Bill’s reaction: The “Mitt” documentary

Mitt_filmI watched the “Mitt” documentary. I don’t think it really changed my opinion of Mitt Romney particularly — perhaps because I’m from Massachusetts and already had a strongly held negative opinion about him rather than a vaguely negative opinion based in national media caricatures. I obviously was aware he was a person behind closed doors. That doesn’t have much to do with his bad policies and record.

What I did take away from it was how strongly Mitt Romney believed even in the moment of his (perceived) ‘surprise’ defeat that Pres. Obama was literally destroying the country in fall of “great nations” terms and believed America would reach an irreparable “tipping point” in “5 years” because of Obama’s policies. Mitt’s a relatively moderate and reasonable person, at least by comparison to most national elected Republicans these days, and even he had bought into that notion. (And in the documentary at least, a couple months earlier, Mitt and Ann were passionately discussing tax burdens on small businesses as a reason to win, rather than a perceived need to avert doomsday.) That’s pretty stunning and disturbing.

I think maybe the costs (personal, financial, emotional) of running for office have reached such intense levels that the only way you can convince yourself to keep going through it all is not only to megalomaniacally believe that only you can do the job (as most political candidates have long seemed to believe), but also that the other person will be so bad at it that it will be something the community/state/nation can’t recover from it.

In other words, to run for president these days, you can’t just have a messiah complex but a sincere conviction that the end-times are nigh. Which meshes perfectly with the presently now-mainstreamed (!) thought-currents rippling and roiling through the Republican Party. But even if it didn’t, that kind of divisive framing of campaigns is only going to fuel the toxic cycle that keeps producing worse and worse candidates and leaders at so many levels of government. There will be no good and decent people left on the campaign trail.

The smaller takeaway (as other people have observed) is: Wow, they really were delusional by the final month of the campaign and literally didn’t understand how the electoral math/map was going for them or needed to be handled. To which I would add: Can you imagine a Mitt Romney presidency if the “bubble” around him was that impervious to reality and basic structural facts that politics couldn’t alter?

In 2008, Clinton attacked Obama for gun control support

But in 2015, Clinton is attacking Bernie Sanders for insufficient gun control support. Let’s track the intense flip-flopping, solely meant to destroy rival Democratic nomination candidates, both times.

Now (Washington Post, July 9, 2015):

“I’m going to speak out against the uncontrollable use of guns in our country because I believe we can do better,” Clinton said Tuesday in Iowa City.

A few days earlier, she said in Hanover, N.H.: “We have to take on the gun lobby. . . . This is a controversial issue. I am well aware of that. But I think it is the height of irresponsibility not to talk about it.”
Gun control is one of the few issues on which Clinton has a more left-leaning record than Sanders, who represents a rural, pro-gun-rights state and has voted in the past for legislation to protect the firearms industry. Although Clinton has not attacked Sanders by name, by invoking guns she makes an unspoken contrast.
Despite his mixed voting record, Sanders did support the 2013 background-check bill and ­assault-weapons ban. And on the stump, he is trying to sound more forceful. He notes that “guns in Chicago and Los Angeles mean a very different thing than guns in Vermont and New Hampshire” but says — as he did two weeks ago in Bow, N.H. — that the next president must “come forward with a common-sense proposal on guns.”

In the Democratic field, former Maryland governor Martin O’Mal­ley has the strongest record in favor of gun control. He supported an assault-weapons ban as mayor of Baltimore in the early 2000s and then signed one into law as governor in 2013, along with a suite of gun restrictions that stand as among the nation’s toughest.
Howard Wolfson, for many years a top Clinton aide before going to work for Bloomberg, said Clinton’s avoidance of guns in 2008 should not be mistaken for a lack of interest in gun control.

In Indiana, “Clinton mailing attacks Obama on guns” – Ben Smith for Politico – May 4, 2008

Hillary Clinton has re-opened her sharp attack on Barack Obama’s position on guns, with a mailer in Indiana that seeks to raise questions about him with both supporters and opponents of gun rights.

The mailing — perhaps the sharpest-edged of Clinton’s five negative mail pieces in Indiana — casts him as a typical politician, saying different things to different audiences. It also revives his damaging comments in San Francisco that small town people cling to guns.
The piece is particularly striking coming from Clinton, who has been seen for most of her career as a firm advocate of gun control, but more recently has emerged — without dramatically shifting her stance on specific issues — as a defender of the Second Amendment who fondly recalled being taught to shoot by her grandfather in Scranton.

So which is it?

Is she now the candidate who “told people” in conservative states she “was for the 2nd Amendment, in order to get their votes” as her 2008 mailer alleged of Sen. Obama?

In defense of competitive presidential primaries

While I’m more or less resigned to accepting the 2016 Democratic coronation, I do think some kind of competitive primary for the nomination would be valuable, even if the outcome didn’t change. If for no other reason than that it preps the nominee much better and keeps them from getting rusty while waiting for the other party to get it together.

It seemed “bitter” at the time, but the 2008 primary on the Dem side was one of the best things that could have happened to the party as a whole or either candidate, regardless of who had ended up winning. We never could have won Indiana and North Carolina that year in the general election if the Dems hadn’t been registering people through May and June there during the primary battle.

And on the flip side, we can look at the 2000 Democratic presidential primary. Vice President Gore was guided strongly into the “inevitable” position by President Clinton (whom he then tried to run from, which was weird, given Clinton’s continuing popularity at the time). Gore’s only challenge was a very weak run by Sen. Bill Bradley (NJ), who is a good guy but had no real chance of prevailing.

This meant Gore — who hadn’t run for office in his own right (i.e. not in the running mate slot) since the 1988 presidential primary — essentially didn’t campaign seriously in 2000 until about October. Then he suddenly woke up to the fact he was about to lose and then he campaigned like crazy. He was actually pretty good at it, and appealing, in the final weeks, by most of the accounts and polling I’ve read (since I was a bit too young to notice most of it at the time). But it was too late in the Electoral College, popular vote victory and Florida shenanigans aside. That he even came close enough for it to be stolen from him (if indeed it was) is a miracle given his lack of campaigning until right near the end.

(Exception to the above: Incumbent presidents tend to be hurt by primary challenges, though it’s unclear if that’s because they’re only challenged when already very weak, but they are already in full-time campaign mode anyway and thus don’t need the practice a non-incumbent requires.)

Thanks, Obama: Crimea Edition

I’ve noticed that the U.S. conservatives — including sore losers John McCain and Mitt Romney, but also many many others — who are pounding their fists and tearing their hair over the Obama’s Administration’s purportedly pitiful, pathetic, terrible, underwhelming, horrible, ineffective (etc) response to the Crimea takeover … have been conspicuously careful not to call outright for a military conflict with Russia over the matter.

Can anyone point out where in all their literal lip-curling displays of disgust at the President that they have suggested anything substantive that would be a better response, in their eyes? I think I’ve seen vague mentions of bringing Ukraine et al into NATO (which I think is a terrible idea), but otherwise I can’t think of anything I’ve seen them suggesting as an alternative to the administration’s course of action. 

Update, 9:30 PM:
David W. Wise has an excellent new article in The Globalist (my employer, though I was not involved in editing it) on the same question I posed above: “Why Crimea Is Not the Product of U.S. Weakness”

It is currently fashionable in Republican circles and in cable TV talk shows to argue that, first, President Obama’s foreign policy projected an aura of weakness, which was then, second, exploited by President Putin with aggressive and illegal moves in Crimea.

The problem with this narrative is that, while convenient, it is also patently untrue. Russia in general and Putin in particular, operate under the power politics rules of international affairs. They will thus act according to perceived threats to the security interests of the Russian state.

Unless President Obama had been willing to use military force, an ill-advised course, there was probably nothing the United States could have done to deter Putin’s actions in Crimea once Ukrainian President Yanokovych was deposed and had departed.
Let us […] go back a few years to 2008 when Bush, Cheney and the neoconservatives were in power. They talked tough and backed it up in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also abrogated the ABM treaty and ramped up defense spending.

Yet, in 2008 the same President Putin who recently sent unmarked troops into Ukraine did something as unsavory. He invaded Georgia to within miles of its capital and recognized the independence of two breakaway Georgia regions.

And yet, the Republicans – with their emphasis on an always muscular foreign policy – stood by relatively idly. Did Republicans think that Putin acted out of anything other than his cold-blooded calculation of Russia’s interest? Or did they believe then that the Bush/Cheney team’s “weakness” invited Putin’s action in Georgia?

No, they didn’t. But evidently, different rules of foreign policy calculations and interpretations apply depending on who’s in office. That may be effective politics, but hardly adds up to a serious policy argument.

Wise also discusses at length how Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s pushes to expand NATO into the former Russian imperial heartland made Russia feel threatened, encircled, and under siege — something I discussed previously. Their reactions now can arguably seen as new defensive measures against exactly the aggressive American hawkishness John McCain and others have advocated.

Russia’s present course may partially be an effort to restore a defensive buffer zone around Russia itself, much as the larger Soviet Union insisted on indirectly occupying East Germany and much of Eastern Europe to prevent a third total war homeland invasion that century.

But, again, as Wise notes, much of the criticism has nothing to do with Russia and everything to do with the occupant of the White House: “evidently, different rules of foreign policy calculations and interpretations apply depending on who’s in office.”

In particular, we know exactly where John McCain’s criticisms stem from. If it were just about Russia he wouldn’t speak with such audible disdain and disrespect for the president. He was doing that long before it was about Crimea.

One heartbeat away

In 2008, John McCain picked the person who said this today on the Crimea crisis, to be his next-in-line as president of the United States: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”

Let’s just take a moment to give silent thanks that we don’t live in the other universe, where that ticket won.