Political Animal


July 23, 2014 2:38 PM Glastris Talks About Putin and the Republicans’ “Big Lobotomy” on Newsmax TV

Earlier this week I was on Newsmax TV discussing the situation in the Ukraine and our new cover story “The Big Lobotomy: How Republicans Made Congress Stupid.” Did the interview via Skype. Note to self: next time put your laptop on a higher surface so viewers are spared having to look up your nostrils.

July 23, 2014 1:38 PM Lunch Buffet

Little groggy from a late night staring at county returns from Georgia. It was nice, though, to do so knowing where most of those counties (GA has 159 of the suckers) are and what they are like.

Here are some midday treats:

* Silly but fun poll shows Darth Vader with higher favorability ratio than all named 2016 presidential candidates.

* At Vox Ezra Klein says the DC Circuit ruling on ACA subsidies won’t stand because that would be way too stupid. Quite the optimist, Ezra.

* Oh brother: Soon-to-be-ex-congresswoman Michele Bachmann says she might run for president against in 2016. Must have a book in the works.

* Erick Erickson squarely blames Jack Kingston’s loss on Chamber’s position on immigration, subject of late ad by David Perdue.

* At The Atlantic, Megan Garber issues a very common but entertainingly written protest against abuse of term “Breaking News.”

And in non-political news:

* At TNR, David Thomson calls Magic in the Moonlight Woody Allen’s “worst film yet.” If it’s worse than Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, I’ll definitely skip it.

As we break for lunch, here’s Alison Krauss with Union Station performing “Paper Airplane.”

July 23, 2014 1:05 PM Climbing Out of the Hole in Gaza

Whenever madness and violence breaks out in the Middle East, I generally look to Gershom Gorenberg, the Prospect’s correspondent in the area, to make sense of it all. His latest dispatch isn’t terribly encouraging:

In a 2007 article that now reads as if written to explain the 2014 Gaza war, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and fellow psychologist Jonathan Renshon succinctly gave some answers. Human minds, they said, have hard-wired biases that favor hawks. People are too optimistic about their own strengths, including the strength of their armies. They prefer to double down rather than to cut their losses. They’re sure that other people can read their thoughts and understand their good intentions—even while they misread their opponents’ intent.
You can go down this list and find painful proofs in the events of recent weeks: Hamas appeared absurdly overconfident that rocket fire would force Israel to stop air attacks and loosen its siege on Gaza. When that didn’t work, rather than accept a ceasefire, it upped the ante by sending gunmen through tunnels to surface in Israeli territory. Israel thought Hamas would surely fold in the face of air strikes. When that didn’t happen, it quintupled its bet with the ground invasion. The Israeli government thinks the world has to understand that it’s acting in self-defense, even as whole families die in Gaza. This isn’t just a PR ploy. Or rather, the PR is sincere, which doesn’t make it more convincing outside Israel.

Attributing the disaster to human nature may be accurate, but it doesn’t provide much hope. Gorenberg suggests the two parties may have to start over:

If all-too-human blindness to alternatives has led us into this tragedy, the proper response isn’t despair. It’s to look for better options, for diplomatic opportunities, that are being ignored right now.
There’s a Hebrew saying: A clever man climbs out of a hole that a wise man wouldn’t fall in. We’ve missed the chance to be wise. It’s not too late to be clever.

Let’s hope not.

UPDATE: The New York Times has this report on the apportionment of responsibility:

The United Nations’ top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said Wednesday that there was a “strong possibility” that Israel and Hamas have committed war crimes with indiscriminate attacks on civilians during more than two weeks of fighting with militants in Gaza.
Opening a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Pillay called for an investigation and accountability to end the cycle of violence.
Ms. Pillay cited Israeli airstrikes on civilian homes in Gaza and the shelling of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital two days ago, which killed four people, as examples of actions that suggest “a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
She also condemned Hamas and other militant groups for attacks on Israeli civilians. And she said it was unacceptable to place military assets in densely populated areas or to launch attacks from then. “The principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed by such indiscriminate attacks on civilians by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she said.
“The actions of one party do not absolve the other party of the need to respect its obligations under international law,” said Ms. Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
July 23, 2014 11:56 AM Stepped-On Heroin Not the Problem

Sad to say, the death by drug overdose of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman revived ancient talk about heroin being dangerous because you just never know who’s diluted or “stepped on” the stuff, and/or what impurities have been included.

As Keith Humphreys argues emphatically at Ten Miles Square today, such talk is an obstacle to understanding and doing something about what is becoming an epidemic of overdoses from opiate use:

I talked with Harold Pollack recently about how careful research on overdoses destroyed my prior belief in “killer heroin” hype:
“There’s a very nice paper just out by Professors Shane Darke and Michael Farrell, who are two of the world’s leading experts on the topic…toxicology studies of overdosed people very rarely find that impurities played an important role…victims didn’t particularly receive high doses, either. Such findings surprised me. The fact that we’ve got 16,000 people a year dying from pure, legally-manufactured opiate analgesics shows you that it’s really not about the unpredictability of illegal markets, it’s about the drugs per se.”
The killer heroin/impure heroin narrative sounds plausible on its face, but the data completely undermine it….
I would have [kept reinforcing the myth myself],,,with confidence, at one point (particularly before the nation was flooded with pure, consistent, labeled opioids like Oxycodone and the result was…an overdose epidemic). But I would respectfully ask…everyone else to look at the data on overdoses and have a rethink. Successfully tackling the overdose crisis — which is now causing almost as many deaths in the U.S. a year as AIDS did at its peak — will not be facilitated by incorrect assumptions about the nature of the problem.

Be advised.

July 23, 2014 10:49 AM Downballot Nailbiter

There was one set of contests on the Georgia ballot yesterday of slightly more than symbolic interest: School Superintendent runoffs in both parties that represented real choices of philosophy.

On the Democratic side, Valarie Wilson, former School Board Association president and the overwhelming choice of the professional educator community (it’s really hard to call them “teachers unions” in GA, since they have no collective bargaining rights) defeated state legislator Alisha Morgan, a big charter public school proponent, by a comfortable but not overwhelming margin. Both candidates supported implementation of Common Core standards.

But keeping versus getting rid of Common Core was the big dividing issue in the GOP runoff, and when all precincts had reported, Common Core opponent Richard Woods had edged former school administrator Mike Buck by about 700 votes. That’s within Georgia’s “right-to-a-recount” margin, so this could drag on. An ultimate Woods victory could go a long way towards pushing Georgia from being a wobbly Common Core state (despite former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s big national role in the initiative) to a defector, at a very sensitive time.

July 23, 2014 10:22 AM Life Without Mitch

I don’t know if the Senate Republican Conference has informal rules like those of Tudor England, in which publicly contemplating the death of the monarch was considered an act of treason. But clearly, when Politico’s Raju and Bresnahan started asking Senate Republicans who would become their leader if Mitch McConnell were, as polls have suggested is a possibility, to lose his own seat this November, they went scurrying for cover, probably crossing themselves. It is, Raju and Bresnahan say, a “taboo subject.” So they have to do some guessing on their own.

You’d normally figure the second-place person in the leadership structure, Sen. John Cornyn of TX, would step right in if the Great Mitch fell. But maybe not:

Cornyn’s ascension to the top spot is hardly a lock. A McConnell loss would mean Republicans would most likely still be in the Senate minority, and some GOP senators would be looking for a fresh face to pull the party out of the political wilderness, set policy priorities and drive the national message.
There also appears to be concern among a handful in the Republican Conference that a Minority Leader Cornyn would be hamstrung by the whims of his fellow Texan and conservative firebrand Ted Cruz, pulling the party further to the right.

Now that’s hilarious: a national Republican leader and senior senator is so terrified of his freshman colleague that he can’t be trusted to see straight. That tells you who’s calling the shots in today’s GOP: for all the macho talk by people like McConnell, it’s not those pragmatists of the “Republican Establishment.” Mitch can’t even designate his own successor, it seems, without worrying about Ted Cruz.

July 23, 2014 10:00 AM Replacing Georgia’s House Wingnuts

Yesterday I suggested we might see a “con-con trifecta” in Georgia Republican House runoffs yesterday, with my main doubt being the viability of “Dr. Bob” Johnson in a relatively high turnout GA-01 contest.

Well, my instincts were sound. In GA-10, Baptist preacher/radio talk host Jody Hice, a true wild man, will in every respect succeed Paul Broun, having beaten trucking company owner Mike Collins by a comfortable margin. Lest you think of Hice as a rural prophet coming down from the hills like something out of Flannery O’Connor, his best counties were in the Atlanta exurbs. In GA-11, state senator Barry Loudermilk, who sometimes seems a calmer version of Broun, absolutely trounced Bob Barr, who represented much of the same area in the House for eight years.

But “Dr. Bob, the Christian Conservative” (as Johnson called himself) couldn’t get the win in GA-01, losing the district’s dominant county, Chatham, by a big and fatal margin to state senator Buddy Carter, who’s from Pooler right outside Savannah. Since Kingston didn’t become much of a Fighting Conservative until he set his sights on a Senate seat, I’d say all around the Georgia House delegation will stay about the same.

One thing will change, though: Broun and Gingrey were both physicians, part of a Georgia tradition of right-wing docs that goes at least back to John Birch Society leader Larry McDonald, who represented more or less what is today’s 11th district before he died in the Korean airliner shot down by the Soviet military in 1983 (for those of you too young to remember that incident, it was right out of John Birch Society central casting). Yes, there’s still Rep. Tom Price, but having Dr. Bob in the House would have provided a buffer. Buddy Carter is a pharmacist, which is close, I guess.

July 23, 2014 9:11 AM Perdue Upsets Kingston

As you know if you were paying attention to political news last night, David Perdue very narrowly defeated Rep. Jack Kingston in GA’s Republican Senate runoff after a nasty “who’s more conservative?” campaign ended with a low turnout event. Turnout patterns ultimately decided it, with Kingston unable to capture enough of the vote won in the primary by the defeated candidates (two of which, Karen Handel and Phil Gingrey, endorsed and campaigned with him) in the areas outside his South Georgia base. Perdue also improved his standing in middle and southwest Georgia (he did more advertising outside Atlanta than Kingston in the runoff), while winning the big metro Atlanta counties by an average of about ten points.

Beyond that mechanical explanation, it may simply be the candidates wore out the voters, with those showing up reverting to their primary preferences. That’s what the turnout—which didn’t quite reach double-digit percentages of the electorate—would suggest. The nine week runoff experiment was clearly a big mistake, leaving the winner exhausted and out of money (though in Perdue’s case we have to assume he’s not quite to the bottom of his personal cookie jar).

As for ideology, well, the constant attacks on each other by all the candidates, going back to the beginning of the cycle, for allegedly insufficient conservatism may have gotten a little old as well. But the dynamic did leave Perdue, generally figured to breathe less fire than most of his rivals, not terribly well positioned for a competitive general election campaign. He’s said he’d dump Mitch McConnell as Senate Leader for insufficient conservatism; he’s taken the wild-man position of demanding government shutdowns if the debt limit is breached; he’s attacked any sort of immigration reform legislation; and he’s publicly flirted with impeachment. That’s just the stuff that got attention; Lord knows what he told activists in smaller meetings where they were demanding he come out against the New Deal as Satan’s work. Given Perdue’s tendency towards gaffes when unsupervised (e.g., his dismissal of Karen Handel as a “high school graduate” and the near-disastrous newspaper interview when he forget to rule out tax increases until the end of time), oppo research could turn up some real gems.

But I doubt he’ll have too much trouble getting other Republicans on board. Yes, Karen Handel is probably still mad at him, and it will be fun to watch the U.S. Chamber get behind the candidate whose most effective late ad (and the one that might have made a crucial difference) was attacking the Chamber itself for “buying” Kingston’s vote for “amnesty.” It’s probably David Perdue’s race to lose, and he could be just the guy to do it.

July 23, 2014 7:51 AM Daylight Video

It’s Alison Krauss’ 43d birthday. As a bridge from yesterday’s Costello commemoration, here’s Krauss performing the haunting song Elvis wrote with T.-Bone Burnett, “Scarlet Tide.”

July 22, 2014 5:30 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

I’ve got a long (or with luck, not-so-long) night of results watching and a midnight deadline for a TPMCafe column, so I’m happy to sign off. Hope I can avoid getting into Twitter dialogues.

Here are some remains of the day:

* As always, Daily Kos Elections has a fine preview of today’s contests, and will be the place to go tonight for results.

* FAA cancels U.S. flights to Israel after Hamas rocket falls near Ben-Gurian airport near Tel Aviv.

* TNR’s Danny Vinik notes that GOP bills to pressure Fed into deflationary policies real bad sign for what would happen if Republicans get right to make appointments.

* At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys examines the implications of data showing most legal pot purchases concentrated among heavy users.

* At College Guide, Jon Marcus notes poor preparation of colleges and universities for Common Core implementation.

And in non-political news:

* Robert Downey, Jr., tops latest Forbes list of highest-paid actors.

That’s it for Tuesday. Let’s close with one more tune from My Aim Is True: “Less Than Zero.”


July 22, 2014 5:08 PM The Senate Candidate To Beat

In the comment thread after my overview of the U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia today, there was some talk about an issue I hadn’t addressed: which GOP candidate would Democrats prefer that Michelle Nunn face in November?

I’m pretty sure the official answer would be “It doesn’t matter,” and there’s some logic to that position. Against Kingston, Nunn is the “outsider” competing with an eleven-term congressional incumbent in a year when Congress is held in very low esteem. And against Perdue, every weapon used against Mitt Romney would be available, but with Nunn comparing her nonprofit experience with the Republican’s money-grubbing and worker-screwing. The polls haven’t shown a big difference; in the RCP averages, Nunn is even with Perdue and two points ahead of Kingston.

Long-time Georgia political observer Bill Crane (saw him on TV the other day, and he’s aged well from the time I knew him back in the day) is sure Kingston’s the preferred Nunn opponent:

I think Michelle Nunn would prefer to run against Jack Kingston. Twenty-two year incumbent, PAC money, special interest, her preferred race is the race that I think she’s going to get.

But I dunno. Perdue’s shown a tendency to commit gaffes. He gave a huge opening to Karen Handel in the primary by mocking her lack of higher education in casual remarks that were taped and later released. And in a newspaper interview later on, he mentioned “revenues” as part of the federal budget picture without ritualistically swearing he’s die before ever accepting a tax increase, which was turned by his opponents into a dishonest but effective assertion that he’d called for a tax increase. Maybe the GOP would surround Perdue with gaffe-proofers if he won tonight, or insist he limit his entire campaign to the kind of soft-focus saturation ads that made him a contender to begin with.

But I agree with Crane that Kingston’s the likely winner tonight. However Michelle Nunn feels about it, Perdue’s children, who have been watching him spend their inheritence this year, will be very happy.

July 22, 2014 4:49 PM Fourth Circuit Contradicts DC Circuit on Obamacare Subsidies

If you need further assurance of the very tentative nature of the gigantic defeat supposedly suffered by the Obama administration via the split decision of a three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidating Obamacare insurance purchasing subsidies in states without their own exchanges, it arrived within hours, as a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously reached the opposite conclusion in a case revolving around the same issues.

Presumably the losing parties in both cases will appeal these decisions to the full circuit courts (the Department of Justice has already confirmed this course of action in the DC case). If the two circuits ultimately disagree, then there’s little doubt the Supremes will be called upon to resolve the matter. But there’s a decent chance the administration will prevail in both circuits.

July 22, 2014 3:04 PM Christian Identity Politics in Tennessee

Since I’ve been saying some less-than-laudatory things about politics in my home state of Georgia, let’s train our eyes at some hijinks in a different state. The story is interesting in part because of the courage shown by a Muslim candidate by running for office in Tennessee, which has been ground zero for Islamophobia for some time. But the greater import may be that it shows an opponent reaching levels of identity politics normally associated with the Left. Here’s a report from the Nashville Tennessean’s Jamie Page:

A Muslim candidate for a Coffee County Commission seat says his incumbent opponent is making false statements about his religious and patriotic beliefs to smear his name in an attempt to appeal to voters.
In a July 16 letter asking District 15 constituents for their vote, Republican Commissioner Mark Kelly made the following claims about his Democratic political opponent, Zak Mohyuddin:
“My opponent has expressed his beliefs publicly that the United States is not a Christian nation; that the American flag should be removed from public buildings because it is a symbol of tyranny and oppression; that public prayer should be banned because it insults non-Christians; and that the Bible should be removed from public places.”

Turns out Kelly had zero evidence for any of these allegations, saying they were based on “private consersations.” Moyuddin denies them all. But here’s where it get interesting:

Kelly, who has known Mohyuddin for 25 years and helped him move into his home, told The Tennessean he is not anti-Muslim and that he stands by his letter.

“I am a Christian and have been and will be. Zak isn’t, and he has a different faith and there are a lot of different faiths,” Kelly said. “I am standing on my values and my record. The point of the letter was to encourage the conservative base to get out and vote. It was simply to show the difference in views between two people, not that one is right or wrong, just a difference.”

It’s unusual for a conservative Christian Republican candidate to garnish a religious smear with a dash of moral relativism, but it does seem he’s saying whatever it takes to “encourage the base” is okay, whether or not it’s even true of his opponent. After all, “the base” can’t have any Muslims getting elected to public office, can it? After all, this isn’t their country, is it?

Speaking to his patriotism, Mohyuddin notes that…at a rally in Manchester last year held to increase awareness about American Muslims, he led a group of 500 people in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. He is a member of the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee, which sponsored the event.
Kelly also wrote in the letter: “I believe in the Christian values and work ethics that are the foundation of this great nation … Our Founding Fathers prayed to God and established our Nation and its Laws based on the Judeo-Christian principles of the Bible. Because the Bible is foundational to understanding American history and law as well as our heritage; the Bible belongs in public places.”
Mohyuddin said he also has no problem with public prayers or public display of Bibles.

But he’s a Muslim, so he must be lying.

Just incredible.

July 22, 2014 12:38 PM Lunch Buffet

I’m ahead of schedule on posting, so I’m doing Lunch Buffet a bit early to accommodate a family business chore that may take a couple of hours. Be back when I can.

Here are some midday news/views morsels:

* Interesting conservative appreciation of Elizabeth Warren’s specificity of views from Washington Examiner’s Byron York.

* Benjamin Wallace-Wells argues Israel is losing the American media war in its confrontation with Hamas.

* At the Prospect, Robert Waldman notes trip to Iowa forced Chris Christie out of comfortable vagueness on difficult issues.

* TNR’s Brian Beutler appropriately calls suit against Obamacare the three-judge DC Circuit panel just upheld a “fundamentally dishonest solicitation of right-wing judicial activism.” Bingo.

* At the Atlantic, Joe Pinsker argues all that anti-Obamacare advertising has simply improved awareness of the law among potential beneficiaries, boosting enrollment.

And in non-political news:

* Novelist Thomas Berger dies at 89.

As we break for lunch, here’s the best known song from My Aim Is True, “Alison,” performed in 1977. Still gives me chills.

July 22, 2014 12:17 PM What Split on the Left About Hobby Lobby?

The minute I read the headline of Molly Ball’s much-quoted piece for The Atlantic—“How Hobby Lobby Split the Left and Set Back Gay Rights”—I figured Religion Dispatch’s Sarah Posner would respond definitively. And boy howdy, she has:

This weekend, the day before President Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the Atlantic’s Molly Ball published a piece asserting that a “controversy” was emerging in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case that “has split gay-rights and faith groups on the left, with wide-ranging political fallout that some now fear could hurt both causes.”
That statement has slim, if any evidence to support it. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence against it.
“There is no division on the left,” Sharon Groves, Director of the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign, told me, referring to the overwhelming progressive religious opposition to the inclusion of a religious exemption in today’s order. Obama signed the order without a religious exemption.

If anything, Hobby Lobby has reduced divisions among progressives about “religious liberty” exemptions from non-discrimination laws by making it clear SCOTUS will use any exemption for institutions that aren’t actually churches to build much bigger exemptions. And that’s true not just of LGBT folk, but of the “religious left” as well.

As I reported two weeks ago, 100 religious leaders signed a letter to Obama unequivocally opposing a religious exemption in the order. Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a pro-LGBT rights Catholic group, told me that letter garnered “quick, rapid support” within a day or two of being drafted. “Everyone was on exactly the same page,” she said.
That letter was followed by a letter from civil liberties and diverse pro-LGBT religious groups, initially collecting 69 signatures, and later 98.
“I don’t know any people on the left who were for the [executive order] religious exemption,” said Duddy-Burke, adding that advocacy groups may differ on questions of strategy—such as whether to drop support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if the bill includes a religious exemption. That assessment was echoed by other leaders I spoke with, who all emphasized those differences were ones of strategy in the post-Hobby Lobby legal landscape, not over whether there should be religious exemptions to laws guaranteeing LGBT rights.

Turns out, as those who have followed this issue for some time might expect, by “the left” Ball pretty much just means Jim Wallis, the self-proclaimed leader of the “religious left” whose impulses on LGBT issues are lamentably reactionary. And Ball also cites hand-wringing from a staffer for Third Way who purports to be a honest broker between “the left” and religious folk. That’s pretty much all for evidence of a “split.”

The real news here is actually that the Obama administration for once did not listen to non-“Left” religious voices on this subject, in part because there was no “split on the Left” at all. But Ball’s piece shows the confusion that continues to reign, especially among people who don’t seem to understand religion or “the Left.”

Political Animal Archive