GOP enters the abyss: The entire party has fallen prey to bigotry and paranoid fantasy

GOP enters the abyss: The entire party has fallen prey to bigotry and paranoid fantasy

(Credit: AP/Dennis Van Tine)

SALON

For reasons hard to fathom, the Republicans seem to have made up their minds: they will divide, degrade and secede from the Union.

They will do so with bullying, lies and manipulation, a willingness to say anything, no matter how daft or wrong. They will do so by spending unheard of sums to buy elections with the happy assistance of big business and wealthy patrons for whom the joys of gross income inequality are a comfortable fact of life. By gerrymandering and denying the vote to as many of the poor, the elderly, struggling low-paid workers, and people of color as they can. And by appealing to the basest impulses of human nature: anger, fear and bigotry.

Turn on your TV or computer, pick up a paper or magazine and you can see and hear them baying at the moon. Donald Trump is just the most outrageous and bigmouthed of the frothing wolf pack of deniers and truth benders. As our friend and colleague Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch writes, “There’s nothing, no matter how jingoistic or xenophobic, extreme or warlike that can’t be expressed in public and with pride by a Republican presidential candidate.”

Like the pronouncement of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, ignorance is strength, whether it’s casting paranoid fantasies about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering 9/11, or warning about terrorists in refugees’ ragged clothing and Mexican rapists slithering across the border.

Just four-and-a-half years ago, Washington mainstays Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein shocked the inside-the-Beltway establishment (especially the press, with its silent pact to speak no evil of wrongdoers lest they deny you an interview) when they published their book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks. The two esteemed political scientists wrote, “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

In the years since, an ugly situation has only gotten increasingly dire, with right-wing radicals whipped into a frenzy by a Republican establishment that thought it could use their rage, only to find it running amok and beyond their control. In a recent interview with Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg View, Norman Ornstein said, “The future still looks pretty grim.” And Thomas Mann noted, “The burden is on the GOP because they are currently the major source of our political dysfunction. No happy talk about bipartisanship can obscure that reality. Unless other voices and movements arise within the Republican Party to changes its character and course, our dysfunctional politics will continue.”

The fever is pandemic not only among the party’s presidential candidates but throughout the House and Senate right down to our state governments. Witness erstwhile GOP presidential candidate and current Wisconsin governor Scott Walker cutting off food stamps for the hungry and possibly bankrupting food pantries in his state just in time for Christmas – because many of those on the lowest rung of the ladder haven’t yet found a job.

And here’s multimillionaire Bruce Rauner winning the governorship of Illinois after spending some $65 million — half of which came from himself and nine other individuals, families or the companies they control. Now he’s calling once again on his wealthy friends and allies around the country who, The New York Times reports, “are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions”– even though a majority of ordinary citizens in Illinois are opposed.

Meanwhile, with just a few weeks until they adjourn for the holidays, Republicans in the US Congress will try to cram in as much pettiness and vituperation as they can before they head back to their states and districts, no doubt to lead the home front in the fight against “the war on Christmas” launched this time every year by the Republicans’ propaganda arm (Fox News) and its shock troops on talk radio.

Congressional Republicans have vowed to free Wall Street from oversight and accountability and to prevent children fleeing the Syrian inferno from coming ashore on US soil. And yes, they will once again be in full throat against gun control (despite the latest tragedy in San Bernardino, California). They’re on constant attack against the science of climate change, with the latest salvo two House bills passed December 1 that undermine Environmental Protection Agency rules (the president will veto them). And believe it or not, once again they’ll try to scuttle Obamacare, as in Kentucky where the self-financed, wealthy Republican governor-elect has vowed to cut loose hundreds of thousands of people from health insurance.

Take a look at some of their other plans, including the riders congressional Republicans are contemplating for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill that must be passed by December 11. The whole mess is a Bad Santa’s list of loopholes benefiting High Finance, tax cuts for the rich, and budget cuts for everyone else, even as they drive the nation deeper into debt and disrepair.

All of these sad examples are but symptoms of a deeper disease – the corruption and debasement of society, government and politics. It is a disease that eats away at the root and heart of what democracy is all about. Remember the opening phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution committing “We, the People” to the most remarkable compact of self-government ever – for the good of all? The Republicans are shredding that vision as they make a bonfire of the hopes that inspired it and, in the process, reduce the United States to a third-rate, sorry excuse for a nation.

Why? For an analogy and an answer we have to go back to the slave-holding Democrats of the 1840s and 50s who were prepared to destroy the Union if necessary to protect and expand the brutal system of human slavery on which their economy and way of life were built. The extremism and polarization engendered made it impossible for politics peacefully to resolve the moral dilemma facing our country. If the Republicans – and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln — had not championed and fought to preserve the Union and its government, the United States would have been no more.

Now it is the Republicans who are willing to wreck the country to maintain the gross inequality that divides us – inequality which rewards the party leaders and their donors, just as slavery rewarded white supremacists. They would tear the Republic apart, rip to pieces its already fragile social compact, and reap the whirlwind of a failed experiment in self-government.

AND , BILLMOYERS.COM

President Obama to Deliver Address on Terrorism Sunday

Obama Statement on the San Bernardino Shootings

Olivier Douliery—AP

TIME

President Obama will deliver a primetime address to the nation Sunday night on the threat of terrorism, the White House said, following last week’s killing of 14 Americans in San Bernardino and the recent attacks in Paris.

According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Obama will speak at 8 p.m. Eastern time Sunday “about the steps our government is taking to fulfill his highest priority: keeping the American people safe.”

The address from the Oval Office is a particularly rare move for Obama, highlighting his administration’s efforts to portray itself as seriously engaged on the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria after the attacks.

Earnest said in a statement Obama would update the country on the investigation into the California attack, which the administration has now branded an act of terror.

“The President will also discuss the broader threat of terrorism, including the nature of the threat, how it has evolved, and how we will defeat it,” Earnest said. “He will reiterate his firm conviction that ISIL will be destroyed and that the United States must draw upon our values – our unwavering commitment to justice, equality and freedom – to prevail over terrorist groups that use violence to advance a destructive ideology.”

In recent months, Obama has come under fire from Republicans and even some Democrats for his struggles to explain the nature of the ISIS threat and the U.S. effort to combat the extremist group. That campaign is being waged in two parts: the on-the-ground and air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and on cyberspace and the streets of Western cities as ISIS-inspired radicalism spreads. A series of ill-times statements minimizing the group’s threat have only added to Obama’s problems.

In a press conference in Turkey following the Paris attacks, Obama frustratedly lashed out at partisan critics, maintaining that his strategy against the terrorist group is sound. But Republicans have called for an escalation to the air war, while some have called for the deployment of hundreds or thousands of American troops on the ground to fight the group. Meanwhile, intelligence agencies have struggled to spot cases of homegrown extremism as ISIS has embraced more sophisticated methods of securing its communications.

In the days between the Paris and California attacks, Obama and aides had repeatedly stated there was no credible and specific threat to the homeland—an indication of how the San Bernardino attackers planned their assault out of view of U.S. law enforcement.

Obama has only twice previously addressed the nation live from the Oval Office, to discuss the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and later that year to mark the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. Five years later, about 3,500 American troops have returned to Iraq to advise and assist local forces against ISIS.

Zeke J Miller

14 Groups Getting Koch Brothers Dark Money To Turn America Into A Right-Wing Playground

ADDICTING INFO

The billionaire Koch brothers – industrialists Charles and David from Koch Industries – like to say they aren’t involved in “politics” much. But like everything surrounding the right-wing brothers, that’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.

While the Kochs don’t necessarily directly involve themselves in the nitty gritty of electoral politics all the time through direct donations to candidates and parties, they keep themselves in the loop by funding a variety of pressure groups, advocacy organizations and non-profits that push a right wing ideology on a constant basis. These groups don’t wait for election years to be active, and are in the trenches at a micro-local level promoting a spectrum of causes that often happen to fatten the pockets of the brothers.

One such vehicle used by the Kochs is the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(6) trade association (the Kochs also operate Freedom Partners Action Fund, which directly injects money in political races). In 2014 this group took in $126 million, spent about $41 million on overhead and poured the remaining cash on outside groups. Here they are:

  1. NRA Institute for Legislative Action ($4.9 million) – the lobbying arm of the pro-gun NRA who fights to attack any and all legislation aimed at curbing gun violence
  2. Americans for Prosperity ($22 million) – the biggest Koch group, they organize rallies, run ads against Democrats, truck in conservatives to bully members of Congress at town halls at other events
  3. Chamber of Commerce ($2 million) – the lobbying arm of big business, they have often targeted Democrats for not being as eager to appease business demands as the GOP
  4. Generation Opportunity ($14.2 million) – this is the Koch arm designed to attract young voters. They’ve produced ads and campaigns misinforming voters about the Affordable Care Act, attempting to get them to “opt out” of coverage. In one ad they showed Uncle Sam administering a gynecological exam to a young woman.
  5. Americans for Tax Reform ($100,000) – Republican mega-operative Grover Norquist’s pressure group that forces Republican candidates to sign a pledge promising not to raise taxes under any circumstance
  6. Heritage Action for America ($150,0000 – A right wing pressure group, part of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, which attempts to force right-wing legislation through congress
  7. Concerned Veterans for America ($12.7 million) – with this group the Kochs attempt to hide their right-wing economic policies under the guise of “veteran’s issues”
  8. Center for Shared Services ($5.7 million) – the Kochs use this group as a recruiter and administrative support team for the other organizations in their dark money network
  9. Evangchr4 Trust ($5.7 million)- this group is used to disseminate Koch-friendly data through church-based spokespeople, specifically through pastor outreach
  10. American Energy Alliance ($2.4 million) – this is an outpost of the energy industry, used to attack clean energy initiatives and to smear climate change research
  11. Citizenlink ($1 million) – the political nonprofit division of the virulently anti-gay Focus on the Family
  12. Susan B. Anthony Group ($225,000) – an anti-abortion group
  13. Trees of Liberty ($400,000) – a PAC that attacked Democrats and boosted Republicans in races like the Iowa Senate race that elected Sen. Joni Ernst
  14. IACE Action ($95,000) and Colorado Women’s Alliance ($50,000) – groups that attacked Democratic Senator Mark Udall, helping to lead to his defeat in 2014

 

FYI: Presidential debate schedule, 2015-2016

VOX

The first Democratic presidential debate of this campaign season is on Tuesday, October 13 — just days away. So far, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee are expected to appear.

The next Republican debate, though, isn’t until Wednesday, October 28. Bookmark this page, which we’ll keep updating, to keep track of when the candidates will square off on stage.

GOP field no Walker

The 15 remaining Republican presidential candidates. (Getty)

The first and second GOP debates took place on August 6 in Cleveland, and September 16 in Simi Valley. Check out our recaps of what happened (firstsecond) or read the full transcripts (firstsecond) for yourself.

The next Republican debate, the third, will take place on October 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colorado, and will air on CNBC. Candidates have to average 3 percent in select polls released between September 17 and October 21 to qualify for the primetime segment, and must hit one percent in at least one of these polls to qualify for the earlier segment.

Next, there will be one debate in each month leading up to the Iowa caucuses (tentatively scheduled for February 1, 2016).

  • The fourth debate will take place sometime in November and somewhere in Wisconsin, and will be aired on the Fox Business network.
  • The fifth will be on December 15, 2015, in Las Vegas, and aired on CNN.
  • The sixth will be sometime in January, in Iowa, and aired on Fox News.

After caucus and primary voting begin, the pace of debates will pick up, with three debates taking place in February, and at least two more expected afterward.

Democratic presidential debate schedule

Democratic debate 2007

A Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia on October 30, 2007. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC NewsWire)

The Democratic National Committee has announced plans for six debates, and has scheduled four with specific dates so far. They are:

  • October 13, 2015: Las Vegas, Nevada, hosted by CNN.
  • November 14, 2015: Des Moines, Iowa. Hosted by CBS, KCCI, and the Des Moines Register.
  • December 19, 2015: Manchester, New Hampshire. Hosted by ABC and WMUR.
  • January 17, 2016: Charleston, South Carolina. Hosted by NBC and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.
  • February 11, 2016: Somewhere in Wisconsin. Hosted by PBS.
  • March 9, 2016: Miami, Florida. Hosted by Univision and the Washington Post.

The Democratic Party is under pressure from activists to add more debates, since the GOP is hosting far more. But so far, the DNC appears unmoved.

General election debate schedule

These are still a very long way off, but the Commission on Presidential Debates has already announced the dates and planned locations for its fall 2016 general election debates.

  • September 26, 2016: First presidential debate in Dayton, Ohio, at Wright State University
  • October 4, 2016: Vice presidential debate in Farmville, Virginia at Longwood University
  • October 9, 2016: Second presidential debate in St. Louis, Missouri, at Washington University in St. Louis
  • October 19, 2016: Third presidential debate in Las Vegas at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

And election day 2016 is Tuesday, November 8.

Paul Ryan doesn’t want to be speaker of the House. Republicans should elect him anyway.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks during a press conference at the Union League Club of Chicago August 21, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois | Getty Images

VOX

House Republicans need someone capable of leading them out of the carnage of the bloody civil war between the Tea Party–fueled revolutionaries and an establishment seen as too willing to compromise on conservative principles in the name of governing.

The answer is clear: Paul Ryan should be the next speaker of the House.

This isn’t some counterintuitive opinion, by the way. Exiting House Speaker Boehner hasasked Ryan to run. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who shocked Republicans by withdrawing from the speaker’s race Thursday, says Ryan is his first choice for the job.

The only person who doesn’t want Ryan to run is, well, Ryan. He said immediately after McCarthy dropped out that he wouldn’t run for the job, reiterating the position he took when Boehner first announced his resignation last month. So, rank-and-file Republicans started trying to draft him Thursday afternoon. Ryan’s spokesman, Brendan Buck, said“nothing has changed” Thursday night on Twitter, but pressure is mounting anyway. As well it should.

The Wisconsin Republican is the only person in the GOP Conference who excels at the four most important functions of a speaker: building a coalition within the party; translating the party’s vision into an agenda; articulating that message in the media, and negotiating deals with the other side.

If Ryan won’t stand for speaker, Republicans should vote for him on the floor anyway. His reluctance to seek it is all the more reason he would be acceptable to conservative base Republicans who don’t trust power-seeking establishment types.

Ryan may be the party’s only hope to break free of the cannibalistic cycle that forced Boehner to decide to quit and then ruined McCarthy’s claim on the speaker’s gavel.

Ryan wrote the “road map” for the House Republican majority

To understand Ryan’s place within the Republican conference, you have to go back to the Tea Party revolution election of 2010. Ryan had released a “road map” for America’s future that year that would have rewritten the tax code and slashed entitlement spending. Republicans were warned that it would cost them the midterm election; instead, they swept to victory.

That’s not to say Ryan’s view of the world won them the House. But they captured control with his plan for reshaping American government cleanly and clearly laid out on the table for opposition researchers, reporters, think tankers, and voters to pick through and criticize.

He was, at that moment, a folk hero for the incoming class of House Republicans. Ryan was well-regarded enough among conservative insiders that Mitt Romney made him the party’s vice presidential pick in 2012. There have been bumps along the way for Ryan, whose budgets never perfectly pleased the slash-and-burn-minded extremists in the House Republican conference, but there’s no question he has more credibility with the party’s conservative “Freedom Caucus” than anyone else capable of attracting establishment support.

While Ryan has assiduously avoided running for elected party posts in the House, he’s been an integral part of the GOP leadership team since Republicans took the House in 2011. First, he was the chairman in charge of writing budgets, a post from which he negotiated for spending and tax cuts with Senate Democrats and the White House. More recently, he moved over to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, which gives him authority over not just tax reform efforts but also Social Security and Medicare. All the while, he’s worked with Republican leaders to keep the government running and sate the Tea Party wing.

Ultimately, both sides see him as a smart, principled conservative who can be trusted to pursue tax and entitlement cuts because he bears the scars of actually making the argument for the Republican agenda and putting it into action. Boehner often turned to him to sell unpopular decisions to raise the debt ceiling or fund the government, and Ryan took on the task even though it came at the price of some of his street cred with the burn-it-down caucus. He’s an adult.

It’s one thing to believe in the agenda; it’s another to go out and sell it

Few members of the House ever become household names, but Ryan is as well-known as any of them among Americans with an interest in politics. He ran on a national ticket, appears on the Sunday television talk shows, and has been willing to articulate his vision for the Republican Party’s future to almost anyone who will listen.

Boehner was a tremendous inside player who staved off insurrection for the past five years by outwitting his foes within the Republican Conference. He’s likable and presentable on television, but the golf-obsessed, cigarette-smoking House speaker is a throwback to another era of House leaders who plied their trade only in the backrooms. The lesson lawmakers learned after Newt Gingrich resigned in 1998 is that a speaker could become too much of an outside player — and too interested in elevating his own profile — to keep the faith of the lawmakers who elected him. A television-era speaker could be a distraction or, at worst, an albatross for his members.

Three straight speakers — Denny Hastert, Nancy Pelosi, and Boehner — have emerged from the ward-heeler school of politics. They were masters of the inside game but uncomfortable with the outside game. And in another age, that would have been fine.

But today, there’s too much scrutiny of Congress. A speaker has to be able to sell the agenda to party activists while making it palatable to a broader audience.

McCarthy illustrated that point with a major miscue in an interview with Fox News last week: He tied the House Benghazi Committee’s investigation to Hillary Clinton’s sagging poll numbers — essentially acknowledging the partisan political nature of the probe. It was a crisply wrapped gift for Clinton, and McCarthy cited the moment as harmful to his bid for the speakership.

Ryan’s too masterful to make that kind of a mistake. He sells well, and the Republicans in Congress badly need a salesman to communicate the message that they’ve actually been winning on spending and tax policy.

Ryan’s a conservative, but Democrats are willing to work with him

President Obama’s lament about Boehner has been that he can’t trust what Boehner says not because Boehner doesn’t mean it but because he can’t deliver on his promises. Boehner’s gotten jerked around by his conference so much in debt-limit and budget debates that he’s lost credibility with Senate Democrats and the White House.

“Left to his own devices, I think he would probably cut some kind of a deal. But after a while the president has to be, like, ‘John’s okay, but there has to be a question of competence,’” an Obama adviser once said of Boehner. “You go through this a hundred times, and yeah, that does have an impact on a relationship.”

Ryan, by contrast, managed the successful negotiation of the 2013 budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. Their pact capped spending for two fiscal years without raising taxes. It was seen by some conservatives as too much of a capitulation to Democrats, but it passed the House on a 332-94 vote. Democrats may not like Ryan’s ideas, but they believe he can deliver.

Give him anything he wants

If there’s anything that can be confidently said about the spoiled-brat Republican Conference extremists, it’s this: They have no idea what’s best for them. And still, more of them are coming around to the conclusion that Ryan is the right person for the job.

Maybe if Ryan waits long enough, the hardline Freedom Caucus will come to want him to take charge. Maybe he could extract promises from them, reversing the leverage within the Republican Conference. Short of that, it’s understandable why he doesn’t want the job. The Freedom Caucus and like-minded lawmakers have held Republican leaders hostage to their agenda.

Ryan hasn’t framed his reluctance that way. He’s said he wants to stay as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, that he doesn’t want to be a party leader. He’d have to spend time away from his family to raise money to keep a majority that seems intent on self-immolating.

But if House Republicans could find a moment of clarity, they would give in to any demand he makes and elect him speaker. He’s the one who developed their agenda, took the lead in promoting it, and used it as the basis for forcing Democrats to cut taxes and spending. Paul Ryan is the only one with the juice to lead the House Republicans. And if he can’t do it, well, then probably no one can.

The GOP’s Birthright Citizenship Flip-Flop

AP PHOTO

POLITICO MAGAZINE

Republicans are divided on birthright citizenship, one of their party’s greatest achievements.

Birthright citizenship has split the GOP presidential field. Following Donald Trump’s call for an end to birthright citizenship for the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, fellow Republican presidential hopefuls Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson and even longtime immigration reform advocate Lindsey Graham have said they support ending the practice. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have been the most vocally opposed.

This didn’t used to be such a difficult issue for Republicans. After all, it was the GOP that wrote birthright citizenship into America’s constitution. The leaders of the 1866 Republican Party—the Party of Lincoln—were staunch supporters of the idea. Indeed, birthright citizenship was central to the Republican vision for post-Civil War America, and a key dividing line between the supporters of President Andrew Johnson and those of the Republican leadership in Congress.

Birthright citizenship had long been the traditional rule in the United States—one rooted in the English common law and adopted by many colonies and early states. Citizenship was acquired by soil rather than bloodline—subject to a few well-established exceptions, such as for the children of foreign diplomats or invading armies. But various Southern courts in antebellum America chose to diverge from this tradition in certain cases, allowing their states to deny birthright citizenship to those they deemed unworthy, such as African Americans.

This Southern “tradition”—fueled by white supremacy—was reinforced by the opinions of certain pro-slavery Attorneys General and ultimately codified in the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision, authored by Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, himself a former pro-slavery Attorney General under President Andrew Jackson. In Dred Scott, Taney concluded that African Americans could not be U.S. citizens even if they were born free on American soil.

During Reconstruction, one of the Republican Party’s central goals was to overturn Dred Scott and guarantee equal citizenship for everyone born on American soil. President Lincoln signaled this move early in his administration through an 1862 opinion by his Attorney General, Edward Bates. Replying to a request by Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, Bates defended birthright citizenship for African Americans, explaining, “You and I have no better title to the citizenship which we enjoy than ‘the accident of birth.’” After the Civil War, congressional Republicans followed Bates’ (and Lincoln’s) lead.

By late 1865, Lincoln’s promise of a “new birth of freedom” was very much in doubt. Following Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, President Johnson had pardoned thousands of Confederate officials and plantation owners. More troubling, he deferred to the Southern states on how best to rebuild their societies, leaving them free to enact the Black Codes, which sharply limited the civil rights of the newly freed slaves.

With the ex-rebels gaining political strength and an important midterm election looming the following fall, congressional Republicans quickly settled on a potent one-two punch. First, they would pass a civil rights bill that would counter the Black Codes and secure important protections for the newly freed slaves. Second, they would push for a constitutional amendment that would establish constitutional baselines for post-Civil War America. At the center of both of these measures was a key principle—birthright citizenship.

Senator Jacob Howard, a radical Republican from Michigan, was at the center of this political fight. He helped to draft and pass the Thirteenth Amendment, ending slavery. He also served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and supported the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Most importantly, when Senator William Pitt Fessenden—Chair of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction—fell ill, Howard took over as the chief spokesperson for the Fourteenth Amendment, which was to establish the laws governing citizenship.

In this new role, Howard introduced the measure before a packed Senate gallery on May 23, 1866—a speech that was published on the front pages of various newspapers, including the New York Times and the New York Herald. While Howard explained quite well the “privileges or immunities” of U.S. citizenship that would be protected by the proposed amendment, the draft amendment did not yet define how one became a citizen in the first place. Was it by virtue of birth or blood? A product of national policy or state prerogative? And, what would happen if the Republican Party fell out of power and the supporters of the Old Confederacy took over the federal government?

A week later, Howard rose in the Senate and proposed an answer to these questions—the Citizenship Clause, enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment today as follows: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” This provision echoed similar language in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, approved by Congress a mere two months earlier over President Johnson’s veto.

Through this new clause, Howard sought to overturn Dred Scott and guarantee equal citizenship for everyone born on U.S. soil. Howard conceded that there were small groups that would be excluded, consistent with well-established law, such as the children of foreign diplomats and certain Native American tribes. However, Howard was clear about the core purpose of the new Clause: “to put this question of citizenship and the rights of citizens and freedmen under the civil rights bill beyond the legislative power of . . . gentlemen . . . who would pull the whole system up by the roots and destroy it, and expose the freedmen again to the oppressions of their old masters.”

Fair enough. But what did this new provision mean for the U.S.-born children of resident immigrants—Trump’s main concern? Quite a bit. While the Citizenship Clause was paradigmatically about African Americans, the clause’s text and history confirm that it was about much more than that—namely, equal citizenship for everyone born on U.S. soil, regardless of race, color or parental origin.

Opponents of the Citizenship Clause expressed anxieties about the effects of the clause on the U.S.-born children of unpopular immigrant populations, such as the Chinese out west and the Gypsies in the east, with Senator Edgar Cowan—a conservative Republican from Pennsylvania—using especially unflattering rhetoric to describe the Gypsies as “people who invade [Pennsylvania’s] borders; . . . who pay no taxes; . . . and who do nothing, . . . but . . . settle as trespassers wherever they go.”

In the face of Cowan’s tough rhetoric, supporters of birthright citizenship stood their ground. For instance, Senator John Conness of California—a naturalized citizen from Ireland—replied that he supported citizenship for “the children . . . of Chinese parents” and the “children of all parentage whatever,” born in California. Leading Republicans such as Howard and Senator Lyman Trumbull—a moderate Republican from Illinois and sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1866—expressed similar sentiments during the debates over the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. In the end, Congress approved the Fourteenth Amendment—including the Citizenship Clause—on June 13, 1866. And the Fourteenth Amendment was finally ratified by “We the People” on July 9, 1868.

The Fourteenth Amendment is one of the Republican Party’s greatest achievements. With it, Republicans continued to write Lincoln’s promise of “a new birth of freedom” into our Constitution and lead a Second Founding of our republic. Birthright citizenship was a key part of the Republican program. Before resolving to eliminate it through constitutional amendment (as some propose) or simply read it out of our Constitution (as Donald Trump suggests), it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on the important place that this concept has in our nation’s constitutional story.

The Koch Brothers Reboot for 2016

koch-brothers-republican

Patrick T. Fallon—Washington Post/Getty Images Charles Koch discusses his network’s goals at a donor summit in California.

TIME

To elect a Republican, the power brokers have retooled with more money, better strategy and a new plan for victory

Charles Koch, the famously private billionaire industrialist, wanted to welcome his dinner guests before they got too far into their meal. It had been a busy day at a seaside summit for 450 conservative donors who support the network of nonprofits, civic groups and political organizations that he and his brother David founded and bankroll. “I’m sure I’ve worn you out,” the 79-year-old said on the broad lawn. Then he reflected on the experiences he suspected he shared with these allies. “We grew up with every advantage,” Koch mused. “Most of you had the same benefits that our parents gave David and me, that is, growing up appreciating and being imbued with the values and skills required for success. If I didn’t have parents like that, I wouldn’t be worth spit. I would be the worst kid on the block … Certain people say I am still.”

Yes, people do say that–and much, much worse–about the Koch brothers. The billionaires help fund a political network that is larger and perhaps more consequential than the Republican National Committee. That machine wields considerable sway over GOP lawmakers and, potentially, the party’s presidential nominee for 2016. Its sprawling influence is just one reason guests ponied up annual checks of at least $100,000 to hear from five White House hopefuls and at least 14 other current or former lawmakers–as well as the two brothers themselves–at this gathering.

These twice-a-year sessions under the banner of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce are typically private affairs, held at classy watering holes and spread out over several days. TIME was among a handful of news organizations granted access to this summer’s event, though journalists agreed not to reveal the identities of donors who wanted to remain private. Charles and David Koch are the headline-driving brawn behind this confab for VIP donors, yet thousands of other like-minded conservatives add their cash to the kitty from afar.

Having watched voters send a Democrat to the White House in the past two go-rounds, the Kochs and their allies are recalibrating ahead of 2016. In conversations over snacks, meals and cocktails, there was a grumbling acceptance from the network’s top donors that trying to keep earlier events secret had backfired. “The Koch brothers could be depicted as comic-book villains,” says Craig Snider, the 59-year-old son of the family that owns the Philadelphia Flyers. “They are a private family. They never really wanted the attention.” As he sipped chilled white wine in one of the St. Regis Monarch Beach’s courtyards, Snider shook his head at the overwhelmingly negative coverage of the Kochs and their partners. “Our side has done a very bad job telling our story. We’ve been defined by the other side.”

So what is it like to observe the mysterious Koch brothers up close? It’s not all that different from watching two admired grandfathers oversee a large family reunion. They weave through the retreats they convene with an unassuming style that, were it not for the security trailing them, would be like that of any other septuagenarians, moving at a slower pace but refusing to be sidelined. Charles, talkative and engaging, lives in Kansas and has lost little of the quick, dry humor he used to tremendous success in business negotiations. David, somewhat quieter by nature, enjoys a more cosmopolitan life in Manhattan, where the New York City Ballet’s performance hall at Lincoln Center carries his name.

They were born in Wichita, Kans., in the years leading up to the U.S. entrance into World War II. Their upbringing reflected their father’s hard-nosed approach to life: disagreements were settled by fistfights. Fred Koch owned a sprawling Midwest industrial giant yet required his children to learn the trade rather than enjoy a gilded life. “I got my butt kicked every day,” Charles recalls. “Father had me work every minute from the time I was 6.” Both brothers went to MIT and earned graduate degrees in engineering before returning to Kansas, where they expanded the company their father founded into what today has become the second largest privately held company in the U.S.

The Kochs are often described as either ultra-conservative or libertarian, but those labels don’t fully explain their ideology. Yes, they believe that government has become too big; they fiercely oppose mandates and regulations, and they could not be more horrified by what they call the permanent Washington establishment. And it is fair to say they don’t care for President Obama. If their wish list of government rollbacks were achieved, it would help the bottom line for Koch Industries, a vast collection of companies and interests that produce everything from Brawny paper towels to Stainmaster Carpets to as many as 600,000 barrels of crude each day.

But some of what this network is trying to accomplish at sessions like those held here is at odds with Koch Industries’ bottom line. The groups oppose government subsidies of all kinds, even those that help the Koch companies’ profits. They would like to see Congress kill the Export-Import Bank and the ethanol subsidies that benefit the family operations that turn Iowa corn into fuel. Koch-backed groups have made building the Keystone XL pipeline a must-do task, even though it would compete with Koch Industries’ refineries. “The prevailing view created by the mainstream media is that this is to enrich Charles and David Koch,” says Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries and one of the brothers’ top lieutenants. “We take a lot of positions that are better long-term for all of us in the country, even though in the short term we would lose money.”

All of these arguments were raised during the summit in Dana Point, which has become something of a refresher course on conservative thinking. For instance, guests attended one session to hear how Chile reduced its poverty rate from 50% to 8% in a generation, but at a political cost. Other donors received updates on the Koch-led crusade against mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders as fiscally, constitutionally and morally unacceptable. Some guests attended a small dinner to talk about free-speech rights on college campuses with Mitch Daniels, a former White House budget chief and Indiana governor who now serves as president of Purdue University. But economic policy, really, ran through most of the discussions.

Charles Koch told his allies, including CEOs of well-known American companies, to ditch government tax breaks and subsidies for their own good. “Obviously, this prescription will not be an easy pill for many businesspeople to swallow,” he said, the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, just a golf-cart ride away. “Because short-term, taking the principled path is going to cost some companies some profits, as it will for Koch Industries.”

Whatever their agenda, losing isn’t part of it. In all, groups under the Koch umbrella plan to spend about $889 million before Election Day 2016, and roughly two-thirds of it will try to determine how voters cast their ballots. Part of their advantage is in how they charter themselves: the groups can accept unlimited donations, and because of the way many are structured, donors’ identities can largely be kept secret. (By contrast, the RNC has fundraising caps and must disclose everyone who gives $200 or more.)

The Koch-based network now is looking at how best to spend the money. During the summit, top Republican strategists told the Koch faithful that four states would be the biggest focus for the next two years: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia. It is almost impossible for an eventual Republican nominee to win the White House without those states. The donors are also continuing to invest in i360, a Koch-built database containing some of the most sophisticated information on voters’ interests and habits. “You can have all the academic debate you want to,” says Art Pope, a mega-donor from North Carolina and Koch friend. “But eventually it takes elected leaders to change the laws and change the policies.”

That focus helps explain why Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina all spent time with these donors at this summit. Each took turns praising the Koch network’s vision of more-limited government while lending their voices to the chorus of praise for what Charles and David Koch have accomplished. Rubio, Walker and Cruz are favorites with this crowd and old hands at the weekend. Bush was attending his first summit and soothed some donors’ unease about his brother; these summits were born out of frustration that federal spending was growing under President George W. Bush. Few knew Fiorina, and she worked the crowd hard to fix that.

But something else was visible at the Dana Point gathering as well. Charles Koch recognizes that the GOP cannot win a national election if it cannot expand its appeal beyond the types of conservatives who huddle with him at these retreats. Just consider the organizational chart of groups that now operate with Freedom Partners’ backing: grassroots-driven Americans for Prosperity, youth-focused Generation Opportunity, Hispanic-oriented LIBRE Initiative, the female-directed Concerned Women for America. At the same time, millions of dollars are flowing through the Koch network to the United Negro College Fund; its president, Michael Lomax, lectured these donors on why historically black colleges and universities matter during an outdoor dinner party at this summit.

On the lobbying front, Freedom Partners–backed groups have linked arms with the liberal Center for American Progress and ACLU for a bipartisan push on criminal-justice reform. Such work has won the Kochs notice–and some guarded praise–from the White House. No one expects the entente to last long. “Last summer, some of them were attacking us. Now we’re working with them,” says Holden, the Koch Industries lawyer. “I know they’re going to be attacking us later.”

The criticism is unlikely to end no matter how wide this moneyed network throws open its doors. But the modest amount of transparency suggests that the Koch brothers are starting to contemplate their legacies. For David Koch, it will be philanthropic giving that is almost unrivaled: $1.3 billion to charities, including $225 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

For Charles Koch, the goal is a realignment of policy and politics that, in his view, will preserve the America he knew as a child, when a kid from Kansas could turn the family business into a global player. “These guys are using business principles to create a political solution,” says Tim Busch, an Orange County lawyer and loyal Koch donor. “They’re creating a force to be reckoned with, so that the political parties have to deal with them and

A Morning with Joe Scarborough in Hypocrisy Hell

Joe Scarborough

QUIET MIKE POLITICS

Nothing more signals the heating up of another election cycle than the bleary-eyed, half-dressed, faux-cool Joe Scarborough actually showing up – on set or at all – for work on the MSNBC show that touts his first name if not his regular presence: “Morning Joe.”

Another clear signal is that his hypocrisy about and hyperbolic characterizations of both President Obama and his policies begin to approach that of such right-wing luminaries as Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John McCain, Allen West and others in the increasingly unhinged Republican Clown Car.

Election cycles also mean that Scarborough’s show begins to feature such low-lights as Hugh Hewitt, who has one foot hanging over the far-right edge of the Republican/Conservative flat earth, as if they were credible commentators on any issue other than putting new sewer lines in their neighborhoods.

And, one of the surest signs of an approaching election is that, not wanting to miss even a moment when he can trash either the president or Hillary Clinton, MSNBC’s token conservative propagandist is no longer willing to make time for Mika Brzezinsky to mention at least five times per day that her daughter is now beginning her second year at Johns Hopkins University!

After all, that is time that could be spent showing a clip from Jebbers’ Tuesday night speech during which he blamed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for destabilizing the middle east by “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

No mention, of course, that his brother, George W., and his vice-president lied us into the Iraq War that put the entire Near and Middle East on the road to its present chaos. No mention, of course, that his brother negotiated and signed the Status of Forces agreement that forced President Obama to withdraw our troops from Iraq.

No mention, of course, that his brother purged from power Sadaam’s Baathist Party members, who could have been useful in rebuilding and restabilizing the country he destroyed and destabilized, but have now become part of the ISIS leadership. Not to mention that it ended any possibility of Iraq having a credible military to secure the country when the U.S. pulled out.

This Monday morning past, after the usual round of non-factual, often baseless innuendo and misleading statements that usually set the stage for the daily segment of Hillary-bashing, Joe Scarborough and his table of losers took on what history eventually might consider President Obama’s single foreign policy achievement; the agreement per Iranian nuclear research forged in the crucible of down-and-dirty negotiations in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China.)

[Excursus:  It does bear mention that the reasonable and usually well-reasoned Steve Rattner was at the table, even though he could not get a reasonable, well-reasoned word in because the ever-annoying Nicole Wallace, who thinks the set of “Morning Joe” is nothing more than a Republican spin room, could not stop interrupting him with unreasonable, poorly-reasoned talking-points.]

Scarborough began with typical Republican hyperbole, professing “shock” and “dismay” that the president would “vilify” and “demonize” opponents of the agreement by “equating congressional hardliners with hardliners in Tehran.” Using what has, during the Obama years, become almost the go-to Republican modifier, Joe found it, uh, “chilling.”

Though old, I still have all of my original teeth. Had I not been in possession of them, any dentures carefully installed and glued into place earlier that morning would have fallen to the floor. No one has ever accused Joe Scarborough of being self-aware. But this little moment of straight-faced, hyperbolic hypocrisy answers the question of why that charge has never been leveled at him.

The fact of the matter is that Barack Obama is not in the habit of “vilifying” or “demonizing” anyone.  To his credit, it has just not been his style. And, in this instance, he remained true to his usual manner. He reasonably laid out his case and, quite frankly, it has no problem passing the smell test per the equivalency he draws.

Nothing more than a cursory glance at the record verifies that both Iranian and Republican “hardliners” have been“implacably opposed” to this deal before it was ever made, “before they even read it, before it was even posted.” For God’s sake, Republican presidential candidates admitted as much.  And it is equally verifiable that the opposition of hardliners in both Tehran and Washington “is reflective of an ideological commitment not to get a deal done.” Feel free to factually refute that if you can.

But, by accusing him of “vilifying” and “demonizing,” Scarborough didn’t just mean the president was dealing in false equivalencies. He was also accusing him of name-calling. And of making non-factual, hyperbolic characterizations of opponents. Projection much, Joe?

Though he would have been more than justified in doing so, President Obama, as mentioned earlier, has simply never made a practice of doing to his political opponents what they have habitually and almost daily done to him for nearly seven years; i.e.,  name-calling (general or racist), demonizing (“Nazi,” “Communist,” “the anti-Christ” et al), demagoguing, or calling into question his general character (“lawless,” “appeaser,” “liar,” et al), his religion (if he was Muslim, which he isn’t, what difference would it make?), his birthplace (Kenya, of course), and, their favorite, his patriotism (“He was placed here as a child to become part of a radical Islamic sleeper cell”).

Nonetheless, Scarborough summoned up a facial expression that, in a really creepy way, combined preternatural innocence with faux-indignation and pronounced himself “staggered” that President Obama would resort to “personal attacks” that represented a “new low” for a country that values and prides itself on “decency” and “respectfulness” in its public discourse.

The Editorial Board of the New York Times, along with many of us, disagreed with the Panhandle Panhandler’s take on who was and who wasn’t engaged in civil public discourse: “What should be a thoughtful debate has been turned into a vicious battle against Mr. Obama.”

To wit…

Mike Huckabee dropped in from the other side of the Looking Glass to offensively accuse the president of marching Jews “to the door of the oven” per the Iran agreement.

Tom Cotton, who apparently slept through U.S. Constitution 101 during his college and law school years, inexplicably equated John Kerry – whose military record and record as a public servant will, I promise, never be matched by the rookie senator from Arkansas – with Pontius Pilate.

Jeb Bush took the silver spoon out of his mouth long enough to access the usual Republican fallback position that the president is an appeaser. “Appeasement,” he said, is the “bad result you get when you enable people or regimes who don’t embrace democratic values.” And, with no one apparently willing to take the shovel out of his hands as he dug his own hole deeper, he said that “History is full of examples.” One supposes Jebbers forgot that the history of his brother’s administration was full of those examples. Hypocrisy much, Jeb!?

John “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” McCain, whose every foreign policy prescription seems to involve “American boots on-the-ground and American bodies in-the-ground,” continued Jeb’s “appeaser” meme with his usual tripe about the president “carrying on in the finest traditions of Neville Chamberlain.”

Which raises the question of why the national media continuously searches out John McCain for his perspective on foreign policy issues. His remedy never changes: Bomb them into the Stone Age and then send in American troops. He could just copy/paste and email it in.

Ted Cruz claimed the president was cementing Iran’s status as “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” Again, one notes how little attention Cruz—or, any Republican—pays to the situation on the ground in the Islamic world.  Were he paying attention, he would know that “the world’s [actual]leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism” is the home of the Bush family’s BFF, Saudi Arabia.

There are more but, seriously, how many can you stand to read?

When I first heard Scarborough slam the president for “vilifying” and “demonizing” those who differed with him per the Iran agreement, I thought I had fallen down the Rabbit Hole, where white is black and black is white. But, as it turned out, spending a morning with Joe and listening to him talk about how Republicans pride themselves on “decency” and “respectfulness” in their public discourse had just momentarily transported me to a parallel universe known to its permanent residents as Hypocrisy Hell.

Scarborough has a home in a gated community there.

The Republican prison experiment: How the right-wing conquest of the GOP altered political reality

The Republican prison experiment: How the right-wing conquest of the GOP altered political reality

attribution: NONE

SALON

How a stodgy, mainstream party was reinvented as a den of lunatics and monsters — and why it was no accident

Every so often I conceive the bizarre desire to help save the Republican Party from itself. This is futile even by the standards of futile campaigns launched by columnists, given the obvious fact that Republicans do not want my help and have good reason to mistrust my motives, and that if anyone in the GOP leadership actually read my advice, they would immediately do the opposite.

It isn’t that I feel some fervent nostalgia for the good old days of moderate Republicanism, although it’s true that the Nixon-era GOP was only microscopically to the right of today’s Democratic Party on most major policy questions – and decidedly to its left on healthcare and social spending. (Which United States president actually proposed a nationwide, single-payer healthcare system? Well, I’ve already given you the answer.) Go back to Dwight Eisenhower, who presided over a more progressive and redistributive tax code than anything seen before or since, and sent federal troops to desegregate the schools in Little Rock, and in relative terms it looks like Lenin and Trotsky trying to out-radical each other. (The top marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans in 1960 was 91 percent. Just try to convince your Fox News uncle of that one.)

All of that is amazing and incomprehensible today, as is the fact that the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate was a Republican (Edward Brooke, in 1966), and so was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress (Margaret Chase Smith, elected to the House in 1940 and the Senate in 1948). But the real point lies a little deeper. It isn’t so much that the old Republicans were awesome, but at least they existed in the real world and practiced real politics. They had vigorous internal debates about numerous issues and represented a broad coalition of interests, holding to a reasonably coherent ideology of limited government, social order and support for business.

Those words are still used, of course; they are closely identified with the Republican brand. But thanks to the Matrix-like magic of our altered political reality, they do not mean what they used to mean. “Business” refers only to the infinitesimal ruling caste of multinational capital. “Limited government” means a limitless, borderless police state with low internal taxes and little or no social safety net. “Social order” means the stealth revocation of citizenship rights, first for blacks and women, to be sure, but ultimately for everyone else too.

There is no silver lining to the fact that one of our nation’s two political parties has disappeared into a self-concocted ideological fog of delusion and denial that has cut it off from political reality, American history, basic economic facts, international law and even its own past. The evil zombie sock-puppet condition of the GOP is the most gruesome single symptom of our failing democracy, and one that has inflicted immense harm not just on our country but the entire world. It didn’t happen by accident.

I would contend that the Republican Party has been the subject, willing or otherwise, of a version of the Stanford prison experiment, conducted on a grand scale. I wrote about that famous 1971 simulation, now the subject of a new feature film, earlier this week: A group of normal, middle-class California college students eagerly embraced roles as sadistic guards and abused prisoners, submitting almost immediately to the social order of an entirely fictional institution they knew had no real power. Properly understood, the Stanford experiment is not about prisons or schools or other overtly coercive social institutions, although it certainly applies to them. It is about the power of ideology and the power of power, about the fact that if you change people’s perception of reality, you have gone most of the way to changing reality itself.

The Republican Party did not organically evolve into a xenophobic, all-white party of hate that seeks to roll back not just the Civil Rights movement and feminism, but the entire Enlightenment. It did not accidentally become untethered from reality and float off to the moons of Pluto. Those possibilities were already present, but they had to be activated. Partly as a result of its own ideological weakness and internal divisions, the GOP was taken over from within and from above: In the first instance, by a dedicated core of right-wing activists, and in the second by the ultra-rich, super-PAC oligarchy epitomized by the Koch brothers. The two forces sometimes worked separately, but ultimately the first was funded and sponsored by the second.

One key element of this ideological conquest was that the party’s understanding of itself and its place in American politics and American history was reshaped to conform to a fictional narrative that is now widely believed to be true. Ultimately the Republican prison experiment has replicated itself on an even larger scale, remaking not just the GOP but American political reality.

Among other things, the GOP’s flight to Crazytown has permitted leaders of the Democratic Party to crawl ever more cozily into the pockets of Wall Street bankers and to become ever more intertwined with the national security state — while still proclaiming themselves, in all innocence and with considerable plausibility, to be less noxious than the alternative. So we see millions of well-meaning people getting ginned up to vote for Hillary Clinton, despite the nagging sensation that the political universe in which she represents the best available option is a cruel hoax. Pay attention to that feeling! It’s the reality we have discarded, banging on the door.

It’s true that the re-engineered Republican Party, with its counterfactual and frequently contradictory worldview, appeals most strongly to a shrinking minority of Americans, most of them white and male and rural or Southern. But despite that, or in some sense because of that, it has been an enormous success. Not only has the zombie GOP driven the Democrats much further to the right that at any point in their history, it has paralyzed the legislative process, driven electoral participation to historic lows and turned the deep American current of political apathy and mistrust into a majority sentiment. Whether or not the Republican prison experiment was consciously intended to produce a period of oligarchic rule in which political parties and elections become increasingly irrelevant and increasingly ignored, that has definitely been the outcome.

Some participants in Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 experiment began to believe, after just a few days, that they were real prisoners in a real prison, and that the outside world no longer existed or mattered. At any rate, they began to behave as if that were true, which in functional terms is much the same thing. Zimbardo himself became so engrossed in his fictional role as the prison warden that he lost all perspective on the morality and ethics of his experiment. Is it any wonder that after 30 to 40 years of sustained psychological warfare, most Americans who consider themselves conservatives believe that the current Republican Party represents undying, bedrock American principles that have never changed and never will? Freedom isn’t free, chump. These colors don’t run.

Any discussion of what those bedrock Republican and American values might be, beyond jingoistic clichés about freedom, is to be avoided at all costs. That might pierce the veil of unreality and reveal things that have been declared to be untrue, including that the Republican Party was not always anti-immigrant, not always opposed to socialized healthcare, not always committed to a fundamentalist reading of the Second Amendment and, for the love of Christ, not always obsessed with abortion.

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak had to remind me about that one, in her discussion of the recent right-wing attack video purporting to show a Planned Parenthood employee discussing the sale of fetal body parts for nefarious purposes. Planned Parenthood is constantly and unanimously vilified by today’s Republicans as a Satan-worshiping, baby-killing feminist cult. But in 1970 it was granted federal funding by none other than the guest star of today’s show, President Richard Nixon. Furthermore, here’s what Nixon said at the time: “No American woman should be denied access to family-planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

I know: Mind blown. Read that quote to any of the 97 current Republican candidates for president and watch their heads explode. That Communistic rhetoric coming from the lips of Tricky Dick strikes me as noteworthy in several ways. Many leftists of my gender, it must be said, have a hard time focusing on how far the political climate around reproductive rights has eroded in the last 40 years. There were prominent pro-choice Republicans as recently as the mid-1990s, but the party’s official ideology on abortion has been reshaped by an activist minority just as the party itself was, through the use of emotionally charged symbols and images and the banishment of such wussified abstractions as facts, logic, history and context. Did Ronald Reagan need that kind of crap when he personally tore down the Berlin Wall, shot Hitler and freed the grateful slaves? He did not.

Lastly, there’s the most unlikely part of Nixon’s startling pronouncement: Its direct reference to economic inequalities and the need to address them. No Republican would say any such thing today, of course, and even for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, the commitment to equality comes surrounded by an ideological hedge: Healthcare for women, sure, but we’ll have to find a way for the market to provide it. I do not delude myself that Nixon cared about poor women or their health, but in the political climate of the time he was obliged to say he did. That political climate was exactly what had to be changed, from the point of view of the overlords who designed the Republican prison experiment, because it posed a long-term threat to their economic and political supremacy.

Social wedge issues like abortion and guns and immigration have been important elements in consolidating a more extreme Republican ideology and in firing up its core supporters. (Gay marriage worked that way for a while but has now been pitched overboard, except by poor, sad, sincere Rick Santorum.) But the powers behind the Republicans’ terrifying metamorphosis either don’t much care about those things or are being actively duplicitous, as with the immigration issue. They’re OK with pouring endless billions in wasteful deficit spending into the empty theater of border security (hey, at least it’s not going to poor people!), but they have no intention of cutting off the flow of low-wage labor, which benefits Big Capital in any number of ways.

Does anyone suppose that the Koch brothers, a pair of globetrotting culture-vultures whose names are carved in marble on the front of every New York fine-arts institution, give a single solitary fuck about all those Megachurch Dad-Pants Yahoo Apoplexy issues at the supposed heart of the supposed Republican ideology? Unless and until it impacts the bottom line, that stuff is just the icing on the delicious cake the Kochs are baking, a rich and eggy batter of soft corporate fascism inside a candy shell of imitation democracy. Can you smell it? It’s in the oven right now.

Progressives often view the zombified 21st century GOP with an understandable mixture of apprehension and bewilderment: How the hell did this happen? Can it really be working? The answers to those questions are that it was the result of a brilliant long-term strategy to alter the dynamics of American politics – to change perception, and then to change reality — and that it’s working much better than most people perceive. As Phil Zimbardo can tell you, when you’re inside the experiment it’s hard to see how much it has shifted your perspective.

Furthermore, those who comfort themselves with statistics about the dying Republican voter base, or political-science bromides about “the emerging Democratic majority” (which we have been promised for at least 20 years) are whistling past the graveyard. No doubt the Koch brothers will do their damnedest to get their boy-toy Scott Walker elected president, and I’m sure their dislike of Hillary Clinton is sincere. But they are shrewd enough to understand that it might not work, and also that the real prize is much bigger than one candidate or one party. They have redrawn the playing field of American politics and rewritten the rules of the game so effectively that even when they lose, they win. To put it another way, what good are the Democrats without democracy?

H/t: Don B.

Barack Obama’s Long Game

AP Photo.

POLITICO MAGAZINE

Barack Obama is not a modest man, but when it comes to assessing his or any president’s place in the long American story, he has been heard to say, “We just try to get our paragraph right.” Yet the way a raft of recent events have broken sharply in his favor, Obama suddenly seems well on his way to writing a whole page—or at least a big, fat passage—in the history books.

From the Supreme Court decisions upholding his signature health care plan and the right of gay Americans to marry, to contested passage of fast track trade authority, the opening of normal diplomatic relations with Cuba and an international agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Obama is on a policy and political roll that would have seem unimaginable to many in Washington only a few months ago.

“Obama may be singular as a president, not only because of his striking background,” says Kenneth Adelman, who was Ronald Reagan’s arms control negotiator with the Soviets three decades ago, and who has his doubts about the Iran deal. “It may turn out that unlike virtually any other president, his second term is actually better than his first.”

Rallying his cabinet in January in the wake of the Democratic Party’s decisive defeat in last fall’s midterm elections, Obama himself maintained, “Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.” This president has always been something of a clutch player, but his command of recent events—from his soaring eulogy for the victims of the Charleston church massacre, to his commutation of more sentences for non-violent criminal offenders than any president since Franklin Roosevelt—goes a good way toward proving the prescience of his words.

For much of the last five years, it had seemed Obama’s peculiar misfortune that the biggest achievement of his time in office—the adoption of his health care plan—might also prove his biggest defeat, because of the bitter and unyielding political and legal backlash unleashed by its narrow passage on a strict partisan vote.

Simultaneously, Obama’s ability to take decisive unilateral action on foreign policy—often a source of succor and satisfaction to second-term presidents—seemed highly limited, if only because he remained saddled with the ugly aftermath of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rise of the ISIL threat.

Not so long ago, much of the chattering class was reading the last rites over the Obama administration, and turning to the 2016 election as a test of whether anything would be left of the president’s legacy if a Republican succeeded him. That’s still an open question, of course. But the Court’s recent rulings and Obama’s own seemingly unplugged and swing-for-the-fences attitude on questions from race to criminal justice has given his presidency a sharply re-invigorated viability and relevance.

“It’s an unfinished chapter,” says presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, who is writing a new biography of Gerald Ford. “But he has already defied the second-term curse and the wisdom of just six months ago. ‘What can a president do if he doesn’t have either house of Congress?’ Well, guess what, he can reverse a 50, 60-year-old policy toward Cuba. But, more than that, he can still, even without the traditional televised Oval Office version of the bully pulpit, to a large degree set the terms of the national debate.”

The president’s very demeanor in his White House news conference on Thursday bespoke a renewed intensity and determination to make the most of the time he has left.  Much of the time, he fielded questions in a relaxed posture, leaning on the lectern with one elbow, but some of his answers were emphatic bordering on brusque. As the session wound down, he canvassed the East Room for more questions about the Iran agreement with a kind of “Hit-me-with-your-best-shot” bravado, as if to show how important he believes it to be. With a blithe air that belied the seriousness of the issue, he quoted that noted diplomat Ricky Ricardo to say that if Iran mined more uranium than it was supposed to, “They got some ‘splainin’ to do.”

“It is a measure of the times in which we live that we start the legacy discussion a year and a half before the end of a presidency,” says David Axelrod, Obama’s former longtime strategist. “But he’s had the most productive period he’s enjoyed since the first two years: Cuba, the climate agreement with China, action on immigration, fast track on trade, the SCOTUS decisions on health care and marriage and now this agreement on Iran. These are big, historically significant developments, in most cases the culmination of years of commitment on his part.”

Obama himself said he hoped Congress would debate the Iran agreement on the facts and the merits, but added, “We live in Washington and politics do intrude.” The sharp and instantaneous denunciation of the president’s comments by Republicans was a sure sign of the parallel universes that constitute American politics these days. Former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that Obama was a “very, very naïve man,” who “cannot put the dots together,” while Glenn Beck’s daily email newsletter subject line was, “Obama continues to destroy the country.”

The Republicans are not the only obstacle that Obama faces. He won his fast track Asian trade authority with largely Republican support, and the Iran agreement has stirred significant Democratic skepticism, among even the party’s leaders in Congress. If the Greek financial crisis engulfs Europe and spreads to Wall Street, there is no telling what the American economy might look like when Obama leaves office in 18 months.

By definition, the success or failure of the Iran agreement will not be known until long after Obama has left office, and critics like Adelman worry that even if Iran cheats on its obligations, international sanctions will never be re-imposed, because violations will be so hard to prove and the global investment in Iran will be so entrenched that it cannot be unwound.

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