Political MoJo

In 2 Charts: Why Hillary (and Bill) Clinton Damn Well Better Hope Obamacare Succeeds

| Wed Nov. 13, 2013 11:00 AM PST

Bill Clinton did it again. On Tuesday, he interjected himself into the ongoing political tussle over the implementation of Obamacare by declaring that President Barack Obama "should honor" his "commitment" to allow people to hang on to their preexisiting health insurance plans. With this comment, the Secretary of Explaining Stuff gave ammo to the foes of Obamacare, and he, unintentionally or not, undermined a core element of the health care law. And, no surprise, he kicked off a spasm of speculation among the politerati: What are the Clintons up to? Will Hillary, if she runs for president, distance herself from the White House? Will she somehow suggest she's more competent than Obama? All this commentary was to be expected. There's something about the Clintons that encourages folks to sniff out clever schemes, intricate plots, and self-serving conniving.

But there's a basic fact that cannot be escaped: The Clintons need Obamacare to succeed. Just look at the chart in the video below:

After Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, he placed his wife in charge of health care reform. (It was part of the two-for-one deal.) And she subsequently unveiled a complicated reform plan that was quickly dubbed Hillarycare by Republicans and conservatives. The Clintons did seem to have a decent amount of political momentum on their side, and their GOP foes, fretting about being rolled, initially entertained the crazy idea of working with the White House to hammer out compromises and shape the legislation a bit more to their liking. Then came Sen. Arlen Specter, a cantankerous Pennsylvania Republican (who years later would switch parties). He hit the Senate floor with charts—complicated wire diagrams that appeared nearly impossible to sort out—that purportedly showed that Hillarycare would create a bureaucratic nightmare. It looked incomprehensibly complicated.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dick Armey, a leading House Republican, created his own chart:

Health care chart
Courtesy of Freedomworks

Armey's office captioned the chart, "Simplicity Defined." Dole showcased it in his 1994 response to Clinton's State of the Union address.

After first toying with a get-along strategy for dealing with Hillarycare, the Republicans mounted a fierce opposition against it, and these charts fueled that effort (along with the Harry and Louise ad campaign orchestrated by the health insurance industry). Waving these charts, the GOPers succeeded in killing Hillarycare—and, decrying the Clintons' health care proposal, they went on to seize control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections.

Hillarycare ended up a political failure and set back the cause of health care reform for nearly two decades. It's not an episode that Hillary Clinton would want discussed during a 2016 presidential campaign. If Obamacare thrives, there will be no reason to look back to Hillarycare and drag these charts out of the dustbin of history. But should the Affordable Care Act falter or collapse, a question will loom: What would Hillary do about health care? Her past record would be raked over and that would likely not boost her presidential prospects. Having screwed up in the early 1990s, could she argue that she would do a better job in reforming the health care system than Obama?

It would be best for a Clinton 2016 campaign for health care to be off the table—with no need to revisit all this inconvenient ancient history. That means she and Bill should be hoping that the implementation of Obamacare proceeds well—and they should do all they can to encourage that. So Bill Clinton ought to coordinate (closely) with the White House on what stuff he should be explaining. It's not only the president's political fortunes that are tied to Obamacare.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 13, 2013

Wed Nov. 13, 2013 7:12 AM PST

Sergeant First Class Adam Silvis, a medical platoon sergeant with the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, moves under fire during Expert Field Medical Badge testing on Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 13, 2013. This is the first time in 14 years that EFMB testing has been conducted in Kuwait. Photo by Sgt. Adam C. Keith, U.S. Army Central.

Corn on MSNBC: Lindsey Graham Gets Benghazi'd

Tue Nov. 12, 2013 6:10 PM PST

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Martin Bashir, Professor James Peterson, and Igor Volsky of Think Progress this evening about the trumped-up Benghazi scandal and Sen. Lindsey Graham's failed attempts to connect the dots.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Rand Paul Says FDA Wants to Take Away Your Doughnuts, FDA Disagrees

| Tue Nov. 12, 2013 4:08 PM PST
From my cold, dead hands.

"They're coming after your doughnuts!" Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told a roomful of conservatives in South Carolina Monday, accusing the Food and Drug Administration of launching a campaign of doughnut obliteration. "Did you hear they're coming after the trans fat in your doughnuts?" he continued. The senator was referring the FDA's decision last week to have the food industry phase out trans fats.

"I say we need to line every one of them up," he said at the Charleston Meeting, an invite-only gathering. "I want to see how skinny or how fat the FDA agents are that are making the rules on this...'Cause if we're going to have a nanny state, and everybody's got to eat the right thing, and you can't eat a doughnut, maybe we ought to just enforce it on the government workers first."

His comments on the tyrannically anti-doughnut FDA were met with laughter and applause from the audience. The lines worked for the crowd, but in the real world, the FDA is not coming after any American's treasured doughnut. (Trans fats aren't even required in the doughnut-making process.) FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman sent Mother Jones the following statement on Tuesday:

Consumption of artificial trans fat, a man-made, not naturally occurring substance, increases the risk of coronary heart disease. In recent years, many food manufacturers and retailers have voluntarily decreased trans fat levels in many foods and products they sell. Trans fat can be found in some processed foods, such as certain desserts, microwave popcorn products, frozen pizzas, margarines and coffee creamers. Numerous retailers and manufacturers have already demonstrated, however, that many of these products can be made without trans fat.

And as New York magazine's Jonathan Chait noted, Dunkin' Donuts, Krispy Kreme, and others already eliminated trans fat from their product, and consumers don't taste the difference. "FDA officials are phasing out a dangerous substance at no cost to people's ability to eat tasty food," Chait concluded.

Chalk the FDA's War on the American Doughnut up to the list of bizarre and incorrect things that Rand Paul says he believes.

Richard Cohen's 10 Worst Moments, Counted Down

| Tue Nov. 12, 2013 2:17 PM PST

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has come under fire again for making a bizarre claim in a column. His latest gaffe is bad—but is it the worst thing he's ever written? Let's count down Cohen's 10 worst moments from decades of column writing to see which one takes the crown.

1 (tied). From Tuesday morning: Richard Cohen thinks hating interracial marriage is normal.

Today's GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn't look like their country at all.

In the middle of an otherwise innocuous column about Chris Christie and the Republican presidential race for 2016, Cohen inexplicably seizes the opportunity to offend most Americans. If you're too busy cleaning vomit off your keyboard to finish the paragraph, he's saying that "people with conventional views" can't stomach the concept of interracial marriage. UPDATE: Cohen now claims that when he said "people with conventional views," he was "talking about tea party extremism. And it's clear." Right.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen goes to the movies, finds out slavery is wrong.

I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life…slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime's condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children.

About a week ago, Richard Cohen went to see 12 Years a Slave and came out surprised by the brutal depiction of slavery in America. He defended himself by saying that he learned slaves "were sort of content" and "slave owners were mostly nice people" in school. Cohen graduated high school in the class of '58. No, 1958.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen confronts rape culture (feat. Miley Cyrus).

So now back to Miley Cyrus and her twerking. I run the risk of old-fogeyness for suggesting the girl’s a tasteless twit — especially that bit with the foam finger. (Look it up, if you must.) But let me also suggest that acts such as hers not only objectify women but debase them. They encourage a teenage culture that has set the women's movement back on its heels.

Quick, who's to blame in the Steubenville rape scandal? (Take your time.) If you answered "Miley Cyrus," you're probably Richard Cohen. In a September column, Cohen expressed horror at the inhumanity of the Steubenville case, then bravely called out the biggest culprit of all: Miley, who exploited sex and deprived it "of all intimacy." He also calls her a "twerk" for some reason.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen defends Clarence Thomas because boys will be boys.

Thomas stands nearly alone on the court in his shallowness of his scholarship and the narrowness of his compassion. But when it comes to his alleged sexual boorishness, he stands condemned of being a man.

In a 2010 column, Cohen dismissed any allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred during the 1980s, since that was "a bit before the modern era," and argued that Thomas' alleged actions—including asking a woman at work for her bra size and making other sexual comments—were just typical guy stuff. Cohen claimed that Anita Hill couldn't have been harassed, because "why did she follow her abuser, Thomas, from one job to the next?" But maybe that's unfair to Cohen. After all, it's not like he was ever accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen is accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Stand up and turn around.

According to a Washington Post staffer, Cohen said the above to 23-year-old editorial aide Devon Spurgeon. Staffers said he also told her she "looks good in black" and engaged her in an offensive discussion about oral sex following the Monica Lewinsky scandal. (Cohen denies the first comment and says the others were made innocently.) Spurgeon took a leave of absence, and Washington Post management found that Cohen committed "inappropriate behavior," but Cohen maintained, "it was a personality dispute [that] had nothing to do with sexual harassment as the term applies today." For further reading, see Cohen's creepy screed on how terrible it is that women in movies don't fall for men decades their elder as much as they used to.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen is afraid of young black men.

I don't like what George Zimmerman did, and I hate that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize…The result was a quintessentially American tragedy — the death of a young man understandably suspected because he was black and tragically dead for the same reason.

In July, Cohen took on Trayvon Martin's death with his usual gravitas. He lamented that no politicians will "acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males" and compared protesting stop and frisk laws to racism itself. "If I were a young black male and were stopped just on account of my appearance, I would feel violated," he conceded.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen has never not been afraid of young black men.

As for me, I'm with the store owners.

In 1986, Cohen wrote a column defending New York City jewelry store owners who refused to let young black men into their establishments for fear of crime. Post executive editor Ben Bradlee had to apologize for running the piece after readers protested, though Cohen was unperturbed enough to write the same thing in his Trayvon Martin column decades later. Presumably his opinion won't change until he sees a good movie about racial profiling in 150 years or so.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen defends child rapist.

There is no doubt that Polanski did what he did, which is have sex with a 13-year-old after plying her with booze. There is no doubt also that after all these years there is something stale about the case, not to mention a "victim," Samantha Geimer, who has long ago forgiven her assailant and dearly wishes the whole thing would go away. So do I.

In this 2010 column, Cohen thanked Switzerland for refusing to extradite Roman Polanski and "salute[s] his genius." He also put scare quotes around "victim," as if to express doubt that a 13-year-old girl who was drugged and raped multiple times could be anything but.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen takes a stand against torture, which he says totally works.

But it is important to understand that abolishing torture will not make us safer. Terrorists do not give a damn about our morality, our moral authority or what one columnist called "our moral compass." George Bush was certainly disliked in much of the world, but the Sept. 11 attacks were planned while Bill Clinton was in office, and he offended no one with the possible exception of the Christian right. Indeed, he went around the world apologizing for America's misdeeds — slavery, in particular. No terrorist turned back as a result.

Although torture is morally repugnant, Cohen argued in this 2009 column, it definitely helps catch terrorists. "Of course it works," he wrote, before arguing against it. (He also noted that terrorists don't care if we apologize for slavery. Maybe they won't understand until they've seen 12 Years a Slave.) A few weeks later, Cohen wrote that he "[has] to wonder" whether or not torture works, meaning he either changed his mind or completely forgot about his previous column.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen is a Pulitzer finalist (four times).

…For his eloquent columns on social and political issues.

No, that wasn't Cohen writing in the third person. That was the Pulitzer committee nominating him for a prize in commentary in 1987. (They also did so in 1981, 1989, and 1990.) He has never won.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 12, 2013

Tue Nov. 12, 2013 7:46 AM PST

An Infantry Training Battalion student looks for an enemy in nearby trees during Patrol Week near Camp Geiger, N.C., on Oct. 28, 2013. patrol week is a five-day training event that teaches infantry students basic offensive, defensive and patrolling techniques. Delta Company is the first infantry training company to fully integrate female Marines into an entire training cycle. This and future companies will evaluate the performance of the female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related job fields to women. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tyler L. Main/Released.

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The Republican Freakout Over This Feminist, Pro-Choice Federal Judicial Nominee

| Tue Nov. 12, 2013 4:00 AM PST
Nina Pillard

Update: Senate Republicans have blocked Nina Pillard, making her the third woman nominated to the D.C. Circuit to be blocked this year. Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, says, "We see this as an abuse of power by a group of Republican Senators when there no legitimate issues have been presented, and these candidates are highly qualified."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to hold a confirmation vote today for Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, who was nominated by President Obama to sit on the second-highest court in the United States: the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Pillard is a Georgetown University law professor and a magna cum laude graduate from Harvard Law School who has argued and filed briefs on dozens of cases that have come before the Supreme Court. She is also unabashedly feminist and pro-choice and supports access to contraception and comprehensive sexual education. As a result, she's attracting a wave of attacks from Republicans, who are waging a battle to make sure she never gets to join the conservative-dominated court. 

"I have concerns about your nomination…[Your academic] writing, to me, suggest that your views may well be considerably outside of the mainstream," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said during Pillard's July hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which in September voted to advance her confirmation to the full Senate. Conservative think tanks have been less diplomatic with their views: Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, wrote that Pillard promotes "militant feminism," and "America can't afford to give a lifetime appointment to a radical ideologue."

The two biggest Supreme Court cases that Pillard worked on helped affirm rights for both men and women in the United States. In 1996, her brief helped persuade the US Supreme Court to end the Virginia Military Institute's decades-old men-only policy. And in 2003, her argument led the Supreme Court to uphold the inclusion of men in the Family and Medical Leave Act. It's not these cases, but rather Pillard's academic writings on reproductive rights, that have sparked Republican fears of her "militant feminism."

At a September Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) went so far as to read Pillard's writings to another DC Circuit judicial nominee to see if he disagreed—without revealing that Pillard wrote them. A Democratic Senate aid told the Huffington Post he found the exchange "super weird." The writings Grassley quoted came from a 2007 Georgetown University Law Center paper, in which Pillard noted that "reproductive rights, including the rights to contraception and abortion, play a central role in freeing women from historically routine conscription into maternity." That insurance plans were not required to cover women's contraceptives was, she wrote, "emblematic of a much broader failure," and she expressed support for more comprehensive sex education in schools.

In a 2006 entry for the Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties, Pillard wrote that "accurate health education can help to make abortion less necessary by teaching teens about reproduction and birth control." Republicans aggressively attacked this viewpoint. "You [have argued] that if a state decides to teach abstinence-only, that that decision…in your judgment, may be unconstitutional. Is that indeed what you were arguing?" Cruz asked at the July hearing. 

Pillard replied: "I'm a mother. I have two teenage children, one boy and one girl…I want both of my children to be taught to say no, not just my daughter. I want my son to be taught that too. The article was very explicit. I don't see any constitutional objection [to] abstinence-only education that does not rely on sex-role stereotypes." 

Cruz said that he found that to be "an extraordinary position," and Ed Whelan, writing in the National Review, accused Pillard of "false testimony" on the abstinence education issue. "No one who seeks to use the Constitution to impose and advance her own dogmatic belief…should be trusted with judicial power," he wrote. Pillard has said repeatedly that her personal views will have no place in her judicial decision-making, and Media Matters has called the National Review's attacks on Pillard "sexist, hypocritical, and flawed."

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also brought up Pillard's writings at the July hearing, accusing Pillard of comparing anti-abortion protesters to white supremacists. "Do you believe that pro-life protesters are fairly analogous to Klu Klux Klan members who lynched African Americans?" he asked. Pillard disagreed, noting that the brief in question referred to why protesters shouldn't interfere with law enforcement, and, at the time, there wasn't a more relevant statute to cite. She said that after that case, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act in 1994, which made it illegal for protesters to obstruct people going to health clinics. 

If Pillard's confirmation is blocked by Republicans, it will be because they can't handle an openly feminist, pro-choice federal judge—or because, as Reid has pointed out, they are stonewalling all of the Obama administration's nominees, no matter their background. Obama has nominated two others to the DC Circuit, one of whom has already been filibustered by Republicans. "While Senate Republicans are blocking President Obama's nominees to this vital court, they were happy to confirm several judges to the DC Circuit when Presidents Reagan and Bush were in office…Pillard is incredibly qualified and dedicated," Reid said.

At least one conservative legal scholar agrees: "I know well Professor Pillard's intellect, integrity, and temperament…I know her to be a straight shooter when it comes to the law and legal interpretation," wrote Viet D. Dinh, who served as the assistant attorney general for legal policy under President George W. Bush. "I am confident that she would approach the judicial task of applying law to facts in a fair and meticulous manner​."

A Bizarre and Telling Book Excerpt From 60 Minutes' Bogus Benghazi Source

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 5:23 PM PST

60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan apologized on Sunday for her discredited October 27 report based on a bogus "eyewitness" account of the attacks on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi. The mea culpa followed revelations that Logan's main source, security consultant Dylan Davies—who claimed that he had scaled the compound's 12-foot wall and battled terrorists—wasn't on the scene at all, according to an account he gave the FBI. He'd also told his then-employer, the British security contractor Blue Mountain, that he had never reached the compound. Nonetheless, he somehow persuaded Logan and CBS News to accept his alternate version of heroics.

As it turns out, Davies also recounted his supposed interactions with the FBI in his recent book, The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There, which he coauthored under the pen name Morgan Jones and published with Threshold Editions, an imprint of the CBS-owned company Simon & Schuster. The tome hit shelves two days after the 60 Minutes segment ran, though the publisher dropped it on Friday and urged retailers to yank the title from their inventories.

Marco Rubio Raising Money for Group That Tries to Turn Gay People Straight

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 2:03 PM PST

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will speak at a fundraising dinner this week honoring Mat Staver, an ardent anti-gay activist who has defended Malawi's ban on homosexuality. Staver is suing New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie for signing a law banning gay-to-straight conversion therapy, and has said that teaching gay rights in schools is tantamount to "sexual assault."

Rubio, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, will deliver the keynote address at the annual fundraiser for the Florida Family Policy Council, a prominent social conservative organization that promotes so-called "conversion therapy" to help LGBT individuals become straight. Conversion therapy has been condemned as a form of abuse by psychologists. It is banned outright in a handful of states beyond New Jersey, including California. The American Psychiatric Association, which does not endorse conversion therapy, says the practice is at best ineffective and at worst can "reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

According to an invitation to the November 16 event, first reported by the progressive watchdog site Right Wing Watch, the dinner will honor Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law and founder of the Liberty Counsel, which provides legal support to social conservative organizations. Staver's group filed a lawsuit against Christie last week alleging that New Jersey's new ban on gay conversion therapy prevented a couple from properly treating their son. Staver has a history of making incendiary claims about gays. In June, he claimed that the passage of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBT employees and applicants, would "result in significant damage and even death of some individuals." After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last summer, Staver suggested the decision would bring the nation closer to "the realm of rebellion."

John Stemberger, the Florida Family Policy Council's president, is also an anti-gay activist. He is chairman of Trail Life, the "moral alternative" to the Boy Scouts of America, which recently lifted its ban on gay Scouts. Trail Life won't accept openly gay boys as members, but offers counseling services to kids who suffer from "gender confusion."

"We're not going to tolerate somebody who's, you know, here and queer, loud and proud, all of that nonsense," Stemberger told social-conservative radio host Janet Mefferd. Stemberger, a lawyer, also triggered a minor international incident in 1999, when he sued Dollar rental car for negligence for renting a vehicle to an Irish tourist who got in an accident with his client. "Anyone who has studied Ireland knows it's just a fact: To the Irish, drinking and driving is not a big deal," he said at the time. The former mayor of Dublin told the Irish Times that Stemberger's lawsuit was "racist and absurd."

Rubio's office did not respond to a request for comment.

GOP Food Stamp Cuts Would Kick 170,000 Vets Out of the Program

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 10:26 AM PST

Republicans will salute America's veterans Monday, while simultaneously trying to deny them benefits. In addition to reducing housing aid, and denying health care to vets, the GOP is also trying to remove thousands of vets from the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

At least 900,000 veterans rely on SNAP. The House Republican version of the farm bill, the five-year piece of legislation that funds nutrition and agriculture provisions, would slash funding for the food stamps program by nearly $40 billion and boot 2.8 million people off the program next year. That includes 170,000 veterans, who would be removed through a provision in the bill that would eliminate food stamps eligibility for non-elderly jobless adults who can't find work or an opening in a job training program.

CHARTS: The Hidden Benefits of Food Stamps.

Veterans returning home from service have more trouble finding work than other folks, and rely more heavily on the food stamp program. The unemployment rate for recent veterans—those who have served in the past decade—is about 10 percent, almost 3 points above the national unemployment rate. War-related disabilities are one reason why. About a quarter of recent veterans reported service-related disabilities in 2011. Households that have a disabled veteran who is unable to work are twice as likely to lack access to sufficient food than households without a disabled service member, according to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This month, SNAP funding was reduced by $5 billion as extra stimulus money for the program expired. While the Senate will never approve the $40 billion in further cuts to the food stamps program that House Republicans want, deeper cuts are pretty much inevitable. The two chambers are in the middle of negotiating a final version of the farm bill, which will contain food stamp reductions somewhere in between the $4 billion level the Senate wants and the level the Republicans want.

Whatever the final number, veterans will likely feel the pinch.