Will Ferrell is officially allowed to retire; George Walker Bush now ad-libs self-caricature at a level of sharpened, terse, crystallized wit that even the most practiced comic or impersonator could only hope to channel. (The only thing that was perhaps missing from this impressively formulated one-liner was Bush labeling his presidency as "extreeeeemme.")
The quote was practically made for reverse-caption contests:
"Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful."Joyce Boghosian/The White House
"Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful." Wikia
"Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful."Joyce Boghosian/The White House
"Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful."Paul Morse/The White House
As Andrea Higbie explained in Salon in 2008, "awesome" is one of Bush's go-to adjectives, used to "describe everything from dead soldiers to the pope." This latest "awesome" quote comes from an interview last week with Peter Robinson, the man who wrote "tear down this wall." During their hour-long conversation, the ex-POTUS talked baseball, family, and politics and the economic landscape today. (Bush was presumably there to push his just-released book of economic prescriptions, The 4% Solution.) As for other stuff that the former president is up to: The George W. Bush Presidential Center will open in a little over a year, and will become the second largest presidential library in the country.
This week marks the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the widely anticipated final film in director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. The villain in the film happens to be a character named Bane. Limbaugh is convinced that the aural similarity between Bane, the Batman villain and Bain, the company founded by Mitt Romney, is no coincidence. In fact, Limbaugh says, it's all part of the plan.
Have you heard, this new movie, the Batman movie—what is it, the Dark Knight Lights Up or something? Whatever the name of it is. That's right, Dark Knight Rises, Lights Up, same thing. Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in the Dark Knight Rises is named Bane. B-A-N-E. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran, and around which there's now this make-believe controversy? Bain. The movie has been in the works for a long time, the release date's been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental, that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?
Some context for the non-nerds: Bane the Batman villain was originally introduced by DC Comics as part of a story arc that involves Batman being harried to exhaustion by having to deal with a rash of escaped supervillains. Bane inflicts a devastating defeat on Batman, who is too tired to fight back, breaking his back and leaving him in a wheelchair for a year. This happened in 1993. Almost 20 years ago. A guy named Bill Clinton was president.
To believe that Bane is a Hollywood conspiracy to elect Barack Obama, you'd have to believe that Bane co-creators Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan* (COINCIDENCE?!?!?!) anticipated prior to Romney even announcing a run for public office that Romney would eventually win the GOP primary in 2012, or that Christopher Nolan, anticipating all of this, chose to pick a villain whose name sounds like the company Romney used to work for. On the other hand, if you're the kind of Republican who believes Barack Obama's parents placed a fraudulent birth announcement in a Hawaii newspaper in order to shore up his claim to American citizenship in the event he might someday run for president, this probably doesn't sound like the dumbest thing ever.
Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics with the economy, after the No. 4 Senate Democrat warned that her party would let $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January unless the GOP agrees to raise taxes on the wealthy.
"Has it come to this, that Democrats are willing to hurt jobs and tank our economy for the sake of a small business tax hike1 that would also have disastrous consequences?" House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.
I'm not usually a big fan of claims that framing is vitally important to the fortunes of political parties, but this is one case where it probably does make a pretty big difference. The basic facts are perfectly clear: Republicans want to extend all the Bush tax cuts, while Democrats want to extend only the cuts on income under $250,000. This leads to two obvious frames:
Democrats: Republicans are holding the middle-class cuts hostage. They're refusing to support them unless the rich get a tax cut too.
Republicans: Democrats are holding the middle-class cuts hostage. They're refusing to support them unless taxes are allowed to rise on the wealthy.
In theory, Democrats have the better of the argument. They can offer a clean bill that extends only the middle-class cuts and force Republicans to vote against it. Republicans can only offer up a full extension, which Democrats can vote against because they don't want to extend the tax cuts for the rich. This polls pretty well, since a large majority of the population opposes tax cuts for the rich.
But that's only in theory. In practice, it's all in who manages to make their version of events the default way of talking about them. That doesn't usually make a huge difference, but this time it might.
1This is GOP-speak for a tax increase on people making more than $250,000.
For years, a segment of the conservative movement has trumpeted the conspiracy theory that Muslim radicals have infiltrated the US government. Although the right's anti-Muslim voices were marginalized during the Bush administration, their ideas moved into the mainstream when Barack Obama took office, as crank theories about the president's faith and alleged "Muslim sympathies" gained traction.
Frank Gaffney, a Reagan-era Pentagon official who now runs a group called the Center for Security Policy, is one of the main originators of the baseless conspiracy theory that American Muslims are secretly plotting to replace the Constitution with Taliban-style Islamic law. (He also called Obama America's "first Muslim president" and sees Muslim Brotherhood conspiracies in government agency logos.) Now Rep. Michele Bachmann is alleging that one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's close aides, Huma Abedin, is a secret agent for the Muslim Brotherhood—and there's a Gaffney connection there, too. As Eli Lake noted the New Republic in July of last year, Gaffney was once an adviser to Bachmann's presidential campaign.
As Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald points out, you have to go to absurd lengths to tie Abedin to the Brotherhood:
You have to ignore her marriage to the ardently pro-Israel disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. (Of course: it's the perfect cover.)
Abedin's also an executive branch official, an aide to one of the top members of the president's cabinet, and subject to extensive background checks. (Presumably the security agencies charged with performing background checks are in on the conspiracy.)
In her 16-page letter detailing her accusations, Bachmann "hints that she has access to secret information as a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence supporting her claims but can't make it public," Seitz-Wald notes. (Given their silence, we can only assume that the rest of the committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, sit at home memorizing the insights of Sayyid Qutb on their iPads.)
The mainstreaming of this sort of anti-Muslim quackery is having actual real world consequences abroad. As the New York Times Robert Mackey reports, some Egyptians, spurred on in part by Egyptian pundit Tawfik Okasha (dubbed Egypt's Glenn Beck) have now bought into the notion, repeated endlessly on conservative blogs, that the Obama administration is covertly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and helped engineer its success in Egypt. (How the Obama team was unable to repeat such flawless manipulation of domestic politics in Libya, where the Brotherhood's local affiliate was defeated, is anyone's guess).
It's tempting sometimes to dismiss the right's conspiracy theorizing about Muslims as laughable (Shariah turkeys, ect), just because it's so far-fetched. But as with the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," the rash of unconstitutional "anti-Sharia" laws being proposed across the country, and the general formenting of suspicion and fear of Muslims throughout the country, this stuff has real consequences. From a national security perspective, it makes actual radicalism harder to identify, making it harder to see genuine threats when they emerge.
Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's crusading GOP attorney general, has refused to certify regulations from the Virginia Board of Health that would allow existing abortion clinics in the state to stay open.
The Virginia legislature passed a strict new set of rules in August 2011 that threatened to shut down a number of clinics in the state. The rules would force clinics that provide abortions to meet the standards of outpatient surgical centers—including specific requirements about the size of the rooms; the width of the hallways; the location of the bathrooms; the specifications of the heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems; and the number of parking spaces. Reproductive rights groups say that most of the 23 clinics offering abortions in the state would likely be unable to meet all the new standards unless they found new facilities or made major changes to their current ones.
That's an interesting argument, considering that the Board of Health exists make and enforce regulations, as well as to provide "for reasonable variances and exemptions therefrom." Opponents of the strict abortion regulation say it's Cuccinelli who is overstepping his authority. "The Attorney General has no basis to exert veto power over these regulations," said ProgressVA Executive Director Anna Scholl in a statement Monday night. "In Ken Cuccinelli's desperate crusade to regulate away reproductive health access for Virginia's women, he's willing to completely ignore the parameters of the Attorney General's office."
Meanwhile, Cuccinelli's boss and the guy whose job he'd like to have after the 2013 election, Gov. Bob McDonnell, last week appointed a staunchly anti-abortion doctor who helped write the harsh new clinic regulations to an open seat on the Board of Health. Dr. John W. Seeds is an obstetrician at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center and the vice chairman of Virginia OBGYNS For Life, and has written for the Virginia Christian Alliance about how "Abortion is the voluntary killing of a human life that requires, in my opinion, turning away from God and his love," the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
This latest appointment has abortion rights groups worried, as Cuccinelli's move means that the regulations will likely end up back before a board that is now even more anti-abortion.
Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are doing their best to paint each other as enemies of the American worker, eagerly shipping jobs overseas for either political or financial gain. Does this represent an actual dislike of free trade by the two candidates? Should free traders be trembling at what the next four years will bring? I think Dan Drezner has the beginnings of wisdom here as he struggles to contain his nausea:
Mario Cuomo once said "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose."....To update his observation for our current needs, we can say, "You campaign as a mercantilist; you govern as a free-trader."
....As stomach-churning as I find this kind of ad, I must reluctantly agree  that it doesn't matter all that much for governing. Even this Washington Post story that talks about Obama's "rethinking" of free trade doesn't really deliver the goods on significant policy shifts. And it appears that even the Chinese government recognizes campaign bluster for what it is.
So — to repeat a theme — I don't think the mercantilist campaign rhetoric will amount to much.
Agreed. China-bashing is a perennial topic among presidential candidates, but it never amounts to much. It just makes for good stump speeches. Ditto for trade-bashing. Obama and Hillary Clinton both swore mighty oaths that they hated NAFTA back when they were competing for blue-collar votes in the 2008 Ohio primary, and then never mentioned NAFTA again after election day. As with China-bashing, it's good red meat for the masses, but means nothing.
The current round of outsourcing/offshoring speechifying is similarly meaningless. It's good campaign fodder, but Obama and Romney will both follow fairly traditional trade policies over the next four years regardless of what they say now. If you're a fan of trade agreements, you should just turn down the volume on your TV set for the next few months and not worry about things. None of it matters.
McCain had previously talked about disclosure in a "pox on both houses" kind of way — we've got billionaires, they've got unions — but we're in a fairly new climate where "disclosure" means "shaming mega-rich donors." That's something correctly seen as a populist Democratic attack on the GOP. So the bipartisan space you used to have for CFR has eroded, and even John McCain won't stand in it.
I really don't think this is quite right. The DISCLOSE Act was initially a response to the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which permitted unlimited contributions to independent expenditure groups but explicitly allowed Congress to require disclosure of those contributions. From the very start, though, the DISCLOSE Act was opposed more-or-less unanimously by Republicans. The thing is, disclosure had always been something of a fig leaf for them, a way of demonstrating that they had a reasonable policy alternative to contribution limits. But once they had the Supreme Court on their side, making contribution limits a dead letter, they suddenly didn't need the fig leaf anymore and support for disclosure evaporated. That happened the very first time the DISCLOSE Act was introduced in 2010, and it's been the solid Republican position ever since. It really doesn't have anything to do with the current campaign season.
But that's not the whole story. The current Republican position is not merely that Democrats want to "shame" rich donors, but that Barack Obama has compiled a Nixonian "enemies list" and is secretly using the full power of the United States government to harass and intimidate anyone who dares to oppose him. Because of this, it only stands to reason that America's richest and most powerful citizens need to keep their campaign contributions in the shadows. Whether the Republican leadership has actually talked themselves into believing this fantasy, or merely trots it out to gull the Fox News set, is anyone's guess.
Last week Barack Obama's reelection campaign released a tough anti-Mitt Romney ad featuring the GOP candidate singing an off-key version of "America the Beautiful" while graphics scrolled across the screen highlighting Romney's offshore accounts and Bain's record of outsourcing jobs. In response, the Romney camp, in keeping with its "rubber-glue" strategy of near-verbatim reversals of attacks the Obama campaign launches at its candidate, released a similar ad featuring Obama singing the Al Green song "Let's Stay Together," and accusing him of showering favors on his political allies.
On Monday, Romney's ad was taken down from YouTube due to a copyright infringement claim from BMG, which owns the rights to "Lets Stay Together." This seems like a straightforward instance of censorship, whatever BMG's politics. There's a doctrine in copyright law called "fair use," which allows limited use of copyrighted material for "purposes of illustration or comment" or "use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied." Whatever one thinks of Romney's political views, as Ars Technica's Timothy Lee writes, "The Romney ad seems like as clear-cut a case of fair use as can be imagined."
Obama's singing is a core part of the ad's message, and copyright law explicitly mentions commentary and criticism as justifications for fair use. And it's hard to imagine the ad harming the market for "Let's Stay Together.
"America the Beautiful" is in the public domain, so the Obama campaign doesn't have to worry about its ad being taken down. Meanwhile, Lee notes, according to the law, "YouTube is required to wait a minimum of 10 days before putting the video back up." It's hard to see the benefit in allowing companies to unilaterally decide political disputes this way, whatever their intentions.
As troubling as this incident is, the state of the law could be even worse in the future. A web uprising earlier this year stopped Congress from passing the Stop Internet Piracy Act, but if it had become law it would have allowed copyright owners to force entire websites to shut down based on unapproved uses of their material. This latest incident represents an unfortunate censoring of political speech and undercuts the notion that companies need even greater powers to control content posted on the Internet.
Out-of-context quoting is a time-honored tradition in American politics — and everyone else's politics too, I assume — but sometimes it simply gets unbearable. Here is President Obama yesterday:
Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own....If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. [Etc. etc.]
....Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Conservatives are going absolutely nuts over the bolded sentence. But can we please stop the idiocy? What Obama meant — obviously, plainly, clearly — is that you, the business owner, didn't build the roads and bridges. Just like you didn't build the internet that you also use as part of your business. This is consistent with the entire theme of his speech, which is dedicated to the proposition that all of us benefit from outside help, including stuff that the government provides. Not only is this uncontroversial, it's positively banal.
In a nutshell: Obama didn't say that someone else built your business. He did say that someone else built the roads that benefit your business. All clear now?