Three Reasons Not To Get Worked Up Over Citizens United

Nick Gillespie makes a similar point about weakening party control as I made here in his third point in the above video. My own take on Stephen Colbert’s lampooning Citizens United is here.

I also like the point that Nick makes about negative ads. Why should we be positive about our potential elected officials?

I’d also point out that like any other form of advertisement, many people just tune these out, change the channel or fast-forward the TiVo.

Video via The Dish.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Republicans pick man with three wives instead of Mormon in South Carolina primary

Newt Gingrich's secret South Carolina weapon was fear.

So Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary.

In the course of a week he turned around his campaign, transforming a serious deficit into a 13 point win. South Carolina voters rejected Romney’s time at Bain Capital, his Mormon faith, and his insincerity. They turned, instead, to the disgraced former Speaker of the House, a man whose personal life is quite frankly enough to disqualify him from any possible general election run; whose statements over the past few years in regards to Obama, religious freedom, and other controversial issues place him not only on the far-right of the political spectrum, but among its worst elements.

Gingrich can pander like no other, but his personal and political past should be enough to rouse Republicans from whatever drunken stupor has led them to this precarious destination.

Admittedly, one state does not a nomination make, but Romney has never been so vulnerable.

“This is the Republican crack-up people have been predicting for years,” writes Andrew Sullivan. “Gingrich is on a roll. I think he can win this – and then lose this in a way that could change America history. That is a brief impression in one moment of time. But I cannot see Romney winning this at this point. They are just not into him, and he’s an awful candidate.”

The Republican Party “deserves its spokesman,” Andrew argues. “But do not under-estimate the appeal to some of the idea of humiliating and removing the first black president. That’s what Gingrich is really about. He is giving them what they want. And it’s meat that has barely seen a skillet.”

It’s remarkable, really. There’s a sort of debauchery to it, this willingness to follow whoever says the most extreme thing, whoever is willing to play the raging fool.

What is conservatism in this country? What has it become?

Corey Robin argues that it’s the politics of the perpetual reactionary. Conservatism here and in Europe has been the manifestation of the status quo reacting to the forces of change and progress. Sullivan argues that true conservatism is more a matter of disposition and temperament; that the true conservative seeks balance. In some ways, these are very much the same thing though Robin’s conservative is a revolutionary in reverse, and Sullivan’s is a force for stability. (I am suddenly reminded of Ra’s al Ghul and his reactionary League of Shadows…)

These days I see conservatism more as a bastion for fear of the Other than anything else. The Other is the crux of every conservative argument: fear of the immigrant other (Mexicans!); fear of the cultural other (Liberals and Elitists!); fear of the religious other (Muslims!); fear of the racial other (black people!); and so forth. Conservatism is a sort of protectionism that inhabits the minds of the fearful (and make no mistake, this tendency creeps up on the left at times as well.)

Conservatives believe that we must protect our borders, stop the flow of communism or radical Islam, etc., fight big government but not the entitlements that big government so graciously hands out to us. No wonder most conservatives want to keep the military strong and well funded when so much fear is at play. A conservative in the American sense is not interested so much in turning back the clock as he is in stopping it altogether.

This – this harnessing of fear and resentment – is what Newt has tapped into on the right and he’s done so better than anyone else – better than the bumbling Perry or the more mild-mannered Santorum. It doesn’t matter if he has a plan or if he’s lying through his teeth or if his past is littered with failures both moral and political. It doesn’t matter if he’s just another big government rightwinger in disguise, pandering to whatever shreds remain of the once mighty Tea Party. What matters is what he represent – he’s become, quite suddenly, an avatar for all this terror at the browning of America, at the financial crash, the poor labor market. He’s become Obama’s doppelganger.

Obama is all that is Other and Newt is that comforting swell of rage that accompanies it. In this sense, Newt’s very familiarity is a blessing when it ought to be a curse.

Why Newt and not Romney? Certainly Romney has taken a hard-line stance on everything. I’m not sure it’s his Mormonism so much as it is his insincerity. When Romney talks about Obama or the various issues conservatives have with Obama, he just isn’t convincing, even to a liberal like me. He sounds like a phony. (Like I’ve said before, he has no soul.) Gingrich, on the other hand, has plenty of soul, dried up thing though it may be, and he can access deeper emotional resonance in the GOP base. Romney’s anger is flat and papery. Gingrich may indeed only be a better actor, but he’s a method actor, and he pulls off the role he knows he needs to play.

Whether he can sustain it is another question. Gingrich comes with his own cartload of baggage and plenty of moderates in the GOP outside of South Carolina are just as nervous about the former speaker as they are about the former governor of Massachusetts. This game is far from finished.

What a glorious sport we’ve made of our political system.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Chris Christie’s welcome sanity on the war on drugs

I have mixed feelings about the governor of New Jersey, but this does make me like Chris Christie just that much more:

Andrew Sullivan has part of the transcript up:

[L]et us reclaim the lives of those drug offenders who have not committed a violent crime. By investing time and money in drug treatment – in an in-house, secure facility – rather than putting them in prison. Experience has shown that treating non-violent drug offenders is two-thirds less expensive than housing them in prison. And more importantly – as long as they have not violently victimized society – everyone deserves a second chance, because no life is disposable. I am not satisfied to have this as merely a pilot project; I am calling for a transformation of the way we deal with drug abuse and incarceration in every corner of New Jersey.

The rest is here. If only more people on the left and the right would start talking this way.

Reihan Salam writes:

I want all politicians, and in particular all conservatives, to pay careful attention to this: Christie highlighted a dangerous gap in the system that limits the discretion of judges to keep violent offenders behind bars. Yet he also made the case that nonviolent drug offenders should be given treatment rather than imprisoned because (1) it is cost-effective, (2) it is decent and humane, and (3) it recognizes that we can’t afford to waste human potential.

By leading with a “punitive” strategy (actually, a commonsense strategy — it’s about preserving discretion) and then pivoting to a measure that will help members of a marginalized population, Christie demonstrates his political sophistication, his strategic vision, his guts, and his decency. This is a big deal.

Possibly. It’s certainly a welcome brand of conservative politics. But will it really appeal to other conservative politicians? In states where the drug war is far more popular than in New Jersey, I doubt this line of reasoning is going to resonate. Furthermore, most politicians aren’t Christie and can’t pull off the tough and sincere thing the way Christie can.

Salam points out that “Christie evidently doesn’t believe that taking this stand will limit his political future” writing that “his brand of conservatism can form the foundation of a coalition that captures centrist voters even in a heavily urban, diverse northeastern state.” Which is exactly why he doesn’t think this will hurt his political career. The fact that Christie is working to appeal to New Jersey voters means he doesn’t think it will hurt him with said voters. And national voters are going to be a lot more sympathetic to this line of thinking, if polls are to be believed, should Christie run for president someday.

Salam guesses that one reason Christie didn’t run for president this time around was the work he has remaining in New Jersey, noting that “ building a solid foundation there could be a great help if he does indeed pursue a national career.”

I think it’s more likely that Christie is simply very good at reading the political winds. He knew he’d be up against a formidable opponent in Romney and an even more formidable opponent in Obama. It’s harder to go after an incumbent than it is to run at the end of the other party’s two terms. Any sensible observer would see how bad the odds are in 2012 and Christie is nothing if not a savvy politician. 2016 is a better year for Republicans, and I think Gingrich and/or Romney will learn this the hard way.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


A Qualified Defense of Obama

Andrew Sullivan's defense of Obama is incomplete but compelling.

Andrew Sullivan’s Newsweek cover piece is one of the best defenses of the Obama presidency I’ve read, echoing many of my own beliefs about the president. On healthcare, I think the Affordable Care Act was the wrong policy at the right time – the best step we could have taken with the political system we have and almost certainly a step in the right direction. Our nation’s healthcare status quo is a disaster, and the poorly termed “Obamacare” pushes the needle in the right direction – though there are miles to go before we sleep.

Indeed, on domestic policy I agree almost entirely with Sullivan. The president did all he could do given the disposition of congress, the economic straights we found ourselves floundering in, and the reality of politics in America. Perhaps he wasn’t forceful enough in his condemnation of the Republican obstructionism. Perhaps he’s playing a long game as Sullivan suggests. Certainly he has surprised us all before. And certainly his political calculations are based on a very different set of information than we have available.

Like Conor Friedersdorf and Ryan Bonneville and others, my quibble with Sullivan’s piece comes when the discussion revolves from domestic to foreign policy. Both Conor and Ryan pointed out that Andrew was far too quick to gloss over Obama’s foreign policy and civil liberties record. I agree.

On assassination of US citizens, the NDAA, the war on drugs, and a handful of other issues, Obama has been a huge disappointment. I understand that the politics of foreign policy and the drug war are complex and difficult to fathom. And I do, on some level, forgive Obama’s decisions here. He works within the constraints of the American political scene. He can’t appear weak on defense. If anything will sink his chance at reelection, a weakness at defense will.

Andrew’s response to civil libertarians was not dismissive, but incomplete:

In wartime, I believe the government has a right to find and kill those who are waging war against us, if it is impossible to capture them. I don’t think wartime decisions like that need be completely transparent – or can be, if we are to succeed. And I think Obama has succeeded remarkably quickly in this new kind of war. He has all but wiped out al Qaeda by drone attacks and the Afghanistan surge. And his success makes these repugnant wartime excesses things that, in a second term, he could ratchet back. Even Bush racheted back in his second term.

But my primary issue has always been torture – the cancer it introduces into our legal, moral and civilizational bloodstream. That has gone. More will, if Obama continues to win this war and gains strength against the authoritarian pro-torture GOP by being re-elected.

Lesser of two evils in this respect? Yes.

Well…yes and no. The end of torture is undeniably a good thing, and something that would be once again revoked by a Romney or a Gingrich or a Santorum, all three of whom have vowed to waterboard if given the chance. When it comes to the question of lesser of two evils, Obama is almost certainly a lesser evil than any of these three. And on domestic policy he is far preferable to Ron Paul, the only Republican who would be more liberal on matters of civil liberty and war.

I also understand that in writing a defense of the president, Sullivan was less interested in attacking him at length on these abuses of power. To Sullivan, the defense of Obama is more important than offering up an extended critique of the president. Sullivan – and I’m with him on this – is worried about a return of Republicans to the White House. The prospects of a Romney or a Gingrich presidency are truly frightening. Everything we dislike about Obama would almost certainly be worse under a GOP administration. The lesser of two evils, in a democracy ruled over by a political duopoly, does indeed matter.

But these things do matter. What else can I say? The fact that Obama has deported so many undocumented workers, has essentially ramped up the war on drugs and laughed off its opponents, and started (and, admittedly finished) a war in Libya – these are deeply troubling. They reveal an illiberal strain in the Democratic party that is worrisome to civil libertarians like myself. I’m left feeling more hopeless than ever about the future of our free-ish society.

There is almost no way I could possibly vote GOP in this election. Ron Paul is a good man, I think, and an honorable one. He would attempt, at least, to do good, liberal things like end the wars and the war on drugs. But his history with the newsletters and his more radical domestic policies also matter to me. He doesn’t represent my vision for America either.

I’m left wondering how to change this country for the better. People say politics is all about the local. Focus on your congress person. Focus on the politics that are closer to home. Maybe this is true. But a president can make a big difference, as the Bush years have more than adequately illustrated. Maybe that’s Obama’s greatest strength. For all his flaws, for all his continuation of bad Bush-era policies, he’s managed to be a competent leader and administrator. Republicans long ago decided that the business of governing was beneath them. Bush was the culmination of years of anti-government attitudes. The appeal of Huntsman, I suspect, was that he seemed at least competent.

Well so is Obama. Surveying the GOP field this primary season, perhaps that is enough.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.


Republican Candidates Haven’t Learned The Foreign Policy Lessons Of The Past

Was Ike an interventionist?

“If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you’d like me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.” ~ Mitt Romney, the only man out of the two who has not killed Osama bin Laden.

Various readers and others have been quick to scold Andrew Sullivan over his defense of Eisenhower as a non-interventionist – and the greatest president of the 20th century. One reader notes that, “Eisenhower not only would have proceeded with Bay of Pigs, but was the final authority in the creation and structuring of the plot from the beginning. While the CIA and Dulles crafted the plans that led eventually to the idea of invasion, Eisenhower approved all of their machinations and saw that they were funded. Finally, the invasion idea itself was either concocted by Eisenhower or enthusiastically endorsed by him, and he and was prepared to persuade President-elect Kennedy of the invasion plan’s likely success.”

Others point out that Eisenhower involved the US in Lebanon and that the Eisenhower Doctrine pretty clearly states that intervention to halt or slow the spread of communism was legitimate. The doctrines states that intervention in another country is desirable if it is intended “to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by international communism.”

Of course, in Andrew’s defense, those were very different times. Instead of the threat of an amorphous terrorism we fought a somewhat less amorphous communism that was embodied in two powerful enemies. Nuclear war was a new dark cloud looming above us.

Furthermore, Eisenhower didn’t have decades of failed interventions and botched, backfiring covert operations to guide him. Our current leaders should be aware of the shortcomings of interventionism in ways that Ike was not. We have the failure of Iran, Lebanon, Chile, Venezuela, Cuba, etc. etc. etc. to guide our hand. Ike had Korea, but he also had the success of WWII.

Commenter Nob Akitimo keeps asking for a detailed foreign policy post outlining my own positions. I will get him one. But for now, my tendency is toward extreme caution – not because it is necessarily morally wrong to intervene, especially in the case of genocide – but because we are fallible and short-sighted. The consequences of our actions can be inscrutable. We are losuy at managing our own domestic affairs and so, almost by definition, worse at managing the affairs of others. We risk, constantly, to overreach both in our military response and in our domestic response (think PATRIOT Act, water-boarding, warrant-less wire-tapping, etc.)

I am a realist (I call myself an owl) bordering on pacifist (maybe the lovechild of an owl and a dove), not because I don’t think we can wage a just war or because there isn’t moral justification to intervene in a place like Libya, but because we have such poor information about the future. In Libya, for instance, we can attempt to manipulate events, but there are too many wild cards. Even beyond the success of our mission there, we can’t predict the fallout, the eventual course that nation will take.

In Egypt, the overthrow of Mubarak is also the rise of fundamentalist Islamic Brotherhood and the likely end to peaceful relations with Israel. The dominoes keep falling every time we intervene and regardless of our intentions, noble or otherwise, where they fall is simply not up to us. Once upon a time I did believe in intervention as a way to promote peace and end the brutality of wicked men. Now I believe that in most places without cultural foundations to support peaceful democracy, wicked men will be replaced by other wicked men.

Once upon a time the world was full of possibilities. America was the super-power emerging from a World War that left our friends and enemies alike in heaps of rubble. We believed we could do anything, achieve anything, through a combination of commerce and force of arms. We were right about the former, wrong about the latter. And yet here we are so many years later watching men like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich talking tough about Iran, forgetting entirely the lessons of the power of peaceful, free trade to radically change the world for the better.

Follow me on Twitter and  Facebook. Read my Forbes blog here.