By Artur Davis, on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 10:00 AM ET
Give the New Republic’s Adam Winkler credit for laying some of the blame for the collapse of background checks on gun sales not just on NRA sophistry but on a poorly executed, badly timed, overly polarizing campaign by the Obama Administration. As Winkler points out, the over-reach of going after an assault weapon ban boomeranged badly, serving only to galvanize opposition and define even incremental regulations as a wedge to confiscate guns. And the virtues of a go-for-broke strategy, whatever they were, never compensated for the fact that no assault weapons ban had even a remote chance of passing the House.
I would add an additional point that goes much deeper than tactics and the debate over guns. To a degree that could not have been anticipated, and seems doubly odd for a reelected president, Barack Obama smothers his own initiatives. He has the capacity to lend eloquence to his own followers’ views, but no demonstrated ability to organize them behind any cause other than putting him in office. He moves literally no sector of the electorate that didn’t vote for him. His intervention in a legislative fight seems good primarily for preserving gridlock. Obama wins elections but through pathways that close quickly and elevate few specific policy aims: in 2008, a backlash against George Bush’s unpopularity and an airy promise of a post-racial society, and in 2012, a relentlessly negative siege against Mitt Romney. And the country that has elected Obama twice is still split to the core, more so today than when he was a senator signing book contracts. And the deepest splits are more around the country’s perception of Obama than around any singular issue.
None of this means, of course, that there are not a variety of other elements that contribute to the hyper-polarization of the past four years, from the internet’s inevitable pipeline for misinformation, to the continued weight of interest groups like the NRA, to a cable culture that dismisses any efforts by politicians to craft a middle ground as expediency. But it would take an element of willful denial to ignore the fact that Obama occupies the single most divisive space in American politics since Nixon, and that one of the costs is a presidency that is frustratingly weak at persuasion.
It is not too early to wonder if Obama a generation from now looks weirdly like, of all people, Margaret Thatcher: a highly effective campaigner whose victories spun off the unintended consequence of an entrenched cultural opposition, and whose “conviction politics” seem like a relic. Twenty plus years after Thatcherism formally ended, it has been supplanted by a run of center-leaning British prime ministers with a penchant for downplaying sharp ideological rifts. It is not hard to imagine that Obama’s successors won’t be similarly preoccupied with navigating away from the intense divisions of the Obama era.
Read the rest of… Artur Davis: Obama the Polarizer
The Lexington Herald-Leader political columnist Larry Dale Keeling, who once wrote under the moniker, “Kentucky Curmudgeon,” writes this morning of finding a kindred spirit in The RP. Read on:
For someone who claims to be “The Recovering Politician,” Jonathan Miller sure has been active on the political scene lately. The former state treasurer and cabinet official in Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration publically talked up the industrial hemp bill in the recent General Assembly session (Miller is a member of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission). He touted actress Ashley Judd as a worthy Democratic candidate to take on McConnell in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.
And in a couple of recent pieces written for The Daily Beast, Miller got a bit in-your-face with some of his fellow Kentucky Democrats, accusing them (mostly without naming names) of elbowing Judd out of the Senate race and of botching their response to the leaked tape by focusing on the mistakes of the leakers instead of responding to what Miller termed a “vicious smear,” the tape’s revelations about the McConnell camp’s plan to exploit Judd’s past mental health issues.
In the latter piece, Miller wrote, “The circular firing squad Democrats have assembled comes as no surprise to observers of the state, who have watched for decades as McConnell’s national rise has been aided by his utterly inept opposition” before going on to chronicle the infighting within the Democratic Party that at times has resulted in McConnell facing weakened challengers.
Miller is right. Kentucky Democrats have been their own worst enemies for decades. It’s a “me first” party, a party still living in the era when winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning office and, consequently, a party more interested in settling internal grudges than it is in choosing the best candidate for the fall. Also, consequently, a party destined to future irrelevancy if it doesn’t wake up.
But according to its mission statement on its Web site, “The Recovering Politician provides a civilized forum as an antidote to our nation’s toxic addiction to vitriol and demonization. Here is a place for debating and discussing the issues of the day … without the finger-pointing and blame-assigning that’s all too typical on the Web and among our more crass media.”
With all due respect, I would suggest to Miller that some of his recent writings might border on the “finger-pointing and blame-assigning” The Recovering Politician’s mission statement deplores. To put it bluntly (and with more than a dollop of good fun), he’s getting close to invading my space as a vitriolic and demonizing member of the “crass media.”
In the morning’s Daily Beast, The RP reports on how Democratic failure to frame the narrative on the recordings of a Mitch McConnell campaign staff meeting is consistent with the historical pattern that has seen Democratic incompetence greasing the path for McConnell’s 5 U.S. Senate victories:
Here’s an excerpt:
When Mitch McConnell, perhaps America’s most powerful Republican Senator, was caught on tape with senior aides lampooning then-potential opponent Ashley Judd’s courageous public admission of her past struggle with depression, you’d expect Kentucky Democrats to respond briskly to this vicious smear, right?
Wrong. Instead most Democrats – the state’s party chair and one state senatorhave been rare exceptions – have piled onto the GOP-driven, media-fueled bandwagon that’s instead been focused singularly on decrying the alleged behavior of two independently-acting twenty-somethings who may or may not have been involved in recording the meeting.
Sadly, the circular firing squad Democrats have again assembled comes as no surprise to observers of the state, who have watched for decades as McConnell’s national rise has been aided by his utterly inept opposition.
Students of modern campaign tactics remember Mitch McConnell’s first U.S. Senate race, in 1984, as a early and landmark triumph of negative attack-ad politics: The Roger Ailes-produced “Hound Dog” ad – which featured bloodhounds desperately seeking the “missing” incumbent Senator Walter “Dee” Huddleston – played a critical role in McConnell’s longshot victory. But the jar might never been opened had the lid not been loosened first by the primary challenge of incumbent Governor John Y. Brown, Jr. Brown ultimately abandoned his bid, but according to Al Cross, the dean of the state’s political journalists, Brown’s very entry revealed for the first time that the popular Huddleston was “vulnerable to defeat,” providing real legitimacy to a GOP challenge.
When McConnell sought his first re-election six years later, the internal Democratic warfare was even more perverse, and devastating. Party activists and insiders had coalesced around the candidacy of former Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloane, a well-known statewide figure with access to substantial funding. However, as Cross remembers, the then-incumbent Governor Wallace Wilkinson was steamed at Sloane for failing to support his gubernatorial ambitions – Wilkinson, after all, had served as Sloane’s state finance chair four years prior. So Wilkinson sabotaged his former ally first by recruiting a primary opponent who weakened Sloane and depleted his resources, and then by refusing to provide support in the general election. The governor’s personal pettiness may have proved the difference-maker in a race where McConnell secured just 52% of the vote.
As always, the KY Political Brief– and its wunderkind editor, Bradford Queen — has done a bang-up job of gathering all of the latest state and national reports on the most highly-watched (and sometimes, most crudely bizarre) U.S. Senate race in the country.
THE SCOOP : Source: Progress Kentucky Behind Mitch McConnell Campaign Recording - WFPL’s Phillip Bailey, Kenny Colston and Gabe Bullard – “A secret recording of a campaign strategy session between U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell and his advisors was taped by leaders of the Progress Kentucky super PAC, says a longtime local Democratic operative. Mother Jones Magazine released the tape this week. The meeting itself took place on Feb. 2. Jacob Conway, who is on the executive committee of the Jefferson County Democratic Party, says that day, Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison, who founded and volunteered for Progress Kentucky, respectively, bragged to him about how they recorded the meeting. … On Feb. 2, McConnell opened his campaign headquarters in the Watterson Office Park in Louisville and invited trusted GOP activists and select media outlets to an open house. The event lasted roughly two hours. Afterward, McConnell and several campaign advisors held a strategy session in an office meeting room. Morrison and Reilly did not attend the open house, but they told Conway they arrived later and were able to hear the meeting from the hallway.” [WFPL]
–Mitch McConnell Tape Fallout: FBI Digs In, How Progress Kentucky Helps the GOP, Was it Illegal? [WFPL]
–The disastrous collapse of Kentucky’s least effective liberal group [BuzzFeed]
–Dave Weigel: Unwinding the moronic conspiracy to nail Mitch McConnell [Slate]
–Witness says political activists behind McConnell office bugging [WHAS-TV]
–Watchdog group files ethics complaint against McConnell - The Hill – “A government watchdog group on Thursday filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the secretly taped strategy session that was leaked to the media this week. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate whether McConnell illegally used congressional staff time or resources for his reelection campaign.” [The Hill]
AL MAYO: “Progress Kentucky: Making McConnell the victim for over thirty days now” - KPB column – “Progress Kentucky has managed to make news twice during its short existence, and both times it involved Mitch McConnell. … This time they just did something even more stupid.” [KPB column]
SENATE DERBY : McConnell campaign poring over Grimes’ records - AP’s Roger Alford – The McConnell campaign has collected thousands of public records pertaining to Grimes’ first year in office, including travel invoices, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. The materials even include reams of letters from people wanting to become Kentucky Colonels, an honorary designation bestowed on anyone who asks. McConnell, the Senate’s GOP leader, hasn’t yet drawn a major opponent in his bid for a sixth term in 2014. Still, he isn’t waiting for challengers to formally announce. He is doing opposition research on likely contenders as part of a process he was recently recorded describing as “Whac-A-Mole,” which he said means striking “when anybody sticks their head up.” … The McConnell campaign began the opposition research into Grimes last October, according to the documents reviewed by AP. His campaign filed a request with the state government under the Kentucky Open Records Act for a broad range of documents involving Grimes, including all email, texts, notes, documents, letters, even Post-it notes.” [AP]
In what was probably the most reported on tweet in political history since the Anthony Weiner scandal, actress Ashley Judd’s run against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell was put on hold in 140 characters.
The brief media frenzy that ensued before she ended speculation could all come back to the commonwealth. Jonathan Miller, the former two-term state treasurer and one-time gubernatorial and congressional candidate, told Pure Politics that Judd might move back to her old Kentucky home.
“I do really think she’s thinking about moving back to Kentucky permanently,” Miller said in an in-studio interview with Pure Politics.
Miller said Judd decided the timing was off for the 2013 race. “Now’s not the right time,” he said.
Some state Democrats had been rumbling that a Judd race against McConnell could cost down ticket seats in an unstable Democratic House majority. There was also plenty of talk about where exactly Judd would list for her permanent address after she has spent most of her time in recent years in Tennessee. But all that could clear up soon and a revamped Judd could emerge Miller said.
“She was energized by all the support. I do think that she’s really looking to moving back to Kentucky permanently. I do think there is a real possibility of her running for another office down the line,” Miller said. “If she does all these complaints about residency or not touching all her bases or not paying her dues by that point she’ll be set.”
Miller said Judd has already expressed to him that she would like to help whomever the Democratic nominee turns out to be. And that help during the 2014 campaign could improve her chances at a future race.
“Whether it is Rand Paul in ’16 — or he might not even run because he might be running for president — it’s congress sometime or statewide office, she will be in a better position,” Miller said.
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If you don’t already subscribe to the KY Political Brief, you missed all of the latest news on the emerging national Judd/McConnell “scandal”:
WHODUNIT? : McConnell campaign calls in FBI over secret recordings - CNN – “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign is “working with the FBI” on how Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, obtained a recording of political aides meeting with McConnell and discussing opposition research on Ashley Judd, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton told CNN Tuesday. In the recordings, political operatives huddling at the senator’s campaign headquarters in Kentucky, are heard discussing potentially attacking Judd’s mental health, as well as her left-leaning politics, if she had decided to make a bid against McConnell, who’s running for a sixth term in office next year.” [CNN]
–Statement from campaign manager Jesse Benton: “Senator McConnell’s campaign is working with the FBI and has notified the local U.S. Attorney in Louisville, per FBI request, about these recordings. Obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Senator McConnell’s campaign office without consent. By whom and how that was accomplished presumably will be the subject of a criminal investigation.”
–Mitch McConnell accuses Progress Kentucky of bugging [POLITICO]
–ICYMI: Mother Jones obtained a “secret recording” of a McConnell strategy session held February 2, 2013. On the recording, staffers and McConnell can be heard discussing possible lines of attack against then-possible candidate Ashley Judd and others, including Alison Lundergan Grimes. … Original Mother Jones post
JUDD RESPONDS : Ashley Judd’s publicist released a statement yesterday in a response to topics heard being discussed on the McConnell audio tape: “This is yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington, D.C. We expected nothing less from Mitch McConnell and his camp than to take a personal struggle such as depression, which many Americans cope with on a daily basis, and turn it into a laughing matter. Every day it becomes clearer how much we need change in Washington from this kind of rhetoric and actions.”
AL MAYO: “Espionage? I doubt it!” - KPB column – “… Then came the claim from McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton that the recordings were a result of bugging and the FBI was being called upon to investigate. Jesse–get a grip! If I were a betting man, I would consider it a lead pipe cinch that no bugging was underway. This is simply someone inside the meeting who recorded it via cell phone or other means on their person. I would further allege this wasn’t even done maliciously or with sinister intentions.” [KPB column]
SENATE DERBY : New PPP poll shows McConnell with narrow leads over possible opponents - PPP – “PPP’s newest poll of the Kentucky Senate race finds that Mitch McConnell continues to rank as the most unpopular Senator in the country, and that several Democrats are within striking distance of him in head to head match ups. … The good news for Democrats is that they still have several candidates who poll within striking range of McConnell. Alison Lundergan Grimes, despite having only 50% name recognition, comes within 4 points of McConnell at 45/41. … And former Congressman Ben Chandler trails McConnell just 46/41. Ed Marksberry, the only announced Democratic candidate in the race at this point, trails the incumbent 46/35.” [Public Policy Polling]
Former Democratic Party Chairman and state treasurer Jonathan Miller was a Judd adviser and confidant. He says party infighting helped push the Hollywood actress out of the race and that Grimes may be the only option left.
Miller dropped by Noise and Notes to share the frustrations of the behind the scenes Judd candidacy and if McConnell can still be beaten.
By Jonathan Miller, on Thu Apr 4, 2013 at 9:00 AM ET
It’s been more than a week since Ashley Judd announced that she would not be running against Mitch McConnell in 2014 for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky, but our celebrity-worshipping, click-hungry national media (and maybe a recovering politician or two) simply won’t let the story go away.
This Monday, J.K. Trotter of the The Atlantic Wire, published a piece entitled “Was Ashley Judd’s Rape Comment Real?” (Sorry for the three day delay in responding to it — I just found it this morning in a Google search.)
For the uninitiated, here’s the background:
On March 9, Howard Fineman of The Huffington Post authored a piece entitled “Ashley Judd Senate Run: Actress, Activist Planning to Declare,” in the middle of which, appeared the following sentence:
Judd made her intentions clear at a private dinner last month at [philanthropist Christy] Brown’s Louisville home. Asked if she was tough enough to take on McConnell and the GOP national attack machine, Judd reportedly answered, “I have been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell.”
Judd’s apparently perverse comparison of a political campaign to rape spread like wildfire through the media, leading some to term Judd as the Democrat’s Todd Akin.
I was at that dinner and never heard that comment. I called a few of my fellow guests, and they hadn’t heard it either. I emailed Fineman; and after I didn’t hear back from him, I called a few reporters who’d been covering the race. No one was interested in my rebuttal. I considered writing my own piece, but determined that it would only add oxygen to a distracting fire while Judd was struggling to make her on whether or not to run.
Ultimately, a few days after Judd withdrew, The Daily Beast published my post mortem on the actress’ non-candidacy: “How Kentucky Democrats Duped the MSM and Helped Elbow Out Ashley Judd.” Exhibit A was the fictional “rape comment” story.
The problem is, it never happened. I was at that dinner and never heard her say anything remotely like that. What’s more, such a statement would have been completely inconsistent with the way I’ve heard Ashley discuss her horrifying experiences as the youthful victim of sexual assault—how they defined her in adulthood; how they propelled her to champion women’s empowerment across the globe.
I specifically did not call out Howard Fineman, because I didn’t blame him. I was 100% confident that someone told him this story, and it was that anonymous source who was either mistaken or lying, not Fineman. (Hence the headline of my piece.) I respect Fineman a great deal, and am always proud to see folks do so well who have strong Kentucky ties (Fineman went to law school and was a newspaper reporter in Louisville), especially if they are Jewish (there’s far too few of us in my old Kentucky home.)
That’s a pretty harsh charge leveled by a pretty biased source from inside a now pretty old-news story against Fineman, a decorated journalist (inside and out of Kentucky) who currently serves as Editorial Director at The Huffington Post, which closely tracked the preliminary movements of the Kentucky race.
Trotter then continued by reporting on an interview with Fineman:
“I doubled checked with my source, and I stand by the quote and the story,” Fineman told The Atlantic Wire over email. Fineman clarified that Judd didn’t announce this comment to the rest of the dinner’s guests, only his source.
“I don’t know who else heard it,” Fineman continued. “This [source] was a Judd supporter, by the way. The person told Judd what a tough and nasty campaigner McConnell was, and that is how Judd answered.” That could explain why Miller “never heard [Judd] say anything remotely like that,” in that Judd wasn’t speaking to everyone present when she said it.
Fineman admitted that his report was ambiguous about Judd’s delivery of the quote. “It was not in an event-wide moment, I don’t think, but I didn’t say it was,” he said. “The wording in the piece is ambiguous, though, and for that I apologize.”
Kudos to Fineman for apologizing. Too few people on any side of the political arena take responsibility when they’ve made a mistake, even a small one.
But his admission reveals a deep, underlying problem of today’s politics.
As the national media slurped up any tiny drop of news or gossip to slake its unquenchable thirst for Ashley Judd stories, it seized on a “quote,” attested to by only one anonymous source, made not in a televised debate (a la Akin), or at a public event (such as George Allen’s Macaca moment), or even before a group of people at a private forum (see Mitt Romney’s 47% line), but rather in an intimate one-on-one conversation.
For the reasons I outlined above, I still don’t think Judd made that comment — my assumption is that the anonymous source (who is probably a friend of mine, since it was a small dinner) mis-remembered it.
But even if she did, do we now hold public figures to such scrutiny that an off-color line whispered between two intimates can be seized as fodder for a national scandal? If we held all of our leaders to that exacting standard, where there is no zone of privacy, will there be anyone left to lead us?
Further, in this age of cell-phone cameras and tiny digital recorders, if there is no tangible proof, shouldn’t there be some journalistic standard that you need more than just the testimony of one anonymous source to publish something of substance, particularly something this controversial?
Ultimately, this affair is not about Judd’s candidacy; as I argued in The Daily Beast, I don’t believe any of these antics ultimately drove her from the race.
However, it does say a great deal about an endemic problem with our political system, and particularly news coverage of its players. It’s high time that the journalism community reflects on the rapidly changing dynamics of the new media, and develops a set of self-governing, ethical standards to ensure fairness, accuracy and context.
By Jonathan Miller, on Wed Apr 3, 2013 at 1:30 PM ET
While we are admitted Nate Silver fan-boys here at The Recovering Politician, our favorite pollsters have to be Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen and Jim Williams. First came their poll that showed Congressional approval below that of Brussles sprouts and barely above root canals. Now comes their national survey about popular conspiracy theories (h/t Jim Higdon):
- 37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at 41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax
- 6% of voters believe Osama bin Laden is still alive
- 21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up. More Romney voters (27%) than Obama voters (16%) believe in a UFO coverup
- 28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order. A plurality of Romney voters (38%) believe in the New World Order compared to 35% who don’t
- 28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. 36% of Romney voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, 41% do not
- 20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not
- 7% of voters think the moon landing was faked
- 13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22% of Romney voters
- Voters are split 44%-45% on whether Bush intentionally misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 72% of Democrats think Bush lied about WMDs, Independents agree 48-45, just 13% of Republicans think so
- 29% of voters believe aliens exist
- 14% of voters say the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic in America’s inner cities in the 1980’s
- 9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health)
- 4% of voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power
- 51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone
- 14% of voters believe in Bigfoot
- 15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (the so-called Tinfoil Hat crowd)
- 5% believe exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons
- 15% of voters think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry “invent” new diseases to make money
- Just 5% of voters believe that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966
- 11% of voters believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen, 78% do not agree
Frankly, I do believe that Oswald did not act alone, although I find Oliver Ston-ian “the government did it” theorists to be way off.
And of course, I know that Paul is dead. Cuckoo-catchoo!