Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
The current outbreak of Benghazi Fever shows how strong the virus is—and that it is apparently immune to basic remedy.
On Friday, the Republicans went full Benghazi. House Speaker John Boehner announced he was setting up a special House committee to investigate the attack—that is, the Obama White House's response to it. Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chair of the House government oversight committee, subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before his committee on May 21 about the State Department's handling of GOP congressional inquiries about Benghazi. (Apparently, Issa is now probing a supposed cover-up of the original supposed cover-up.)
This week, Issa, Fox News, and other Benghazi-ists rushed to the ramparts once again, when a White House email was released showing that a top Obama aide had suggested that an administration spokeswoman defend the president's policy regarding the Arab Spring and the Muslim world following a series of anti-American attacks that included the September 11, 2012, assault on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi. As part of the interagency effort then underway to prep then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for appearances on several Sunday morning talk shows—the exercise that produced the Benghazi talking points Republicans have been howling about ever since—Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, wrote that one goal for Rice was to "underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
This week, the top headlines on GOP Sen. Rand Paul's official website ostentatiously proclaim his support for Israel. On Monday, the lead item noted that Paul, a foreign intervention skeptic who's been accused of isolationism by the Dick Cheney/neocon wing of the Republican Party, intended to introduce legislation that would end US aid to the Palestinian government until it recognizes Israel's right to exist. The next day, Paul's website announced that the senator had introduced the "Stand with Israel Act of 2014," which would make all future aid to the Palestinians conditional on the new unity government—the result of the recent deal struck by Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and does not recognize Israel, and Fatah, which is based in the West Bank—acknowledging the right of Israel to exist and to exist as a Jewish state. The bill was widely regarded as a brazen effort by Paul to get right—or somewhat less wrong—with the GOP's foreign policy mainstream. But the reporting on Paul's bear-hug of Israel left out a rather relevant fact: Not too long ago he was calling for cutting off funds to...Israel.
Just weeks after Paul was sworn in as a senator in early 2011, he proposed a budget plan that would end all US aid to Israel. The US supplies about $3 billion in military assistance to Israel annually. And Paul wanted to zero it out with all other foreign aid. He explained that he didn't have anything against Israel: "I'm not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don't have." He added, "I think they're an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world. Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don't think so."
You might have trouble keeping track of all the racists in the news cycle these past few days. But even though deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy's 15 minutes seem to have faded—especially with his conservative media pals no longer championing him following his remarks denigrating "the Negro"—a public statement he issued on Friday that drew little press attention is notable. Here is a classic example of a racist who's been revealed (by his own words) trying to claim that he's not a racist and—what's more!—he's really just like a civil rights hero. We've seen this before, with affirmative-action foes insisting they are more akin to Martin Luther King Jr.—who asked people to judge a person by the content of their character rather than the color of his or her skin—than are advocates of affirmative action. Adopting this black-is-white defense, Bundy went with Rosa Parks, not MLK Jr., and issued a press statement with this absurd argument:
I am standing up against [the federal government's] bad and unconstitutional laws, just like Rosa Parks did when she refused to sit in the back of the bus. She started a revolution in America, the civil rights movement, which freed the black people from much of the oppression they were suffering. I'm saying Martin Luther King's dream was not that Rosa could take her rightful seat in the front of the bus, but his dream was that she could take any seat on the bus and I would be honored to sit beside her. I am doing the same thing Rosa Parks did—I am standing up against bad laws which dehumanize us and destroy our freedom.
This probably ain't worth unpacking. But Bundy is likening having to pay the government a below-market-rate grazing fee for feeding his cows on federal land to segregation. And in the full statement, he goes further, comparing what he considers to be modern-day federal overreach to…yes, slavery. Looking to repair his reputation, Bundy—or whoever wrote this statement—embraced the conservative trope that the current taxing, spending, and regulatory policies of the federal government are equivalent to slavery. Remember when Sarah Palin likened the federal debt to slavery? Bundy takes it to the next level:
We are trading one form of slavery for another.
What I am saying is that all we Americans are trading one form of slavery for another. All of us are in some measure slaves of the federal government. Through their oppressive tactics of telling the ranchers how many cows they can have on their land, and making that number too low to support a ranch, the BLM has driven every rancher in Clark County off the land, except me. The IRS keeps the people of America in fear, and makes us all work about a third or a half of the year before we have earned enough to pay their taxes. This is nothing but slavery from January through May. The NSA spies on us and collects our private phone calls and emails. And the government dole which many people in America are on, and have been for much of their lives, is dehumanizing and degrading. It takes away incentive to work and self respect. Eventually a person on the dole becomes a ward of the government, because his only source of income is a dole from the government. Once the government has you in that position, you are its slave.
Bundy is extending his original case. He goes beyond his initial argument that Americans who receive federal assistance (meaning African Americans) are no better off than the slaves of old. He asserts that all of us have been enslaved by the federal government.
Bundy notes, "I am trying to keep Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream alive." And he ends the statement with contradictory references to Concord and Lexington and a call for "peaceful revolution to regain our freedom." The folks who were aiming assault weapons at federal officers during the standoff two weeks ago near Bundy's ranch didn't look that peaceful. And Bundy has repeatedly hinted that he's willing to use violence against the feds.
Bundy's statement shows that this episode is really not about a grazing-fee dispute. He and his comrades view it in a larger and extreme context, and it is Bundy who has racialized the episode—and continues to do so by equating himself to Parks and King and insisting that he knows best about the plight of today's low-income African Americans. As of now, Bundy has lost his right-wing media darling status, and perhaps the feds will figure out a way to deal with him without another high-profile showdown in the desert. If so, this may be the last statement from Bundy that anyone—outside of the black helicopter, anti-government militia set—will have to pay attention to.
As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ponders a presidential bid, he has lately made efforts to wrap himself in the banner of Ronald Reagan. In op-eds and speeches, the libertarian tea partier has increasingly invoked the Republicans' most holy icon, especially after being attacked by members of his party's establishment who have accused him of isolationism. Writing in the Washington Post last week, Paul likened his nuanced approach to foreign policy to what he claimed was Reagan's embrace of "strategic ambiguity." A few days earlier, at a so-called "Freedom Summit" in New Hampshire, Paul hailed Reagan as the last president who presided over the creation of millions of jobs, asserting that after the Gipper lowered tax rates, 20 million jobs were created and "more revenue came in." (FactCheck.org concluded that Paul was "falsifying evidence"—and ignoring that more jobs were created during President Bill Clinton's tenure when tax rates went up.) But Paul hasn't always cast himself as much of a Reagan fan. In fact, when he stumped for his father in 2008 and again when ran for Senate in 2010, Paul often referred to the grand old man of the GOP with a touch of disappointment and criticism. And he routinely made an assertion that might seem like blasphemy to many Republicans: President Jimmy Carter had a better record on fiscal discipline than Reagan.
In a variety of campaign appearances that were captured on video, Paul repeatedly compared Reagan unfavorably to Carter on one of Paul's top policy priorities: government spending. When Paul was a surrogate speaker for his father, then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), during the elder Paul's 2008 presidential quest, his sales pitch included dumping on Reagan for failing to rein in federal budget deficits. Standing on the back of a truck and addressing the crowd at the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers picnic in July 2007, Rand Paul complained about Reagan and praised his father for having opposed Reagan's budget:
The deficit went through the roof under Reagan. So how long did it take Ron Paul to figure out that the guy he had liked, endorsed, campaigned for, campaigned for him? The very first [Reagan] budget. Ron Paul voted "no" against the very first Reagan budget… Everybody loved this "great" budget. It was a $100 billion in debt. This was three times greater than Jimmy Carter's worst deficit.
Paul's speech apparently worked. His father won the straw poll held at the picnic, collecting 182 of the 294 votes cast, or 65 percent.
Appearing at a Montana GOP event in January 2008, Paul touted his dad's conservative credentials—remarking that the elder Paul had even voted against gun safety measures backed by the NRA—and pointed out that deficits had mounted under Reagan and President George H.W. Bush: "Domestic spending went up more rapidly in the '80s than it did under Carter." And he took this swipe at Reagan:
You know, we wanted Reagan to veto a budget or to have balanced budgets and he didn't do it. And it wasn't anything personal against him. I think his philosophy was good. I just don't know that he had the energy or the follow-through to get what we needed.
As a Senate candidate the following year, Paul continued to bad-mouth Reagan. Speaking at the University of Kentucky to Students for Liberty that spring, he noted that he and other small-government advocates had "high hopes" for Reagan that were "fairly quickly" dashed. "A lot of the things that we believed would happen didn't," Paul said. He explained:
People want to like Reagan. He's very likable. And what he had to say most of the time was a great message. But the deficits exploded under Reagan. The Democrats said, "Well, the deficit's going up because you reduced the tax rates and supply side economics doesn't work." But the interesting thing is, if you look at the numbers, tax rates went down in the early '80s, tax revenue did rise. The reason the deficits exploded is they ignored spending. Domestic spending went up at a greater clip under Reagan than it did under Carter.
A few weeks earlier, talking to student Republicans at Western Kentucky University, Paul pointed to the dramatic rise in deficit spending under President George W. Bush and declared that Republicans had "become hypocrites" on spending and the deficits. GOPers, he maintained, had not "truly become fiscal conservatives." He added, "We haven't followed through on the message of fiscal conservatism that we said we had." And he traced the problem back to Reagan:
Some say, well that's fine, but there were good old days. We did at one time…When we had Reagan, we were fiscal conservatives. Well, unfortunately, even that wasn't true. When Reagan was elected in 1980, the first bill they passed was called the Gramm-Latta bill of 1981, and Republicans pegged it as this great step forward. Well, Jimmy Carter's last budget was about $34 or $36 billion in debt. Well, it turns out, Reagan's first budget turned out to be $110 billion dollars in debt. And each successive year, the deficit rose throughout Reagan's two terms.
And, he told the students, don't venerate Reagan merely because he was a conservative: "Why did the deficit rise [under Reagan]? Because spending rose more dramatically under Reagan than it did under Carter. Well, you say, 'Reagan's a conservative, Carter's a liberal.' Not necessarily always what it seems."
Speaking two months later to the Carroll County Republican Party, Paul forecasted that economic doom was soon to come—"1979 on steroids"—and advised that "everyone should have a percentage of their savings in gold," noting it was possible that the United States could experience a "complete catastrophe" like the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic. "I would be prepared," Paul said. "There's a coming calamity possibly." Then he turned to a critique of the Republican Party:
As Republicans, it's been very easy for us to say we're fiscally conservative and we're for balanced budgets. It's never happened. We were in charge in the Reagan term, the next Bush's term, this last Bush. The deficits were horrendous under the Republicans…During Reagan's two terms, domestic spending went up faster than Jimmy Carter.
That same month, when he was addressing a gathering of local conservatives in Lexington, Kentucky, Paul contended that being only "a little bit conservative" was not sufficient and that his party, partly because of Reagan, had lost its credibility on fiscal matters:
We live in such bad times that if you don't have somebody who truly believes that we need to take an ax to government, you're not going to get anything done…Even when we elected Reagan. A lot of us loved the rhetoric of Reagan. My dad supported Reagan in 1976 when only four US congressmen would stand up for him. The deficit still exploded…The deficit exploded because domestic spending rose faster under Reagan, so did military, but domestic spending rose faster under Reagan than under Jimmy Carter…We have to admit our failings because we're not going to get new people unless we become believable as a party again.
These days, Paul, who is stuck in a civil war within the GOP over foreign policy issues, is trying to Reaganize himself and demonstrate that he's not outside the Republican mainstream. (His Senate office did not respond to requests for comment.) But not long ago, Reagan was a foil for Paul, who routinely pointed out that the GOP's most revered figure actually had been a letdown. It's no surprise that denigrating Ronald Reagan—and commending Jimmy Carter—is no longer common for Paul. Such libertarian straight talk would hardly help him become one of the successors to the last Republican president who retains heroic stature within the party Paul wants to win over.
UPDATE: After this article was posted, Paul's office sent this statement from the senator: "I have always been and continue to be a great supporter of Ronald Reagan's tax cuts and the millions of jobs they created. Clearly spending during his tenure did not lessen, but he also had to contend with Democrat majorities in Congress."
This past weekend—days after Mother Jones revealed video of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) claiming that Dick Cheney exploited 9/11 to start the Iraq War to boost profits for Halliburton, the military contractor where Cheney had been CEO—Paul claimed in interviews with ABC News and Business Insider that he had never questioned Cheney's motives. He insisted he had merely noted that Cheney's Halliburton ties had posed the "chance for a conflict of interest." Paul was spinning—not acknowledging the actual comments. But when Paul was running for the US Senate in 2009 and 2010 as a tea party outsider who would take on Washington's special-interest lobbyists, he repeatedly cited the Cheney-connected Halliburton as an example of what was wrong in the nation's capital. In a videotaped talk on national-security policy, for example, Paul complained, "We give billion-dollar contracts to Halliburton, they turn around and spend millions on lobbyists to ask for more money from government. It's an endless cycle of special-interest lobbyists." At one campaign stop after another, Paul bashed Halliburton, and he boasted that he had a bold and imaginative plan for limiting the influence of big-money lobbyists and donors who funnel cash into the campaign coffers of candidates to win access and favors. But several years into his first term, Paul has yet to introduce this proposal—or say much, if anything, about it. In fact, he has been accepting contributions from the lobbyists he once so passionately decried.
On March 2, 2010, Paul appeared on CNN, and host Rick Sanchez asked him what he would do about the "unbelievable amounts of money that are being paid from certain industries into the campaign coffers of certain politicians…and how are you going to deal with that, if you get elected?" Without pausing, Paul confidently replied:
I think that I have a cure for it actually that will pass constitutional muster. What I would do is, on every federal contract, I would have a clause, and it says, if you accept this clause you voluntarily give up the right to lobby, you voluntarily give up the right to give PAC contributions. And I would have the top 20 officers sign it also individually, voluntarily give up their right to give [political] contributions…I'm talking about people who do business with the federal government. For example, we have big business that get billion-dollar no-bid contracts with the government. They take their first million dollars, and they buy a lobbyist. The lobbyist goes then and asks for more money. It's a vicious cycle. So I would say if you want to do business with the federal government, what I would say is let's have a clause in the contract, and it's a voluntary clause, you don't have to do business with the government, but if you do, then you give up certain things.
Paul's critique was reminiscent of the position Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) advocated when he was a campaign finance reform firebrand years ago. McCain denounced the "iron triangle" of lobbyists, campaign contributions, and legislation. Paul, who has often slammed McCain for passing a campaign finance law imposing limits on what outside groups can do to affect federal elections, had devised his own way to break up this unseemly triangle.