Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hillary Clinton: A traitor to her class?

By Richard Barry

These guys, too.

I've been trying to figure out what point Republicans are attempting to make as they criticize the recent disclosure that the Clintons make a shipload of money giving speeches. If you missed it, based on a filing with the Federal Elections Commission, it was reported recently by various news organizations that  "Bill and Hillary Clinton have earned more than $25 million in paid speeches since early January 2014."

And don't forget the $5 million Hillary got for her book, which, I will admit, confuses me, having read the thing.

Yes, the Commission report "underscores how much wealth the Clintons continued to amass as the former Secretary of State prepared to launch her second bid for the presidency."
The 20-page report, describing her income, assets and liabilities in broad ranges, shows the former secretary of State gave 51 speeches since Jan. 6, 2014 — each with a six-figure paycheck. The last occurred on March 19, just weeks before she announced her candidacy.

They ranged from a $100,000 payment on April 11, 2014, for a speech delivered via satellite to the California Medical Association to a $325,000 appearance at a Cisco gathering in Las Vegas last August.

Bill Clinton has delivered 53, six-figure speeches since early January 2014, including three this week, according to the filing.

The former president has appeared before an array of audiences, from software giant Microsoft to Centurion Jewelry By Invitation Only LLC, which runs jewelry trade shows. He earned $500,000 in March 2014 for delivering the keynote speech at an international investors conference in Amsterdam, sponsored by the Pennsylvania-based law firm, Kessler Topaz.

But aside from Hillary's misstep about claiming to be broke when she and Bill left the While House, I don't quite see the concern, especially coming from Republicans who usually look favourably upon earning whatever the market will bear.

Unless it's the suggestion that making millions of dollars proves Hillary has no right to deliver a populist message. Unless, Republicans want to argue, the Clinton's one-percenter lifestyle means they are so out of step with the electorate that any attempt to speak on behalf of progressivism lacks credibility. Unless, they might say, possession of sizeable wealth is proof that one embraces capitalism to such an extent that claiming to be a Democrat is a lie on its face.

Maybe that's it.

At some level I can't help but believe that the Clintons, with their ability to make grand sums of money, their ties to international capital, and their cozy relationship to Wall Street are seen by establishment conservatives, much like FDR was, as a traitor to their class.

It's not that the Clintons are rich and hobnob with international decision-makers the world over that galls Republicans. It's that people like that should be Republicans.

But if Hillary Clinton insists on being a Democrat, I suppose all Republicans are left with is that she really doesn't mean it.


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Do Republicans read election issue polls, and does it matter?

By Richard Barry

A new Gallup poll places the economy as the top concern for Americans with 86% saying it is extremely or very important to their vote next year.  This compares with 74% saying the same of terrorism and 61% of foreign affairs.
How important will each of the following issues be to your vote for president next year -- will it be -- extremely important, very important, moderately important or not that important? [RANDOM ORDER]
As Gallup notes, this could change between now and the fall of 2016, but "the economy will likely persist at or near the top of the list as it has done historically in both presidential election years and midterm election years and when the economy was weak, as in 2008, but also when it was strong as in 2000."

International matters are certainly never far from the headlines with growing concerns arising from the influence of Islamic terrorists in Iraq and Syria, ever present conflict in the Middle East and whatever it is Putin is up to. And terrorism is always there as a concern.

Foreign affairs more broadly, however, ranks behind several issues, including the way government operates in Washington, healthcare policy and the distribution of wealth and income in the U.S. Race relations and immigration have also been major news stories in recent months, but on a relative basis, Americans are less likely to say these issues are important to their presidential vote.

Does this then mean that an improving economy helps Clinton on the heels of eight years of Democratic incumbency in the White House? And does it make her a less available target as a former secretary of state if Americans are marginally less worried about issues around the world?

Likely, but I'm still preparing myself for many months of Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.

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Will Gov. Perry be taken seriously?

By Richard Barry
No, really. The glasses look great.

In three weeks former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will officially declare his intention to run for the Republican presidential nomination. No great surprise. We knew this day was coming.

He has been making all the required stops in early contest states. He's been consulting experts on foreign affairs and economic policy. He's been busy recruiting a campaign team and, according to the Dallas Morning News, has even been taking public speaking lessons.

At the moment, however, he's polling in single digits and trailing the serious candidates by a wide margin, and I can't help but think Perry's troubles stem from the fact that he is not perceived as the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Unfair or not, the public perception of Perry's intellectual capacity was strongly influenced by his inability to remember the name of the third federal department he would abolish during one of the 2012 GOP nomination debates.

Since then we have heard that some of his mental lapses in that campaign may have been due to recent back surgery and medication. Sure, if he says so.

Objectively, Perry should be a formidable candidate with experience as Texas governor for 14 years. As he did in 2012, he will stress the state's economic record, especially on job creation, and Texas's welcoming business climate (lawsuit limits, minimum regulations on businesses and low taxes). He has also pointed to his own military service as rare among GOP hopefuls.

Yes, he should be formidable. I can't help wondering though if voters will give Perry a second chance to make a first impression. And those new black-framed glasses seem an obvious signal that Perry sure hopes people won't think he's as stupid as they might have previously thought.

Sure, people can be very forgiving, but the first time he screws something up, gets some fact really wrong or forgets something he should be able to remember, he's done. And that's not a particularly comfortable position from which to campaign.


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Friday, May 15, 2015

Jeb, you're disappointing me (even though I would never vote for you)

By Richard Barry

Until about a week ago, I believed Jeb Bush's eventual victory in the GOP presidential nomination sweepstakes was a slam-dunk. I really bought into the narrative his team was spinning that he might not shine on a day-to-day basis, but, over time, his steady intelligence, fundraising prowess, and ability to appeal to the establishment power brokers in the party would eventually lead him to victory.

But then came that seemingly straight-forward question, in a Fox interview of all places, on whether or not he would have invaded Iraq "knowing what we know now." As I have said elsewhere, and despite what others have written, the answer, whichever way he went with it, was not going to be fatal. But then it was "oh-I-misheard-the-question," then "I-love-my-family-too-much-to-say" and finally, "no-I-would-not-have-invaded-if there-were-noWMDs," and only saying this as if to add, "if you insist on wasting my valuable time with meaningless hypothetical questions."

Holy crap. Jeb's an amateur. Who knew?

More than the issue itself is the sloppy way he handled it. And this isn't immigration reform or Common Core education policy, stuff that most expect to be a problem for him. Jeb Bush looked cranky, unsure, and generally peeved about having to answer a very basic question.

Well, I'll tell you what, that dog's not gonna hunt. Jeb Bush will not succeed unless he can find a way to be a moderately accessible candidate, capable of at least pretending he's willing to answer relevant questions when they are posed.

Guess I'll have to start paying attention to what Scott Walker is up to.


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HRC's very important litmus test for SCOTUS nominees

By Richard Barry

Let's be honest, many Democrats who place themselves on the left flank of the party are somewhat uneasy about supporting Hillary Clinton. These people, me among them, should understand though that she is what mainstream progressivism looks like in America, as is Barack Obama, which is to say okay on social policy, too hawkish on foreign policy, and too close to Wall Street and big money.

Still, it is good see Mrs. Clinton take a strong position in electoral finance reform.
Hillary Clinton told a group of her top fundraisers Thursday that if she is elected president, her nominees to the Supreme Court will have to share her belief that the court's 2010 Citizens United decision must be overturned, according to people who heard her remarks.

Clinton's emphatic opposition to the ruling, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on independent political activity, garnered the strongest applause of the afternoon from the more than 200 party financiers gathered in Brooklyn for a closed-door briefing from the Democratic candidate and her senior aides, according to some of those present.

"She got major applause when she said would not name anybody to the Supreme Court unless she has assurances that they would overturn" the decision, said one attendee, who, like others, requested anonymity to describe the private session.

Citizens United has been one of the worst things to happen to democracy in America in recent memory. Very pleased Mrs. Clinton has taken a strong position on its repeal.

I will be happy to see Hillary Clinton elected president in part, though not exclusively,  because the alternative is unthinkable. This latest move makes me that much more comfortable with my hope for her success.

Hey, in politics you never get it all.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Public policy is hard. Political rhetoric is easy

By Richard Barry

One of the saddest things about politics is that politicians can say almost anything about the potential consequences of a given policy of their opponents and then, when it doesn't happen, be sure that most of the electorate will either have forgetten or lost interest in what was previously predicted.

Writing at The Hill, Markis Moulitsas catalogues a range of things said by Republicans about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would destroy the economy, even the very fabric of the country. Obviously, it hasn't. There have been no massive job loses, small businesses have not been destroyed, and "America as we know it" is doing at least no worse than it had been doing, better by many indicators.

I don't want to relitigate the importance of the ACA (despite my disappointment that it's not a single-payer system). I just want to say that politicians are almost never held to account for all the bad things they say the other guys policies will visit on the country because public policy is hard and rhetoric is easy.

And, besides, if a Chicken Little politician is asked to explain why the sky didn't actually fall, he or she will say that the bad thing predicted will still come, we just have to be patient. Who can argue with that?

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Hey, look at me! I'm a potential Republican presidential hopeful

By Richard Barry

To be filed under the category "those who insist on wasting our time," two more potential Republican presidential aspirants are gearing up to tell the world of their plans. Former New York Governor George Pataki has Tweeted that he will announce a decision on May 28th in New Hampshire, and former U.S. ambassador John Bolton will announce his White House intentions via his Facebook page today. 

As much as the thought of these gentleman joining the race livens up my day not at all, I recognize they have resumes making them worthy of some consideration. More important, though, is what it says about the GOP field, which is that it is so wide open anyone with an unsatisfied ego need, and some vague excuse for being legitimately considered, will see an opportunity to get a little love.

And then if either Pataki or Bolton, or both, announce they are going to make an announcement only to then announce they are not running, well, that would be a pretty spectacular example or two of political narcissism.

How many more needy Republicans could possibly be out there?


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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Modern Family" at the White House?

By Richard Barry

I am not one who believes Hillary Clinton's election as president is inevitable. I have said before that under normal circumstances she should be the underdog, what with 8 years of Democratic incumbency, etc. But then there is the disarray of the GOP, etc.

But thinking about Mrs. Clinton moving into the White House invites the obvious image of Bill joining her in that building. I'm having a hard time picturing it.

When asked in an interview with David Letterman on Tuesday night if he would move back in, he said he would and them quipped, "If I'm asked."
“Well, first of all, Hillary has to win the nomination. If she wins the nomination, then she has to win the election. If she wins the election, the chances are 100 percent I’ll move back,” he said.

“If — wait, wait — if I’m asked,” Clinton quipped.

“You may not be invited back,” Letterman joked.

“My experience is that since I left the White House, when a president of either party asks, you say yes,” the 42nd president said. “So I hope I’ll be invited. It’d be a good thing for America if she won. I hope she does.”

All very cute, but it would be an unprecedented situation, and would surely not be like any before it, whatever Hillary and Bill's situation.Though it is perhaps somewhat like Franklin and Eleanor in the sense of two very accomplished and independent individuals. 

In any case, maybe it's a good way to begin transititioning away from the mythically perfect First Family meme. Families are complicated. Why shouldn't the residents of 1600 Pennylvania Ave. reflect that?


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Come on, Barack. You should know better

By Richard Barry

President Barack Obama is getting some heat for the way he referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren in citing her criticism of his trade agenda. 

Among others, Ohio Senator Sherrod Bown, a top Democrat leading the fight against Obama's trade push "criticized the president for what the senator saw as 'disrespectful' comments toward Warren and suggested that Warren’s gender may have played a role," according to Politico.

When asked how Obama was being disrespectful of the Massachusetts Democrat, Brown replied: “I think by just calling her ‘another politician.’” He continued, “I’m not going to get into more details. I think referring to her as first name, when he might not have done that for a male senator, perhaps? I’ve said enough.”

Words matter, and the President should be embarrassed.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Behind the Ad: Get ready Clinton supporters, it's going to get ugly out there (but funny, too)

By Richard Barry

Who: America Rising PAC (conservative)

Where: Iowa

What's going on: As so often happens in presidential politics, you might not even know there was a campaign coming unless you lived in a contested state or region. Last month a conservative PAC called America Rising launched a web ad in certain regions of Iowa aimed at Hillary Clinton called "Trustworthy." The ad makes use of so many quick cuts, comments out of context, blatant misrepresentations, and dark and brooding scenes as to make it absolutely hilarious. 

My favourite part is a cut of long-time Clinton loyalist James Carville complaining that the Clintons are so often the subject of unwarranted attacks that "there is one set of rules for the Clintons," and presumably another set of rules for others who are not attacked as viciously. 
JAMES CARVILLE: There's one set of rules for the Clintons. … Do you remember Whitewater? Do you remember Filegate? You remember Travelgate? Do you remember Pardongate? Do you remember Benghazi?

I'll let you view the ad to see how they twist his words. 

Absurdly cartoonish, but get ready. This web ad probably contains every conceivable line of attack that will be used to attempt to discredit the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. 

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Can activist conservatives stop Jeb?

By Richard Barry

We are told time and again that the activist conservative base plays a disproportionately large role choosing the Republican presidential nominee. We are also frequently told that mega-donors play an out-sized role, as well as the media who read the tea leaves in order to pronounce on who has the Big Mo.

We are told a lot of things, often by candidates or supporters who feel aggrieved by the application of undue influence of one element of electoral pressure or another.

As for the activist base, we are certainly seeing strong evidence of most GOP contenders courting more committed conservatives, so they must think there is something to this claim. We all understand that a cohesive minority can have a huge impact on any decision making process, and if these committed conservatives in the trenches in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, can set the early tone, they may call the tune, I guess.

This is likely why Jeb Bush us hoping for a long drawn out process in which his mainstream bona fides, fund raising capabilities, and credibility with the media will propel him to victory, because it certainly will not be his support among those tilting significantly to the right, at least not initially.

Read more »


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Monday, May 11, 2015

Some people use money to influence political decisions. Sad, I know

By Richard Barry

I'm sure the implication for everyone reading the recent New York Times piece on Marco Rubio's biggest benefactor is that the Clinton's are not the only ones with rich friends who help out and may expect a little assistance in return. I'm equally sure the articles author's wanted that understood.

MSNBC's First Read makes the point, in the event you really need the explanation.

If you apply the same logic that conservative author Peter Schweizer used for Hillary Clinton -- that donations to the Clinton Foundation appeared to influence policy decisions by Hillary Clinton's State Department -- then the New York Times' profile of big Marco Rubio patron Norman Braman is equally eyebrow-raising. What Braman has given Rubio over the years: He's helped finance Rubio's campaigns; hired Rubio as a lawyer; employed Rubio's wife; paid Rubio's salary as an instructor at a Miami college; and now has committed about $10 million to the pro-Rubio Super PAC in 2016. What Braman has gotten in return: Rubio helped steer millions of taxpayer funds to Braman-backed charities.

I'm thinking there aren't a lot of politicians who want to go down this road aggressively.  And in the Clinton case there isn't even a direct link, just money and interests. For Rubio there's a lot of smoke coming from that gun.

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How we got into Iraq will not be a campaign issue in 2016

By Richard Barry

In an Op-Ed appearing in the Wall Street Journal in February, Laurence Silberman, the federal judge who co-chaired the 2004 Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, stated succinctly the conservative position on the charge that George W. Bush lied to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Our WMD commission ultimately determined that the intelligence community was “dead wrong” about Saddam’s weapons. But as I recall, no one in Washington political circles offered significant disagreement with the intelligence community before the invasion. The National Intelligence Estimate was persuasive—to the president, to Congress and to the media.

The clear argument is that Bush didn't lie, he was simply misled by faulty intelligence like everyone else. And that is what every conservative will say to this day. And every liberal (give or take a few) will say something like Simon Maloy wrote at Salon in response to the Silberman Op-Ed.
But the Bush administration absolutely did engage in willful deception. Quite a bit of it, in fact. It’s one thing to simply repeat an intelligence assessment that is wrong, and quite another to take a disputed, credibly challenged intelligence assessment and state it as uncontested fact. That’s a lie, and senior Bush officials did it often. There’s no better example of this than the aluminum tubes.

Yes, the aluminum tubes, and more, if you really want to be reminded. But I don't want to relitigate the episode, nor is there any reason to because it won't change anyone's mind.

I only raise it because it came up in a recent Fox News interview with Jeb Bush in which he said, “I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."

The positions of each side are entrenched, and it no longer matters, certainly not for the 2016 election. No doubt the instability in the Middle East will provide fodder for Republicans to sabre-rattle and charge Mrs. Clinton with having done a poor job as Secretary of State. And she may push back in some way that generally invokes Republican foreign policy failures, but how and why we got into Iraq in the first place will not figure prominently.

Americans prefer to forget things if they can find a way to do it. I can't imagine this issue will take up any oxygen in 2016, even if a Bush is the Republican nominee. Strange, but true.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Life of Brian made you think, but who wants to think?

By Richard Barry

As you might know, for two decades GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was a Baptist preacher. It's perhaps not surprising that a preacher might say some things up there at the alter that could unhelpful in a political career. Mother Jones notes that Huckabee kept those tapes "under wraps" during the 2008 presidential campaign, probably as a precaution.

There are a few sermons in existence available to the public in which Huckabee talks about our "pleasure-mad society," the evils of alcohol, prostitution, and pornography - the usual stuff.

But that was not the extent of it:

Above all, Huckabee was upset with Monty Python's 1979 movie, Life of Brian. Huckabee was hardly alone in condemning Life of Brian, which follows the story of a Jewish man, Brian, who is mistaken for the Messiah because he was born on the same day as Jesus. The film was banned in Ireland; picketed in New Jersey; denounced by a coalition of Christian and Jewish leaders; and canceled in Columbia, South Carolina after a last-minute intervention from Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Per Huckabee:

There was a time in this country when a movie like Life of Brian which, I just read—thank God the theatres in Little Rock decided not to show, but it's showing all over the Fort Worth–Dallas area, which is a mockery, which is a blasphemy against the very name of Jesus Christ, and I can remember a day even as young as I am when that would not have happened in this country or in the city in the South.

I'm not even going to bother thinking about the horrific acts some have committed in the name of blasphemy in the context of the potential logical conclusions of Huckabee's comments. Too easy.

I do, however, thank Huck for reminding me how much I loved Life of Brian as a hilarious and powerful example socio-political analysis.

Happy Sunday (and Mother's Day too).

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