Tag Archives: Chris Christie

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No, Everything Is Really Not Going To Be Alright

Image result for turkmenbashi statue            After president-elect Donald Trump’s 10-15 minute scheduled get-to-know-you with lame-duck president Barack Obama ran an hour and a half, too many of my friends who ought to know better contacted me with some variant of “maybe everything really is going to be OK after all.”

No. It really isn’t.

SNL’s Dave Chappelle says he’s “going to give Trump a chance.”

We should not.

Trump’s wide-eyed expression as he sucked in his new DC digs, pathetically reminiscent of the stupefied expressions of Bolshevik revolutionists wandering the Winter Palace, brought it home: the barbarians are at the gate.

Do not be fooled by what the media is attempting to present as a smooth transition of power, a quirky one to be sure, but generally falling within American political tradition. Do not believe Trump’s condescending tweet damning liberal protesters with faint praise. “President Trump” cannot end well.

Remember how, the morning of the election, the New York Times gave Trump a 15% chance of winning? Given that I’ve been saying The Donald had an excellent chance of winning for many months, maybe you should be scared when I tell you what I think there’s really a 15% chance of: another presidential election in four years.

Here’s how I think the early years of the Trump Administration will play out, and why.

Before we get started, forget impeachment. Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the chances of Republicans impeaching a Republican president are pretty much zero.

Second, forget constitutional checks and balances. Weimar Germany had a lovely constitution, in many ways better than ours, but constitutions are mere paper unless they’re enforced by people. Current examples: Guantánamo, immigration prisons, drone assassinations and secret black site CIA prisons are all brazenly unconstitutional. If Trump and his henchmen want to trash legal and political precedent, nothing institutional will stop them.

Finally, Democrats who place their hope in recapturing Congress in two years need to get real. There aren’t enough available red seats for that to happen in 2018. If anything, they’ll probably lose even more ground. Trumpism is here to stay, for at least four years.

I use the method used by some authors to write character-based novels

in order to game out presidential administrations. Rather than outline the plot in advance, these novelists develop characters, throw them into a situation, and watch what they do.

As with those novels, it isn’t hard to predict how a president and his closest advisers will respond when faced with a given political development. All you have to do is consider their personalities, resumes and policy preferences.

Looking at Ronald Reagan’s 1981 cabinet, which included a dentist as secretary of energy and an anti-environmentalist as secretary of the interior, it was obvious that the US government wouldn’t lift a finger to slow down the raping of the planet. While invasion of Iraq wasn’t exactly predestined, it came as little surprise that a Bush Administration full of neoconservatives who had called for the invasion of Iraq saw the 9/11 attacks as a reason/excuse for what they wanted to do all along.

It’s already clear that Donald Trump’s cabinet and closest advisers will come from the fringes of the paranoid far right. Among the highlights:

Joe Arpaio, the racist 84-year-old torture sheriff fired by Arizona voters, has been shortlisted as Secretary of Homeland Security.

Ben Carson, being considered to head the education department, doesn’t believe in evolution.

Chris Christie, currently facing criminal charges over Bridgegate, is up for attorney general; so is Rudy Giuliani, a fascist who wants to force Muslims to wear electronic monitoring tags or bracelets so the government can track their whereabouts. (What, no crescent moon patch?)

Then there’s possible Secretary of State Newt Gingrich, who wants to deport Muslims who believe in Sharia law, and Interior Secretary Sarah Palin, who thinks shooting wolves from a helicopter is sporting fun.

I’ve examined all the lists of cabinet prospects. Not a liberal or a leftist among them. No centrists either. At best, we’ll wind up with a few relatively sane right-wingers mixed into a majority of complete lunatics.

These, headed by the delightfully clearheaded and thoughtful Donald Trump, are the characters of our story.

Now add the situation. Imagine 6 or 12 or 18 months from now, when these characters face the inevitable political crisis: terrorist attack. Natural disaster. Economic meltdown. Race riot. Nuclear crisis.

These aren’t personalities predisposed to respond to these challenges with introspection or compromise. Beginning with Trump himself, these are people with a cop mentality who, like a hammer, see everything as a nail to be pounded into submission.

Bear in mind, they’ll be 6 to 12 to 18 months inside the Washington Beltway bubble. Trump’s canny campaign instincts, his intuitive understanding of populist anger that got him elected, will have been dulled by lack of interaction with the public. Moreover, Team Trump will be 6 to 12 to 18 months into an unprecedented period of constant left-wing criticism and street protest. Think Richard Nixon: they’ll be deep inside a bunker mentality.

Everyone in the cabinet room will favor moves to curtail civil liberties: tracking and cracking down on leftists, preventative detentions, new police forces to protect the state and ferret out illegal immigrants and those who hide them, the use of drones to kill Americans on American soil (something Obama said was OK), even more abusive NSA surveillance.

In my book “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” I described the president-elect as “an accidental authoritarian.” He thinks of himself as a patriot, a good man. He hasn’t been planning to lead a plot against America.

Trump’s fascism will come about naturally, caused by the perfect storm of his ego, his CEO mentality, the politics and personalities of the men and women with whom he is surrounding himself, and a set of developments that are all but inevitable.

Canceling the next election? For these characters, it will be an easy call.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Support independent political cartooning and writing — support Ted on Patreon.)

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Presidential Campaign 2016: Who’s In, Who’s Out, Who’s a Joke

Originally published by Breaking Modern:

Predicting the outcome of presidential primaries and general elections is a fool’s errand one month before the first Tuesday in November in a leap year. This far out, nearly two years ahead of time, it’s beyond impossible.

Then again, we already know enough about the current likely crop of Democratic and Republican contenders to see the way that the race is likely to shake out. Here’s my US Presidential campaign preview below, beginning with the Dems.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (D): Hers to lose

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On the Democratic side, the nomination is Hillary Clinton’s to lose. She has already amassed a formidable campaign war chest, assembled experienced staffers from within the party establishment, and successfully created a sense of inevitability that has kept other potential rivals at bay. At this stage, only two occurrences could stymie her “rumbling tank” of a campaign: a scandal, or a seismic shift in the political landscape created by an earth-shattering news event, like 9/11 or a huge stock market crash.

I wouldn’t bet on a scandal. Everything the media can find out about Clinton it has already learned over the course of a quarter-century in the national political spotlight. Even if the big news story threatens to change everything, who could take advantage of it at this late date?

VP Joe Biden (D) is a long, long, looong shot.

And what about Joe Biden? He keeps making noise about maybe possibly running, but the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar makes the case why that won’t happen. So I’ll just quote him here. “The veep,” he writes, “has done absolutely nothing to staff up for a prospective campaign—a necessity against a well-prepared, well-funded Clinton operation. At 72, he’d be the oldest future president in history. As vice president, he brings all the baggage that comes with serving under a polarizing president but carries none of the same excitement from the base. His approval numbers are weaker than Obama’s, and in his two past runs for president, he’s fallen far short of expectations. He trails Clinton by nearly 60 points—66 percent to 8 percent—in the latest CNN/ORC survey, conducted last month. A Biden campaign would be a bigger long shot than even Mitt Romney running a third time.”

Don’t bet on this this horse.

Liberal Elizabeth Warren (D): Lacking supporters with cash

Liberal Democrats who believepresidential-campaign-preview-ted-rall-Elizabeth-Warren Clinton is too far to the right and have never forgiven her for her positions on free trade agreements and voting in favor of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 keeps saying they want Massachusetts senator and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren. Pictured at left, she would be challenging the former first lady from the Left. But Warren has repeatedly said she isn’t running, her fans don’t have much money, and her actions – well, more like her inaction in not showing up in key primary states like Iowa – support her repeated denials. Count her out. Way out.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D): The other great liberal hope

presidential-campaign-preview-2016-ted-rall-Joe-BidenThe other great liberal hope is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-identified “socialist” (though not a member of an organized socialist American party, and who caucuses with the Democrats and usually votes with them). Unlike Warren, he actually is spending a lot of time in Iowa and has said that he is seriously considering a 2016 primary run. Money is a serious problem for the “class-based campaign” Sanders says he’s interested in pursuing: he only has $7 million in the bank, and the price for running for President of the United States these days can easily exceed $1 billion.

If Sanders runs, it will be in the tradition of the hopeless liberal challenger to the establishment candidate: less Ted Kennedy, who actually gave incumbent resident Jimmy Carter a run for his money in the 1980 Democratic primaries, more George McGovern’s principled 1984 challenge to former vice president Walter Mondale. Sanders wouldn’t be running to win, but in order to articulate the traditional liberalism largely abandoned by the Democratic Party during the 1990s Clinton years of  “triangulation,” micro issues focus grouped by the toe-sucking Machiavellian pollster Dick Morris

Nice symbolism, but Hillary still gets to give the big speech in New York, Philadelphia or Columbus, Ohio.

Now, the Republican side of things is a far more wide-open affair.

jeb-bush-presidential-campaign-preview-ted-rall

Jeb Bush (R): His last name will haunt him

With the decision of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney to bow out of the 2016 sweepstakes, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is the Republican Party establishment’s top choice. But he is far from a shoo-in.

Both party insiders and mainstream political pundits think Bush’s relatively lax views on illegal immigration, though appealing to the Latinos that Republicans need to win in the future and more likely to succeed in the general election in November, would make it difficult for him to get enough votes from the right wing conservatives who dominate the primary process to secure the nomination. Also, he’s a bit late to the races. Although he is already conducting major fundraisers, and is connected to wealthy political patrons through his father and brother, both former presidents, it’s hard to put together that billion bucks in the allotted time.

Bush’s biggest impediment, of course, is also his greatest asset: his surname. Do Americans want to elect a third President Bush in 30 years — especially when neither the first or the second one are held in particularly high regard? From John Quincy Adams to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Robert F. Kennedy, we know Americans are not allergic to political dynasties – and Hillary Clinton is about to prove that again – but Bush is a toxic name for both his aggressive post-9/11 foreign policy and his dismal handling of the banking crisis that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown.

Many Americans still blame Dubya for problems that are occurring today, such as the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Rand Paul (R): The Republican hopeful to watch

rand-paul-ted-rall-presidential-campaign-previewI think Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the Republican hopeful to watch. Although Paul had less than a stellar week – I would say unfairly, since members of the media radically and intentionally spun his nuanced remarks about whether parents ought to have the right to choose to vaccinate their children against diseases like measles, but hey, that’s politics, he’d better get used to it – he has a lot going for him at this particular point in time.

For one thing, he’s a lot less scary to Democrats than many of his fellow Republicans. Particularly on civil liberties and foreign policy, his anti-interventionist views, opposition to unfettered spying on Americans by the NSA, skepticism about the Obama administration’s drone wars in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, and his critiques of torture and indefinite detention at Guantánamo, Paul comes off as more liberal than many so-called mainstream Democrats, like Hillary Clinton. Were Paul to face off against Clinton in a general election, many liberals might not be able to stomach voting for him, but enough of them might sit home on election day to hand him the presidency.

Within the Republican Party there is also a sense that it’s time to let the libertarian wing takeover from the current dominant corporate and neoconservative strains within the party. Dating at least back to Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party has always relied on its libertarians, but hasn’t rewarded them with a presidential nomination in half a century. Given the disastrous George W. Bush administration, which many conservatives criticized for having run up the deficit and started wars that didn’t put America first, and the growing class divide that even Jeb Bush alluded to, many Republicans may decide to turn to Paul by default – simply for not being a Mitt Romney-type corporatist viewed as out of touch with the country, or another crazy Dick Cheney trying to take over the Muslim world.

One thing’s for sure: with Rand Paul as the nominee, there would be no shortage of impassioned young volunteers counting the pavement in 2016.

Chris Christie (R): Just too much working against him

chris-christie-ted-rall-presidential-campaign-previewI’m going to go out on a limb and say that the idea of Chris Christie, the outspoken New Jersey governor who made a splash for hugging President Obama, as a serious candidate is a joke.

Christie has so many things working against him – ongoing ethics investigations; the lingering hangover of Bridgegate, in which his officials were charged with shutting down the George Washington Bridge to get even with a local politician who didn’t kowtow to him; his – to be charitable – less than telegenic physicality; the fact that he is from New Jersey, which isn’t an important state electorally – that people really shouldn’t be spending a lot of time talking about him.

Moreover, this week’s New York Times story pretty much drives a stake through the governor’s core narrative – that he’s a plainspoken, average Joe just like you and me. Turns out that he routinely stays at five-star hotels and flies in private jets with a huge entourage, like a gangster rapper, and lets the taxpayers or, even worse, politically connected lobbyists with matters pending before his office, pick up the tab.

Maybe people shouldn’t care about these things, but I think they do and they will. In politics, you don’t have to be genuine, but if you’re a hypocrite, you can’t let people find out.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Probably really running for vice-president

marco-rubio-ted-rall-presidential-campaign-preview-2016Conservative intellectuals – yes, there is such a thing – argue that Florida Senator Marco Rubio is the next big candidate of big ideas, not to mention a natural for attracting Hispanic votes. But Rubio has an unfortunate tendency to try to weasel out of answering direct questions, even when they aren’t really dangerous.

I suspect that is because Rubio, as you might expect based on his age, is really running for vice president. Sure, maybe you’d like to be president someday, but he knows that 2016 isn’t that year. It’s pretty easy to imagine him paired up with pretty much any other top Republican, with the exception of fellow Floridian Jeb Bush.

Former Arkansas governor and FoxNews personality Mike Huckabee is another much talked about candidate whom I don’t take too seriously. He’s just beginning to test the water now. Really? In early 2015? For a campaign that begins late this summer? I say he’s not really running.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R): Not gunning for the top spot

kasich-walker-presidential-campaign-preview-ted-rallFinally, there’s two other governors, both from the Midwest: John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

My gut tells me that both men are serious about running, but are really in it for the vice presidency. Ohio in particular is a key battleground state, but Wisconsin is important too, and either governor would serve as a nice counterbalance to a presidential standard bearer who is a senator, like Rand Paul. Furthermore, both of them have reputations as political attack dogs, traditionally the role of a running mate.

Walker has antagonized public-sector workers and trade unions in general, and has just proposed a budget that would gut the state’s education system. Kasich, on the other hand, did exactly the opposite, seeking to increase funding for his state’s school systems. Advantage: Kasich. Whether he runs or not, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him wind up as the 2016 vice presidential nominee.

So what happens in the general election?

If I had to put my money on it now, and I’m really happy that I don’t have to, I‘d bet that the Republican nominee will be Rand Paul or Jeb Bush.

In a Paul versus Clinton campaign, I see it as Paul’s to lose. If he doesn’t screw up with some kind of Romney style boneheaded 47 percent remark, and manages to overcome his greatest weakness – the perception that he doesn’t believe that government has a role in helping people – and doesn’t get embroiled in some sort of scandal, he will attract or neutralize enough left-of-center Democrats to beat Clinton, who at this point isn’t exciting to anyone other than older women hoping to see one of their own finally get into the White House.

A Bush versus Clinton match would be much harder to call. Both are highly professional, self-disciplined and somewhat likable on the campaign trail. But it’s hard to imagine anyone getting excited about either one. The prediction I would make about that campaign is that the biggest winner of all would be apathy.

That’s it for now. Excited yet?

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Never Happen

Currently, conventional wisdom says that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could never be elected president. Nice wishful thinking, but history shows that all sorts of candidates who didn’t stand a chance — and shouldn’t have — can win. Which is too bad for us.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lefties Against Obama

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Think the President is Socialist? We Wish!

Memo to Republicans: you don’t have a monopoly on hating President Obama.

I dislike America’s two-party system for a lot of reasons. Mostly because the duopoly is undemocratic: no two political parties can represent the diversity of opinions held by a nation’s voters. We’d need dozens of parties to approximate adequate representative government. Another reason, one that deserves attention, is that it reduces political dialogue to binary imbecility.

Democrat or Republican. Liberal or conservative. If you’re not one, you must be the other. If you don’t vote, people — apparently rational, functional people who manage to drive their cars without ramming them into walls — tell you with a straight face that your non-vote is a de facto vote for the candidate you would have voted against (had you voted). Because you’re not allowed to hate both. Because, in under our idiotic one-or-the-other political system, even if you hate both parties, you’re supposed to hate one party more than the other.

Which is why, for the last four years, Obama-hating has belonged to the racist right.

In the real world, of course, lots of lefties can’t stand the president. In the mainstream corporate media narrative epitomized by MSNBC on the “left” and FoxNews on the “right,” however, left=liberal=Democrat and right=conservative=Republican. They say it so often and we hear it so much that many of us think it’s true.

In the real world, away from the barking dogs of cable television news, lots of Americans would vote for a party other than the Ds or the Rs. A 2012 poll found that 46% of Americans would support a third party if it were viable. Many on the right think the GOP is too extreme or too soft. That debate, the “civil war” between generic Republicans (e.g., Chris Christie) and the libertarian right (e.g., Rand Paul), gets some play.

Not so much on the left. Thanks largely to the left=Democrat propaganda of the late Air America and now MSNBC, lefties disgusted with the Democrats get zero play.

You’ll never find our views discussed or our champions interviewed, not even on the “liberal” shows hosted by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher. But we exist. We are many. Even among self-identified Democrats, 14% of overall voters say they are “very liberal.” Unsurprisingly, this group disapproves of Obama’s job performance, which — contrary to right-wing talking points — has stayed away from policies friendly to his party’s traditional liberal base. Beyond that, about 10% of voters say they’re “disaffected” — so alienated from both parties that they refuse to participate in elections.

Greetings, right-wingers! We live in the same country. You should know about lefties who don’t like the Democrats — hold on to your seats — because they’re too conservative.

So, righties, you hate Obama because he’s a socialist.  Or a liberal extremist. Because the Affordable Care Act goes too far. Because he was born in Kenya (and stole the presidency). Maybe (though you’re only allowed to say this among trusted friends) because he’s black.

Fine. I’m not going to try to change your minds.

Instead, I’m going to provide some perspective. To demonstrate that despite two centuries of puerile choose-one-outta-two electoral politics, America’s ideological landscape is broader and more diverse than you may be aware.

Tens of millions of Americans — progressives, paleoliberals, greens, populists, left libertarians, left anarchists and yes, socialists and communists — hate Obama for being too far to the right. Socialist? We wish! We think he’s a sellout. At best! More like a corporate shill. Definitely a militarist. Possibly a fascist.

Here is a brief summary of the left’s brief against Barack Obama:

He bailed out Wall Street, not Main Street. The banksters who wrecked the economy should have gone to prison; he gave them $7.77 trillion. Distressed homeowners got nothing. Nor did the unemployed. Lefties see Obama as a slave of Wall Street scum like Timothy Geitner and Lawrence Summers.

He didn’t lift a finger to create new jobs. Right-wingers blame regulations and ObamaCare. Not us. Leftists want big jobs programs, like the WPA during the Great Depression, to add tens of millions of un- and underemployed Americans directly to the federal payroll.

He’s a warmonger. He expanded and extended the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. (And lied about ending them. He renamed “combat troops” to “support personnel,” and replaced soldiers with private “contractor” mercenaries. The U.S. will be fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq long after Obama “ended” those wars.) He got us into a new war in Libya. Now it’s Syria. In both cases we are supporting Islamist factions whose values we — not just lefties, but all Americans — do not share.

He refused to investigate the crimes of the Bush era: the lies the Administration used to con us into war in Iraq, torture, extraordinary rendition, spying on American citizens. We believe in accountability.

He expanded the drone wars. Many leftists are pacifists, opposing all war. Others accept the necessity of fighting to defend against an invasion. All agree that drone strikes, managed in secret, devoid of legal authorization and without checks or balances, are the worst kind of war: aggressive, impersonal, sanitized, mechanized, and especially enraging to its victims.

Most leftists are civil libertarians. We believe that personal freedoms are more important than the rights of the state. As we learned thanks to Edward Snowden, Obama has presided over a breathtaking expansion of the post-9/11 police state, violating the inherent right of every American to speak on the phone or write correspondence in private on a comprehensive, totalitarian scale.

Even ObamaCare, bête noire of the right, annoys us.

For us, the profit incentive has no place in something as existentially necessary as healthcare. We want big insurance companies out of the equation entirely. So, even though there are early indications that ObamaCare’s insurance marketplaces will lower premiums for many patients, we shrug our collective shoulders at such incrementalism. We wonder why socialized medicine — doctors and nurses employed directly by the state, hospitals nationalized — or at least a “single payer” option (which Obama promised during the campaign) was never seriously considered.

Then there’s Guantánamo, which he should have closed. Bradley Manning, tortured under his orders. Edward Snowden, who should have gotten a medal, hunted like a dog.

Any one of the above outrages deserves a long prison term.

If you’re a right-winger who hates Obama and the Democrats, remember us. We hate them just as much as you do — but not for the same reasons.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Men of Dishonor

A Congress of 21st Century Cynics Dodges 19th Century Rules

People are calling the recently adjourned 112th Congress “the most dysfunctional ever” and the least productive since the infamous “do-nothing Congress” of the 1940s. There’s lots of blame to go around, but one cause for congressional gridlock has gone unnoticed and unremarked upon: we no longer have a sense of honor.

Back in the late 18th and 19th centuries, when our bicameral legislature and its rules were conceived of by a bunch of land-owning white males, a gentleman’s word was his most precious asset. Integrity and the lack thereof were literally a matter of life and death; consider the matter of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. As Thomas Jefferson and his de facto wife Sally Hemings could attest, civility was far from guaranteed under this old system. It certainly could have worked better for Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Massachusetts senator who was nearly beaten to death by a proslavery colleague on the floor of the Senate in 1856. (He was avenging what he considered libelous rhetoric against his family.)

Though less-than-perfect, there was a lot to be said for a culture in which a person’s word was his bond, legalistic quibbling was scorned, and a legislator was expected to stake out and defend a principled position, even in the face of political and personal adversity.

It’s hard to imagine the “fiscal cliff” showdown unfolding in the 1800s or even the first half of the 1900s for two simple reasons. First, the general fiscal health of the country would have come ahead of partisanship. Second, and more importantly, members of the two political parties would have stuck to the deal that they struck a decade earlier. When George W. Bush and his Republicans pushed for a set of income tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthiest Americans in 2001, they argued the standard GOP trickle-down economics talking point that the tax cuts would pay for themselves by stimulating the economy so much that revenues into government coffers would more than make up for the cost. In order to get enough Democratic support for passage, the Republicans agreed to a five-year time period, after which taxes would revert to their Bill Clinton-era levels.

By 2006 there was still no evidence to show that the tax cuts had stimulated the economy. In fact, by many measures, things were worse. The housing bubble was beginning to burst; unemployment and underemployment had increased. If this had been the 19th century, Republican legislators would have acknowledged that their experiment had failed and that would have been that. A gentleman didn’t run away from the facts or his mistakes.

Voters seemed to agree. Unhappy with the invasion of Iraq as well as the state of the economy, Americans returned Democrats to control of Congress in 2006. Republicans had a pretty good idea—the polls were damning—that their unpopular policies were driving them toward a decisive defeat in the midterm elections. For men and women of honor, this would have been a time to reassess and back off.

Nevertheless the GOP jammed through an extension of the 2001 Bush tax cuts for the wealthy months before the midterm election. No honor there.

Here we are nearly 12 years later, and the verdict is in: the Bush tax cuts failed miserably. No doubt about it, it’s absolutely ridiculous that President Obama and the Democrats agreed to extend them for all but the richest one-half of one percent of American income earners. But the debate should never have gotten this far in the first place. Had the Republicans who proposed it in the first place possessed an iota of good old-fashioned 19th-century honor and integrity, this misbegotten legislative abortion would have died in 2006.

Robert’s Rules of Order and other quaint traditions of parliamentary procedure don’t translate to a quibbling little time like ours, when White House lawyers torture widely understood words like “torture” and “soldier” or claim that a US military base in Cuba is in no man’s land, neither in Cuba nor under US control, and that members of both major political parties say anything in order to get their way. Consider, for example, the current push to reform the filibuster, in order to clear the logjam on judicial nominations and other business that used to be considered routine.

The Senate, the only house of Congress that permits a filibuster, draws upon a tradition of principled minority protest that goes back to Cato in ancient Rome. Until the 1970s, filibusters were a rarity, averaging one a year. Senators viewed them as a bit of a nuclear option and only considered deploying a one-man block on debate of a bill a few times during a long political career, to take a stand on an issue where he felt it mattered most. Now the filibuster is not only a daily routine but gets deployed in an automated way so that the Senate has effectively become a body in which nothing gets done without a 60% vote in favor.

Everyone in the Senate understood what filibusters were for. No one abused them. It was a matter of honor.

But honor is too much to ask when even the most basic of all political considerations—ideology and party affiliation—bend like a reed in the winds of change.

Last week the Republican governor of New Jersey and a Republican congressman from Long Island, New York were so incensed by their party’s refusal to approve disaster relief funds for their states after hurricane Sandy that they went public with disparaging remarks about the Republican leadership in Congress. Fair enough. Standing up for your constituents against rank parochial self-interest is what integrity is all about.

On the other hand, the immediate willingness of some so-called liberal and progressive Democrats to welcome Chris Christie—a Tea Party favorite—and Peter King—a notorious nativist and anti-Muslim bigot—into their party’s ranks indicates a willingness to overlook basic principles that would have startled most self-described gentlemen of a century or two ago, much less those who’d entered public service. Back then, of course, the American political party system wasn’t as settled as it is today, so there were mass changes of party affiliation as parties appeared, metastasized and vanished. Still, it wasn’t acceptable behavior to change parties over a minor spat like the hurricane aid or for a party to accept members who didn’t adhere to its principles.

It’s almost enough to make you wish for a duel.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Fear of a Right Planet

Romney-Ryan Extremism Could Revive Liberal Support for Obama

Soviet citizens had to be Kremlinologists, studying subtle linguistic and tonal shifts in state propaganda, noting the seating order of party leaders at official functions, in order to predict the future direction of their lives. So too are we Americans, for without any way to really get to know our politicians—their press conferences and interviews are too infrequent and carefully stagemanaged, unchallenged by compliant journalistic toadies—we are reduced to reading signals.

Even to an alienated electorate, the tealeaves are easy to read on the Republican side.

Between Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, his team of Dubya-rehash economic advisors (because that worked out so well) and Tea Party favorite Chris Christie as keynote speaker at this year’s Republican National Convention, the Republican Party is in danger of doing something that seemed impossible just a few months ago: strengthening support among the liberal base of the Democratic Party for President Obama.

Granted, disappointed lefties will not soon forget Obama’s betrayals. Guantánamo, the concentration camp that supposedly holds “the worst of the worst” terrorists, remains open—although, now that the White House is reportedly negotiating with the Taliban to exchange captured Afghan ministers for an American POW, one assumes they’re not all that bad. The drone wars against Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere are an affront to basic morality, logic and decency. On the economy, this tone-deaf president has yet to propose a jobs program, much less try to push one through Congress.

But many progressives, until recently threatening to sit on their hands or cast votes for a third party, are reconsidering, weighing disgust against gathering terror as they read the signals from the gathering storm in Tampa. Where Obama fails to inspire enthusiasm, the Romney team seems determined to generate as much fear as possible that he plans to shove the needle even further to the radical right than Reagan or Bush.

Romney, who abandoned his history as a centrist Massachusetts Republican and is running as a right-winger, chose to balance his newfound extremism with Paul Ryan, an even-more-right-winger. Ryan is a vicious, overrated ideologue whose greatest achievement, his theoretical budget proposal, paints a picture of America as a dystopian hell where an infinitely funded Pentagon wages perpetual war and the top 1% of the top 1% party on tax cuts while the elderly and poor starve or succumb to treatable diseases, whichever kills them first. (In the media today, this gets you lionized as “smart,” “wonky,” and “an intellectual heavyweight.” Ryan = Sartre.) Lest you wonder whether the Ryan selection is an anomaly, wonder not—from Christie to the stump speeches to the men first in line to join a Romney cabinet, everything about Team Romney screams Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Ayn Rand minus the cool atheism and elitism.

This is a Republican Party that Barry Goldwater wouldn’t recognize, batso nutso, stripped of the last veneer of libertarianism, completely owned by and in thrall to figures whom the media would characterize as “extreme nationalist” or “neo-Nazi” if they spouted the same nonsense in other countries.

If I were advising Romney, I would tell him that cozying up to the lunatic fringe of American pseudoconservatism is not a prescription for victory in November, when the outcome hinges upon seducing that 5% or 10% of voters who swing both ways. Ryan isn’t as crazy (or bold) of a choice as Sarah Palin, but what Republicans don’t understand is that conservatives will vote Republican regardless of who is the vice presidential running mate or, for that matter, who is the Republican nominee for president. Lack of enthusiasm among the base wasn’t Romney’s big problem, it was Obama’s.

Romney’s biggest albatross is that he’s a terrible candidate, a guy who obviously doesn’t like people. And his campaign sucks. The deficit may or may not represent an looming existential threat—unemployment and the environment are more urgent—but “take your medicine” austerity isn’t much of a sales pitch, especially when two-thirds of the people are already feeling squeezed. Voters reward candidates who present an optimistic vision, a future in which they see themselves richer, happier and with fuller, more lustrous hair.

The fact that Romney can’t manage to put forward a credible economic program doesn’t help either. Since his entire campaign is predicated on the argument that he’s the economy guy and knows how to fix it, he needs to cough up a plan.

However, my real concern is that Romney’s gangbusters right-wing extremism lets Obama and the Democrats off the hook.

If all Democratic strategists have to do to attract progressive voters is to frighten them with greater-evil Republicans, when will people who care about the working class, who oppose wars of choice, and whose critique of government is that it isn’t in our lives enough ever see their dreams become party platform planks with some chance of being incorporated into legislation? In recent elections (c.f. Sarah Palin and some old guy versus Barry), liberals are only voting for Democrats out of terror that things will get even worse. That’s no way to run a party, or a country.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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