Political Animal


January 30, 2015 1:55 PM Lunch Buffet

Interesting morning, eh? Started the day enjoying a Mitt-Jeb slugfest and then had to change gears. It’s one of those days when I wish I had the luxury of beginning to write about Noon EST.

Here are some post-Noon EST news/views treats:

* Halperin rewrite of his original, immensely misleading “insider” report on Mitt Romney’s intentions claims it was accurate Thursday night, but not Friday morning. Yeah, right.

* Know who whiffed on the Romney story worse than Mark Halperin? The Daily Beast.

* House GOP buys time by appointing troika “task force”—Ryan, Upton and Kline—to work on “Plan B” if Obamacare messed up by SCOTUS.

* Group of GOP senators led by Jerry Moran trying to revive interest in VA scandal.

* Obama FY 2016 budget to arrive on Monday; call for end to sequestration will draw most attention.

And in non-political news:

* Suge Knight arrested for suspicion of murder in hit-and-run; his attorneys say he was “fleeing for his life.”

As we break for lunch, here’s more Ruth Brown from the Apollo: “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”

January 30, 2015 1:30 PM TNR and Race

Yesterday I briefly mentioned Jeet Heer’s big piece for TNR about TNR’s legacy on racial matters. I’d been hearing about it quite a bit in informal conversations, but have now finally read it, and it’s a very useful overview that pulls few punches. I guess the circumstances of the recent rupture at TNR, when a mostly (though not exclusively) white male exodus left virtually no one from the Marty Peretz years, made it pretty easy for the new management and staff to ruthlessly examine “itself” without implicating itself. But it’s still a very good exercise, particularly with respect to the earlier years of TNR, where Heer had to do a lot of reading.

Heer suggests that in its early days TNR reflected but did not exceed the racism of white society generally (he didn’t mention, but might have, that Woodrow Wilson, a leader of the Democratic wing of the Progressive movement well into his White House days, was a virulent racist), but finally began to change during the Depression, and actually became a voice for racial progress as the civil rights era developed:

One could argue that between the late ’30s and the mid-’70s, The New Republic was one of the best magazines outside the black press in its coverage of the rise of the civil rights movement. Thomas Sancton, Sr., managing editor from 1942-1943, was a particularly radical advocate, holding FDR’s feet to the fire for his compromises with the Jim Crow South, and doing brave reporting on the Detroit race riots of 1943. Some of the best work from this period is enshrined in the Library of America’s two-volume Reporting Civil Rights, including Lucille B. Milner’s “Jim Crow in the Army” (1944) and Andrew Kopkind’s “Selma” (1965).

Then came the Peretz era, and it’s only a bit of an exaggeration to say that in Heer’s account editors and writers who fought Marty kept the magazine from too much in the way of dubious commentary on race, while those who didn’t fight him at all (especially Andrew Sullivan and the late Michael Kelly) allowed some embarrassing lapses to occur. But regardless of what was being said about race in the pages of TNR, there wasn’t much diversity among those producing it, reflecting, says Heer, Peretz’s strong preference for working with Ivy League white men.

I should mention that my own regular but less-than-intimate relationship with TNR from the middle of 2009 through 2012 as a frequent freelancer who was eventually signed on for a regular online column occurred after Peretz had sold his majority-share of the magazine and withdrew from editorial involvement, though for a while he continued to write the occasional incendiary blog post. I had more women as editors than men, and no one challenged my non-Ivy educational credentials (actually, Jonathan Chait once busted me for suggesting there was an Ivy test for working there). But in my infrequent visits to the TNR offices, I can’t say I ever encountered a person of color. So the airing of the magazine’s legacy on race is not just a matter of distant memory.

January 30, 2015 12:41 PM Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty in Climate Change Survey?

The New York Times’ Coral Davenport and Marjorie Connelly clearly think their newspaper’s new poll on climate change is a big deal, showing that “most Americans”—and nearly half of Republicans—favor government action to deal with the challenge. But I dunno: maybe it’s that I remember a million years ago—or was it just ten?—seeing polls showing relatively little partisan difference on the subject, which is why someone like John McCain could support a cap-and-trade bill, until he couldn’t.

So I’m more inclined than some to pay closer attention to another finding:

Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to say that the issue of global warming is important to them. Among Democrats, 63 percent said the issue was very or extremely important to them personally. In contrast, 40 percent of independents and only 18 percent of Republicans said the same.

What this suggests is that while blatant denialism might get a Republican presidential candidate into trouble, such old-fashioned evasions as “experts differ” and “we’ll deal with it maƱana, when the economy’s better” probably won’t be damaging, unless Democrats make a very big deal about it.

The other way to look at it, of course, is that Democrats should have plenty of public support for promoting action on climate change, at least in non-coal-producing areas. But they’re going to have to get over the prevailing feeling among political strategists that it’s just too difficult to weave together economic and environmental themes. There’s entirely too little faith in the Donkey Party, I fear, in the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.

January 30, 2015 11:15 AM Never Mind the Mitt-o-Mania

So remember that conference call Mitt Romney was having today to update his followers on this current thinking about 2016? You know, the one that Mark Halperin indicated would show steady if not definitive progress towards a candidacy, along with considerable disrespect for rivals?

Well, conservative radio talk host and opinion-leader Hugh Hewitt has put out what he says is the prepared text of Romney’s statement for the conference call. And it says he’s decided against running.

After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee….

After some throat-clearing about how he was currently the best-equipped candidate to win the nomination and the White House, here’s the pivot:

I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.
I feel that it is critical that America elect a conservative leader to become our next president. You know that I have wanted to be that president. But I do not want to make it more difficult for someone else to emerge who may have a better chance of becoming that president. You can’t imagine how hard it is for Ann and me to step aside, especially knowing of your support and the support of so many people across the country. But we believe it is for the best of the Party and the nation.

Nobody on Twitter seems to be doubting the authenticity of Hewitt’s info. So it’s done, I guess, and for good:

I’ve been asked, and will certainly be asked again if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind. That seems unlikely. Accordingly, I’m not organizing a PAC or taking donations; I’m not hiring a campaign team.

It’s not quite a Sherman Statement, but since it’s not exactly as though the whole world was begging Mitt to run, it’s close enough to unleash the donors and other Mitt loyalists to sign up with others. I don’t know whether to read anything into the business about favoring someone from the “next generation of Republican leaders” and “one who is just getting started;” maybe it’s a veiled shot at Jebbie or his 2008 tormenter Huck or his 2012 rivals Santo and Perry. But for now Romney will probably be quickly and thoroughly forgotten—again. I’d say the reaction of HuffPost’s Sam Stein reflected what a lot of us in the commentariat are thinking right now:

wow. we wasted so much f***ing time writing about and discussing Romney running. i won’t ever get that back

UPDATE: It’s official, per the New York Times’ Martin and Barbaro. Mitt dropped the bomb on a conference call, and even that did not go well:

Friday’s conference call seemed bittersweet for the Romney family. At one point, Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, came on the line and thanked the former aides for their steadfast support.
But luck was clearly not with Mr. Romney this time, even as he shared the news with his former staff members on his morning call. Mr. Romney’s voice fell off the line as the connection was suddenly dropped.
January 30, 2015 10:07 AM “Small-Time Businessman” Snags Key Romney Op

It may be a total coincidence that on the day Team Romney gave the world a peak via Mark Halperin of its very low opinion of Jeb Bush, the proto-candidacy of Jeb Bush gave Des Moines Register political reporter Jennifer Jacobs a scoop that it had pulled off a coup by recruiting long-time Romney Iowa operative David Kochel—not just for an Iowa Caucus campaign, but to run the whole Jebbie shooting match down in Miami.
Word must have gotten around quickly, because in Halperin’s account Romney knew about Kochel’s impending defection, and wrote it off as attributable to Kochel’s longstanding relationship with Bush consiglieri Mike Murphy, who in turn worked with Kochel on many of Terry Branstad’s 150 gubernatorial campaigns. Indeed, as a sign of how incestuous Iowa presidential politics can be on both sides of the candidate/media barricades, Jacobs quoted Halperin’s extremely characteristic reaction to her exclusive:

“Ain’t no hyperbole to say that @JebBush’s hiring of @ddkochel is 1 of the 5 most significant developments of ‘16 cycle so far,” tweeted Mark Halperin, co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics and one of the nation’s top TV political pundits.

But most of Jacob’s piece is a gushing profile of Kochel’s power and glory. To understand it, you have to appreciate the funhouse mirror of Iowa politics. On the one hand, it is the Land of Giants, so thick on the ground with Political Geniuses and Kingmakers and Power-brokers you can’t stir ‘em with a stick. On the other, this puffed-up self-image has some insecurity at its core; thus Jacobs seems very excited that an Iowan may actually be running a top-shelf presidential campaign (the only precedent, she carefully notes, was Terry Nelson of the 2008 McCain campaign).

So it’s hard to say how much this matters, since the news may be eclipsed by the next hiring of an Iowa Political Titan next week, just as the Kochel news eclipsed Scott Walker’s “coup” in retaining David Polyanski last week, which Jennifer Jacobs was also excited about. Maybe it’s just the intimate size of the state and its political class, but the Invisible Primary there is very visible in the sense that everybody’s eventually in the same line for soup or a sandwich at Palmer’s Deli.

January 30, 2015 9:20 AM Mitt Edges Up to the Starting Gate

If Mike Allen has become the semi-official “source” for rumors and trial balloons from Hillaryland, then his Beltway insider rival Mark Halperin (with Bloomberg Politics these days) is bidding fare to serve a similar function for the Mitt Romney operation. Today he offers a very detailed interpretation of the news that Romney is holding a conference call with key supporters today to give them an “update” on his thinking about 2016. Though Halperin says the internal calculus is that three factors favoring a run and two pointing in the other direction, it sounds a little more unbalanced than that. The first positive indicator, of course, is that the Mittster, like anyone else who has pursued the job, thinks he’d be aces as president. But numbers two and three are pretty interesting:

The second factor driving Romney towards another run, say those familiar with his thinking, is a host of emphatically encouraging poll results. There is ample public polling that suggests leads in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, as well as nationally. But Romney also has been briefed on what one Republican source describes as a massive, rolling private polling project recently conducted by a wealthy GOP contributor who shelled out his own money to determine which Republican has the best chance of winning the nomination.
The data, collected over an extended period of time in the first twenty states scheduled to hold caucuses and primaries in 2016, shows Romney with a huge lead across the board, and significantly better favorable/unfavorable ratings than the rest of the large potential field. The other prospects who fare well in the research are Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Maryland physician Ben Carson. The source says that after Romney publically expressed an interest in seeking the nomination, his standing in the polls improved. Romney World discounts the notion that these leads are based simply on name recognition.

Wonder if and when we’ll get a gander at that data?

Also pressing Romney forward: the sense that he can perform better in 2016 than he did in 2008 and 2012. Romney believes that if he can convince just a few more voters that he “cares about people” like them he will hold the electoral votes he won last time, while capturing additional states such as Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, and perhaps others. Some members of his 2012 inner circle criticized his decision to remain modest about his decades of work as a lay minister in the Mormon Church, brushing aside scads of earnest testimony from those whose lives he improved through service and charity. In the last campaign, that portrait was briefly sketched on the final day of the nominating convention in Tampa, only to be overwhelmed by the madcap appearance of Clint Eastwood, and further scarred by relentless efforts of the Obama team and its allies to portray Romney as heartless and out of touch with ordinary Americans.

So in the collective memory of Mittsville, it wasn’t the “47 percent” video, the relentless reliance of their own campaign on Mitt’s business biography, or an agenda tailored to “job creators” that led swing voters to believe he wasn’t exactly “on their side,” but rather poor ol’ Clint stepping on one night of messaging! That’s interesting from several angles, isn’t it?

But the part of Halperin’s account that will definitely have tongues wagging all over Washington is his description of Team Mitt’s attitudes towards Establishment rivals Jeb Bush and Chris Christie:

[T]hose familiar with Romney’s thinking now and over the years say that he has held a jaundiced view of the former Florida governor dating all the way back to his handling of the Terri Schiavo case, and has come to see Bush as a non-entity in the 2016 nomination contest. Romney is said to see Bush as a small-time businessman whose financial transactions would nonetheless be fodder for the Democrats and as terminally weighed down with voters across the board based on his family name. Romney also doesn’t think much of Bush’s political skills (a view mocked by Bush’s camp, who say Romney is nowhere near Bush’s league as a campaigner). Romney also considers Bush the national Republican figure who was the least helpful to him during his last run for the White House, a position that has darkened Ann Romney’s view of Bush as well.

Hah! “Small-time businessman.” That’s about as deadly an insult as one Republican can throw at another, isn’t it? You had to work at getting your first ten million or so, didn’t you, piker? And even then you couldn’t cover your tracks!

But worse yet is the assessment of Chris Christie:

Romney and Christie became friends in the last cycle, but Romney nevertheless has dismissed his pal as a non-factor. Thanks to the 2012 veep vetting process, Romney is intimately familiar with some of the less publicized controversies from the New Jersey governor’s past, and believes that several of those flaps would mushroom so broadly that Christie soon would be eliminated from consideration by voters and donors.

This is an elliptical way of saying Team Mitt’s got dirt on Christie that could blow him out of the water, which they are probably sharing as we speak with donor targets. Since Christie’s already doing very poorly in public opinion surveys, this sort of insider talk could really do him in.

All in all, Halperin’s painted a pretty clear picture of a former presidential nominee who has convinced himself the gigantic field of rivals he would face this time around is but a trifle, and is making it clear he’s got the money and the ruthlessness to carpet-bomb intraparty opponents into submission. If he winds up not running, this is quite an effective head-fake.

January 30, 2015 8:08 AM Daylight Video

A dominant R&B singer of the 1950s, Ruth Brown was born on this day in 1928. Here she is 60 years ago singing “Every Time It Rains I Think of You” at the Apollo.

January 29, 2015 5:35 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Spent an hour on the phone today (between Lunch Buffet and the post about Bryan Fischer) planning a special roundtable discussion at PA in a couple of months that I think you will enjoy. Stay tuned.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Senate passes bill forcing approval of Keystone XL Pipeline project by 62-38 vote. Now only question is whether House rubber-stamps this version before it is vetoed by the president.

* John McCain tells “low-life scum” of Code Pink to get off his lawn, and out of his hearing.

* To its credit, TNR publishes Jeet Heer’s study of the magazine’s legacy on racial matters. More about this tomorrow.

* Looking for that perfect President’s Day gift? It’s available for pre-order at Amazon.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer reports on a new, comprehensive study of undocumented immigrants at U.S. colleges and universities.

And in non-political news:

* Wow. Gene Hackman was born 85 years ago tomorrow. But he’s not, contra a rumor last week, gone from this vale of tears just yet.

That’s it for Thursday.

I’m thinking a quarter-hour of Uriah Heep is enough for one day. Instead I’ll put up a video brought to mind by the story of the rash of earthquakes hitting Oklahoma lately. It would have been important to the late Michael Been, a native Okie and a pretty serious Christian Lefty, who would have almost certainly issued a remake of The Call’s “Oklahoma” with earthquakes substituted for tornados in the lyrics. I heard them perform this song in a nearly empty theater in Atlanta; it was like a private concert, and was one of my all-time favorite musical experiences. RIP Michael.


January 29, 2015 4:49 PM Does Anyone Care Exactly When HRC Announces?

In his new role as the unofficial conduit for leaks and trial balloons from Hillaryland, Politico’s Mike Allen allows as how HRC is “strongly considering” a delay in her formal announcement for the presidency from April til July. Why? Well, basically because she can.

A Democrat familiar with Clinton’s thinking said: “She doesn’t feel under any pressure, and they see no primary challenge on the horizon. If you have the luxury of time, you take it.”
Advisers said the biggest reason for the delay is simple: She feels no rush.

This would suggest that she isn’t all that impressed with Martin O’Malley’s dues-paying in Iowa or Bernie Sanders’ forays into his neighboring state of New Hampshire, or the distant rumble of a Jim Webb campaign if he can descend to the task of raising money. You can make a pretty good case that a late start really hurt her in Iowa in 2008 (though there’s no way she could have avoided starting behind John Edwards, who just kept his 2004 organization in place). I don’t think there’s much risk of people forgetting about her or thinking she’s not running. And short of a formal announcement, she can make all sorts of gestures to make her “availability,” to use that wonderful archaic term, very clear.

So the question is: does anybody really care when Hillary Clinton announces she will run? Mike Allen does, and he’ll continue to focus his snail’s-eye view on such dubious matters as the precise day and hour.

January 29, 2015 4:13 PM All Shook Up in Oklahoma

I live about 30 miles from the San Andreas Fault, so I’m used to the idea that at any moment my world could be rocked by a shake-and-bake-quake. That’s true of a lot of Californians. But Oklahomans? Check out this scary report from WaPo’s Lori Montgomery:

What to do about the plague of earthquakes is…very much an open question in Oklahoma. Last year, 567 quakes of at least 3.0 magnitude rocked a swath of counties from the state capital to the Kansas line, alarming a populace long accustomed to fewer than two quakes a year.
Scientists implicated the oil and gas industry — in particular, the deep wastewater disposal wells that have been linked to a dramatic increase in seismic activity across the central United States. But in a state founded on oil wealth, officials have been reluctant to crack down on an industry that accounts for a third of the economy and one in five jobs.
With seismologists warning that the spreading earthquake swarms could trigger something far bigger and potentially deadly, pressure is building to follow the lead of other oil and gas-producing states and take more aggressive action.

Read the whole thing. Industry spox and their political allies are bobbing and weaving and trying to pretend that maybe it’s a coincidence that the quake epidemic has occurred during a rapid expansion of new exploration techniques. But that’s a mite unlikely, and even in a state where nobody wants to kill the golden goose, people are getting alarmed.

Both the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Oklahoma Geological Survey have confirmed a connection between the recent oil and gas boom and a sharp uptick in seismic activity in Texas, Colorado, Arkansas and Ohio, as well as Oklahoma. New extraction techniques, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, generate massive amounts of wastewater, which are then injected deep underground to avoid contaminating clean water near the surface.
Under the right geological conditions, those injections can trigger quakes.
“An earthquake that was sitting there waiting goes kaboing. Then things shake,” said John Armbruster, a geologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, who studied manmade quakes in Youngstown, Ohio.

Montgomery discusses one pending bit of litigation that could result in establishing legal liability for earthquake damage with the oil and gas industry. However it happens, something’s got to give, including the widespread assumption that the risks associated with fracking are some sort of hippie fantasy.

January 29, 2015 3:41 PM The American Family Association Cuts Its Losses

Here’s some good news from Religion Dispatch’s Sarah Posner:

Rachel Maddow broke the news last night that Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association’s Director of Issue Analysis, has been fired, following media coverage and pressure from watchdog groups highlighting Fischer’s racist and homophobic views in advance of an AFA-funded trip to Israel for members of the Republican National Committee.

The less-good news is that AFA may simply be cutting its losses to keep its political work under the radar screen. Part of it is the RNC trip to Israel, which follows previous trips to the Holy Land (and at least one, with Mike Huckabee as the tour guide, through England and Poland and then to Israel as part of an effort to illustrate the vast religio-historical impact of Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II) with Rand Paul and other pols. An even quieter if more integral part is the AFA-funded efforts by David Lane’s American Renewal Project to recruit conservative evangelical clergy into political life, as many as possible by running for office but others by attending “pastors and pews” events where conservative pols come for blessings and backing. Lane’s a particularly big deal in Iowa.

Posner reports that Fischer’s still reportedly going to remain as a host on AFA’s radio show. And his views were not much of an outlier among AFA folk. But they hope the “firing” gets the heat, and the attention, off them as they rev up for 2016.

UPDATE: At RightWingWatch, Kyle Mantyla notes that AFA has tried before to distance themselves from Fischer’s views while continuing to subsidize him and give him the only platform a nasty piece of work like him could secure. If you follow the link, you can see how many times RRW has found occasion to draw attention to Fischer in the past. He’s definitely a repeat offender.

January 29, 2015 1:52 PM Lunch Buffet

Making plans not to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. Always an excellent time to go grocery shopping.

Here are some non-tailgate news/views snacks:

* Romney devotes much of a speech in Starkvegas to an attack on HRC. More about that later.

* Bloomberg’s Lisa Lerer calls this the re-re-rebranding of the Mittster.

* White House goes after Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer for engineering Netayahu appearance before Congress—but won’t go on the record.

* Scott Walker’s higher ed budget bad bad news for University of Wisconsin. Sorry, Bucky, Poppa’s running for president.

* TNR refugee John Judis lands at National Journal, which is about to publish a piece by him called “The Emerging Republican Advantage.”

And in non-political news:

* Gas truck explosion at children’s hospital in Mexico City wreaks terrible havoc, with four deaths counted so far.

As we break for lunch, here’s Uriah Heep with “Gypsy.” Decided the twenty-five minute live version from Japan was a bit much.

January 29, 2015 1:16 PM Graham ‘16

So will U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the latest Republican to set up a 2016 exploratory committee, join the long list of Beltway potentates who wrongly assume their manifest magnificence will automatically make them viable presidential contenders? I would guess so, insofar as his impressive ability to outmaneuver South Carolina conservatives and keep getting re-elected despite a “squish” reputation is not really transferrable to places like Iowa with so many presidential options. And it’s not like he would be the only candidate shrieking about Muslims and Benghazi! and Iran and demanding more defense spending.

There are, however, two things about a Graham candidacy, if it happens, that could elevate it above the kind of Wilbur Mills/Phil Gramm vanity project it would appear to resemble.

The first is that a campaign trail with Lindsay Graham on it would guarantee Rand Paul a very regular pounding on foreign policy issues, and would relieve other candidates of that necessity. Graham could, of course, help force the whole field into some bloodcurdling positions on America’s relationship with the world (and with our own citizens). But along with John Bolton and maybe Marco Rubio, Graham would represent one end of the spectrum on national security where Paul is at the other end.

The second and even more obvious thing is that if he survived until that point in the nominating contest, Graham could represent a real problem for candidates wanting to win in South Carolina, and in fact, could take the state off the table, which would create yet another grievance against him among the Palmetto State conservatives who seem to dislike him but can’t figure out how to take him down. Indeed, they could be the folks most pleased when the nominating process inevitably takes him down for them.

January 29, 2015 12:56 PM 529s and Prepaid Tuition

If you want to read a strong, well-documented argument for the Obama administration’s aborted effort to get rid of the so-called “529” tax deduction for college savings, our former college Ryan Cooper’s got the goods over at The Week:

President Obama suffered a minor political setback this week, when a proposal to end the 529 college savings tax credit, unveiled during the recent State of the Union address, sparked a backlash. He has now dropped the proposal.
On one level, it’s no big deal, since it’s only a small policy, letting people build college savings accounts without being taxed. It’s also vanishingly unlikely he could have gotten anything through Congress. But on another, it’s an extremely frustrating example of the limitations of American political discourse.
So, let’s be clear: the 529 tax credit is a piece of utter trash policy. Few people use it, those who do are mostly wealthy and don’t even save very much, its effectiveness varies wildly based on when you start investing, and tax breaks on savings are a lousy way to subsidize higher education in the first place. The fact that we can’t even consider getting rid of this steaming garbage pile — and there are dozens like it in the tax code — does not bode well for the American system.

Ryan goes on to cite some useful research from Ed Sector about the inadequacy and riskiness of 529 Plan savings, and the regressive nature of the distribution of this tax benefit.

My only demurral to his argument is that in significant parts of the country (19 states, plus private colleges all over), 529 plans are used in tandem with prepaid college tuition guarantees that lock in current tuition rates and also certify pre-payment whatever the market happens to be doing. So one prong of Ryan’s argument against 529s does not really apply to their use in such programs. Yes, the benefit is still regressive, as is the case with any tax deduction (rather than credit). But the practical effect of 529s, and thus the constituency for maintaining this tax subsidy, really do vary depending on whether they are linked to prepaid tuition.

January 29, 2015 12:07 PM Religious Tests

At the Prospect today, Paul Waldman has a mildly controversial post arguing that the religious views of presidential candidates are worth knowing to the extent they themselves claim such views are important to their approach to politics and government:

Of course we don’t want presidential campaigns to turn into theological debates. But we should understand all the ideas that they claim guide them, whether they come from the New Testament or The Wealth of Nations or The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If, for instance, you sincerely think that only people who believe in your god are saved while every other human who has ever lived or will ever live is doomed to an eternity of well-deserved suffering and pain, then that’s something voters should know, because it could well affect the decisions you make as president. And saying, “Well, that’s above my pay grade, ha ha” when you get asked about that particular belief is a cop-out.

This is a topic that Damon Linker (disclosure: he’s my editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press) addressed in an entire book, and he shares Waldman’s conviction that anything which shapes candidates’ orientation to the world around us is legitimately worth knowing, particularly if it is involves metaphysical assertions about the very nature of being, the purpose of human life, and the direction of history.

Waldman seems to be thinking mainly of Mitt Romney in this connection (though the accompanying photo is of Rick Santorum accepting a laying-on-of-hands prayer in 2012), and he goes on to say Mitt has a special responsibility to talk about his religion since it’s one most Americans know little about. I’m down with that, but am actually more concerned with the religious views of other Republican candidates.

Yes, there are proto-candidates who say with some credibility that their religion has a big impact on their political views and/or their sense of mission, including Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich. Ben Carson, like Mitt Romney, belongs to a church most Americans would consider exotic, the Seventh Day Adventists, and he talks a lot about faith. Carly Fiorina doesn’t go to church a lot, but says she used to read a lot of St. Thomas Aquinas. John Bolton, a member of the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church, doesn’t much mention it. And I’d say it’s pretty clear Hillary Clinton is a reasonably serious Methodist.

But then you have some other candidates who have more or less made it clear they view themselves (sincerely or not) as spiritual warriors who are in politics in no small part to vindicate a faith threatened by unbelievers and false believers. They would include Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz. Scott Walker, a conservative evangelical who’s said on occasion that he’s on a divine mission, is a borderline case; we’ll see how he behaves among the very explicitly theocratic conservative clergy and laity of Iowa in the months just ahead. And then there’s Bobby Jindal, the self-described “evangelical Catholic” who seems to want to make his campaign a religious crusade, but doesn’t appear to know the words or the music to that particular hymn.

The point here is that the instinctive antipathy towards talking about the religion of political candidates goes from being a small to a big mistake when said candidates are explicitly making religious appeals, not just in the generic “God Bless America” sense but by telling certain kinds of believers they’d better get on board the bandwagon or they’ll wind up nailed to a cross, which is more or less what Mike Huckabee’s been saying lately. Personally, Mitt Romney’s religion is pretty far down my list of concerns.

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