Wednesday February 10, 2016
November 23rd, 2015
In Washington, there's nothing rarer, or more damaging, than when people criticize you on the record.
That's why a New York Times piece published Tuesday - headlined "Ben Carson Is Struggling to Grasp Foreign Policy, Advisers Say" - hurts so bad.
The piece featured Duane R. Clarridge, 83, identified as a top adviser to Carson on national security and terrorism, absolutely blowing out his boss.
"Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East," Clarridge told reporter Trip Gabriel. Another "close friend," Armstrong Williams, lamented Carson's inability in a TV interview to say whom he'd ask to form a coalition against the Islamic State. He'd "been briefed on it so many times," Williams said.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La.,has lived a charmed life, surviving the kind of close call that would have felled most politicians. When his phone number was discovered among the records of the "D.C. Madam" in 2007, he was forced to issue a public apology and ask forgiveness for a "serious sin." He won re-election to the Senate in 2010 nonetheless.
Now he is running to succeed the very unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal, who dropped his presidential bid this week. But his trespasses have caught up with him.
He should be winning easily. Louisiana is solidly Republican: Sen, Mary Landrieu, D, lost her re- election bid in 2014 and Barack Obama lost the state by huge margins twice.
Much of the world watched in horror as reports rolled in over the weekend of the barbaric terrorist attack on Paris. At least 120 people were murdered in what appears to be a highly coordinated operation by the Islamic State (ISIS).
A few days before, I was in a hospital in the Middle East in which Christian and Jewish and Muslim doctors were caring for Syrian refugees brutalized by ISIS and related groups. Now, the refugee crisis has exploded on the American political scene in a wave of controversy extending from Congress to almost everyone's Facebook feed.
At issue in this controversy are the competing principles of security and compassion, of the United States as a fortress and as a refuge. Some early reports have indicated that at least one of the suspected terrorists had registered as a Syrian refugee to secure transportation to France. This has caused many in the United States and around the world to ask, understandably, why a country should accept any more refugees if there's a chance that a terrorist may gain entry in that process.
Republicans are supposedly even more worried that Donald Trump or Ben Carson could win their presidential nomination. Yet the one thing they could do about it -- send a clear signal in support of a single alternative -- still hasn't happened.
The obvious choice at this point would seem to be Marco Rubio, the only true coalition-style candidate remaining in the contest. He has been steadily gaining in the endorsements race ever since September.
But compared with other cycles, Republican party actors are well behind their pace: They're mostly sitting on their hands.
Why? It's hard to explain something that isn't happening, but here are several reasons they may be holding back:
1. Perhaps these Republicans are a lot less worried about Trump (and Carson) than they appear to be. If so, they may believe the nomination will be in relatively safe hands, and may be holding out in order to retain leverage over all the candidates.
Nothing says "America" like "Shoo, huddled masses! Move along!"
This has been a bad week for parody.
Governors and candidates on the right of the aisle have been falling over themselves to see who can take a more hard-line stance against . . . refugees fleeing Syria's civil war. Twenty-six governors have made statements opposing letting refugees past their borders.
Gov. Chris Christie vowed that he would oppose letting even "3-year-old orphans" come to New Jersey. Apparently Christie has been replaced with a Dickens villain. Then again, Dickens villains traditionally poll well in the GOP primary, with their hard-line stances against handouts ("MORE? You want MORE?"). When you are taking a hard-line stance against 3-year-old orphans, you can feel confident that you are on the right side of history. We all know of those many tales of terrorists sneaking into places disguised as 3-year-olds.
Once in a great while, a circumstance occurs that poses a clear-cut challenge to our nation and people to demonstrate that we truly are who we say we are. Such is the current public debate over accepting refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, specifically in the wake of the Islamic State terrorist attacks on the people of Paris.
Standing in New York Harbor to remind us is that long-ago gift from the French people of the Statue of Liberty, whose pedestal quotes the 1883 sonnet of poet Emma Lazarus. She called the lady with the torch "the Mother of Exiles" from whose "beacon hand glows world-wide welcome," who cried "with silent lips, Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
What happened to the tea party?
It is in serious decline, according to the 2015 American Values Survey released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute.
The proportion of Americans who identify with the tea party movement has declined by nearly half over the last five years, from 11 percent in 2010 to 6 percent today. tea party affiliation has also dropped among Republicans, from 22 percent in 2010 to 14 percent today.
The PRRI survey, which uses a large sample of 2,695 adults, is widely respected. And it has solid support on this finding: In a Bloomberg Politics poll out this week, only 10 percent of Republicans say they're best described by the tea party label.
Perhaps you've seen the arguments on social media since the Paris attacks: One faction rants that of coursethe U.S. must take in huge numbers of Syrian refugees, and fast, because of courserefugees are not terrorists. Another faction argues that literally any amount of risk at all is too much. And then there's Donald Trump, whose ideas about how to deal with the potential threat of Islamist terror are making me rethink my longtime ban on the use of the word "fascist" as a pejorative.
Actually, scratch that. Not "arguments." The posts are not intended to convince anyone. They are to signal tribal loyalties to people who already agree with you, while you marinate in your own sense of moral superiority.
If these factions want to convince other people, they're going about it all wrong.
As soon as some picture of the Paris attacks began to come into focus, the debate over Edward Snowden started again. Senior officials are now saying the former contractor's leaks made it harder to catch the perpetrators of the atrocity in France. The known facts so far tell a different story.
On Monday, CIA director John Brennan said terrorists had practiced more "operational security" after leaks about some intelligence programs. The next day, Politico published an interview with Brennan's predecessor, Michael Morell, who said Snowden's leaks helped contribute to the rise of the Islamic State and that had they not occurred, the West would have had a "fighting chance" to prevent the terror in Paris. Former CIA director James Woolsey over the weekend was more explicit, saying Snowden has "blood on his hands."
The criticism poured in from friend and foe alike when Hillary Clinton invoked 9/11 on Saturday night to justify Wall Street's generosity to her presidential campaign.
Yes, it was a weird moment in the Democratic debate. But her real mistake wasn't in clumsily trying to turn the attention to her role as a senator in rebuilding downtown New York after Sept. 11, 2001.
It was in not using the opportunity to make a stronger case for her proposals to update the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform law. With one exception, her reforms go to the heart of what more needs to be done to keep the financial system safe.
But, first, let's look at how the financial sector spends its money on politicians. Wall Street's contributions, which are by far the largest source of funding for candidates in both parties, have historically swung between favoring Democrats and Republicans.