Tilting at Windmills

June/July/August 2014 Mobilizing chick power … Male menopause … Can Dems match gun raffles?

Is McConnell’s “free speech” machine about to meet its match?

By Michelle Cottle

Does it make me a bad person that I’m tickled pink by Mitch McConnell’s scramble to keep pace in the money race for his Senate seat?

During my tenure as an editor at the Washington Monthly (late 1996 through 1998), among the political hot topics were the Clinton fund-raising scandals. Amid the buzz about John Huang and “no controlling legal authority,” advocates for campaign finance reform clamored for action. I recall trudging up to the Hill to talk with John McCain about his and Russ Feingold’s signature reform plan (which took another seven years to pass). I also recall reporting multiple stories on McCain-Feingold’s chief nemesis, McConnell. Known back then as “the Darth Vader of campaign finance reform” (a moniker he wore with pride), McConnell did his damnedest to smother any attempt to reduce the influence of money in politics with his big, fluffy, money-equals-free-speech pillow.

Flash-forward nearly two decades (and multiple Supreme Court decisions empowering big donors), and McConnell is trying to weather an incoming storm of hostile free speech. Though he ultimately squashed his primary challenger, the Senate minority leader was compelled to spend millions hammering at Tea Party darling Matt Bevin, who had the backing of numerous outside groups, including FreedomWorks, the Madison Project, and the Senate Conservatives Fund. (Plus, Bevin had the personal resources for some supplemental self-financing.) Better still, buoyed by McConnell’s flaccid approval numbers, Dems have helped Alison Lundergan Grimes out-raise McConnell in two of the last three quarters, and the race is expected to be one of the most, if not the most, expensive this cycle.

I assume that, in the end, McConnell will live to serve another term. The GOP can’t afford the humiliation of having its Senate leader booted (though just think of the vicious succession battle!). Plus, as you might imagine, McConnell has a “free speech”-raising machine most pols would kill for. Still, it’s been a while since Darth Vader had a real race on his hands, and nobody more deserves to have to go out and grub for campaign cash.

Jeb stands up for “Obamacore”

Say this for Jeb Bush: the man has cojones. The former Florida governor threw conservatives into a tizzy when, during an April 6 shindig at his daddy’s presidential library in Texas, he told a Fox News interviewer that illegal immigration is not a felony but “an act of love.” Immigrant bashers from Iowa Representative Steve King to rodeo clown Donald Trump jockeyed to see who could most vigorously slam Jebbie as a combination of stupid, naive, and opportunistic.

But getting all touchy-feely about immigrants wasn’t the only giant bull’s-eye Jeb slapped on his chest in that interview. He also reaffirmed his love for the Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, the set of education benchmarks that enjoyed strong bipartisan backing until conservatives decided that it was too closely associated with President Obama and so, by definition, must be a tool of Satan. Trust me: do not get Tea Party types talking about “Obamacore” unless you are ready to have your ears seared with talk about the federal government’s plot to control America’s children. But not Jebbie, who has spent much of his post-governorship focused on education reform: “I just don’t feel compelled to run for cover, when I feel like this is the right thing to do for our country,” he insisted.

Way to stand tall, big guy! Of course, the question isn’t really whether Bush should run for cover. It’s whether the base will support his running for anything else. At this rate, his best shot at the presidency in 2016 may be on the Democratic ticket.

Extremism in the denial of moderation

Then, of course, there’s the GOP’s anti-Jeb, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has been struggling mightily for the past few years to erase any sign of the pragmatic reformer he was once known to be.

As Bush courts the base’s wrath with his defense of the CCSS, Jindal scurries to sandbag the education reform he too once supported. In early April, the governor cheered efforts by a small band of state legislators to derail Louisiana’s adoption of the new standards. A couple of weeks later, Jindal called on the state to pull out of the consortium, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), that has been working to develop the assessment test associated with the new standards. He even made noises about wielding his executive pen if the legislature failed to act.

As the New Orleans Times-Picayune points out, pulling out of PARCC is, practically speaking, a symbolic gesture at this point. The test is already pretty much developed. But, as the Times-Picayune also notes, all Jindal’s huffing and puffing will play well with the CCSS’s conservative critics.

Mobilizing chick power

Despite my admiration for Texas senator turned gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis’s true grit, I expect the Democratic nominee to lose her bid against Republican State Attorney General Greg Abbott. For all the talk about its shifting demographics, Texas, at this point, is still Texas. Just ask Ted Cruz.

That said, Davis may have done more to influence the midterms thus far than any Democratic pol not named Obama. And unlike POTUS, who has Dems playing defense, Davis has helped put them on offense. Specifically, her relentless gigging of Abbott over the wage gap this winter proved to have such traction that it revived the issue as a national cause. Chick-power groups like Emily’s List started firing off blistering press releases accusing the GOP of not caring about women’s economic struggles. Before long, the entire Democratic Party was looking to pay inequality as a way to reorient 2014 away from Obamacare and back toward the Republican-war-on-women meme. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee went so far as to launch a “GOP Pay Gap” campaign, looking to, as a spokesman explained to CNN, “hold Republican Senate candidates accountable for their baseless and partisan opposition to equal pay for equal work.”

Not bad for a woman sneeringly dismissed by right-wingers as “Abortion Barbie.”

Learning from ladies eating

OMG! OMG! OMG! This PR email landed in my in-box from Vogue about its May cover girl, actress Emma Stone: “Emma Stone is flying high—major movie roles, a Spider-Man beau, fashion-world heat—but, as Jason Gay discovers, she’s just as down-to-earth and devilish as ever.”

Of course he does, because that’s what every writer for every glossy magazine discovers about his or her celebrity interview subject. No matter how rich or famous, Hollywood A-listers profiled in Vogue or GQ or Vanity Fair or Esquire are always revealed to be so very, very real. And, bizarrely enough, writers’ absolute favorite method for illustrating this
realness—at least when profiling women—is to describe the ladies eating.

Michelle Cottle is a senior writers for National Journal.


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