Political Animal


September 19, 2014 12:17 PM Opposing Reproductive Rights Really Matters in Colorado

If you wonder why Republican Senate nominee Cory Gardner blatantly flip-flopped on his past support a “personhood” initiative (even though he still is listed as a cosponsor on a similar federal resolution) and now is running ads calling for sale of oral contraceptives over-the-counter, check out Shane Goldmacher’s column at National Journal about the special potency of the issue in Colorado:

This is the third straight election cycle that Democrats have leaned heavily on reproductive rights. “It is the exact same playbook they used in 2010, 2012,” said Sean Tonner, a Colorado GOP strategist. And that’s because it works.
Colorado voters support reproductive rights by wide margins, year after year. In 2010, Bennet used months of nonstop abortion messaging to open up a 17-point advantage among women—the biggest gender gap of any Senate race in the country. He did it by focusing on Republican Ken Buck’s opposition to abortion in the case of rape or incest, and his decision as a district attorney not to prosecute a rape case, saying the victim might have suffered “buyer’s remorse.” Craig Hughes, who was Bennet’s campaign manager, estimated that between one-third and half of all the ads that Bennet aired touched on the topic of abortion.
In 2012, President Obama followed Bennet’s cue, running a campaign calibrated to appeal to women in Colorado by talking about reproductive rights. He won the state, too, though by only a 1-point margin among women….
[This cycle] no fewer than four pro-Democratic groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood’s political arm, have joined the abortion and birth-control barrage. Even the environment-focused group funded by billionaire Tom Steyer, NextGen Climate, opened its latest television ad this week by first referring to Gardner’s opposition to “common forms of birth control,” before pivoting to the environment….
Hughes, now a Colorado strategist for NextGen Climate, said abortion is so powerful a messaging tool in the western state because it serves as a “prism issue” for libertarian-leaning Colorado voters. “Once people understand where you fall on this, other issues make more sense,” Hughes said. “For example, if you are 100 percent anti-choice but also for no limits on pollution, then those two tie together with a certain value set that is far out of touch with Coloradans.”

On top of everything else, there’s another “personhood” initiative on the ballot in Colorado in November. So Republican efforts to change the subject will only go so far.

September 19, 2014 11:25 AM Big Names Among “No” Votes on IS Authorization

Yesterday the Senate joined the House in quickly approving the authorization for the administration to aid Syrian rebels in pursuit of a strategy to crush IS. The margin of approval (78-22) was significantly higher in the upper chamber than in the lower (273-156). But there were some pretty big names among the “no” voters: Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Kirstin Gillibrand, and independent-voting-Democrat Bernie Sanders; and Republicans Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Indeed, the only “yea” voter whose name has been kicked around as a 2016 presidential candidate is Marco Rubio.

There will allegedly be a bigger debate on the fight against IS after the elections, and perhaps a bigger vote. But this one could be remembered for quite some time.

September 19, 2014 10:49 AM HRC’s “Fair Shot”

Eleanor Clift thinks it could be a “brand” like FDR’s New Deal and Harry Truman’s Square Deal. I dunno about that, but in using “fair shot” for what she wants for American women, Hillary Clinton has staked out one corner of economic “populism” on which potential progressive rivals—with the obvious exception of Elizabeth Warren—might have trouble competing, viz. her performance at the Center for American Progress.

“We need a broader-based economic platform that is inclusive,” she said, a clunky way of fleshing out the fair shot she envisions for women, and indeed all Americans. She gives President Obama full credit for “stanching the bleeding” from the financial meltdown, but said, “Unless we change our politics, a lot of the benefits are not going to be broadly shared.”

This isn’t a bad way to promise to change Obama’s policies without repudiating them. It’s somewhat similar, ironically, to Howard Dean’s rap about the administration of Bill Clinton, which he damned with the faint praise of representing “damage control.”

Some of the specifics may be troubling, though:

Flanking Clinton at CAP were pioneers like herself who have been in the trenches fighting for women’s issues for decades. The indefatigable Nancy Pelosi, former House speaker, now Democratic leader; Washington State’s Patty Murray, elected as a “mom in tennis shoes,” now chair of the Senate Budget committee; Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut congresswoman, “the godmother” of what she calls “family-centered economics.”
The only newcomer among these stalwarts, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has the seat that Clinton once held, raised the issue of paid family leave—a core concern where women are shouldering the care of parents as well as children. “Afghanistan and Pakistan have more paid leave than us,” she said, “and they don’t even educate their girls.” With eight out of 10 women in the work force, and four out of 10 the sole or primary breadwinner, “I think we have a Rosie the Riveter moment for this generation,” Gillibrand declared. Recalling the iconic World War II image of a woman with her sleeves rolled up ready to contribute to the war effort, Gillibrand said 6 million women entered the work force then.

Personally, I see no reason why HRC and other Democrats should not take the plunge on paid family leave right away. It’s one place where Republicans cannot pretend to follow them, and its benefits are clear and extraordinarily general. The bigger in scope the “shot” any one proposal represents, the easier it is to argue it’s “fair.”

September 19, 2014 9:13 AM False Choices on Climate Change

The politics of climate change has forever been translated by opponents and even some supporters of national and international action as a choice between carbon emissions reductions and economic growth, between virtue and prosperity, and even between the present and the future. You can guess which side of those arguments typically has an advantage.

But as Paul Krugman points out today, research is increasingly documenting the economic benefits of action on climate change:

[T]here has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.
On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity.

If this research breaks though the wall of false choices, then the second line of defense against action on climate change—the first is denial, the second is “we can’t afford to do anything about it”—could begin to crumble, and we can begin to debate “how” more than “whether” to act.

September 19, 2014 7:53 AM One GOP Gambit Down in Kansas, Two More To Go

To no one’s great surprising, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach was required to strike Democratic Senate candidate Chad Taylor’s name from the November 4 ballot insofar as Taylor had properly withdrawn from the race.

Now Kobach will shift to Plan B, an effort to force the Kansas Democratic Party to replace Taylor on the ballot. What this is all about, of course, is diluting the Democratic vote going to independent candidate Greg Orman, who has been leading Sen. Pat Roberts in recent polls.

Since Kobach has no power to place someone on the ballot unilaterally, he’ll need the cooperation of the courts to pull off this gambit, and the clock is not in his favor.

But if he succeeds, I suppose Democrats could just nominate Orman, but that would play into the GOP’s Plan C, which is use the bottomless resources the national party will make available to depict the independent candidate as a stooge—nay, a godless, socialistic stooge—of Barack Obama and Harry Reid. It will be a wild ride.

September 19, 2014 7:34 AM Scotland Says “No” To Independence

After last week’s alarums that the “yes” vote was spiking, in the end Scotland voted against independence by what Americans would call a landslide, 55/45. Turnout was over 86%. Now the focus will shift immediately to the promises of devolution promised by the three leading British parties in Parliament; there’s already an English backlash developing, especially among Tories who have virtually no political support in Scotland.

September 19, 2014 7:13 AM Daylight Video

It’s my birthday, and also David Bromberg’s, who is 69 today. Here he is singing a song about how most of us would prefer to live, but can’t: “Sleep Late in the Morning.”

September 18, 2014 4:15 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Finishing up a bit early today in order to get feted a bit for my birthday tomorrow. It could involve barbecue.

Here are some remains of the day:

* House passes short-term CR and adjourns until after November 4.

* Very bad week for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is suddenly object of all sorts of anonymous Democratic backbiting.

* At TNR Alec MacGinnis argues that Alison Grimes might have mobilized Kentucky voters she needed by talking about Obamacare’s benefits, which are very notable in that state.

* At Ten Miles Square, Michael O’Hare taunts the NFL for its deserved torment and confusion.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer discusses growing evidence that vocational education programs are good for college prep, too.

And in non-political news:

* Craig Ferguson calls Macy Gray most difficult guest he encoutered on Late, Late Show.

That’s it for Thursday. We’ll close with one more brilliant Jimi Hendrix song that never got the attention it deserved: “Castles Made of Sand.”


September 18, 2014 3:30 PM A Benghazi! Unicorn

It’s probably premature to project one moment of comity even a moment into the future. But the first public hearing of the House select committee investigating the incidents in Benghazi, Libya (in this one case I won’t use the dramatic italics and exclamation point) two years ago was so shockingly calm that the usually cynical Dana Milbank of WaPo was billing and cooing, as were committee Democrats:

[W]hen the South Carolina Republican chaired his panel’s first public hearing Wednesday, Gowdy did something completely unexpected: He played it straight.
There was no discussion of talking points or stand-down orders, and only one of the seven Republicans on the panel — Jim Jordan of Ohio — even mentioned Clinton. Instead, Gowdy adopted as the theme of his first hearing an idea suggested by one of the committee’s Democrats, Adam Schiff of California: How well the State Department has been implementing recommendations to prevent future attacks on U.S. diplomats like the one in Libya two years ago that killed four Americans.
This is exactly what congressional oversight should be: a bipartisan effort by legislators to make sure executive-branch officials don’t repeat past mistakes. The resulting bonhomie was unprecedented in the two years of Benghazi bickering.
“I thank you for holding this hearing today,” Elijah Cummings (Md.), the panel’s hard-nosed ranking Democrat, told Gowdy. “. . . I want to thank our colleague Representative Schiff for proposing the topic for today’s hearing, and, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for accepting that topic.”

Now it’s possible Gowdy will be taken to the woodshed by other Republicans (not to mention the conservative media that has made Benghazi! a sort of national security counterpart to Agenda 21), and come back snarling and ranting. But for the first time since September 11, 2012, the subject is being discussed by Republicans in an atmosphere that isn’t reminiscent of a Tea Party street rally.

September 18, 2014 3:18 PM Twin Impulses of Beseiged Zionism

Consuming any issue of the Washington Monthly involves tucking in to tasty book reviews, and the current issue is no exception. Anyone interested in the complex background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should read Jacob Heilbrunn’s review of two books on two great rivals of Zionism and their shifting legacies today.

Hillel Halkin’s biography of Vladimir Jabotinskly, the leader of “revisionist” Zionism, and Seth Lipsky’s biography of the American socialist Zionist Abraham Cahan, take us back to the old but evergreen arguments about the best way for Palestinian Jews, and later Israelis, to deal with hostile Arab neighbords. As Heilbrunn notes, Rabotinsky’s blunt faith in nationalist force instead of mutual aid or “co-prosperity” almost seems more modern, given its adoption by Bibi Netanyahu, the son of one of his proteges. But Cahan’s point of view points to many paths not taken by the Zionist enterprise, including a less aggressive assertion of exclusive statehood.

If it sometimes seems nothing new is ever said and done in the dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it may be best to look back a bit further, when intra-Zionist disputes were more robust and less fraught with immediate peril (except, of course, for the many souls that might have escaped fascist terror had the situation in Palestine been more settled).

September 18, 2014 2:28 PM Eximbank Happy About IS

Wanna know who was happiest when it was decided to attach an authorization for military action and assistance in Syria to a short-term continuing appropriations resolution? Officials and supporters of the Export-Import Bank. Until then this underlying measure was a big fat target for conservative groups wanting to kill Exim, since it included a renewal of the bank’s charter for another year.

As Dave Weigel explains at Slate today, the IS language changed everything, leading the Club for Growth to withdraw its earlier decision to demand a “no” vote as a “scored” measure. To put it more simply, the vote became “about” IS rather than Exim or even “government spending.” So it passed with relatively ease.

Lord knows how many sponsors of other controversial legislative actions wish they had thought to huddle under the shelter of this suddenly very different appropriations bill. I guess that’s why some lobbyists make the big bucks, but others make the monstrously big bucks.

September 18, 2014 1:25 PM Lunch Buffet

Get-well thoughts for Martin Longman, who’s feeling poorly today.

Here are some healthy midday news/views snacks:

* At Salon Digby wonders if Mike Huckabee might be the front-runner the 2016 GOP presidential field has lacked.

* The Guardian provides a guide for puzzled Americans in following the Scottish independence vote.

* Obama plans to be very stringent in approving air strikes in Syria.

* Peter Beinart warns that the “security moms” phenomenon of 2002 could be returning.

* At the Prospect, Paul Waldman raises a question that has occurred to lots of us: why is IS taking actions designed to encourage greater U.S. intervention?

And in non-political news:

* Pizza Hut debuts “skinny slice” pizzas, latest fast-food effort to get fat profits from lighter fare (usually has not worked).

As we break for lunch, here’s another less famous but fabulous Hendrix song: “I Don’t Live Today,” from Are You Experienced?

September 18, 2014 1:03 PM Speaking of Dark Money….

Since we’re talking about dark money, we should note the confusion and controversy over the political spending of Las Vegas’ Dark Lord, Sheldon Adelson. There’s a fresh rumor, reported by Politico’s Kenneth Vogel, that Adelson is giving a nice little autumn present of $10 million each to Crossroads GPS (the Rove-created moneypot 501(c)(4) focused on Senate races) and American Action Network (another 501(c)94) allied with John Boehner and focused on House races).

Since these are dark money groups, and nobody’s confirming or denying anything, it’s hard to say if it’s any truer than earlier rumors that Sheldon had cut a deal with Harry Reid that would keep his political checkbook closed in exchange for Senate action on an internet gambling ban, the apple of Adelson’s eye.

We’ll probably have to wait and see what other intel leaks out about Sheldon’s plans, and whether major Republican groups seem to have found some extra dough. The scary thought is that he’s saving up to personally back another presidential candidate in 2016. As Newt Gingrich can tell you, Adelson’s sofa-cushion money is enough to keep a campaign going for months.

September 18, 2014 11:52 AM Dark Money ‘14: We Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

Anyone conducting a comparison of fundraising for the 2014 cycle, as I did a couple days ago (quoting Charlie Cook as suggesting Democrats had an advantage in Senate races) should issue a disclaimer that there’s a lot of time left in the cycle and plenty of precedent for heavy deployment of “dark money” (groups that as certified non-profits don’t have to disclose donors) expenditures, especially by those backing Republican candidates. MoJo’s Andy Kroll has some disturbing estimates of the mud in the pipeline:

As the Center for Responsive Politics’ Robert Maguire notes, almost $7 million had been dropped by Labor Day in 2010. But by the end of that election season, dark-money spending had spiked to $130 million. That trend repeated in 2012: In late August of that year, dark-money spending clocked in at $51 million. Fast forward to Election Day and the total ballooned to more than $300 million….
This cycle is not a presidential year, but with the US Senate up for grabs, dark-money spending could surpass the record-setting amount of 2012. “If the rate of spending from previous cycles continues,” Maguire writes, “the totals could reach upwards of $730 million or—if the rate seen in the last midterm holds—edge close to $1 billion.”

Yet Republicans are still squawking that the IRS squelched conservative 501(c) “social welfare” designations. If that’s so, it’s hard to imagine the flood of untraceable money we’d be dealing with.

September 18, 2014 10:58 AM Return of the Flypaper Theory

To an amazing extent, the current mini-debate over what we are doing in Iraq and Syria has revived one of the more disreputable ideas behind the Iraq War: the “flypaper theory,” whereby the United States is “pinning down” terrorists overseas so they do not have the leisure to come into the United States (or Europe) to blow up things. It is very explicitly what Lindsey Graham has been talking about in his hysterical way:

“If he does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL, whatever you guys want to call it, they are coming here,” Mr. Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is just not about Baghdad. This is just not about Syria. And if we do get attacked, then he will have committed a blunder for the ages.”

The “flypaper theory” is also the underlying illusion behind all the weird alarums about ISIS terrorists infliltrating the border and otherwise plotting to blow up things here.

What strikes me most about this kind of talk is how it betrays the belief that the massive homeland security edifice erected in this country after 9/11 is completely useless. If the only way to expunge terror threats is to kill terrorists in their own homelands, then why are some of the same people freaking out about IS also so determined to authorize torture and unconstitutional surveillance to detect terror plots? Why does it matter? Shouldn’t we just be creating more and more flypapers overseas (as, indeed, people like Graham and John McCain and Dick Cheney seem to support in any event)?

I’m reasonably sure the FBI and DHS detect and thwart all sorts of terror threats—most feckless but some dangerous—every other day. It’s why we spend tens of billions of dollars on these efforts. You can argue that’s not enough or far too much, and differ over what we are doing to our Constitution and liberties in the name of homeland security. But unless it’s all just a waste of time, the idea that we have to have a war every time terrorists make videos threatening to attack us is just bizarre.

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