A good insult is a stealth insult – the recipient doesn’t realize what totally devastating thing you said to him, to his face, until much later, when he’s alone and suddenly realizes what those words actually meant – and he can’t do a damned thing about it. No come-back is possible – and many a young man has realized, the next day, that that sweet young thing was offering him a bit of paradise. Oh my God, THAT was what she was saying – but by then she’s long gone and she’s probably joking with her friends about how you were a total dweeb – and there’s nothing you can do about that. Damn, maybe you are a dweeb. And of course politicians say things that sound reasonable or even stirring, and folks nod their heads in agreement – that’s really how things are, or should be – and then the next day, when you think about it, you’re appalled at what they actually said. They got the basic facts wrong, and that’s the least of it. They want to do WHAT?
That sort of thing got us into a useless eight-year war in Iraq that only made things worse in the Middle East, but that’s not a Bush-and-the-neocons problem. What didn’t actually happen in the Gulf of Tonkin got us into Vietnam with everything we had. Lyndon Johnson said we had to do something. That’s sounded reasonable at the time, until the next day, more or less, when we were appalled. No one attacked us in the Gulf of Tonkin, and of course Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and really didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction – but in both cases it was too late. Upon further consideration we saw what was what. That didn’t do us much good, but next time… Next time we’ll get quicker at understanding what was really being said.
That takes practice, and the recent fourth Republican presidential debate might provide that. People are examining what was actually said, with such conviction, and are getting appalled early. Give it a day. Jonathan Chait did, and in New York Magazine he noted what was actually being said:
Early in the fourth Republican debate, Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker, one of the debate moderators, asked Carly Fiorina a question that cut at the heart of the rationale of every candidate onstage. Under Barack Obama, Baker noted, the United States has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under Bill Clinton, it added an average of 240,000, and under George W. Bush, just 13,000 jobs a month. Economic growth is the ultimate basis for the entire Republican economic program – the inducement they can offer to explain why Americans should give up things like cleaner air, a higher minimum wage, and more generous social programs.
Fiorina’s reply had no point of contact with the question whatsoever. Indeed, she said, “Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats” – the exact opposite of what the question had stated – before launching into a generic denunciation of the evils of big government. The basic case for changing parties turned out to pose an obstacle that all the candidates had difficulty surmounting.
They didn’t even hear the facts that hung there in the air, and Kevin Drum adds this:
This is a brand new technique. Normally, when candidates are faced with a tough question, they ignore it and answer a different question. Fiorina tried to do this at first. But then she decided on new tack: answer the exact opposite question. Baker cites numbers to show that Democrats are great at job creation, so Fiorina acknowledges that yes, he’s right – things have gotten much worse under Democrats.
What? Did anyone notice? Drum thinks that might not matter:
Will this bold ploy catch on? Baker certainly didn’t challenge her on it. I expect to see other candidates give this a shot in future debates.
Perhaps they will, but Chait has more:
Neil Cavuto told Marco Rubio that he had called the last Democratic debate “a night of giveaways, including free health care, free college, and a host of other government-paid benefits.” Cavuto asked which of those giveaways he would take back. Rubio did not name any, instead launching into the story about his immigrant parents and his standard stump speech, portions of which he managed to repurpose for every question posed to him.
Likewise, Jeb Bush answered a question about how he would bring about his absurd target of 4 percent annual economic growth, and – after reiterating that 4 percent growth would be really great – promised to “repeal every rule” Obama has imposed on the economy. But if that would work, why didn’t we have 4 percent growth under the previous administration?
And when a moderator pointed out to Rand Paul that energy production has boomed under the current administration and asked for his policy response, Paul replied that he would repeal the regulations that have hampered energy production.
Granted, this was a debate hosted by the Fox Business Channel, a subset of Fox News, so when each of these Republicans said up was down, there wasn’t going to be a challenge. These moderators were not going to ask the obvious question – “Did you actually hear what I said?” Still, Chait doesn’t blame Fox:
All the candidates prefer to live in a world in which big government is crushing the American dream, and all of them lack even moderately credible specifics with which to flesh out this harrowing portrait. The most successful efforts were made by the candidates who did not even try and, in their different ways, used personal symbolism in place of policy detail. The two candidates who do this the best are Rubio and Donald Trump. Rubio answers the question about changing America by framing the problem in generational terms. What’s wrong with America, he explains every single time he is asked, is that it is old, and what’s needed is something new, i.e., him. Trump has the exact same approach, only in his telling, every problem is a matter of losing, and the solution is to bring in a president who wins, i.e., him. Both the Rubio and the Trump themes can be adapted to any subject, and can be stretched to cover up for a lack of policy substance or even ideological coherence. The lack of socialist horrors to have materialized under Obama is not a problem when your promise is to be new or to win.
That may not be a problem for them. But Chait thinks it actually is one:
The candidates who found themselves trapped were those who attempted to connect Republican dogma to concrete economic conditions. Fiorina wound up her concluding remarks by stating ominously, “Imagine a Clinton presidency,” before unspooling a litany of horrors. But of course we don’t have to imagine. We had a Clinton presidency. And, as Baker pointed out to Fiorina at the outset of the debate, the economy thrived.
That may not matter, until it does:
Presumably, the general election will intrude, and the nominee will be forced to make a stronger case against what looks, at the moment, like peace and prosperity.
But do they want to argue against peace and prosperity? This gets tricky, and Greg Sargent in the Washington Post argues a more arcane point:
One of the most significant moments in last night’s GOP debate came when Ted Cruz took a subtle shot at Marco Rubio over the latter’s support for Big Sugar. Cruz attacked the idea of “corporate welfare,” citing “sugar subsidies” as an example of the problem, noting that sugar farmers supply 40 percent of the funds spent on lobbying in exchange for such government giveaways.
Who cares? But this could heat up:
Rubio had previously been targeted on this topic by a blistering Wall Street Journal editorial, which argued that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s sugar subsidies program amounts to crony capitalism for big sugar producers that are allied with Rubio, and that Rubio’s support for it exposes “a tendency to hedge” on his “limited government conservatism” when he thinks it’s “politically beneficial.”
Rubio is not a real conservative, you see, but Sargent notes that on ABC News, Rubio was asked by George Stephanopoulos to respond to that editorial, and we got this:
I’m prepared to get rid of the sugar program. The problem is every country in the world that grows sugar has a program, a subsidy – a program that assists their industry. So when they get rid of theirs, I’m prepared to get rid of ours… I’m not going to wipe out an American industry that happens to have a lot of workers in Florida, by unilaterally disarming. I want us to be able to compete with other countries.
But it has to be fair. They already have huge advantages. They don’t have an EPA and they don’t have labor unions, in those countries. If we could just even the field – if other countries that we’re competing against get rid of their programs, I’ll be the first one working to get rid of ours. But I am not going to destroy an American industry that employs people in my state by unilaterally disarming.
That also sounds reasonable, but Sargent says Rubio might as well be a Democrat:
Reading this in the most charitable possible way, Rubio is solely interested in keeping the sugar subsidy program because it keeps people employed in his state. Thus, Rubio is in effect acknowledging a legitimate role for government interference in the economy for the purpose of protecting people’s jobs. Sure, Rubio puts a conservative spin on this argument by claiming that the subsidies are necessary to restore a competitive advantage for American companies that are already laboring under distortions produced by environmental regulations and labor unions. Nonetheless, Rubio is willing to allow a role for government in furthering “crony capitalism” or in “picking winners and losers,” to employ two phrases often used by conservatives, as long as it will preserve jobs for people in his state.
One must listen to what’s actually being said:
The larger context here is that Rubio (like other Republicans) has been arguing that the Democratic agenda constitutes little more than a vow for government to give away as much “free stuff” as possible. At last night’s debate, a moderator confronted Rubio with one of his previous quotes, in which he said that the last Democratic debate was a contest between liberals “about who was going to give away the most free stuff” – adding that their answer to every problem is a “government program.” Asked which of these “giveaways” he would “take back” as president, Rubio said he’d repeal Obamacare, but segued into the argument that the way to ensure prosperity is not through government intervention but through liberating the private sector.
Yet it’s hard to square that argument with Rubio’s willingness – in this one case, at least – to intervene in the economy to help his own state’s workers.
You cannot be against government if you’re for it:
Liberals believe that such government intervention in the economy is justified – even if some select private sector interests benefit from it – if there is a broader public interest justification. Thus their support for policies from the Ex-Im Bank to subsidy programs to regulating the health insurance market to the minimum wage. Libertarian conservatives, particularly those in the Ted Cruz mode, see a dramatically scaled back role for government in the economy, so they oppose most or even all of these policies, and don’t believe the public interest is genuinely served by them in a broad sense, even if large numbers of Americans (as opposed to corporate interests) do immediately benefit.
How pure is your anti-government thinking? Are you willing to hurt a whole lot of Americans with your purity? What were these guys actually saying? It took at least a day to figure that out, but no one knows what Ben Carson is saying. Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times is finally figuring that out:
I don’t really mind that Ben Carson thinks the pyramids in Egypt were used to store grain; that’s a folk belief that’s been around since the Middle Ages. At least he dismisses the theory that the pyramids were built by space aliens.
And I don’t really mind that Carson’s autobiography, by his own admission, isn’t precisely accurate on every detail. He still insists that he tried to kill a classmate with a knife, an unusual claim for a presidential candidate. But even if that story was an exaggeration, it’s harmless myth-making – a dramatization of how low the teenage Carson had sunk before God intervened to shape him up. Barack Obama’s autobiography used creative license to make him sound like a juvenile delinquent, too.
But McManus does mind this:
Even though Carson considers himself brilliant, he doesn’t seem to care much about the actual duties of a president. His speeches, interviews and books betray a shaky grasp of economic and foreign policy, to put it kindly – and when a candidate is tied for first place for the Republican nomination in most polls, that’s no laughing matter.
There’s the federal budget:
Carson has proposed turning the income tax into a 15% flat tax on rich and poor alike – a massive tax cut for the wealthy (and tax increase for the poor) that would reduce federal revenue by more than half a trillion dollars, according to most estimates.
But more than a year after he began running for president, the good doctor still hasn’t explained how he would fill the yawning budget gap his tax cut would produce.
Indeed, this week he appeared to make the problem worse. Previously, Carson said he would cut federal spending by 3% to 4% across the board (except for the military, which he would grow). Now he says the cuts would amount to only 2% or 3% – a more realistic target, but one that would only widen the deficit.
Where are the details? There aren’t any available; none of these plans has been reduced to paper. A Carson spokesman told me that the campaign hopes to release specific proposals by the end of the year.
I don’t envy Carson’s aides; the candidate often sounds confused.
And there’s this:
In his book, Carson argues that federal judges shouldn’t be allowed to rule on the constitutionality of state ballot initiatives like California’s Proposition 8, which the Supreme Court overturned in 2013.
“Having a ballot referendum on an important issue is a farce if a federal judge can throw out the results,” he writes. He suggests, as a remedy to this problem, that Congress simply impeach any judge who “ignores the will of the people.” So much for the Constitution…
And there’s foreign policy:
Carson thinks the U.S. military should be taking the lead in ground combat against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. “I would commit everything to eliminating them [Islamic State] right now,” he said. That’s a controversial position, but a defensible one. Here’s where Carson goes off course: He argues that U.S. forces shouldn’t be bound by the laws of war.
“There is no such thing as a politically correct war,” he told Fox News. “If you’re going to have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says ‘no war.’ Other than that, we have to win.”
So much for the Geneva Convention and any notion of war crimes at all, but McManus thinks he sees what’s going on here:
In his books, he often mentions incidents in which God intervened in his life. When he neglected to study at Yale, God showed him the answers on a chemistry exam. When he fell asleep while driving home one night, God spared his life. When he used new surgical techniques on children’s brains, God saved some of his patients. And when he was on a safari in Africa, God answered his prayer for plenty of photogenic wildlife.
Now that he’s running for president, Carson sounds as if he’s counting on divine intervention to pull him through again. There can be no doubt about the sincerity of Carson’s Christian faith or his belief in the power of prayer. But voters – even the most devout – deserve more earthly evidence that he’s up to the job.
Heather Parton isn’t so sure about that:
GOP primary voters don’t just mistrust government anymore, they have lost faith in their party and the system of government set forth in the constitution. They desire a president who will “get the job done” without succumbing to all that folderol of congress, the courts, elections etcetera. In other words they no longer believe in democracy.
The Trump people want a strongman. The Carson people want a religious figure. Everyone acknowledges that his inspirations life story is the basis upon which his entire campaign is based, and he says that explicitly. From his ill-tempered youth to his career as a neurosurgeon depending on God to guide his hand during brain surgery that life story is a story of divine intervention.
He doesn’t need to know anything. His followers believe he is the vessel through which God himself will be the president.
Given the preponderance of evangelicals and closet theocrats in the Republican base, that might get him the Republican nomination – that’s working well so far – but implying that he’s the one, the only one, that God actually wants to be president, might not fly in the general election. People who think that way are generally considered kind of nuts, and he doesn’t know much about anything.
That became obvious in the fourth debate. Gerard Baker asked Carson if he approved of President Obama’s decision to send special ops teams into Syria and we got this:
Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they – that’s why they’re called special ops, they’re actually able to guide some of the other things that we’re doing there. And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.
We also must recognize that it’s a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there. What we’ve been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can’t give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale. We’re talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, how do we make them look like losers? Because that’s the way that they’re able to gather a lot of influence.
And I think in order to make them look like losers we have to destroy their caliphate. And you look for the easiest place to do that? It would be in Iraq. And if – outside of Anbar in Iraq, there’s a big energy field. Take that from them. Take all of that land from them. We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.
Kevin Drum helps us out with this:
Translation: I have no idea what to do in the Middle East. And even though I’ve been running for president for a year, I’m too lazy to learn even the first thing about it.
And then there was Donald Trump’s response to how he’d handle Russia:
Well, first of all, it’s not only Russia. We have problems with North Korea where they actually have nuclear weapons. You know, nobody talks about it, we talk about Iran, and that’s one of the worst deals ever made. One of the worst contracts ever signed, ever, in anything, and it’s a disgrace. But, we have somebody over there, a madman, who already has nuclear weapons we don’t talk about that. That’s a problem.
China is a problem, both economically in what they’re doing in the South China Sea, I mean, they are becoming a very, very major force. So, we have more than just Russia. But, as far as the Ukraine is concerned, and you could Syria – as far as Syria, I like – if Putin wants to go in, and I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates, and we did very well that night. But, you know that.
But, if Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it… They blew up a Russian airplane. He cannot be in love with these people. He’s going in, and we can go in, and everybody should go in. As far as the Ukraine is concerned, we have a group of people, and a group of countries, including Germany – tremendous economic behemoth – why are we always doing the work?
I’m all for protecting Ukraine and working – but, we have countries that are surrounding the Ukraine that aren’t doing anything. They say, “Keep going, keep going, you dummies, keep going. Protect us…” And we have to get smart. We can’t continue to be the policeman of the world. We are $19 trillion dollars, we have a country that’s going to hell; we have an infrastructure that’s falling apart. Our roads, our bridges, our schools, our airports, and we have to start investing money in our country. …
I don’t like Assad. Who’s going to like Assad? But, we have no idea who these people are, and what they’re going to be, and what they’re going to represent. They may be far worse than Assad. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Look at the mess we have after spending $2 trillion dollars, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over the place – who I love, okay? All over!
We have nothing. And, I said, keep the oil. And we should have kept the oil, believe me. We should have kept the oil.
Translation: Russia! North Korea! Iran! Ukraine! Syria! ISIS! Germany! Ukraine again! Assad! Libya! Iraq! Oil! Keep the oil! But we should let other people handle all this because our roads are falling apart.
Republicans can’t seriously be thinking about nominating either of these guys, can they?
They are thinking about it, but at least Lindsey Graham is polling at zero, because he reminds us why creating a “no-fly zone” in Syria is a horrible idea:
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham says he would shoot down Russian planes in Syrian airspace in order to protect U.S.-backed forces in the region.
Daniel Larison at the American Conservative comments on that:
The good news is that Graham will never be in a position to give such an order, but unfortunately almost all of the other Republican candidates for president share his position, and Clinton’s position is virtually indistinguishable from his. Rubio, Christie, and Kasich have been the most explicit about their willingness to court war with Russia for the sake of ineffective Syrian proxies, but any candidate that supports a “no-fly zone” in Syria has already committed to risking armed confrontation with Russian forces there. …
Graham complains that it isn’t right “to entice people to come to a fight, train and equip them, side with them on their cause, and sit back and watch them being slaughtered.” I agree that it isn’t right to do that, but then the responsibility for that error lies with the people such as Graham that urged the U.S. to do the enticing and taking sides. The U.S. blundered by taking sides in Syria, but it would be guilty of a far greater wrong if it used that blunder to justify risking a war with a major power. In a sane foreign policy debate, the people agitating for a clash with a nuclear-armed great power as Graham is doing would be met with derision and scorn, but unfortunately in our debate he and others like him, such as Rubio, are feted as supposed experts.
Ted Galen Carpenter adds this:
There is nothing at stake in Syria that warrants the United States risking such a dangerous confrontation with Russia. Imposing a no-fly zone under the current circumstances is utterly reckless. Anyone who embraces such a scheme should be disqualified automatically from occupying the Oval Office.
And Heather Parton picks on Donald Trump:
While Ronald Reagan also used the slogan “Make America Great Again” when he ran for president, his vision was much more upbeat and optimistic than Trump’s, which harkens back to paleoconservative candidates like Pat Buchanan and his “Pitchfork Brigade”. Indeed, it centers around “getting rid of bad people” – which is not what most people think of as morning in America. Last week he even explicitly went back to the 1950s and evoked the Eisenhower era program “Operation Wetback,” which he characterized on “60 Minutes” as “very nice and very humane.” (It wasn’t.) He said “Did you like Eisenhower? Did you like Dwight Eisenhower as a president at all? He did this. He did this in the 1950s with over a million people, and a lot of people don’t know that… and it worked.”
Parton notes Trump has been saying this:
You know, Dwight Eisenhower was a wonderful general, and a respected President – and he moved a million people out of the country, nobody said anything about it. When Trump does it, it’s like “whoa.” When Eisenhower does it, “well that was Eisenhower, he’s allowed to do it, but we can’t do it.”
That was also in the ’50s, remember that. Different time, remember that.
That’s when we had a country. That’s when we had borders; you know, without borders you don’t have a country, essentially. We don’t have a country. Without borders, you just don’t have it.
But Dwight Eisenhower, this big report, they used to take them out and put them on the other side of the border and say, “you have to stay here.” And they’d come right back, and they’d do it again and again, so they said “Wait a minute, this doesn’t work.” And they took them out and moved them all the way South; all the way. And they never came back again; it’s too far. Amazing!
And I’m not saying this in a joking way – I’m saying this happened. It wasn’t working, they were coming back, and then they literally – literally – moved them all the way. A lot of the politicians – they never came back, it was too far. They’d put them on boats and move them all the way down South, and that was it.
Parton notes that the Washington Post wrote about this a month ago:
In Mexicali, Mexico, temperatures can reach 125 degrees as heat envelops an arid desert. Without a body of water nearby to moderate the climate, the heavy sun is relentless – and deadly.
During the summer of 1955, this is where hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were “dumped” after being discovered as migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Unloaded from buses and trucks carrying several times their capacity, the deportees stumbled into the Mexicali streets with few possessions and no way of getting home.
This was strategic: the more obscure the destination within the Mexican interior, the less opportunities they would have to return to America. But the tactic also proved to be dangerous, as the migrants were left without resources to survive.
After one such round-up and transfer in July, 88 people died from heat stroke. At another drop-off point in Nuevo Laredo, the migrants were “brought like cows” into the desert.
Among the over 25 percent who were transported by boat from Port Isabel, Texas, to the Mexican Gulf Coast, many shared cramped quarters in vessels resembling an “eighteenth century slave ship” and “penal hell ship.”
These deportation procedures, detailed by historian Mae M. Ngai, were not anomalies. They were the essential framework of Operation Wetback – a concerted immigration law enforcement effort implemented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 – and the deportation model that Donald Trump says he intends to follow.
It’s a small thing, but it’s disheartening that the GOP front-runner is running on this policy in 2015 and reporters wouldn’t be aware of what he’s saying.
But that’s not true. The Washington Post brought this up, and others are pointing out, upon further consideration, what the other Republicans also seem to be actually saying this time around. Give it a day. It may be too late for Vietnam or Iraq, but these things do take practice. We may be getting better at this.