Conservatives Shift Gears on IRS

Peggy Noonan is on the case. (Flickr/kylebogucki)

Something odd happened to Barack Obama's approval rating last week: nothing. With a bunch of controversies swirling about the administration, one might think Americans would be thinking less of his performance. Yet the latest polls from Gallup and CNN both show his job approval essentially unchanged, at just at or above 50 percent.

So far anyway, these "scandals" are, like most scandals, an almost completely partisan phenomenon. Yes, there are some—Watergate, Iran-Contra—where the facts are so damning and undeniable that even the president's own party can't help but acknowledge them. But Benghazi and the IRS are not Watergate or Iran-Contra. Perhaps they'll turn out to be, if we find out something completely shocking. Perhaps we'll discover that Barack Obama is on tape personally ordering the Cincinnati IRS office to put the screws to Tea Party groups, just as Richard Nixon was on tape ordering his aides to get the IRS to audit his political opponents. But that hasn't happened yet.

So conservatives are trying something new. If you were paying close attention the last couple of days, you saw them bringing up a new charge, one unrelated to the actual controversy: IRS income tax audits.

Five Voting Fights You’ll Care About Come Election Time

AP Images/Dave Martin

Remember last year when we all cared about voting policies? Back then, newspapers were filled with updates on different states’ legal battles over strict voter ID—the laws that require photo identification to cast a ballot. Republicans pushed the laws, ostensibly to combat fraud, but Democrats and voting-rights advocates argued that the actual goal was to suppress likely Democratic voters, since poor and nonwhite communities disproportionately lack ID. With Republicans controlling an unprecedented number of state legislatures in the wake of the 2010 Tea Party wave, voter-ID bills began popping up across the country in 2011 and 2012. Similar battles emerged when some states tried to remove names from voter rolls too close to an election.

Ted Talk

The Tea Party doesn't expect its politicians to get things done; it sends them to Washington to previent things from being done. 

Early this spring, when rumors began circulating that freshman Senator Ted Cruz of Texas might run for president in 2016, liberals found the idea just as delightful as their Tea Party counterparts did—though for different reasons. What could do more to hurt the Republicans’ comeback chances than a candidate who’s so extreme that his own caucus-mate, John McCain, publicly labeled him a “wacko bird”? If Cruz ran and lost in the primaries, he could either become a disruption and embarrass the party or force the eventual nominee to move way to the right. If he somehow won the nomination, he’d surely be the second coming of Barry Goldwater in 1964. Run, Ted, run!

Notes on a Pseudo-Scandal

OK folks, if you have the patience for some meta-blogging on the subject of Benghazi, let me share with you some of the thoughts that have been running around my head as I struggle with how to talk about this story. Whenever a topic like this comes up, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions. Do I have something worthwhile to contribute to this discussion? Is there something that needs to be said but hasn't been yet? Is this thing even worth talking about? Much as I'd like to be immune to the consideration of whether I'm doing a favor for those pushing the story for their own partisan ends by keeping the discussion going, it's hard to avoid that question popping into your head from time to time.

There's an objective reality out there, hard though it may sometimes be to discern—either there was or was not actual wrongdoing, and the whole matter is either trivial or momentous—but everyone's perception of that reality is formed within the context of a partisan competition. Irrespective of any facts, Democrats would like this story to just go away, and Republicans would like it to become The Worst Scandal In History. I'll be honest and say it's hard to avoid thinking about that when you're writing about it. Even doing something like refuting the latest crazy thing someone on the right is alleging does, to at least a small degree, help maintain the story's momentum.

Are Vouchers Dead?

AP Images/Ben Margot

When news broke Tuesday that the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s voucher system, which uses public dollars to pay for low-income students to go to private schools, the fight over vouchers made its way back into the headlines. The Louisiana program, pushed hard and publicly by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, offers any low-income child in the state, regardless of what public school they would attend, tuition assistance at private schools. It’s something liberals fear will become commonplace in other states in the future if conservative lawmakers get their way on education policy.

Benghazi Fizzles

A New York Post cover from back when Benghazi was hotter.

Conservatives want, so very desperately, for Benghazi to be Barack Obama's undoing. And you have to give them credit for trying. Yesterday's hearing, hyped like it was the Super Bowl by Fox News, wasn't actually the first or the second or the fifth on the topic, and each one is supposed to deliver the blockbuster revelation that will finally show America just how evil the Obama administration really is. But if you look at the way they've been talking about it, you can see some faint glimmers of doubt. Sure, you can always find somebody to come on Fox and take the speculation to an absurd level ("Did Hillary Clinton order the consulate to be unprotected because Ambassador Stevens knew she's an al Qaeda operative and she wanted him killed? We just don't know"). But I think all that speculation is sapping their spirits. After a while it gets tiresome to keep harping on what might have happened or why, when it would be so much more satisfying if there were some actual incriminating facts you could bring to bear. For instance, they know there was a cover-up, because every good scandal has a cover-up, but they can't even say just what was being covered up. That's kind of an important part of the story. For god's sake, they're still going on about Susan Rice's inaccurate Sunday show talking points, not because they feel like that's the heart of the nefarious conspiracy, but because they haven't come up with anything more damning.

I'm not saying conservatives don't believe that something sinister happened, because they surely do...

It’s All about the Primaries

AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt

He’s already given political culture one of the great euphemisms ever for having an affair. And now the Appalachian trail walker, Mark Sanford, has become a terrific example of one of the core ideas of political parties and democracy: It’s all about the primaries.

Sanford won back his old House seat in a special election on Tuesday. Smart liberal commentators noted that Republicans had little choice. Paul Krugman:

No, Syria Is Not Iraq

AP Photo/Hussein Malla

For those advocating greater intervention in Syria by the United States, the memory of Iraq has turned into a real inconvenience.

“Iraq is not Syria,” proclaimed the headline of New York Times editor Bill Keller’s op-ed on Monday, by way of arguing for greater U.S. involvement in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Because of Iraq, Keller wrote, “in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.”

Let’s grant that it’s possible to over-learn the lessons of Iraq. The Iraq war, as costly a blunder as it was, should not discredit any and all military interventions, but it should—and has—raised the bar for when such interventions are necessary. What appears to persist, however, is the belief that “bold” U.S. moves—nearly always assumed to be military action—can change the situation for the better, and produce the outcomes that we would like to see.

And of those outcomes aren’t produced? Well, then it will be time for even bolder moves.

Cruz Control

AP Images/ David J. Phillip

Last week’s news cycle began and ended with Ted Cruz. On Monday, a video of Cruz came out, in which he called his fellow Republicans “a bunch of squishes” on gun control. The talk, given at the Tea Party group FreedomWorks’ summit in Texas, prompted The Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin to write a piece called “Don’t be a jerk Sen. Cruz,” calling on Texas’ junior senator to apologize. If that was supposed to chasten him, it didn’t seem to work: By the end of the week, National Review was reporting Ted Cruz might be running for president. He was one of main points of discussion on Sunday talk shows, and James Carville raved that he was “the most talented and fearless Republican politician” in the last 30 years.

That, in a nutshell, is Ted Cruz’s political career: through some combination of luck, bravado, and talent, the man always seems to wind up getting what he wants.

Discovering the American Majority with the NRA and Conservative Politicians

I have a piece going up later today over at on the NRA convention, but there was something I raised there that I wanted to elaborate on. If you look at the list of Republican politicians who spoke to the assembled firearm enthusiasts, it wasn't exactly the A-team. Last year Mitt Romney showed up, but this year they had failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum, failed presidential candidate Rick Perry, universally disliked freshman senator Ted Cruz, currently unpopular Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and former half-term governor and current punch line Sarah Palin. Every one of them would like to be president one day, but the only one with even the ghost of a chance is Jindal.

And what do they have in common? Some are has-beens, some have reached the pinnacle of their careers even if they don't know it yet, but what distinguishes them isn't just that they're very, very conservative. It's that—like the NRA itself—they're obviously convinced that they actually represent the majority of the American public, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Feeding the Paranoid Right


In today's edition of Republicans Think the Darndest Things, a poll from Farleigh Dickinson University that came out the other day found, as polls regularly do, that Americans in general and conservative in particular believe some nutty stuff. That's not really news, but there are some reasons to be genuinely concerned, which I'll explain. The headline finding is this: Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties." Forty-four percent of Republicans—yes, almost half—said they agreed. We've been doing pretty well with this constitutional system for the last 224 years, but it's just about time to junk it.

The right reaction to any shocking poll result is to say, "Let's not make too much of this." And I don't think any but a tiny proportion of the people who would answer yes to that question would actually start in or participate in a revolution. Let's take the gun owners who email me every time I write an article about guns, telling me I'm an ignorant unmanly Northeastern elitist liberty-hating girly-man wimp (yeah, they're heavy on the accusations of insufficient manliness; this is what psychologists call "projection"). If their neighbor came over and said, "Enough is enough; I'm going down to the police station to kill some cops—you know, for liberty. Are you coming?", how many of them would actually say yes? Not very many.

Nevertheless, the fact that so many people are willing to even entertain the idea is appalling, and we have to put the responsibility where it belongs.

House of Representatives Now a Scene from "Life Of Brian"

The People's Front of Judea holds a meeting.

Here in America we have a long tradition of candidates who run for office telling voters that they'll be good at making laws because they know nothing about making laws. This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, particularly the "I'm a businessman, not a politician" variant (see here, for example), but the idea that "outsiders" who aren't beholden to the ways of the Capitol can be successful in curing it of its less appealing habits is almost as old as the republic itself. In ordinary circumstances, people who don't know anything about legislating are usually equally unfamiliar with what it takes to run a successful campaign, so most of them get weeded out by election day. The last couple of elections have not, however, been ordinary.

I bring this up because of a story today in Politico that makes the Republican House of Representatives look like even more of a mess than you might have imagined. I'll get to the issue of "outsider" politicians in a moment, but here's an excerpt:

Is It Too Late for the GOP to Save Itself with Latinos?


Since the 2012 election, there's a story we've heard over and over about Republicans and the Latino vote. After spending years bashing immigrants, the party got hammered among this increasingly vital demographic group in this election, whereupon the party's more pragmatic elements woke up and realized that if they don't convince Latinos that the GOP isn't hostile to them, they risk making it impossible for themselves to win presidential elections. They've got one shot on immigration reform: pass it, and they can stanch the bleeding, or kill it, and lock in their dreadful performance among Latinos for generations.

This story is mostly true. But I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't already too late for the GOP to win Latinos over. It's going a little far to suggest that Latinos could become the equivalent of African-Americans, giving 90 percent or more of their votes to Democrats in every election. But is it possible that so much damage has already been done that even if immigration reform passes, Republicans won't see any improvement in their standing among Latinos?

Three New Facts about the Tea Party


For a movement that’s helped to reshape the Republican Party—and by extension, reshape American politics—we know shockingly little about the people who make up the Tea Party. While some in the GOP once hoped to co-opt the movement, it’s increasingly unclear which group—the Tea Party or establishment Republicans—is running the show. Politicians have largely relied on conjecture and assumption to determine the positions and priorities of Tea Party activists.

The Unending War on Obamacare

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

I'm not a historian, so maybe there's something I don't know, but it seems to me that there may never have been a piece of legislation that has inspired such partisan venom as the Affordable Care Act. Sure, Republicans hated Medicare. And yes, their rhetoric at the time, particularly Ronald Reagan's famous warning that if it passed, "We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free," was very similar to what they now say about Obamacare. But once it passed, their attempts to undermine it ran more to the occasional raid than the ongoing siege.

I bring this up because Kevin Drum makes an unsettling point today about the future of Obamacare: