Ted Cruz Is Unelectable, So Why Is He Running For President? (March 23, 2015)

ted-cruz-smarmy

Well gang, it’s officially here. It’s Presidential primary season! The festivities got off to a real bang early Monday morning with the first hat thrown conclusively into the ring. That Stetson belongs to Texas’ junior Senator and government shutdown advocator Ted Cruz. Ending months of very little suspense, Cruz tweeted “I’m running for President and I hope to earn your support!” to his 370,000 followers.

In a piece entitled Ted Cruz Hopes Early Campaign Entry Will Focus Voters’ Attention, writers Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times quote longtime Republican strategist Dave Carney as saying, “It’s the shiny object principle. He wants to be first, get in the conversation, not show any doubt or hesitation.” If there are two things at which Cruz excels, it is the use of shiny objects to distract constituents from real issues and a refusal to second guess himself. Thus the announcement bore a fitting similarity to the man making it.

After capturing the zeitgeist and the ire of lawmakers from both parties during October 2013’s partial government shutdown, GOP rainmakers no less authoritative than longtime Arizona Senator John McCain labeled Cruz’s pointless stoking of the House, “a fool’s errand.” New York Republican Congressman Peter King minced a few less words in observing, “My sound bite is to say he’s a fraud…I start with that, and then I go on. It takes me two or three minutes to explain it.”

With just three years on the Senate floor, Cruz has certainly cut some kind of figure. Love him or hate him, he’s made sure we all know his name. However when it comes to gearing up for general elections, it’s easy to dissipate into a footnote. As the Times piece notes,in recent months, Mr. Cruz has been overshadowed by other potential Republican candidates in the early competition for donors, staff, volunteers and news coverage. Most notably, Mr. Walker has drawn attention from those interested in an alternative to former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.”

There are only so many right wing base unifying government shutdowns a man can leverage. Unfortunately for Cruz he’s now going to have to deal with highly skeptical Republican moderates who rightfully question whether the Senator’s loyalties lie with the nation – or with number one.

Though numerous GOP strategists have concluded that a prolonged primary season is bad business for the party (as it was in 2012 when Romney’s conservative pandering pivot fell completely flat), this part of the show is actually kind of fun for the rest of us. As our own Jason Easley wrote this week, disingenuous circus clown Donald Trump beat low-class liberals to the fray by immediately launching a fake birther conversation about Cruz’s legal right to run. Whee!

And if there’s anything more delightful than watching a senior statesman with a long record of accomplishment flat out dismiss the idea of a one-trick narcissist in the Oval Office, I’ve yet to discover it. On this past Sunday’s edition of NBC’s Meet the Press while addressing the topic of climate change, California Governor Jerry Brown told host Chuck Todd, “That man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of the existing scientific data. It’s shocking and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Here’s the thing though. I struggle to believe that Cruz is delusional enough to think he can win the nomination. Smarmy and dangerous? Yes. Stupid? Not at all. He pulled in just 4 percent of Republican primary voters in the latest CNN/ORC poll. And as I’ve argued already, the support of the GOP establishment is far from guaranteed. So why put himself and his family through the grueling, often humiliating process that is party vetting?

I offer that Cruz and Trump are actually fairly similar. Ignore either man too long and like a pouty puppy, he’s going to do something to get attention. The conversation has shifted away from Cruz for far too long. He can stand the ignominy of primary season. He can handle being called “a wacko bird” by McCain. But what he can’t suffer is our silence. That gnawing, aching need for limelight, even more so than Cruz’s disingenuous flouting of science in exchange for base adoration, is what makes him unfit to lead. See: Sarah Palin 2008.

No Schock Here: Scandal Plagued Republican Congressman Resigns in Ignominy (March 17, 2015)

Aaron Schock

The most unfortunate (current) blight on Illinois politics this side of one-percent Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has finally come to an end. Multiple sources including POLITICO confirmed on St. Patrick’s Day that scandal-ridden Prairie State Representative Aaron Schock of the 18th District had finally shown himself the door.

POLITICO played a high-profile role in the announcement, as Schock’s resignation arrived a mere 12 hours after the website raised questions about tens of thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursements the Republican had claimed for his personal vehicle. Anyone who bet on the 33 year-old former lawmaker getting booted over his lavish Downton Abbey -inspired Congressional office has suffered a major upset.

Writers Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan of POLITCO reported:

“Schock billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car from January 2010 through July 2014. But when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014, it had roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer, according to public records obtained by POLITICO under Illinois open records laws. The documents, in other words, indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was driven.”

Uh oh. The article continues with the understatement, “The discrepancy added to a growing wave of ethical and legal problems for the 33-year-old politician.” The news is a major blow to a GOP struggling to reinvent its national brand as inclusive, diverse, young and vibrant. The party had considered the fallen congressman one of its rising stars and most successful fundraisers.

It has indeed been a busy winter for political gossip involving Schock. The trouble began in early February amid growing whispers about that aforementioned Downtown Abbey office. On the third of the month, Caitlin Dickson of Yahoo! News recounted an uncomfortable run-in between Schock’s staff and Washington Post reporter Ben Terris, who was initially offered a tour of the lavish workspace:

“For a man who bared his chest on newsstands [Paul Ryan – eat your heart out], the rush to shield Schock’s spectacular office from speculation is puzzling. Perhaps his staff was concerned that Schock’s decision to pay out of pocket for elaborate decorations when the House of Representatives provided him with the basics might be seen as contrasting with his fiscally conservative image.”

Apparently the young lawmaker has learned the hard way that the only way to avoid the fiscal hypocrite label is to, you know, not be one. Schock subsequently repaid the government $40,000 in a limp effort to fend off an ethics investigation. But that crack in the dam morphed into a full blown burst with the latest POLITICO whistle blow.

Naturally the disgraced lawmaker would have us believe that he is the victim, yet another fallen soldier on the “gotcha” journalism battlefield. In a statement formally announcing his resignation, Schock declared, “Constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself…I have always sought to do what’s best for my constituents, and I thank them for the opportunity to serve.”

Schock will remain in office until March 31, which unfortunately gives the people of Illinois two more full weeks of his “high standards.” How much is that going to cost?

Two Years After SCOTUS Gutting, GOP Rep Insists Congress Is Ready To Amend Voting Rights Act (February 26, 2015)

Charlie Dent

In June of 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a contentious 5-4 ballot divided along ideological lines. From his naive and privileged white male perch, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.wrote for the majority, “Our country has changed…While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

Two months later writer Ari Berman of The Nation, apparently a little wider-eyed than the conservative SCOTUS wing, wrote a piece entitled The Voting Rights Act Is in Peril on Its Forty-Eighth Anniversary. In it, he observed:

“The Supreme Court’s decision in late June invalidating Section 4 of the VRA threatens to roll back much of the progress made over the past 48 years. Since the ruling, six Southern states previously covered under Section 4 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions, with North Carolina recently passing the country’s worst voter suppression law. The latest assault on the franchise comes on the heels of a presidential election in which voter suppression attempts played a starring role.”

But that’s why Roberts and his cohorts threw the ball back at Congress, right? Surely our elected officials wouldn’t stand for rampant modern disenfranchisement efforts after so many fought and died for truly universal suffrage.

I guess the court’s right wing is so deeply committed to the study of law, they haven’t paid much attention to the news since Obama took the oath of office in January 2009. The most recently adjourned 113th Congress produced just 22 percent of it’s “Do-Nothing,” 1947-1948 counterpart. Suffice it to say the Voting Rights Act is every bit as imperiled on its 50th anniversary this year, as it was on its 48th.

Maybe it’s because I just stepped out of the ballot box this week, casting my vote in an effort to unseat Chicago’s machiniest (yes, I just invented a word) Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Maybe it’s because most of the volunteer faces I saw at my local polling place making the magic happen were African-American ones, but I’m more irked than usual by Capitol Hill’s failure to act.

On last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press, Republican House Member Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania spoke with Chuck Todd about the fate of the VRA. Despite actually supporting a Congressional rewrite of the law, Dent provided the usual rhetorical cover for his less noble party mates on the subject of voter ID restrictions (the ones that in many states allow for concealed weapons permits to be presented, but not student identification):

“Well, I do support voter ID. I think Republicans will insist on voter ID being protected. I’m from Pennsylvania. I have witnessed voter fraud. We had a state senator thrown out because of absentee ballot fraud in the 1990s. I lived through that.

It was awful. It was a stolen election. And we’ve seen it. We had a candidate for Congress in Maryland not so long ago in 2012 who voted in both 2006 and 2008 in Florida and Maryland. She had to drop out. So, there is real fraud out there. And I think you can be against discrimination and against fraud. Those two ideas are compatible.”

After hearing Dent’s comments, a rather simple observation occurred to me. What is the common denominator in the Representative’s two fraud examples? Both were perpetrated by politicians rather than private citizens. I think most of us are still waiting for the “awful” tales of our next door neighbor running to the ballot box multiple times just for kicks. In the fraudulent absentee ballot scenario, is there any doubt it was a conspiracy cooked up by the state senate candidate and his or her staff?

It should be no surprise by this time, but whenever present-day Republicans point a finger and cry “foul,” you can be reasonably sure the crime is an inside job. But when justice, common sense and decency fail to get them to move, sometimes a little shame is the most effective weapon. If Dent hopes to be taken at all seriously after his television appearance last Sunday, may he repeat his words early and often to his GOP colleagues:

“I think many Republicans recognize that the Voting Rights Act is the single most important civil rights legislation ever passed in American history. And we also take seriously the fact that we do need to amend the Voting Rights Act, given the court’s rulings.”

Can State Governments And National Agencies Run Like Corporations? Maybe (February 19, 2015)

Governments and Corps

For decades now, the Republican Party has been the party of privatization. The thinking goes that there’s no function of government that wouldn’t perform better and more cheaply if only we’d let the genius of infallible corporate strategy takes its place. This magical theory assumes both that state government is always the problem, and that private enterprise is always the solution. There’s no room in this model for inconvenient statistics, such as the fact that nearly 27,000 American companies filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

For the purposes of this column, let’s look at two different test cases of the GOP’s “private flight is right” hypothesis: newly sworn-in Governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, and the evolution of Veterans Affairs under Secretary Robert A. McDonald. At first gloss, the two men appear to have similar pedigrees. Prior to his November 2013 election, Rauner was the Chairman of R8 Capital Partners and Chairman of the private equity firm GTCR, both based in Chicago. Meanwhile McDonald spent 33 years at conglomerate Proctor & Gamble, retiring as the company’s CEO in 2013.

These basic biographical facts, however, are where the similarities end. And after just a few months on the job for both men, important differences in personal history and motivation suggest a surprising compromise. On the left, perhaps we can embrace the skills of a one percent business leader when leveraged for the right reasons in the right way. And on the right, though the party is not known for letting data drive ideology, perhaps they’ll come to accept that business acumen alone does not qualify one for government service.

President Obama nominated McDonald to his post last June on the heels of predecessor General Shinseki’s ignominious resignation. The VA was rightfully battered on Capitol Hill and the court of public opinion throughout 2014, upon discoveries of veterans who died expecting care as the agency concealed data on long appointment wait times.

Many of us (including this columnist) groaned inwardly at McDonald’s nomination. His corporate background suggested the worst kind of pandering to the Republican position. Heads might roll but would anything really change, as it must for uniformed men and women in need of care and services after enormous personal sacrifice?

While it’s true that 900 VA staffers have lost their jobs since McDonald took over, the firings are more than a symbolic gesture directed at baying media and political wolves. The Secretary sat down with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Toddlast Sunday to tout some early successes. Per McDonald, “Wait times are down 18% nationally. Our backlog of disability claims are down 61% nationally. Homelessness is down 33% nationally. We’re making progress.”

These are assuredly steps in the right direction. But other than the Secretary’s reputation as a competent corporate manager, what else could be in play? Perhaps this, according to a June 29 report from The Week: “The West Point graduate…served in the U.S. Army for five years in the 1970s, and was a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.”

Ah yes, it seems so obvious now. McDonald actually walked a mile in a soldier’s shoes. He served his country, and is thus in the unique position of being able to combine authentic compassion with decades of business acumen to make a real difference. The Secretary is renowned for issuing his private cell number to ailing, frustrated veterans. He is using his privilege and experience to strengthen, rather than diminish, the impact of government.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have newly minted Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, whose only prior political experience included acting as an advisor to Chicago’s current machine Mayor, Rahm Emanuel. This resume bullet point alone should have been enough to disqualify Rauner, but a discontented electorate often behaves in mysterious ways. Rauner is reported to have spent $26 million of his own personal fortune to unseat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn by a margin of roughly four percentage points.

Any illusion that Rauner planned to thoughtfully consider what’s best for the state and its citizens before making any moves was immediately shattered. In his first executive order, he halted state hiring as well as discretionary spending, and called for state agencies to sell surplus property. He also fired a warning shot at labor unions, signing an order blocking “fair share” union fees from state employee paychecks. Then he lawyered up.

In response, IL AFL-CIO President Michael T. Carrigan said:

“The Bruce Rauner that managed to mask his true feelings about working families for most of last year showed his true agenda today. Much like his past proposal to cut the minimum wage, he is now going after workers on all fronts by supporting Right To Work, attacking Unemployment Insurance and Workers Compensation, as well as prevailing wage and Project Labor Agreements that benefit both workers and the taxpayers…

We suspected all along that Bruce Rauner would go back to his roots as a mega-wealthy corporate CEO and force the tired philosophy of increasing the bottom line on the backs of the workers. I haven’t seen any proposals from him on increasing Illinois’ low corporate income tax or closing big business loopholes. Where is his shared sacrifice?”

Rauner went straight from the halls of Harvard to GTCR. He hasn’t spent a day of his adult life struggling to make ends meet, furloughed, laid off or otherwise squeezed by strained municipal budgets and/or corporate greed. Thus in record time the Governor trotted out the usual GOP leadership playbook: a conveyor belt of gifts to the one percent at the expense of everyone else.

The two differing case studies point to a revised, more nuanced hypothesis. There are situations in which business strategies can be successfully implemented to reform government. There are others in which handing the reins to a former executive is a huge mistake. The difference between success and failure: compassion, as developed by firsthand, diversified life experience.

Marked Ebola Retreat In West Africa A Victory For Public Health – And Democracy (February 2, 2015)

Ebola

What a difference just a few months can make. Last weekend writer Morimitsu Onishi of The New York Times published a piece entitled, “As Ebola Ebbs in Africa, Focus Turns From Death to Life.” The article reveals the stunning fact that “new Ebola cases in Liberia, where streets were littered with the dead just a few months ago, now number in the single digits, according to the World Health Organization.”

The very next day, the Times ran a companion story, “Ebola Drug Trial Is Halted for Lack of Patients.” Given the rampant media hysteria that ran roughshod over the nation’s political discourse less than three months ago, the developments are nothing short of miraculous. From dangerous pandemic to virtually neutralized, the retreat of the Ebola threat is something we can come together to celebrate in a bipartisan way. Well…almost all of us.

With immigration reform scheduled to remain a hot button topic in the United States for the remainder of 2015, retired Georgia physician and Republican House member Phil Gingrey will need to find a new way to stoke his constituency’s fear of brown people. You may recall that Gingrey gave a July 2014 interview toNBC News’ Luke Russert, in which he said, “The border patrol gave us a list of the diseases that they’re concerned about, and Ebola was one of those…I can’t tell you specifically that there were any cases of Ebola, I don’t think there were, but of course Tuberculosis, Chagas disease, many – small pox, some of the infectious diseases of children, all of these are concerns.”

The fact that Ebola never existed in Central America proved no deterrent to Gingrey’s hate mongering.

Then in October 2014, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson dumbed down the dialogue a little further by suggesting that terrorist group ISIS was using Ebola-infected patients as weapons of war. In a nearly commendable use of negatives to put forth an insane idea as accepted, Johnson told Newsmax TV, “You really don’t even want to think about, you really don’t even want to talk about, but we should do everything possible to defend ourselves against that possibility because I think that is a real and present danger.”

And while it’s clear that no one really listens to her anymore, Sarah Palin demonstrated that Ebola hysteria and stupidity are not the exclusive purview of the white male wing of the GOP. Writing an “open, verbal letter (huh?)” to President Obama, the former Alaskan Governor called for swift and immediate “invasionary” action” against the disease. As though Ebola were just a rogue US territory that could be subdued through artillery.

For most sane people, news of Ebola’s ebb is a welcome delight, the more so because it has been a democratic phenomenon, a win for public health, a triumph of information and a symbol of what strained communities can accomplish when they work together. As Onishi writes, “While many have emphasized the enormous assistance hauled into the region by the United States and international organizations, there is strong evidence, especially here in Monrovia, that the biggest change came from the precautions taken by residents themselves.”

It’s a watershed, revolutionary idea for the doggedly interventionist faction of the Republican Party. Maybe, just maybe our “leadership (heavy handed military action)” in every global crisis is not necessary to its resolution. We contributed badly needed funds and expertise, certainly. But a quick review of the quotes above is more than enough to suggest that America’s politically motivated contributions to the conversation often lack helpfulness (to understate things just a bit).

Congratulations are in order to every civic leader, health professional (many of them American) and citizen who has worked to eradicate the threat of Ebola from the daily lives of people in Liberia, Sierre Leone and Guinea. Schools are reopening and the streets safer for human interaction. There are many lessons to be learned from the crisis, and fortunately, we have the benefit of the recency effect. Paranoid talk is cheap and dangerous.