By Artur Davis, on Thu May 23, 2013 at 10:00 AM ET
To no one’s surprise, a few feverish days of the unprecedented—establishment media organizations beating up on Barack Obama’s leadership—are already giving way to a series of smart, nicely reasoned analyses of why the IRS/DOJ/Benghazi revelations are not genuinely scandal-worthy. (See Ezra Klein and Noam Scheiber for some of the best representative samples, and Charles Blow for one of the more in-the-tank ones). And the early revisionists are right, as I acknowledged in my previous posting, that these fiascoes have little in common with the substance of Watergate, and its nest of garden variety obstructions of justice, as well as the obviously critical distinction that Richard Nixon was caught directing those obstructions from his presidential desk, while Obama is by every account a sidelines bystander.
But it’s worth making several rejoinders to the budding “much ado about nothing” narrative. The first is that if the standard for comparison is not the most discredited president in my lifetime, but a random Fortune 500 company, that Obama’s administration struggles mightily with the threshold concept of accountability.
Three examples: (1) how does a Department of Justice with any measure of historical memory sign off on such a sweeping dragnet of reporter phone records, especially with nothing more at stake than ferreting out how the AP learned an obscure detail that compromised no ongoing investigations? Even allowing for the obvious, that Attorney Generals have no business discussing with presidents the content of secret subpoenas, the presidentially selected leadership at DOJ seemed weirdly clueless about the depth of the breach into reportorial work product. In fact, so clueless that it reflected an indifference to the axiom of any investigation that what is on paper will inevitably surface and have to be defended in a public or judicial context.
(2) When the hierarchy of the IRS learned that lower level bureaucrats were mixing political criteria with scrutiny of tax returns, what is it about the culture of this executive branch that kept that information from filtering up to Congress or to more senior officials at the Treasury Department or the White House? Why didn’t evidence of political censorship by tax officials stand out as the kind of thing Obama, or at least his senior staff or his Attorney General, might want to know?
Read the rest of… Artur Davis: Obama’s Weak “I’m No Nixon” Defense
By Artur Davis, on Tue May 21, 2013 at 10:00 AM ET
No, the Obama Administration’s disaster of a week is not Watergate. Not unless Barack Obama is found scheming with his aides about how to pay “hush money” to witnesses. Not unless the foraging of journalists’ phone logs included eavesdropping with wiretaps. No unless revelations surface that Obama ordered a federal agency to shut down a criminal investigation, or that he skimmed campaign funds to build his own private network of thieves and vandals.
But this appalling seven days need not be Watergate to be something lethal and destructive of the public trust, a cascade of events that has hardened and validated the worst characterizations of this White House. The axiom on the political right that Obama’s presidency threatens constitutional freedom could seem overwrought when it was confined to insurance mandates and gun background checks. But from now on, the brief has just gotten appallingly straightforward: it sweeps in elements that are at the core of the First Amendment, in the form of the IRS digging into filers with the wrong politics, and into groups with an unapproved ideological agenda. The case that liberties are being violated—pirating the links between certain reporters and their sources for over two months, and in such an indiscriminate manner that close to a 100 working reporters might have been compromised—no longer seems to the media the stuff of right-wing paranoia.
The supposedly partisan charge that the Obama Administration was covering up details in the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi takes on more plausible colors when a diplomat describes the way he was beaten down by political appointees for asking hard questions. And the vague but toxic insinuation that high level negligence contributed to their deaths now has chilling specific details: one official’s account of a special operations rescue team being bluntly shut down when it was poised to strike, another’s description of an inter-office climate that minimized safety concerns about the American consulate as unseemly griping.
Obama has maddened his adversaries by only repeating his routine for handling public storms: indignation that his White House’s motives are questioned, and an implication that parts of the executive branch, in this case the IRS, are an island beyond his ability to influence. For his political acolytes, the effect is good righteous theater. Never mind the inconvenience that the IRS’ presidentially appointed leadership knew of political targeting, failed to stop it, and may have implicitly blessed it. Forget that the ugliness of his subordinates’ response to Benghazi is a picture supplied by members of his own government, not by his opponents but by professionals, people who until these events were trusted comrades of the appointees who ended up sacking or maligning them.
Read the rest of… Artur Davis: Obama’s Scandalous Seven Days in May
By Jonathan Miller, on Mon May 20, 2013 at 12:15 PM ET
With a vote for a hemp amendment to the Farm Bill possible THIS week, I urge you to contact your U.S. Senator NOW. Here’s a link with an easy way to contact them.
Great piece by The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim which demonstrates the strange bedfellows who are pushing for hemp legalization, and reveals how close we really are.
Kentucky’s two senators, Republicans Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, have been working to include a provision that would legalize industrial hemp into the farm bill, according to Senate and Kentucky sources, an effort that is likely to result in a floor vote on the issue this week.
Paul and McConnell had hoped to insert the measure into the farm bill as it was being considered by the Agriculture Committee, but a jurisdictional spat broke out, as often does in the Senate. McConnell, a member of the committee, approached Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) last Monday night about inserting the provision, according to Senate aides, and was told that the Judiciary Committee had jurisdiction and he would need a waiver from its chairman, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.). Hemp laws are the purview of the Drug Enforcement Administration, even though hemp is not a drug and has no psychoactive potential, no matter how much a person smokes.
McConnell faces reelection in 2014, and has been working so closely with Paul that some aides have begun to refer to the libertarian newcomer and tea party favorite as the “shadow minority leader” — a term that presumably expires if McConnell wins his race. McConnell brought Jesse Benton, a longtime aide of Rand Paul and Ron Paul, onto his campaign. With Rand Paul in his corner, there is little chance for a tea party candidate to successfully challenge McConnell, and Paul’s energized base may boost turnout in the general election. If McConnell’s effort on hemp is any guide, he’s taking nothing for granted.
McConnell approached Leahy to ask for the waiver, but was rejected, sources said. McConnell returned to Stabenow and again asked that she insert the provision, and Stabenow said no. She offered, instead, to allow a vote on an amendment, and said that she would introduce it on his behalf. (Minority leaders rarely appear at committee hearings in person.) McConnell declined the offer and by proxy voted against the farm bill in committee. Holly Harris, chief of staff to Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a strong hemp advocate, said that her office had been told by Senate Republican leadership that Leahy had refused the waiver request, citing Judiciary Committee turf, confirming what several Senate sources told HuffPost.
By Krystal Ball, on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:00 AM ET
President Obama recently celebrated 100 days of being office for his second term. In recent months his approval rating has been wobbling, but according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Wednesday it has gone up to 51%. While it still lags behind his 55% approval rating a month after being re-elected, his rating is higher than the 47% he received in March.
However, even with his rebounding approval rating, the president faces persistent criticism about how much he has or has not been able to accomplish. With the budget talks at square one, the gun control legislation not passing the Senate (due to a GOP blockade), and both sides failing to rid the country of the sequester, President Obama’s 100 day mark didn’t seem to be filled with many accomplishments.
In this week’s episode of Political Playground Krystal asked her 5-year-old daughter, Ella, what she would ask President Obama if she was a member of the press like her mom.
“Why can’t both sides work together” Ella responded.
Americans agree with Ella. Pew Research Center also found that 80% believe that the president and Republican leaders are not working together. Forty-two percent blame Republican congressional leaders for the gridlock in Washington, while only 22% blame the president.
Ella does have some advice to help President Obama in his next 100 days: “Make your team work harder!”
By Jonathan Miller, on Mon May 13, 2013 at 9:15 AM ET
I’ve lived a blessed life, and my 11 years in public office in Kentucky were pretty extraordinary.
There was one thing, however, I was never able to add to my bucket list — a positive editorial from any Kentucky newspaper. Not that I received a lot of negative editorials; I was just mostly ignored.
So I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t grateful for the following editorial that appeared over the weekend in Danville’s Advocate-Messenger. I didn’t embark on the hemp legalization initiative to get a bunch of atta-boys, but it is always a great feeling when your hard work is recognized:
EDITORIAL: Bipartisan effort something worth Kentucky pride
11:22 a.m. EDT, May 10, 2013
A tip of the cap to our Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Democratic State Treasurer Jonathan Miller for their inter-party field trip to Washington, D.C., this week. The duo, joined by Republican State Senator Paul Hornback of Shelbyville, visited Washington to drum up support among lawmakers for lifting federal barriers to legal hemp in Kentucky.
While it is too soon to tell whether the trip will pay dividends, the follow-through from Comer, and the bipartisan joining of forces with Miller, should make the state proud.
Legal hemp doesn’t approach the gravity or complexity of many controversial issues that divide Democrats andRepublicans, but it is refreshing to see leaders in both parties willing to stand together for something. The broad coalition Comer and Miller are helping to build, along with their federal counterparts, has been evident from their dueling, sometimes playful Twitter updates — one includes a photo of Comer flanked by Miller and Democrat U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth in front of Barack Obama’s portrait.
For his part, Miller has continued to put his time and money where his mouth is since swearing off electoral politics several years ago. After his unsuccessful Democratic primary run in the 2007 governor’s race and a stint heading the state Democratic Party, Miller started Recovering Politcian, an online forum devoted to a less shrill conversation about important issues.
As the Recovering Politician website states, Miller remains “a proud progressive Kentucky Democrat, but he’s learned that we must put aside our labels on occasion to work for the common good.” Miller, who spent time in Washington during the Clinton administration, has offered his full complement of Beltway contacts to his Republican partner.
Even without a positive legislative outcome, the gambit looks like another net win for Comer, who was swept into office with a decisive margin two years ago.
Comer’s ability to leverage public opinion and bipartisan support for the hemp bill, which was opposed from the outset by a Democratic governor and leader of the House, was truly impressive. Although Richie Farmer may be one of the easiest acts to follow in recent memory, Comer has done his level best to decontaminate his department and clean up the embarrassing, possibly criminal mess Farmer left behind.
It would be hard to blame Comer for also seizing the chance to rub shoulders with D.C. powerbrokers, or to bask in the reflected importance of our nation’s capital. If his star stays on the same trajectory, he may someday be able to choose between Frankfort and Washington.
By John Y. Brown III, on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 12:00 PM ET
The other day I was interviewed about who I thought run in the 2015 Governor’s race. Here is an answer I fleshed out that didn’t get quoted but I re-read it and liked.
“As fun as it is to speculate about who will run for governor in 2015 and who will be the strongest candidates, it is more art than science and more about personal timing than politcal timing. At bottom, running for governor is an irrational decision. One morning you wake up and decide to run because you can’t not run. It is a leap of faith. One of the boldest leaps of faith a mortal can ever take who is also politically inclined. And especially in Kentucky. Where it is two parts political and one part horse race.
And the gambling metaphor is fitting. Running for governor is like walking up to a casino craps table and grabbing the dice. But before you throw the die, striping off all your clothes and crawling onto the table. And betting everything on yourself –physical, mental and emotional–on a single roll. Not because it is a wise or prudent thing to do. And not because you have nothing to lose or something to gain. It is deeper than that. There is something in the gubernatorial candidate’s DNA code that makes him or her feel they are betraying their genetic make-up if they don’t run. They run not because they worry of what others will say in their presence if they don’t run —but rather worry what they will whisper to themselves when no one else is around.
It is, in these candidate types, as if they were born with invisible wings. And like any animal blessed with wings, there will come a day when it is time to try to fly.
And that day, so to speak, is more about instinct and impulse that intellect and preparation. The day a gubernatorial candidate files to run for office is, in a very real sense, the day that particular political animal believes is the day he or she is finally ready to fly.
By Jennifer Mann, on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 10:00 AM ET
Only a few months have passed since I left office as a state representative—a position I held for fourteen years. I entered the Pennsylvania House of Representatives an entrepreneur, having started my first business at the age of 25, and gained a reputation during my tenure as a business-friendly legislator. During the last few years of serving my district, an inner voice increasingly grew louder, calling me back to the private sector and to new challenges.
Without missing a beat, I launched a consulting firm immediately after leaving office. I never really gave myself an opportunity to enjoy a transition period in which I could reflect upon the past 14 years with the exception of a brief moment of an awkward feeling in not seeing my name on the ballot. And so, for the most part, my transition happened. No fanfare and no deep thoughts of reflection,
My new reality began to hit home immediately upon showing up to work—alone. Although I never took for granted the dedicated staffers who worked for me, and I did realize just how dependent I was on them, I just didn’t know how hard it would be to maintain the level of activity without them, until I was out on my own. Most of all, I miss their presence. The past presidential election brought some pretty bad jokes about empty chairs, but now when I walk into my office, it’s me, myself, and I, and…that empty chair in the corner. I miss the smiles and the chatter and the interoffice banter (It still happens some today, but by email and it’s not the same).
Fortunately, my new business involves a lot of face time with clients, prospective clients and those my clients would like to do business with. I am by the nature of my work in the company of others daily. But now, I am solely responsible for the scheduling of meetings, for the execution for each item on the to-do lists I bring out of meetings, and for the meticulous follow up I am known for. No more delegation. As a state representative, 90 percent of my to-do list would be carried out by my reliable team. Now, it’s me, myself and I…and that empty chair.
But I still enjoy a touch of public life in some regards. I remain active with local charities, nonprofits, and serve on boards making speeches, shaking hands, and conversing with colleagues about political hot topics. Though I enjoy remaining connected in that way, I have to consciously draw the line and remind myself where to stop.
For example, the Washington Bureau writer of my city newspaper recently asked me to share my thoughts about a poll concerning next year’s gubernatorial election. Instinctively, I began to formulate a response. But then after thinking the matter through for a few moments, I decided to decline. Although I felt honored that a reporter approached me for a quote even though he was aware I left office, the torch has been passed and it is time to let others weigh in.
That is not to say I will no longer make comment concerning issues involving state government. As a state representative, I sponsored legislation to protect children against sexual predators and widen law enforcement’s net in capturing those who harm them. Protecting our children from predators is an issue dear to my heart and I will gladly lend my voice to protecting those young ones.
Life changed substantially since I left office. I do not regret my decision to return to the private sector and I remain excited by the prospects ahead. The transition I never took is moving full speed ahead on its own, as it will for any of us who have served our constituents over time. I look forward to sharing with you in the months ahead my reflections of that journey.
Q: I’m considering running for office in 2014, but here is my dilemma: I am not sure I want to put myself out there. My father and grandfather were both elected officials, and my father has encouraged me to run. I think I could win based largely on name ID, but having to knock on doors just is not my cup of tea. Do you think I could win without doing that?
—Definitely no initials or location!
A few thoughts.
First, you have to f—ing want it. If you don’t want it, voters sense it. And you’ll probably lose.
That said, knowing nothing about what office you’d run for or who your opponent(s) might be, or how hard you’d work (or they’d work), yes, I think you could win. I’m sure you’ve considered this, but your family probably has residual name recognition and, especially if your father or grandfather is alive, they likely retain fundraising connections that could benefit you. As a general rule I abhor dynasty candidates since so few compare to their parents (with some notable exceptions, such as Jeb Bush or the impressive Udall brothers), but the fact is that most Americans vote like they shop, and when given the choice between 7-Up and Super-Up, they usually buy 7-Up.
Second, if you dread knocking on doors, you probably shouldn’t get into politics. It is, of course, a people business, and if you don’t like people, you’re going to be pretty miserable most of the time. New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai once profiled someone who reminds me of you, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, whose father, John, was a legendary U.S. senator. During Linc’s first campaign, for delegate to the state’s constitutional convention, he went to his home turf to knock on doors. According to Bai, “He sat there for 20 minutes, holding a stack of palm cards with his picture on them, trying to work up the courage to get out of the car.”
Now, he’s turned into a pretty successful pol, first reaching the U.S. Senate and, after a 2006 loss, recovering to win an unusual independent bid for governor four years later. Still, if you’ll read the profile, you’ll see that he doesn’t actually appear to enjoy the lifestyle—and these days, his numbers are in the tank. So, before doing it to please your family, take a hard look at what you’re getting into. I usually found it amusing when people slammed doors in my face. If you’re more sensitive, you’re gonna struggle, at least at first. And remember—some introverted dynasty candidates (think Al Gore) seem much happier now that they’re out of the game.
Q: Hey, Jeff, definitely not complaining, but why have you been writing about sex so much lately?
—N.L., Washington, D.C.
Because I’m married, and my wife is pregnant.
Read the rest of… Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column
The Supreme Court may be on the verge of striking down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandates federal approval, or “pre-clearance”, of any changes to election procedures in states under the Act’s jurisdiction (mostly Southern, but some scattered northern jurisdictions, primarily in New York). It could be a mixed triumph for conservatives—a blow against a regionally discriminatory rule of law that limits Virginia and South Carolina from passing statutes that are perfectly legal in Kansas and Indiana—but a victory that will only fuel the impression that the political right is bent on suppressing minority voters.
Conservative legal activists would have been better advised to concentrate on doing away with or revamping the other elements of the Act that actually do much more damage to the proposition of a color-blind politics. Ending Section 5 would be explosive, and still won’t alter the Act’s evolution from an instrument of black voter participation in the South to a prescription for rigged districts that look exactly like spoils and quotas.
The VRA is a textbook of generally worded terms that subsequent courts and career bureaucrats have reshaped. It’s entirely appropriate command that covered states refrain from passing election laws that discriminate against their minority citizens has been swollen into a requirement that minorities be aggregated into legislative and congressional districts that are overwhelmingly dominated by their race. Even a slight rollback of the percentages, say, from 65 percent to 58 percent is prohibited on the theory that such a contraction “dilutes” the minority vote.
The effect is that in the Deep South, black voters influence politics solely inside their centers of gerrymandered influence: the numbers that remain elsewhere are not substantial enough to create authentic swing districts where Republicans might have to seek black support to win. In the same vein, the nature of nearly seventy percent black districts is that their elected officials are just as un-tethered from the need to build coalitions with conservative white voters.
Not surprisingly, black Democrats and southern Republicans have not complained. The South that results is the single most racially polarized electorate in the country and its African American politicians are hemmed into a race-conscious liberalism that marginalizes them statewide. In addition, more conservative black Democrats and Black Republicans are rendered unelectable in minority districts that leave no room for a non-liberal brand of candidate.
Conservatives ought to recoil from an anti-discrimination principle shifting into a mini political apartheid. Rather than condone a de facto spoils system, they should be trying to undo an arrangement that is more bent on electing a certain kind of black politician than on empowering blacks to engage the democratic process.
This article originally appeared on ricochet.com on February 27, 2013.
By John Y. Brown III, on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 2:15 PM ET
Lincoln and the power of story–and humor. And a lesson in leadership.
Throughout the movie Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis, we are treated (as we should be) to multiple instances of Lincoln entangled in a tense and threatening situation only to hear him start his response with a story. The stories Lincoln tells are usually pithy, homespun, humorous and wise. They each sound at times like an Aesop’s fable all dressed up in grown up clothing. And often-times don’t even seem to be on point with the topic at hand. But work nonetheless.
This story-telling tic, or device, of Lincoln’s worked profoundly well for him. And for our nation.
The stories –and the time it took to tell them–communicated something much more important than an answer to the question posed. Which Lincoln would eventually get to.
First, the story was a distraction which defused an already overly tense situation. But the time Lincoln had finished his story, others present had had time to broaden their perspective and return to the ability to be reasonable rather than just react hastily. And the humorous punchline only helped punctuate this for the president.
Second, it brought everyone in the room together on an unrelated matter. Sure, everyone may be divided by the national conundrum they were debating, but for a few brief moments they were reminded that there was more than united than divided them by laughing together at a commonplace story. And if they could do that, perhaps they could agree on bigger issues. At least, I believe, that was the subconscious message achieved by Lincoln.
Three, Lincoln would re-establish through his story that he was “one of them” –just an ordinary fella not a slick, manipulative, self-serving politician. He could be trusted and was a person of goodwill trying to solve a thorny problem for reasons beyond merely self-interest. Like his familiar stories. He put his audience at ease with him and the process they were engaged with.
Read the rest of… John Y. Brown, III: Lincoln and the Power of Story