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.
It's refreshing when a neoconservative says what he really wants. Hours after the Obama administration announced an interim agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program, John Bolton, the hawk's hawk of the neocon crowd (remember when he practically yearned for terrorists to blow up Chicago with a nuclear device to teach Barack Obama a lesson?), was busy penning a piece for The Weekly Standard decrying the deal as an "abject surrender" of President Obama to the mullahs of Iran. Bolton essentially makes the familiar (and hyperbolic) conservative case that any deal that does not start with Iran trashing all of its nuclear equipment is yet another Munich moment. From this perspective, there can be no bargaining with Tehran—that is, no diplomacy. The only acceptable path is absolutist demands from the United States and its allies and total capitulation from Iran. Now what are the odds of that yielding success?
Bolton is honest enough to acknowledge that talking, as he sees it, will lead to nothing but an Iran armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. Thus, his article ends with this assertion: "in truth, an Israeli military strike is the only way to avoid Tehran's otherwise inevitable march to nuclear weapons." Thank you, Ambassador, for such candor. He is acknowledging that from his perch there is nothing Obama can do short of giving Bibi Netanyahu the green light for a military assault on Iran. Consequently, Bolton's critique of the details of the negotiations deserves little attention, for he's set on war, not diplomacy—a view that may well be reflected throughout hawkish conservative circles.
If this is not enough to discount Bolton's take on the interim accord, there's also history. Prior to the US invasion of Iraq, he declared, "We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq," noting that the US role in Iraq after any invasion would be "fairly minimal." For years afterward—after no WMDs were found in Iraq—Bolton continued to claim the WMD case for that war was justified. Despite this lousy track record, Bolton, like other neocons, is hardly bashful when it comes to making dire statements about Iran's nuclear programs and dismissing ongoing efforts at peaceful resolution. But give him credit for being clear about his bottom-line: let's skip all the chatting and get right to war.
For 50 years, the murder of President John F. Kennedy has prompted dark suspicions about what led to those tragic moments in Dallas' Dealey Plaza. Hidden-hand theories about the assassination fueled numerous movies and books in the years that followed and shaped a national culture of conspiracy. The Oswald-didn't-do-it (or didn't-do-it-alone) theory is the granddaddy of conspiracy theories; it paved the way for alternative (and sinister) explanations for a variety of events, including the assassinations or RFK and MLK Jr. and the 9/11 attacks. The JFK theorizing—which, in certain cases, posits that a cabal of government evildoers schemed the most notorious crime of 20th-century America—made The X Files possible.
Like many late-year boomers, I grew up fascinated by the speculation, poring over the latest "revelations" and initially believing the worst—at one point, when I was 13, my best friend and I called Parkland Hospital in Dallas and asked to be connected to the wing where the supposedly still-alive Kennedy was being housed—but I came to conclude that much of the conspiracy-mongering was bunk. In Slate, Fred Kaplan does an excellent job chronicling his own similar trajectory, so I won't detail my conversion. But as I spent more time investigating and reporting national security matters, I came to the realization that government officials, spies, and operatives tend not to be sufficiently competent to pull off the murder of a president (with a well-placed patsy as the fall guy!) and then mount a subsequent and wildly effective cover-up. Still, I've resisted getting drawn too far into the Kennedy conspiracy debates—a true black hole. But if you're asking, I do believe that Kennedy was likely killed as the result of underhanded alliances and government misdeeds. It's just that what transpired was more nuanced than a CIA-Mafia-Castro-Soviet-Lyndon-Johnson plot.
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:
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.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Martin Bashir and Joy Reid this week about why New Jersey governor Chris Christie is under fire from his own party despite his conservative credentials. Watch here:
With Gov. Chris Christie's massive reelection victory in the blue territory of New Jersey and Ken Cuccinelli's embarrassing defeat to Terry McAuliffe in the governor's race in often-red (in the off-years) Virginia, reasonable Republicans scored points against the party's renegades in the GOP's ongoing civil war. This internal battle has intensified since the government shutdown, as die-hards led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have insisted the Republican Party's fortunes are tied to no-compromise conservatism and ideological confrontation, and establishment Rs have decried their party's Kamikaze Club and contended the GOP must maintain a lifeline to the center and political reality.
Yet in the two big statewide races of Election Day 2013, the results favored those who don't fancy hostage-taking. (In Alabama, a tea party birther was defeated by a Chamber of Commerce-backed candidate in a Republican primary for a vacant House seat.) Christie, who drew the ire of hardcore conservatives by refusing to treat President Barack Obama as the devil incarnate, coasted to an easy triumph and earned the right to declare this message: Republican success in the real world comes when GOP candidates emphasize pragmatic governing, not ideological crusades. And Cuccinelli, a fierce social conservative with plenty of name recognition as the current state attorney general, was the poster boy for those right-wingers who assert that their party must stick to the far-right lane to win elections and transform the nation. His defeat at the hands of a Democrat tainted by assorted money-and-politics scandals—in an election shaped by the government shutdown and Cuccinelli's hard-right views on abortion, birth control, and divorce—will be joyously cited by those who cry bunk in the face of Cruzism. But the non-Cruzers ought to resist the urge to celebrate too much, for the Republican Party may have just experienced its own version of the Battle of Chancellorsville.