It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, it was the day that the current smokin’-hot passionate Republican, Ted Cruz, began his brief and totally pointless fake filibuster in the Senate, to delay a vote on a budget resolution that, procedurally, cannot be delayed, and the day that the cool and calm Democratic president, Barack Obama, addressed the United Nations and delivered perhaps the most significant foreign policy address of our times, one which might lead to a way out of the mess in the Middle East we have found ourselves in since 1953, when our CIA arranged the overthrow of the new duly elected government in Iran, bringing back the Shah.
It was a study in contrasts – the useless versus the useful – but to be fair, when Charles Dickens penned those words he was quick to add that people always think that they’re living in an extraordinary time of impossible contrasts. Maybe they are, or maybe they’re not, but they do think things couldn’t get any crazier. They’re usually right. A revolution soon follows, or it doesn’t, but then there have been calls for a revolution this time, like this one from the conservative attorney Larry Klayman:
We must act now. Our Founding Fathers pledged their sacred honor, fortunes, and lives to form a new nation under God. They knew that the odds of defeating the British were not great – save for His Divine grace and intervention. Now, 237 years after they signed the Declaration of Independence in my native city of Philadelphia, the nation has come full circle to the tyranny that has been imposed by a new despot, one far more evil than King George III. King George III may have been a greedy “control freak,” but at least he was a Christian. The United States is being run by a Muslim bent on furthering an Islamic caliphate who seeks to destroy our spirituality and the body politic of our Judeo-Christian roots.
Life is not easy. It requires risk and sacrifice. If as a nation we want to restore our freedom, and we are on the verge of being enslaved under Obama’s socialist Muslim inclinations, we must take our fight to a new level. Tea partiers, bikers, construction workers, police officers, school teachers, farmers, truckers, clergy, housewives, husbands, students, doctors, lawyers and all elements of our society who see our nation slipping away into the abyss, must now stand tall and descend on the capital, much like the Egyptians recently did in ousting another radical Muslim, their then president Mohammed Morsi. If the Egyptians can seek to rid their country of the poison of the Muslim Brotherhood without any real history of democracy, then we Americans, who know what democracy is and have practiced it prior to the ascension of the great usurper, can and must succeed.
Larry Klayman is suggesting November 19, 2013, by the way. That’s the day we all “descend on Washington, DC, en masse, and demand that Obama leave town and resign from office if he does not want to face prison time.”
Don’t expect a big crowd, or a guillotine, like in the Dickens novel. Larry Klayman is a kook, and we’re not French, or Egyptian – and Obama isn’t a Muslim. Even if he were, many good Americans are Muslims. There’s even one in Congress, and the guys who wrote the constitution were careful to keep God out of it. The First Amendment says the government should be neutral about religion. It’s the people’s government, not God’s. There shall be no religious test for office either – that would only lead to no end of trouble. It’s those Lutherans you have to watch out for anyway. Anyone who worships Lex Luthor, after all he’s done too Superman, should be sent to Guantanamo. Someone should set Larry Klayman straight.
Someone should set Ted Cruz straight. There’s a reason his own party despises him. This quasi-semi-filibuster is absurd:
Sen. Ted Cruz took to the floor on Tuesday afternoon to speak until he is “no longer able to stand” in his quest to stop a bill that would fund Obamacare. But before you use the word “filibuster” – as Cruz’s supporters are eager to do – the Texas Republican is procedurally limited by a vote scheduled to take place mid-day on Wednesday.
Cruz, who began speaking at 2:41 p.m. ET on Tuesday, decried the Affordable Care Act, major portions of which will begin to take effect on Oct. 1. The health reform law has become a bargaining chip for passing a continuing resolution to keep the government open after the current one runs out on Sept. 30. Cruz has threatened to filibuster any legislation that could lead to a bill that includes funding for President Barack Obama’s signature legislation.
But Cruz’s dreams of a grandstanding filibuster are dashed by the rules of the Senate. He will have to leave the floor around Wednesday at 1 pm ET, even if he’s still standing by then, because he doesn’t have the power to delay a scheduled cloture vote.
The rest of this item from Sahil Kapur, the congressional reporter for Talking Points Memo, explains all the details of the applicable procedures. Cruz is killing time, no more than that. He needs at least forty-one votes to change anything, and he doesn’t have those. His own party has walked away from him. He called them all traitors and cowards – squishes actually – because they wouldn’t join him in doing something that couldn’t be done. Everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News has called him a fool and a grandstanding arrogant jerk, publically – someone who will ruin everything for the Republican Party. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, walked away from him. Others followed. Sarah Palin and Erik Erickson are with him all the way, but they don’t vote in the Senate. They don’t vote in anything. It’s lonely out there on the Senate floor tonight.
Ah, but Cruz said all his doubters are no more than Nazi-appeasers:
“If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany,” Cruz said. “Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.'”
“And in America there were voices that listened to that,” he continued. “I suspect those same pundits who say it can’t be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. Then they would have made television. They would have gotten beyond carrier pigeons and beyond letters and they would have been on television and they would have been saying, ‘You cannot defeat the Germans.'”
Cruz said at the outset that he intends to speak until he is “no longer able to stand” in an effort to force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to agree to a 60-vote threshold for any motion that removes the defunding language from the House-passed continuing resolution.
Reid isn’t going to change that rule, just this one time, just for Ted Cruz – and Neville Chamberlain said what he said about his cool new treaty with Hitler in 1938, as if that matters. Something else matters more here. Cruz cast Obama as Hitler, a mad tyrant bent on taking over the world, this time by making sure thirty or forty million more Americans have the chance to buy low-cost subsidized health insurance from private-sector parties – which isn’t exactly killing six million Jews and rolling armies into all of Western Europe and taking over, then invading Russia. Making sure most Americans, and eventually all Americans, have access to affordable healthcare doesn’t seem like a move toward world domination and the suppression and subjugation of all peoples, everywhere. It seems like a policy difference. With the Hitler thing Cruz cruised into Larry Klayman territory. His party doesn’t want to go there.
Then it got weird:
Entering his sixth hour of extended remarks on defunding Obamacare Tuesday night, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) read two bed time stories to his two daughters in Texas who were watching their father on the Senate floor via CSPAN.
Cruz began by reading Bible passages from “King Solomon’s Wise Words,” and then compared the Affordable Care Act to the beloved Dr. Seuss story “Green Eggs and Ham,” which he read enthusiastically and in full.
Cruz then improvised:
Americans “did not like green eggs and ham, and they did not like Obamacare either,” he added. “They did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse.”
Yeah, well, whatever, Ted – but maybe this was a Dickens novel after all. Dickens did give us a world of quite absurd but colorful characters, but then he also gave us that tale of two cities, London and Paris, at a time of momentous events. That’s what we have here, except the two cities are Washington and New York. New York, at the UN, was where the action was:
President Obama on Tuesday laid down a retooled blueprint for America’s role in the strife-torn Middle East, declaring that the United States would use all of its levers of power, including military force, to defend its interests, even as it accepted limits on its ability to influence events in Syria, Iran and other countries.
In a wide-ranging speech to the General Assembly that played off rapid-fire diplomatic developments but also sought to define what he called a “hard-earned humility” about American engagement after 12 years of war, Mr. Obama insisted that the United States still played an “exceptional” role on the world stage. Turning inward, he said, “would create a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.”
Mr. Obama embraced a diplomatic opening to Iran, saying he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to begin high-level negotiations on its nuclear program. He called on the Security Council to pass a resolution that would impose consequences on Syria if it failed to turn over its chemicals weapons.
And he delivered a pitch for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, talks that have restarted at the prodding of Mr. Kerry.
Things are moving:
Hours later, Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, echoed the call for diplomacy, telling the General Assembly that “we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.” But Mr. Rouhani said Iran would insist on its right to enrich uranium, and he warned Mr. Obama to resist influence from “warmongering pressure groups.”
Mr. Rouhani, who had mounted an aggressive charm offensive in the weeks before arriving in New York, also declined a chance to shake hands with Mr. Obama – avoiding a much-anticipated encounter that would have bridged more than three decades of estrangement between the leaders of Iran and the United States.
Yeah, but it was something. No one mentioned green eggs and ham either. This is about what we’ll do in the region:
“The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues back home, and aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage,” Mr. Obama said. “I believe that would be a mistake.”
Despite a war-weary public and its declining reliance on Middle Eastern oil, the United States would continue to be an active player in the region, Mr. Obama insisted, defending its interests; advocating for democratic principles; working to resolve sectarian conflicts in countries like Iraq, Syria and Bahrain; and, if necessary, intervening militarily with other countries to head off humanitarian tragedies.
“We will be engaged in the region for the long haul,” Mr. Obama said in the 40-minute address. “For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.”
We’ll just do things smarter from here on out, and John Judis at the New Republic sees this as a big deal:
Obama declared his willingness to pursue a diplomatic solution with Iran over its nuclear program. Of course, he had done that before, but it was usually punctuated by a threat of military action if Iran did develop a nuclear weapon. That threat lingered in the background in his speech; in the foreground, he acknowledged Iranian fears of the United States, dating from our helping to overthrow Iran’s government in 1953; he welcomed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s overtures to the United States; and he said he was instructing Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with Iran’s foreign minister – the first such meeting between the country’s leading diplomats since 2007. The White House has also said it is “keeping the door open” to a meeting between Obama and Rouhani.
If Obama does achieve a rapprochement between the United States and Iran, it could have repercussions throughout the Middle East. It could make a political settlement in Syria possible. It could ease negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s hardliners would no longer have an excuse for ignoring the West Bank occupation, and Hamas would no longer have international support in refusing to back a two-state solution. And, finally, of course, a rapprochement could give the United States a strong ally in reducing the threat of terrorist movements in the Middle East and South Asia.
This was not intended to make Ted Cruz look small, but it did, because there’s something big here:
In Syria, the White House had initially hoped for opposition military successes that would force Bashar al Assad to leave office. Afterwards, they hoped that military successes would at least lead to a political settlement favorable to the opposition and laid out the hope that a military strike against Assad in retaliation for his use of chemical weapons would damage his overall military chances. But in Obama’s speech, he came out foursquare for a political settlement. While condemning Assad, he suggested that both sides to the conflict were imperfect. He warned of the danger of “extremists trying to hijack change,” and he declared that a “political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears of Alawites and other minorities.” He also held out the possibility of Iran joining the settlement talks. “I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war,” he declared. (The emphasis was in Obama’s prepared text.)
While recognizing that Russia’s Vladimir Putin must play a vital role in any political settlement, he also inserted a clever dig at the Russian’s diplomacy. “We are no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe-haven for terrorists,” Obama declared.
This reset everything. It was the final reversal of the Bush Doctrine – the doctrine that we have the right to wage war on any nation that we think might be a threat in the future, one day, however unlikely that seems now. Dick Cheney had been fond of saying we don’t negotiate with rogue regimes, we replace them. John McCain still thinks that way. Those days are now gone, because there are better options, or least-worst options, which Matt Steinglass explains here:
Barack Obama would have to be crazy at this point not to take up the diplomatic overtures the Iranian government has been making over the past few weeks. We shouldn’t have any illusions about what is on offer here. America and Iran are never going to be terribly friendly, or not on any foreseeable time horizon. We have commitments to Israel and the Persian Gulf states which we’re not about to drop and the Iranians are not about to forget. They have a partially theocratic system of government that entails human-rights violations we’re not about to overlook, and they’re not about to abandon their support for Hezbollah or for the ideology of Shiite jihad. But we have by now given up on the illusion that our problems in the Middle East will be solved by “regime change.” Indeed, the countries where the regimes change seem to be the ones where our problems now lie. We need to start approaching the regimes that aren’t likely to change and trying to arrange a wary but peaceful standoff, because the level of carnage and chaos at the moment is more than we can handle.
Of course the hard right, and especially the neoconservatives, still smarting from being so wrong on Iraq, will go ballistic. This is weakness! Any sign of weakness invites attack! We’re all gonna die! They’ll go ballistic once other matters are out of the way – a government shutdown and then a default, ruining the economy, for which the public will blame every Republican, followed by Obamacare slowly doing what it’s supposed to do, after the usual glitches are ironed out, and then becoming part of American life – something everyone is fine with, like Medicare and Social Security. When they do get around to screaming about this landmark UN speech, one day, maybe soon, they will invoke Ronald Reagan. They always do. Reagan spent like a madman on every possible weapons system. Those Russians knew he would bomb them to radioactive rubble if they even smiled the wrong way. His strength, our projecting awesome strength, ended the Cold War. That’s how we became the only remaining superpower, and thus the only nation on earth that really matters now.
Peter Beinart says fine, but it would be cool if Obama actually did what Reagan did:
The same “Reaganites” who will bash Obama for compromising with Rouhani once bashed Reagan for compromising with Gorbachev. As late as December 1987, Charles Krauthammer was writing that “the fundamental misconception about Gorbachev is that he has somehow broken the ideological mold.” Until virtually the day the Soviet empire collapsed, Rep. Dick Cheney was calling glasnost a fraud. In 1988 George Will accused Reagan of having “accelerated the moral disarmament of the West … by elevating wishful thinking [about Gorbachev] to the status of public policy.” When Reagan brought the intermediate missiles deal to Congress for ratification, a right-wing group called the Anti-Appeasement Alliance took out newspaper ads comparing Reagan to Neville Chamberlain.
Yes, those political struggles were easier for Reagan because he hailed from the political right. But that wasn’t the only reason he triumphed over the “Reaganites” who now take his name in vain. He triumphed because he had the moral imagination to envisage a relationship beyond confrontation and war. Musing in late 1987 about the opponents of his nuclear deal, Reagan declared that “some of the people who are objecting the most … whether they realize it or not, those people basically down in their deepest thoughts have accepted that war is inevitable.” Because Reagan refused to accept what others considered inevitable, he achieved one of the greatest successes in the history of American foreign policy. Now it’s Obama’s turn to imagine a future that his critics cannot and to have the guts to make it real.
Obama did sound like that other Reagan:
I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight – the suspicion runs too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program that can serve as a major step down a long road toward a different relationship – one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
That would be interesting, and kind of nice, but there’s a problem. This is a tale of two cities. A few hours later, and few hundred miles south, Ted Cruz began his imaginary filibuster – screw mutual interests and mutual respect, and screw that Affordable Care Act that was passed long ago by both houses of Congress and signed into law a few days later, and then survived a Supreme Court challenge and has been implemented in some ways and will be fully implemented at the end of the month, and screw the rest of the Republican Party too – they’re all squishes. That’s the other side of American politics, and Ted Cruz really does want to be president one day. He has a shot. Many think that anything based on mutual interests and mutual respect is weakness and surrender and will kill us all.
Ted Cruz isn’t going away, and even if he did, someone like him would pop up soon enough. It’s always the best of times, and the worst of times, every damned day. This was just another one of those days.