptrap on Twitter by a fellow who normally seems like a pretty decent journalist, Mark Halperin, got my blood up this morning:
Tips for inciting left/right attacks on CR tweets: say both sides share blame; say media is doing its best; say Obama/Boehner both good men
— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) September 29, 2013
I’d like to take issue with at least two of Mr. Halperin’s three points of contention.
First of all, how exactly is this whole mess even partially the Democrats’ fault? Allow me to recap precisely what is happening here. The House Republicans, attempting to appease their wacko primary voters who might otherwise vote them out unless they stick it to the black man in the White House, sent a bill to fund the government to the Senate that would defund “Obamacare.” That, of course, would be the most notable accomplishment of the Obama presidency, which hasn’t even been implemented yet.
OK, let me pause here for a quick civics lesson. Generally, when a law is enacted, it is given time to work before we determine it is a failure. If it does, in fact, fail to work as hoped, we overturn it at that time and try something else. We don’t strangle it in the crib before we see whether or not it is actually going to do what we hope it will do. This latter thing—strangling it in the crib—is what Republicans are proposing to do because they believe it won’t work, or perhaps more correctly, because they fear it will work.
So, to get back to where we were: the House Republicans sent a bill to the Senate that would condition the funding of government operations IF the Senate Democrats agree to take away all funding for their chief accomplishment that hasn’t even been implemented yet.
The House Republicans had to know that this proposal would be rejected, as in fact it was; the Senate amended the bill to take out the defunding of Obamacare and sent it back to the House. At this point, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who is not normally known for standing up to Republican bullying, told the House: stop wasting our time. We are not going to agree to gut our own healthcare bill, so send us something else.
The House Republicans responded by passing another bill, this one delaying Obamacare (which is what you do when you can’t defund it outright—you delay it and delay it until you get control of the government, and then you kill it). And when it became even more clear that Harry Reid really wasn’t bluffing (which, let’s face it, the Republicans already knew), they pivoted to a third bill that, also, will take steps to prevent Obamacare from ever taking effect.
I’d like Mr. Halperin to answer this question: exactly what part of this is the Democrats’ fault? The Republicans have made it plain that they will shut down the government unless the Democrats agree to give up on the centerpiece of their brief control of the government from 2009-11. They have given the Democrats no other options; they have put no other proposals on the table. It’s either gut Obamacare or government shutdown. Every time the Senate Democrats say “Leave Obamacare out of the funding bill or we won’t pass it,” the House Republicans send the Senate another bill attacking Obamacare. How, exactly, are the Democrats even partially to blame for the fact that they are being blackmailed by obstinate, childish Republicans? That is a case of “victim blaming” on an epic level.
As to Mr. Halperin’s second point (the media is doing its best)—please. Today’s media covering federal government and politics, with a few exceptions, appears to be a hapless collection of glorified stenographers who feel their only responsibility is to accurately report what either side says. So if one side lies, and the other side tells the truth, both are given equal weight because it is not the media’s responsibility to actually find and report objective facts. If they merely present each side’s talking points accurately, they seem to believe that they have done their job properly. “Team A says the sky is blue, and Team B says the sky is pink with purple polka dots. We report; you decide!”
As to Mr. Halperin’s third point, that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are both good men, well, that one may well be correct. From my observations over the last few years, I’ve always gotten the impression that Boehner would like to cut a deal with the president, but that the absolute loons on the far right of his caucus have blocked him from doing so. But even this point, if correct, is irrelevant to the larger point. That point, simply put, is this: the Republicans are so hell-bent on strangling Obamacare in the crib that they are willing to shut the government down to do it. Shouldn’t the media be making that point and, more importantly, asking why?
As President Obama prepares to go on the airwaves to seek support for a military attack on Syria, a new development has entered the equation. A new Russian proposal would have international monitors take control of Syria’s chemical weapons, offering everybody involved a face-saving way out.
For the president, the Russian plan is a lifeline. Having been trapped by his own pledge to become involved in Syria’s civil war if dictator Bashir al-Assad used chemical weapons— which hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and his protege, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) have used to put constant pressure on him—Obama needed a way out to avoid an unpopular attack. He made a smart political move to put the onus on Congress—which, importantly, broke a longstanding precedent of presidents violating Congress’s constitutional war-making prerogative—but this gives him an opportunity to get out of the trick bag cleanly.
If the deal happens, and Syria gives up its chemical weapons, President Obama can say—probably not without justification—that his threats of force brought the Syrians to heel. He will have won, through a triumph of pressure diplomacy and the happy coincidence of the Russians saving his political bacon, a diplomatic triumph without firing a shot. One wonders if he and Russian president Vladimir Putin didn’t cook this up during the recent G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. If so, it was a brilliant move by both presidents. It gets Obama out of a political mess at home, and it makes Putin look like a positive contributor to the global diplomatic scene—not exactly a familiar role for the often-criticized, autocratic Russian leader.
In fact, it is probably Putin who comes out the big winner here. It’s a PR coup for him, at home and abroad; this marks a major return to the world leadership arena for a country that has suffered a crisis of confidence since losing the Cold War and seeing the Soviet empire break apart at the seams. Putin can make the case that Russia is back on the world stage—if not quite at the top, then at least near the head of the table.
But even if Putin is the big winner, Obama can also come out smelling like a rose too, which seemed impossible just a day ago.
I have been a harsh critic of the president’s push for military intervention in Syria over the last few weeks. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe he was gambling that mere bluster and threats would win the day, and he wouldn’t have the need to actually engage militarily. I obviously have no idea, but if that was his plan, it wouldn’t be the first time Obama was playing chess while everyone else was playing tic-tac-toe.
Assuming the Syrian government takes the deal—and it would probably be stupid not to, because what it gives up in chemical weapons, the Russians will more than make up for with conventional ones—it looks like this thing may have just come together as well as possible, and that rarely happens by accident. The only losers here appear to be the Syrian rebels, and given the uncertain character and composition of their movement, that may not be a terrible thing. Assad’s a bad guy, sure, but sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
I recently moved from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area. After a few weeks here, working in San Francisco and living in Alameda, I am convinced that this move was a no-brainer and that I should have made it years ago. But I digress.
My move involved me driving in excess of 2,500 miles, including a little more than 40 hours of actual road time. Fortunately, I did not have to do this all in one shot, i.e., driving 14 hours a day for three days. I had some friends along the way who I met, which broke up the monotony considerably.
One of my stops was a side trip to Kansas City, where I met a good friend and former colleague of mine, as well as her husband and their new baby. My friend is a moderate Republican, and her husband is very conservative. We managed to find a way to discuss politics without any weapons being drawn, which was fortunate for me, because they have a lot of guns, and I do not. Go figure.
During my conversation with my friend’s husband, I finally came to understand something that has perplexed me for years. Although he is an uber-conservative who believes that everything Rush Limbaugh says is fact, he described himself as an “independent.”
As I mentioned, this is a phenomenon that has perplexed me since the onset of the Tea Party disease in 2009. As anyone who closely follows politics can attest, there is a large number of Tea Party adherents who describe themselves as “independents,” although it is clear that when they vote, they vote almost exclusively for Republicans and against Democrats.
The reason this confused me, at least until my conversation with my friend’s husband, is because my working definition of a political independent has always been someone who will vote for politicians of either major party, depending on which person appears, to the independent voter, to be the better candidate. An independent, by my definition, may vote more predominantly for one party or the other, but does at least on some regular occasion cross party lines. Up until the late 1990s, when it dawned on me that there weren’t very many Republicans who cared about anything beyond the preservation of wealth and privilege for a handful of Americans, I considered myself an independent and almost always found a Republican or two to vote for in every election—usually in some relatively modest office such as city council member, in which political ideology tended to take a back seat; there’s no liberal or conservative way to fix a broken street light.
And yet, there has been this explosion of Tea Party supporters who clearly would sooner be boiled alive and flayed than vote for a Democrat, but steadfastly refer to themselves as independents.
Well, I’m pleased to report, after my discussion in Kansas City, that I get it. Because what my friend’s husband made plain to me was that, to him, political independence means that he is independent of the Republican Party and its fortunes.
To explain: he’s never going to go out and vote for a Democrat, but he doesn’t give a flying crap about the Republican Party, either. While he is going to vote for Republican candidates pretty close to 100 percent of the time (except, perhaps, for the occasional Libertarian or Constitution party candidate that tickles his fancy), he isn’t particularly interested in whether the Republican Party sinks or swims. He isn’t interested in the party making compromises or moderating its principles for the purpose of winning elections. He’s going to adhere to principle, period. How the Republicans are going to win elections by spouting a grocery list of unpopular positions is their problem, not his.
All right. This makes absolutely no sense to me at all, but at least I get it now. To the Tea Party “independent,” it isn’t about splitting your ticket and voting for a few Democrats. It’s about only supporting those Republicans who are conservative enough for you. If this means Republicans lose the election well, gee, we didn’t really think about that, and that’s not our responsibility. (A Republican strategist, Myra Adams, recently wrote an excellent piece that addressed this issue. It’s good reading; very illuminating.)
So the next time some poll shows that “independents” favor a Republican candidate over a Democrat, keep in mind that a lot of these people calling themselves “independent” are not moderates, and if they don’t especially like the Republican candidate, hell, they might not even vote at all. Self-described “independents” supported Mitt Romney in 2012. Self-described moderates voted for Obama. We all know how that turned out.
The lesson here: the opinions of people who call themselves moderates are likelier to be closer to the actual results than the opinions of self-described independents. If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it doesn’t matter how many times someone calls it a unicorn; it’s a duck.
It’s clear to everyone that Anthony Weiner, Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, is obviously not a good husband. Most people who know his name learned it when his sexting exploits (would that be “sexploits”?) became public and led him to resign as a member of Congress. After his press conference today, in which he admitted he continued engaging in this juvenile behavior even after it cost him his job and damaged his marriage, it is obvious that he is an incorrigible lout.
This fact, in itself, does not disqualify him from holding public office. Many of our greatest political leaders have engaged in sexual behavior that many people would find reprehensible. Franklin Roosevelt cheated on his wife as a young man (with her social secretary, no less) and, as it turns out, also carried on numerous sexual dalliances while he was president. He also saved America from the Great Depression, the Nazis and the Japanese militarists, which to me qualifies him as the greatest political leader in our nation’s history. Bill Clinton engaged in a tryst with an intern, which was slimy, but he also balanced the budget. Thomas Jefferson had a longstanding sexual relationship with a slave, Sally Hemings—and regardless of how it’s been presented, one always has to question how consensual such a relationship could have been, given that he owned her—but he wrote the Declaration of Independence and boldly doubled the size of the country through the Louisiana Purchase. It’s well known that John F. Kennedy would copulate with any woman possessing a pulse, but he also averted nuclear war through his deft handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then there’s his successor, Lyndon Johnson, who once reportedly said “I got more women by accident than Kennedy ever got by design,” but he also pushed through the most meaningful civil rights laws in U.S. history. (And even if LBJ was exaggerating his actual accomplishments in the sexual arena—we all know how Texans like to brag—even his longsuffering wife Lady Bird admitted that her husband had been an incurable horndog.)
So Weiner’s sexual indiscretions should not, in and of themselves, disqualify him from elected office. What should disqualify Weiner, in my opinion, is that he’s an idiot.
To expound on my assertion: the first time he engaged in his squirrelly online behavior was stupid—seriously, how do any of these public officials think nobody’s going to find them out?—but to continue doing it, when he admitted all along he was thinking about running for mayor of New York, is a level of stupid that should make everyone question his maturity and judgment.
Let’s consider also some other points as to why Mr. Weiner is too stupid to be trusted with a high political office:
1) When your name is Weiner, and you served as a member of Congress, it really should be obvious that if you engage in any hijinks of a sexual nature that the jokes will write themselves—and you will be a walking punch line.
2) Weiner may be the first politician in history to fall victim to a sex scandal without actually getting any sex out of it.
3) See point #2 and consider that this has now happened twice.
Seriously, how stupid is this guy?
So now we hear that President Obama is reportedly caving into pressure to intervene on behalf of the Syrian rebels due to the nation’s dictator, Bashir al-Assad, using chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war there. The decision comes after an onslaught of pressure from people like Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who seems never to have encountered a war he didn’t want America involved in.
The first, admittedly snarky, comment I will make is that I thought President Obama defeated Senator McCain in 2008, and that one of the key reasons he did so was because he, unlike McCain, had made clear that he opposed getting America involved in a Middle East quagmire that McCain wholeheartedly supported. It took almost five years, but apparently, McCain has finally prevailed.
Having gotten that comment out of my system, let me sum up the arguments of the people who support getting us involved in another damned war that nobody but certain politicians and defense contractors want:
1) A brutal Middle Eastern dictator is using chemical weapons against his own people.
2) Said dictator has links to international terrorism and has meddled in the affairs of a small neighboring country.
3) We have a moral obligation to gather a coalition of nations and intervene against this dictator.
Where have we heard this script before?
Haven’t we had enough misguided foreign adventurism yet? Even if it is a fact that Assad is using chemical weapons on his own people, what happens if we intervene and he is overthrown? By all accounts, the rebels in Syria are of various ideological stripes, and some of them appear to be close to al-Qaida.
In short, neither side is any good, and no matter who wins, Syria is not going to emerge as a western-style democracy. There is no point in getting involved in another country’s civil war, in which the end result, no matter who wins, is going to be the same: Syria is going to have a bad and dangerous government. But hey, at least a few obscenely rich defense contractors will get even more obscenely rich, and a few Republican politicians will get to beat their chests and look tough.
Mr. President: I voted for you in the 2008 primaries (over a far more experienced candidate) and supported you passionately, with my money and with my time. I drove eight hours each way, before the Ohio primary, to go door to door for you in the cold, rain and mud of a depressing post-industrial city that time forgot twenty years ago. I took your literature to a dangerous neighborhood that—literally—sat on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. Upon knocking on a door that opened to reveal two people who were cooking meth and clearly suspicious of a stranger, I handed over your literature to prove I wasn’t a cop. (The meth-cookers immediately went from suspicious to enthusiastic and earnestly assured me they were voting for you.) I can’t speak for the millions of other Americans who have similar stories from the 2008 campaign, but speaking for myself, I did this largely for one reason: because you were right about Iraq.
You got elected president, probably for more than any other reason, because you were right about the mistake of fighting what you rightly called a “dumb war” in the Middle East. Mr. President, please, don’t forget now what you knew then.
So it seems that the latest hyped-up Republican balderdash regarding the White House response to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi centers on the discovery that the talking points developed for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice were edited.
Pardon me while I yawn.
Seriously, this is the big, damning revelation that’s going to make Benghazi a bigger scandal than Watergate? Please. This is a bunch of hyped-up horse crap that doesn’t mean diddly squat, except that it is being used as a political cudgel by a bunch of hypocrites who engage in the same, largely innocuous practices on a daily basis.
First, let me tell you a little bit about talking points. People who work in politics and public relations are very familiar with talking points, which, for those who do not know, is a list of answers to questions that a politician, or a public or corporate official, might be asked by media or investigators. Talking points are crafted to keep the spokesperson from saying anything that might conceivably be used to attack the person, or the office, or the company, that the spokesperson represents. They are used as a defense against the “gotcha” culture that today prevails in politics and journalism, in which any poorly considered word can be turned into an attack (justifiably or unjustifiably), even if that word is taken wildly out of context.
Every politician, and every politician’s staff, uses talking points for exactly this reason (just as the ridiculous people who attack President Obama for using a teleprompter also use teleprompters virtually every time they make a major speech). And, with every politician’s office or corporate entity that uses talking points, there is always a multilayered review process that almost inevitably leads to revisions, because of the hair-trigger sensitivity involved. There is a justifiable fear that any single word that isn’t perfect (and perfectly innocuous) may boomerang, and this leads to a hypersensitivity on the part of the people who write and edit the talking points.
So what have we learned here about the talking points the administration initially used after the Benghazi attack? We learned that they went through multiple iterations and that a State Department official spent a lot of time quibbling about a few words because she was worried about what some unnamed senior officials in her department might think.
As someone who has spent most of the last dozen years writing talking points until they’re coming out of my ears, and dealing with the hypersensitive worrywarts who parse every word, I understand exactly what happened here. And what occurred here was almost certainly a case of overzealous caution that, in all likelihood, amounts to nothing more.
But the Republicans in Congress know that most people have no idea what talking points are, why they are used, and what the process is in developing them and using them. And they are counting on this fact to help them make something sinister out of this. Certain media organizations who undoubtedly know better are not only allowing them to get away with it, but helping them spread it, and this, sadly, is nothing new. Scandals, trumped up or otherwise, are good for ratings. And anybody out there who seriously believes that the “liberal media” is in bed with the Democrats, consider how much we heard about Whitewater, or Monica Lewinsky, or dozens of other things even more ridiculous, during the Bill Clinton presidency. Media outlets want viewers and readers because this is how they make money, and scandals are good for business.
What’s really happening here is happening for multiple reasons, none of which emanate from a legitimate concern about the security of our embassies. While numerous outlets reflect different numbers, a well-documented article by the admittedly liberal-leaning Media Matters for America demonstrates, through usage of independent sources, no fewer than seven such attacks during the George W. Bush administration. Where were these investigation-demanding Republicans then?
What’s really going on can be summed up in four quick points:
1) The fact that Republican members of Congress, in order to impress their political base, must attack the president constantly. Any Republican who doesn’t appear sufficiently aggressive against the president (see Charlie Crist, Chris Christie, etc.) immediately gets torn apart by the conservative base, and in some cases, such as what happened to Crist (now a Democrat), ends up facing a primary challenge.
2) The fact that Republican politicians have never gained any traction in their constant attempts to stoke hatred against the president and thereby weaken his personal brand. It has driven Republicans to distraction, as noted in a proposed super-PAC attack against President Obama during the 2012 election, that “Americans still aren’t ready to hate this president.”
3) The desire to bog the Obama Administration down in defending itself against ridiculous attacks rather than continuing to create uncomfortable pressure on the Republicans on actual issues, such as background checks for gun purchases. If you don’t think the president’s efforts on this issue have been producing results, look only at how Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and other Senators, of both parties, have seen their approval ratings fall off a cliff since voting against the background-check bill.
4) The Republicans’ abject fear of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gaining the Democratic nomination in 2016. As Time magazine reported on April 12th—just before this ridiculous tempest in a teapot was ginning up—numerous Republican political movers-and-shakers were all but conceding that Secretary Clinton would be unbeatable in a 2016 presidential run. They need to tarnish her now and either convince her not to run, or at least dent her approval ratings.
This isn’t about national security or a “cover up.” This is about the Republicans’ ongoing efforts to find a silver bullet against a president who, just like Bill Clinton, they couldn’t beat fairly at the polls. It’s also an attempt to preemptively destroy Hillary Clinton, whom they know they can’t beat at the polls. Don’t buy the hype.