Political Animal


March 25, 2015 3:40 PM SCOTUS, Race & Party—Again

In a decision that could get more excited attention that in deserves, SCOTUS, by the usual 5-4 margin, has sided (at least temporarily) with civil rights groups arguing that the usual “bleaching” and “packing” strategems used by the Alabama legislature in their last decennial redistricting may have in some particulars represented an unconstitutional “racial gerrymander.” Justice Kennedy voted with the Court’s four more liberal members in ordering a remand of the case to a lower court with instructions to use a different (district-by-district) test for racial gerrymandering. But the case is probably too convoluted to provide much precedent, and the defendant may just need to show its decisions are strictly partisan, not racial, to survive further scrutiny.

Election law specialist Rick Hasen offers this take at SCOTUSblog:

What is the significance of today’s Alabama ruling? It seems likely on remand that at least some of Alabama’s districts will be found to be racial gerrymanders. This means that some of these districts will have to be redrawn to “unpack” some minority voters from these districts. But do not be surprised if Alabama preempts the lawsuit by drawing new districts which are less racially conscious but still constitute a partisan gerrymander which helps the Republicans have greater control over the AStilabama legislative districts. As I have noted, lurking in the background of this case is the “race or party” problem: with most Democrats in Alabama being African Americans and most Republicans being white, how does one determine whether a predominant factor in gerrymandering is race or party?

Still, the decision does matter insofar as it further chips away at the long-standing Republican rationale for “bleaching” and “packing” as necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act itself on grounds that the only test for minority voting power is how high a percentage African-American incumbents can run up. And it’s an example of the twilight struggle via individual case litigation on which voting rights may depend now that this same Court has largely removed the Justice Department’s involvement via the power to review suspicious schemes before they are implemented.

March 25, 2015 2:56 PM Get Yer Guns and Yer Bibles And Smite Satan’s Liberals

When liberals try to convince each other and fair-minded non-liberals that there’s something a bit pathological about contemporary conservatism in this country, it’s always easy to find some random wingnut state legislator or TV evangelists who’s saying crazy, scary things. But sometimes The Crazy and The Scary come right out there in a big way and shake their fists at you. That happened when Rick Santorum gave a speech at a conservative Catholic college in 2008 and allowed as how mainline Protestants had been lost to Satan. And it happened last week when the giant conservative cultural icon Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty continued his steady descent into the habit of saying things other culture-warriors just hint at. This peroration, delivered in Robertson’s accustomed oracular manner, was offered at a “prayer rally” and was picked up and published by Brian Tashman of RightWingWatch. This passage was preceded by remarks about Stalin, Hitler, Hirohito and the leaders of IS being similarly motivated tools of Satan:

I gave you four ideologies in the last one hundred years, I see a pattern. You say, ‘why do they do what they do, why is there always murder?’ You know what the scary thing is? The fifth ideology right in behind all of this bunch of stuff we’re dealing with now, has its roots in the United States of America? You know how many they’ve killed? You say, ‘who are they?’ People call them left-wing loons, Bill O’Reilly calls them, political correct crowd, orthodox liberal opinion. You say, ‘what are they famous for?’ They’ve killed 63 million of their own children. 63 million. More than Hitler, more than Stalin. We’re slaughtering ourselves. You say, ‘who is behind it?’ Their father is, he was a murderer, from the beginning, they are slaves to sin, they are controlled by the Evil One. Duh.
Any Jesus with them? No, no. They don’t want Biblical correctness, no siree, they will not touch this, they are trying to get around it, they want political correctness. Well, what is it? What is political correctness? Orthodox liberal opinion in matters of sexuality, race, gender. They’re arguing and debating is there a difference between a male and a female? I’m like, dude, go in the bathroom, take your clothes off and take a look, you’ll figure it out.
Satan was a murderer from the beginning not holding to the truth so there’s no truth in him, when he lies — am I dreaming? Have you ever heard this many lies coming out of Washington D.C. since you’ve been on the earth? Have you ever heard more? You say where in the world is it coming from? They champion perversion, they champion murder, aborting their children and they are champions of lies. I mean I’m listening to them and thinking, ‘dude, what?’
‘Yeah, this bunch here, they’re the kind that clings to their guns and their bibles,’ I’m thinking, yeah, we may need them. How in tarnation do you think we ran the Brits back to where they came from back there 240 years ago? It took guns and it took bibles, right? You better stay with what brought you. He was a murderer from the beginning, there’s no truth in him and when he lies he speaks his native language, the relationship between these guys and Satan. He is a liar and the Father of Lies.

Clearly, this guy who made his fortune designing duck calls does not know how to blow a dog whistle. He just comes right out and suggests that good conservative Christians may need to load up the shooting irons and go after the liberals who are, after all, Satan’s ultimate weapon, worse than the communists and Nazis.

You can laugh at such rhetoric if you want, but let’s don’t forget Americans spent a lot of time and treasure and lost a lot of lives killing a lot of Nazis and Communists. I’d say Phil Robertston is suggesting that good fundamentalist Christian folk like him at least give some consideration to killing me and you.

But wait a minute: this guy is just an actor, right? Maybe so, but he was also a featured speaker at this year’s CPAC event, and has been hailed as a great and wise American by more Republican pols than you can count. Hell, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal may ultimately come to blows over their competing claims to be the dude’s best friend.

As I often do—and the silence gets tiring—I challenge anyone to come up with an equivalent figure on the Left. Next time you see Ron “extremists on both sides” Fournier, ask him about it.

March 25, 2015 1:54 PM Lunch Buffet

Still chuckling at the image evoked in the last post of the president being like some animal who can convince prey to abandon their progeny by laying his scent on their nest. Seriously, this could be a successful strategy for Democrats so long as Obama is in the White House.

Here are some less pungent midday news/views treats:

* Senate Democrats refuse to take bait on budget amendment written by Republicans allegedly representing Obama’s proposals.

* So Great Emerging Scandal on firing of white house florist fizzles when it transpires FLOTUS just didn’t like the way she arranged flowers.

* At TNR, Claire Groden profiles one of the two candidates who actually beat Ted Cruz to the punch in announcing for president: former IRS commissioner Mark Everson.

* Students promoting boycott of Wendy’s over fast-food chain’s refusal to join pact aimed at reducing mistreatment of farm workers.

* Byron York defends the relevance of early presidential polls.

And in non-political news:

* Taco Bell drops “waffle taco” and introduces “biscuit taco.” That’s change I can believe in.

As we break for lunch, here’s Aretha with “Think” as performed on Venezuelan TV in 1968.

March 25, 2015 1:22 PM Obama Pushing Republicans Away From Popular Ideas?

He’s not completely explicit about it, but at the Plum Line, Paul Waldman suggests an unusual way in which Barack Obama can and will help Hillary Clinton (or whoever the Democratic nominee is) win the 2016 general election. After noting that administration figures are spending time promoting paid family and medical leave—a topic Hillary Clinton is widely expected to talk about a lot—Waldman notes there could be more to the synergy than repetition:

Paid sick leave is one of those policies (like increasing the minimum wage) that Republicans oppose but that are absurdly popular. For instance, in this HuffPo/YouGov poll from 2013, 84 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of Republicans, and 68 percent of Independents supported requiring companies to offer it. Yet while it’s possible that a Republican or two in the presidential race might surprise us and support it, that’s not too likely. They just aren’t inclined to support any regulation that requires employers to offer a benefit to employees, even if we’re the only country in the developed world that doesn’t have mandatory paid sick leave. And now that it’s something Barack Obama is pushing, the odds that a Republican could say he agrees with it are quickly plummeting toward zero.

It’s that last sentence that’s worth thinking about: Republicans may be able to bring themselves to try to “neutralize” relatively anodyne and very popular ideas like paid family leave, even if they offer half or a fourth of a loaf. But not if they are associated with Barack Obama. So Obama may offer the signal service to other Democrats of making wildly popular ideas so toxic to Republicans that Democrats can monopolize them.

It’s enough to make you wish Obama could find at least one acceptable idea Republicans have already embraced that he can suddenly start talking about, if only to see if they repudiate it like wild rabbits abandoning their offspring if their nest has been contaminated by the scent of another species.

March 25, 2015 1:01 PM Three GOP Electability Arguments

While we are on the subject of electability, we might as well get clear about the three very different electability arguments we are hearing—and are going to hear—from Republican presidential candidates in 2016.

Jeb Bush’s is the traditional Median Voter Theorem-driven argument: conservatives need to avoid extremism on issues where they disagree with swing voters—you know, like immigration and education. GOP needs to trust their nominees to be ideologically reliable and give them flexibility to “run to the center.”

Rand Paul, who challenged Ted Cruz’s “winnability” yesterday, is offering what I’d call the “new coalition” argument based on picking off independents and even Democrats via an emphasis on common areas of interest like criminal justice reform and privacy. This is not a “move to the center” argument; it’s more like “move the debate” to subjects where there is a natural convergence without the need for much compromise.

And then there is Cruz, and even more strikingly Scott Walker, offering the traditional, if much-mocked, movement conservative argument that a combination of ultra-high “base” turnout, “hidden voter” turnout, and swing voters attracted by the sheer principled power of unadulterated conservative ideas is the winning formula.

Walker is far and away the most articulate about this; his motto that “you don’t have to go to the center to win the center” is a direct repudiation of the traditional view Jeb’s team is espousing. And he has what he considers proof of this ancient conservative belief: his three wins in Wisconsin in four years, which he attributes to his ability to impress and attract Obama voters (a somewhat dubious proposition given the different electorates in presidential and midterm—not to mention specials like the Wisconsin recall election of 2012—elections, but it’s at least plausible) with exactly the kind of vicious and uncompromising conservatism the base prefers.

Cruz tries to emulate the Walker appeal by claiming he put together the same kind of “big tent” coalition in Texas, though it’s not real convincing since in his one general election he ran against weak Democratic opposition in a deep red state.

Other Republicans who may run in 2016 will likely offer variations on these three electability arguments. A John Kasich will probably echo Jeb’s move-to-the-center appeal. Marco Rubio is likely to have his own version of Rand Paul’s new-mindbending-coalition pitch. Huck and Santorum can try some hybrid between the ideological-shock-and-awe pitch of Walker and Cruz and the idea that their brand of “populism” will pull some Democrats across the divide.

But beware the tendency of the MSM to mash these all together and act like “electability” is a fixed quantity everyone agrees upon, or that voters concerned about “electability” don’t care about ideology and/or will obviously gravitate to the “electable” candidate of the elites, Jeb Bush. The word has many meanings in Republican-land.

March 25, 2015 11:03 AM Between the Idea of Jeb Bush and the Reality…Falls the Shadow

I’m not usually a big fan of Josh Kraushaar, the in-house Republican at National Journal. But he has performed a public service with a column that carefully marshals all the evidence that the Elites-Have-It-All-Wired faction of political scientists could be wrong about Jeb Bush.

Much of this has to do with what might be called the “dogs don’t like it” objection to the obviously superior dog food Bush represents in the political kennel:

He’s underperforming in early public polls and is receiving a frosty reception from Republican focus groups. His entitled biography is at odds with the Republican Party’s increasing energy from working-class voters, who relate best with candidates who have struggled to make ends meet. The Bush name is a reminder of the past at a time when GOP voters are desperate for new faces. And after losing two straight presidential elections, Republican voters are thinking much more strategically—and aren’t nearly as convinced as the political press that Bush is the strongest contender against Hillary Clinton.
It would be foolish to over-read the results of focus groups, but it’s equally egregious to ignore their findings—especially given that they’re paired with polls that show Bush’s candidacy a tough sell among voters. Last week, Bloomberg and Purple Strategies cosponsored a New Hampshire panel of 10 Republicans, most of whom were hostile to a Bush presidential bid. “I know enough to know I don’t need to keep voting for a Bush over and over again,” one participant said. Several laughed at the notion that he’s the front-runner. Not a single one said they’d support him for president.

The line about voters not buying Bush’s electability argument is especially important, and one I’m not sure anybody’s adequately made before Kraushaar’s column. Electability is supposed to be the Republican Establishment’s ace-in-the-hole, the argument carefully conveyed over time that wears down “the base’s” natural desire for a True Conservative fire-breather. In your head you know he’s right is the not-so-subtle message. But Jeb’s electability credentials are as baffling to regular GOP voters as they are obvious and unimpeachable to elites. And unless Jeb’s backers can supply some more convincing evidence than “trust on on this,” these doubts may never be quelled, particularly when you’ve got somebody in the field like Scott Walker who can boast of three wins in four years in a state carried twice by Obama—and without compromising with the godless liberals like Jeb wants to do.

Looking at it more generally, the jury is out as to whether the appropriate precedent for Jeb is somebody like Mitt Romney, who gradually won over intraparty skeptics by dint of money, opportunism, and a ruthless ability to exploit rivals’ vulnerability, or somebody like Rudy Giuliani, a guy who looked great until actual voters weighed in. And even that contrast may not capture Jeb’s problem: Rudy did well in early polls.

To the extent that Jeb does ultimately rely on an electability argument, he’s in danger of resembling a much earlier precedent: Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, whose late push to displace Richard Nixon was instantly destroyed by polls showing him performing more weakly than Tricky Dick in a general election. That’s actually where Jeb is right now. Unless and until his general election numbers turn around, and he’s running better against Clinton than anybody else, it’s going to be tough for him. All the money and opinion-leader endorsements and MSM adulation in the world cannot win the nomination for a candidate unless these resources at some point begin to translate into actual votes by actual voters. If they don’t like Jeb to begin with and think he’s a loser to boot, that may never happen.

March 25, 2015 10:19 AM Ted Cruz’s Friends in Low Places

It’s only Wednesday, but I suspect the funniest and most telling story of the week is going to be this one from Jonathan Chait about Ted Cruz’s musical tastes and their intended signification:

In an interview with CBS This Morning, Ted Cruz divulged that he used to love classic rock, but switched over to country because of 9/11. “My music taste changed on 9/11,” the presidential candidate said. “I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded,” he said. “And country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me.” The inevitably boring interview question of what music a politician listens to has, in this case, yielded a fascinating and revealing answer.
Of course, the thing about classic rock is that it mostly didn’t respond to 9/11 at all, since most of it was written in the decades beforehand. To the extent that it did respond, it was in keeping with the patriotic spirit of the moment. Many of the biggest classic rock stars participated in “America: A Tribute to Heroes” ten days after the attacks. As the name of the event implies, the event was not exactly a Chomsky-esque exercise in attributing the attacks to blowback caused by imperial overstretch. The single biggest classic rock star, Paul McCartney, wrote a song the next day, “Freedom,” the proceeds of which he donated to families of the victims and the NYPD.
It is true, however, that, in general, rock stars did not reach the jingoist heights of their country brethren. The rockers were mourning victims and celebrating freedom; country stars were demanding blood. That was a real partisan cultural divide.

And it was in order to identify with that partisan cultural divide, suggests Chait, that Ted Cruz gave up (or at least pretended to give up) his own musical tastes for something more—and I use this term very precisely—politically correct in his peer group.

He needed that, because his own background wasn’t as “populist” as his poor-drunken-parents-find-Jesus-and-avoid-the-abyss autobiography is supposed to show:

Raised by a militant conservative for a career in political activism, Cruz initially channeled his ambitions through formal education, which bred an intense intellectual snobbery. People who knew him recall Cruz asking them about their IQ and refusing to study in grad school with anybody who didn’t attend Harvard, Yale, or Princeton (a cutoff that only a Princeton grad would define).
At some point in his career, this snobbery became not only unnecessary but a hindrance to advancement. In George W. Bush’s Republican Party, populist authenticity, not Ivy league credentialism, was the cherished social currency. That Cruz was both willing and able to reorder his musical preferences to conform to the party line in the cultural struggle is an incredible testament to his personal willpower.

Well, that’s the charitable way to put it, I guess. Another way is to say Ted Cruz needed some friends in low places for the first time in his life, and proclaiming himself a country music fan was one way to reach for that.

It all seems kind of mechanical and unimaginative for a man of Cruz’s supposed brilliance—certainly less interesting than Marco Rubio’s interest in hip-hop—and largely unnecessary. Huge efforts have been made over the years to justify conservative appreciation of rock-and-roll; in 2006, in fact, National Review’s John J. Miller published a list of the “50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs.” One of them, Metallica’s “Don’t Tread on Me,” a jingoistic classic released a full decade before 9/11, strikes me as an almost ideal Ted Cruz theme song. (But what do I know? My suggestion of Fairport Convention’s “Now Be Thankful” as a 2004 theme song for John Kerry drew blank stares from his staff).

In any event, the thing to remember is that Ted Cruz’s entire pitch to voters is that he is absolutely, authentically, 100% of the time, the True Conservative whose values and goals and willingness to fight for them can be relied on like the Rock of Ages. So any evidence of calculation and malleability in his self-presentation can be a problem. He should have stuck to his guns and his classic rock.

March 25, 2015 9:05 AM No Respect For the Poor Bundler

WaPo’s Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger draw attention today to an inequality problem that no one from Thomas Piketty to Marco Rubio has discussed, so far as I know: a sudden, terrifying gap in power and prestige between billionaires and multi-millionaries in Republican donor circles.

Better get the Kleenex box at hand before reading their piece, because the bathos is overwhelming. The key heartstrings-tugger is the plight of contribution bundlers who were in hot demand as recently as 2012, but who are now being ignored as proto-presidential candidates focus on potential SuperPac donors, particularly in the pre-announcement period when they are allowed to make direct pitches.

At this point in the 2012 presidential race, Terry Neese was in hot demand.
“Gosh, I was hearing from everyone and meeting with everyone,” said Neese, an Oklahoma City entrepreneur and former “Ranger” for President George W. Bush who raised more than a million dollars for his reelection.
This year, no potential White House contender has called — not even Bush’s brother, Jeb. The only e-mails came from staffers for two other likely candidates; both went to her spam folder.
“They are only going to people who are multi-multi-millionaires and billionaires and raising big money first,” said Neese, who founded a successful employment agency. “Most of the people I talk to are kind of rolling their eyes and saying, ‘You know, we just don’t count anymore.’ ”
It’s the lament of the rich who are not quite rich enough for 2016.
Bundlers who used to carry platinum status have been downgraded, forced to temporarily watch the money race from the sidelines. They’ve been eclipsed by the uber-wealthy, who can dash off a seven-figure check to a super PAC without blinking. Who needs a bundler when you have a billionaire?
Many fundraisers, once treated like royalty because of their extensive donor networks, are left pining for their lost prestige. Can they still have impact in a world where Jeb Bush asks big donors to please not give more than $1 million to his super PAC right now? Will they ever be in the inner circle again?

Toldja it would make you weep, didn’t I?

While some of the bundlers talking to Gold and Hamburger are fearful they’ll have to go to the GOP convention in Cleveland and sit in the galleries with regular folks, the article suggests they’ll eventually get some love once campaigns are rolling and the long hard slog of raising hard money in $2700 increments—the post-Citizens-United equivalent of hoovering up change from beneath the sofa cushions—begins.

One of the reasons to read this piece is that it explains something a bit mysterious to me: the extraordinary nostalgia of so many GOP fundraisers for the 2000 and 2004 George W. Bush campaigns:

It’s quite a shift since the bundler system was elevated by advisers to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who rebranded the laborious work of dialing for low-dollar contributions into an elite effort that showered top performers with perks. The Pioneer program, launched in the run-up to Bush’s 2000 White House campaign, gave fundraisers four-digit tracking numbers to measure their performance, with regular reports to show how they stacked up.
“If you put a structure on it, you’re not really trying to raise big money, you’re trying to raise a lot of fundraisers,” said Texas consultant James B. Francis Jr., one of the strategists who came up with the idea. “It created an urgency among money-raisers to get their job done.”
In return, those who delivered got special titles and tokens: pins, belt buckles, an engraved Louisville Slugger baseball bat, a “W” branding iron. They received invitations to receptions at the Bush ranch and telephone updates from campaign principals — including the candidate and members of his family. Many went on to receive ambassadorships and other high-level appointments.
Bush’s network of bundlers brought in tens of millions for his campaigns. Ever since, top fundraisers have been the first targets for any White House hopeful.

Until this year, it seems.

It’s unclear whether the natural attraction of GOP bundlers to W.’s younger brother will be harvested by Jeb before they lose heart in a system that treats them so coldly and cruelly. But I suspect that in his inner circles this, not the struggles of poor and middle-class families, is the inequality problem getting the most attention.

March 25, 2015 8:30 AM Daylight Video

There are a buncha musical birthday folk today, including Elton John and Hoyt Axton. But let’s feature Aretha Franklin. Here she is performing “Dr. Feelgood” in Amsterdam in 1968.

March 24, 2015 5:57 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Not the best sign when you are feeling sleep-deprived by Tuesday, but sometimes being half-deranged is helpful to a blogger, as when having to write repeatedly about Ted Cruz.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson spins lurid tale of rape of atheist girls and women and castration of atheist man by way of suggesting they ought to believe in God. Nice.

* Ted Cruz to secure health insurance via Obamacare exchange after wife goes on leave of absence from Goldman Sachs.

* Old goats among GOP senators blocking move to accept state measures legalizing medical marijuana. So much for federalism.

* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman suggests GOP attacks on Ted Cruz’s character and temperament substitute for ideological concerns.

* At College Guide, Andre Perry suggests Common Core is “serving white folks a sliver of the black experience” via testing regime.

And in non-political news:

* Panama City church in danger of losing tax exemption after accusations it’s turned itself into Spring Break “night club.”

That’s it for Tuesday. Let’s close the day with a rather amazing (and yes, long) cover of the Nashville Teens’ “Tobacco Road” by War in their days with Eric Burdon, performed on German TV in 1970. Get up and shake your butts, chirren.


March 24, 2015 5:03 PM Can Israel Walk Back From the Brink?

As you’ve probably noticed in the news, Benjamin Netanyahu has been steadily dismantling the edifice of right-wing propaganda he used to consolidate his support on the Right and win the opportunity to form a new government. He’s now claiming he never renounced a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, which is laughable but I suppose constructive. He’s apologized to Israeli Arabs for using them in an demagogic election-day pitch to, well, Arab-haters. He has not apologized to Americans for using their national legislative chamber to stage an Israeli partisan campaign rally, presumably because that might embarrass the custodians of said chamber, who would appear to have been used as well.

Indeed, Bibi’s American enablers are now using his sudden reasonableness to blame Barack Obama for the deterioration of US-Israeli relations. Would this nice reasonable man really spy on his American allies, and leak damaging material on sensitive nuclear negotiations? Of course not.

Beyond this silliness, the important point may be that having taken Israel to the brink Bibi has at least enough sense to step back, though each time he does this his credibility erodes further. In a web exclusive at Ten Miles Square today, Jim Sleeper suggests Israel has time to avoid a calamitous war, but very little of it:

Does Netanyahu’s Likud Party victory prove that the Israelis are incapable of seizing the moment? Very possibly. This is a polity whose original idealists…are being swamped by “Greater Israel” religious fanatics, nationalist yahoos, real-estate profiteers, a million politically cauterized, right-wing Russian immigrants from the Soviet Union, and their pathetic American neoconservative cheerleaders and funders. Collectively, they have no idea how the nature of war-making and wealth-making have changed and are changing the circumstances under which they think they can win…..
The Atlantic writer James Fallows cautions wisely that detractors from abroad would be as wrong to blame Israelis as a whole for Netanyahu’s victory (and the demagogic intransigence it reinforces) as other observers abroad were wrong to blame all Americans for George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004.
Fallows reminds us that even after Bush won, he changed: “Dick Cheney was corralled; the U.S. undertook no new wars and began repairing some of the relations it had frayed or broken.” The American electorate changed, too, not so much in composition as in judgment: Four years after Bush’s victory, “the same U.S. electorate made an entirely different choice.” Fallows doesn’t predict any such shift by Netanyahu or the Israeli electorate, but he reminds us that elections often have unintended consequences.

It would be a good thing if that were true in Israel today.

March 24, 2015 4:00 PM Richard Cohen’s New Personal Best In False Equivalency

What makes WaPo columnist Richard Cohen even more maddening than his squandering of some of the most valuable journalistic real estate in the world for decade after decade is his obliviousness towards his own manifest weaknesses. I mean, you’d really think a guy who’s been barbecued for dumb and reactionary comments about race and for lazy assertions of false equivalence between Left and Right would avoid a lazy assertion of false equivalence on a racial topic. Maybe this really is, as cynics might assert, about click-bait or just a bored desire to attract attention.

What I’m talking about is Cohen’s disastrous column today entitled “Ferguson and Benghazi’s troubling parallels.” In case you wonder if he was thrown into the fire by a headline-writing editor, note the first line in the column reads: “Ferguson has become the liberal Benghazi.”

Cohen’s point of departure—not exactly newsworthy, by the way, since the report in question came out 20 days ago—is the aha! semi-exoneration of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson by the U.S. Department of Justice. Thus, says Cohen, liberals who assumed Wilson was in the wrong did the same thing as conservatives did on Benghazi!, imposing ideology on facts.

What’s baffling about this claim is that by and large “liberals” (including his WaPo colleague Jonathan Capehart) have accepted the DOJ finding on Wilson; the continued outrage in and about Ferguson has been spurred by the other DOJ report finding, which Cohen himself characterizes as showing that “Ferguson’s police force was a cesspool of racism, incompetence and corruption.” Where’s the equivalency to Benghazi!, where the lack of evidence of official wrongdoing convinces conservatives a vast coverup must be underway?

Any fair-minded observer would look at both parts of the DOJ report on Ferguson and acknowledge that the police department’s history—along with the implausibility of Wilson’s Rube Goldberg account of his interactions with Michael Brown, which unexpectedly turned out to be accurate, best as we can now tell—amply justified the protests, the demands for an elevation of the investigation beyond St. Louis County, and the anger at efforts to defend Wilson by demonizing Brown and the entire African-American population of Ferguson. Again, where are the “troubling parallels” to Benghazi! here?

But clearly Cohen did not ask himself these questions:

Ferguson became a cause — and has remained one. It is a town of only about 21,000 — a bad day at Yankee Stadium — and yet it has repeatedly been the lead story for many news organizations. It was made to represent institutional racism across the nation, but it is, really, a tiny nondescript place where a supposedly racist and unjustifiable killing by the police did not occur. It does, though, conform to the very keen feelings of people who see white racism everywhere.

So I guess if the Ferguson police department was a “cesspool of racism, incompetence and corruption,” precisely as African-American residents had claimed, it doesn’t matter because it’s a “tiny nondescript place” where one person shot by the police shooting wasn’t innocent. That’s some great moral reasoning there, Mr. Cohen. Glad you have once again set yourself up as a courageous and clear-eyed scold, exposing liberal hypocrisy.

March 24, 2015 2:51 PM Another White House Scandal

When I saw the WaPo headline about some sort of buzz regarding the departure of the White House florist, I didn’t bother to read the article. It was from gossipy “Reliable Source” column, after all, and there are only so many hours in the day and a whole lot to read.

But then I read Digby’s sardonic suggestion that there might be a Hillary Clinton angle to pursue, and after reading the “story,” I had a lurid thought of my own: Could it be that former Chief Floral Designer Laura Dowling is a “Florist of Conscience,” one of those people being hounded out of business and oppressed for their religious views by the purveyors of the Radical Gay Agenda, defying God’s Definition of Marriage and forcing them to do Gay Floral Arrangements for Gay Weddings?

I have absolutely no evidence that could be the case, but the possibility needs to be thoroughly checked out. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz needs to get in touch with his inner Darrell Issa and send out some subpoenas.

March 24, 2015 2:05 PM Lunch Buffet

Funny how the human memory works. I had all but forgotten about War for years until I was eating at Ben’s Chili Bowl a decade or so ago and heard “Slipping Into Darkness” playing on what seemed to be an all-funk jukebox in the famous fast food joint. I was so transfixed that I almost forgot to finish my Half Smoke. Almost.

* Richard Cohen does it again, calling Ferguson “the liberal Benghazi.” More about that later.

* Interesting Haberman article on conflicting influences on HRC on education issues.

* The rolling disaster named George Zimmerman now “speaking out” as critic and victim of “Barack Hussein Obama.” Please, George, just get on with your life far away from cameras and tape recorders.

* Dan Coats indicates he’s giving up his Senate seat next year.

* Jason Goldman to become first-ever White House Chief Digital Officer.

And in non-political news:

* All 150 passengers assumed to have perished when German airliner crashed in French Alps.

As we break for lunch, here’s another War hit featuring Lee Oskar on harmonica: “Low Rider.”

March 24, 2015 1:29 PM O’Malley and the P-Word

As I’ve noted a couple of times here, Martin O’Malley’s “lane” in a probable primary challenge to Hillary Clinton is obviously to her left, which is not necessarily where he’s been for a large part of his political career. But supply seems to be meeting demand a bit, at least in Davenport, Iowa, according to this report from the Iowa Daily Democrat with a headline that probably cheered Team O’Malley: “Progressive Candidate for President Woos Davenport Activists.”

After a five-month absence since he last visited Iowa, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley gave hope and inspiration to a crowd of around 300 people at the Scott County Democrats’ “Red, White, and Blue” Banquet Friday night in Davenport, Iowa. He reminded the gathering: “As Americans, we have faced highs and lows in our country, but it isn’t how low we have gone but how high we bounce back,” he said to rousing applause….
He delivered on the progressive agenda as governor and he did the same to Iowa Democratic activists. “We can also keep the dream alive by never allowing another Wall Street economic meltdown by reinstating Glass-Steagall and punishing those that break the law.” The crowd enthusiastically replied with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

And get this:

O’Malley found favor in Democrats looking for a fresh, more progressive voice to lead the party in 2016. “We don’t need a candidate with baggage—hers and his,” said one attendee, referring to Hillary Clinton. “And we can’t afford a candidate that has more loyalty to corporate America than the American people,” she added.

That’s exactly what O’Malley cannot explicitly say, but he needs Democrats to implicitly “hear.”

Now as you should know by now if you read this blog, Iowa Democrats, for all their virtues, do not always speak in good faith on the subject of Hillary Clinton. Many of those cheering O’Malley’s understated digs at HRC were actually cheering the prospect of a competitive nominating process that will bring money and attention to Iowa like spring rain. Some may turn out to be entirely “ready for Hillary” when the deal goes down, and could ultimately break Martin O’Malley’s heart. But even as he tries to make them hear things he’s not actually quite saying about the overwhelming front-runner, they’re trying to make him hear support he may not have in order to lure him into an open and candidacy. We’ll soon see if all these voices find echoes.

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