Kevin Drum

Rand Paul's Latest Fundraiser Now Underway

| Wed May 20, 2015 3:17 PM EDT

I see from the intertubes that Sen. Rand Paul has begun another talking filibuster. This time it's to protest any legislation that extends the NSA's ability to access metadata from phone calls, even if the data is held by the phone companies and available only by court order. Paul's filibuster will annoy a lot of people, but in the end I think I agree, for once, with John McCain: "He'll get his headline and then we'll move on."

That's pretty much the lay of the land. Paul will chew up some floor time, which might end up eating into Memorial Day weekend for the Senate, but since virtually no one agrees with his position, it's simply not going to accomplish anything. I'm even a little skeptical about the headlines. Frankly, once you've done the Jimmy Stewart bit once, its entertainment value starts to plummet.

On the other hand, Paul seems to be mostly treating this as another great fundraising opportunity, and it might very well be. But that's probably all it will be.

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Eight Good Lessons About Health Care — Plus a Ninth

| Wed May 20, 2015 1:20 PM EDT

Over at Vox today, Sarah Kliff and Julia Belluz have a list of eight things they now do differently after reporting on health care for a combined decade between them. It's a great list, and unless I missed something I think I agree with every word on it. Even item #3, which has been, um, a bit of a challenge for me over the past six months.

Of course, as with all collections of advice, even good ones, this one has an underlying ninth item: don't be an idiot. Sometimes guidelines need to be broken. But they're still good to keep in mind.

Big Banks Plead Guilty to Collusion, But Fines are Pocket Change

| Wed May 20, 2015 11:43 AM EDT

Five of the planet's biggest banks have finally been forced to plead guilty to collusion charges in the foreign exchange market:

The Justice Department forced four of the banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland — to plead guilty to antitrust violations in the foreign exchange market as part of a scheme that padded the banks’ profits and enriched the traders who carried out the plot....Underscoring the collusive nature of their contact, which often occurred in online chat rooms, one group of traders called themselves “the cartel,” an invitation-only club where stakes were so high that a newcomer was warned, “Mess this up and sleep with one eye open.” To carry out the scheme, one trader would typically build a huge position in a currency and then unload it at a crucial moment, hoping to move prices. Traders at the other banks agreed to, as New York State’s financial regulator put it, “stay out of each other’s way.”

....The guilty pleas, which the banks are expected to enter in federal court later on Wednesday, represent a first in a financial industry that has been dogged by numerous scandals and investigations since the 2008 financial crisis. Until now, banks have either had their biggest banking units or small subsidiaries plead guilty.

....As part of the criminal deal with the Justice Department, a fifth bank, UBS, will plead guilty to manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, a benchmark rate that underpins the cost of trillions of dollars in credit cards and other loans.

The total fine is about $5 billion, and it's about damn time this happened. Unfortunately, I assume that a billion dollars each is basically pocket change that's already been fully reserved on their balance sheets. Needless to say, not a single dime of this will hit the actual people running the banks, who couldn't possibly be expected to know that any of this stuff was going on. They were too busy drinking their lunches and remodeling their corner offices to know what a few rogue traders on the 23rd floor were doing. The Times confirms that life will go on as usual:

For the banks, though, life as a felon is likely to carry more symbolic shame than practical problems. Although they could be technically barred by American regulators from managing mutual funds or corporate pension plans or perform certain other securities activities, the banks have obtained waivers from the Securities and Exchange Commission that will allow them to conduct business as usual. In fact, the cases were not announced until after the S.E.C. had time to act.

It's good to be king.

The Truth About How Obama Has Handled the Pacific Trade Deal

| Wed May 20, 2015 9:00 AM EDT
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama at the White House on April 28, 2015

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to present a post from Daniel Drezner.

One of the enduring memes of the Obama administration has been the notion that the president is a lousy politician. One of the things that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had in common is that they knew how to schmooze. Obama, on the other hand, does not have any close friendships on the international stage, nor is he particularly tight with Republican or Democrat members of Congress. Indeed, this has been a sufficiently common lament for someone to write "A Brief History of President Obama Not Having Any Friends" last year.

So let's stipulate that the president is a cold fish. What remains contested is whether this matters in terms of getting things done. There are DC insiders who argue that personal relationships and one-on-one politicking really do matter. These are the pundits who tend to bemoan presidential passivity and write "Why won't Obama lead?" ledes and ask why Barack Obama doesn't drink more whiskey with Mitch McConnell or play more golf with John Boehner. And then there are structuralists who argue that what really matters are the separation of powers written into the Constitution and the incentive of opposition parties to, you know, oppose the president's policies.

When it comes to managing his own party, there may be something to the "Why can't Obama lead?" meme.

Last week's machinations over trade promotion authority (TPA) regarding the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) will not definitively settle this debate, but they did offer a few data points that suggest the relative merits of each side of this debate.

First, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a delightfully blunt interview to the New York Times' John Harwood. On TPA/TPP, McConnell and most of the Senate Republicans are working with Obama, which puts him in strange territory. To explain this to Harwood, McConnell flatly debunked the notion that Obama would have accomplished more in the GOP-controlled Congress if only he'd been more sociable with Republican members of Congress:

In the caricature of how Washington works, Mr. McConnell and other congressional Republicans were supposed to bond with Mr. Obama at a so-called bourbon summit meeting, as though a soothing, generous pour would bring them together.

It has never happened—which, as far as Mr. McConnell is concerned, counts for exactly zero.

"It's all good stuff for you all to write, but it has no effect on policy," Mr. McConnell said. He dismissed "press talk" that social outreach could bridge the deep ideological and partisan divisions of 21st-century American politics.

"It wouldn't make any difference," he concluded. "Look, it's a business." (emphasis added)

And that sound you just heard was the combined egos of the "why can't Obama lead" crowd visibly deflating.

McConnell's Hyman Roth-like answer would seem to validate the structuralist position of the president's ability to get legislation passed—at least when it comes to dealing with the opposition party.

When it comes to dealing with his own party, however, I'm not sure that the structuralists can claim victory. One could argue that Democrats are just as constrained on trade as Republicans because of their base's public opinion, but I don't think it's really that simple.

There were a lot of things going on in last Tuesday's initial failure of TPA to pass the Senate, including genuine policy differences between Obama and elements of the progressive movement. But as Reuters noted, at least part of it was Obama's alienation of Senate Democrats:

As for Obama, he may have hurt his chances with Democrats by minimizing concerns about trade's impact on labor, the environment and regulations, and his explicit criticism of the anti-trade stance of leading liberal Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.

"The president was disrespectful to her," Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown told reporters. "When he said that a number of us, not just Senator Warren, don't know what we're talking about...he shouldn't have." Brown opposes the fast-track bill.

Indeed, there has been a lot of Democrat grumbling about Obama's rhetorical jabs at Warren and other anti-TPP Democrats, to the point where Sherrod Brown accused Obama of sexism.

Of course, twenty-four hours later, a deal had been struck for a vote on TPA in the Senate. If Edward Isaac-Dovere and Burgess Everett's Politico recap is accurate, then Presidential Leadership (TM) played a pivotal role in the process:

The White House named names. And not 24 hours later, President Barack Obama and his aides had a deal to get fast-track back on track...

Obama aides strategically put out word to reporters of the meeting, even before senators had arrived at the White House. Shortly after the meeting ended, they released the list: the seven Democrats who'd voted for fast-track in committee, plus Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.). A few hours before, every Senate Democrat except Tom Carper of Delaware had publicly rebuked his trade effort. Now the White House put on the spot the other nine who had either publicly or privately indicated they would support the underlying fast-track and Trade Adjustment Assistance package, but who voted against opening debate.

In other words, the president had more than enough votes just in the room to get the trade bill moving. According to senators who were there, the president took his time, spending 90 minutes to explain why they needed to get their act together.

Now this does sound like some Old Time-y Presidential leadership, and so maybe, when it comes to managing his own party, there is something to the "Why can't Obama lead?" meme.

But not a lot. My colleague Greg Sargent's take suggests that last Tuesday's vote was more about Reid/McConnell dynamics than anything to do with Obama. And even the close of Politico's story:

Then again, some Senate Democrats said this all would have been resolved even without Obama—though maybe not in time for the House to take up the bill in June, keeping it on track to help Obama seal the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 12 Pacific Rim countries.

"This was going to end up there anyway," Nelson said. "But I would say the meeting with the president accelerated the discussion."

So, to sum up: Most of the time, the structuralists are mostly right when it comes to presidents exercising leadership in pushing legislation through Congress. But they're not completely right. On the margins, when dealing with one's own party, maybe presidential leadership matters just a wee bit.

Are You a True Political Junkie? A Wee Test.

| Tue May 19, 2015 2:49 PM EDT

I'm often amazed at the incredible memories that true political junkies have for trivial stuff that happened well over a decade ago. I was just reading a Kevin Williamson item over at The Corner, and he was noting that (a) some police organizations are apparently referring to President Obama's new restrictions on transfer of military equipment as a "ban," and (b) that lefties were attacking this as fear-mongering, since it wasn't a ban, just a restriction on how the federal government plans to spend its own money.

Where's he going with this, I wondered. I didn't have to wait long to find out:

Well....

Am I the only one who remembers the so-called federal ban on stem-cell research enacted by the Bush administration? That was a ban that was not, in fact, a ban at all, or even a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but a restriction on federal funding for research using newly created lines of embryonic stem cells. When the [Fraternal Order of Police] complains that police departments cannot use federal funds the way they did before, the Left insists that the word “ban” is inappropriate, that the complaints amount to “fear-mongering.” But Mother Jones wrote of a “Stem Cell Research Ban” under Bush, CBS News reported “Obama Ends Stem Cell Research Ban,” Wired wrote of a “Bush stem cell ban,” U.S. News and World Report wrote of “Bush’s Stem Cell Research Ban,” etc.

A funding restriction is not a ban; it isn’t now—but it wasn’t then, either. It is too much to expect even a modicum of consistency from our feckless, lollygagging media, which is mainly composed of people who were too thick for law school and too lazy to sell real estate, and certainly not from the intellectually dishonest Democratic operatives within the media (Hello, Mr. Stephanopoulos!). But we should always keep that dishonesty in mind.

I guess I take a much more easygoing attitude toward this stuff, especially when we're talking about headlines. Heds are almost never entirely accurate thanks to space constraints, and using the word ban instead of ban on federal funding of new stem cell lines seems pretty much inevitable. As long as the hed is reasonably close to reality and a more accurate explanation is put in the first paragraph or two, I can't get too excited.

And if it was something that happened back in 2001? I'd be racking my brains to remember what happened and whether I should still give a damn. I guess that's what marks me as not really a true political junkie. I don't hold grudges against the press quite long enough.

Finally! It's Tax Fantasyland Season Again!

| Tue May 19, 2015 11:29 AM EDT

One of the more entertaining aspects of the 2012 presidential race was keeping track of the ever-expanding array of fanciful tax plans from Republicans. Even after Herman Cain announced his absurd 9-9-9 plan, other plans that would cut taxes even more kept coming down the pike. No candidate was willing to give up the mantle of biggest tax cutter.

But that wasn't the truly entertaining part. The entertainment came from the fact that the candidates were all willing to describe in almost loving detail what they'd cut: capital gains vs. regular income; different tax brackets; precise rates that millionaires would have to pay; and so forth. But when anyone asked which tax deductions and tax credits they'd kill in order to make their plans revenue neutral, they'd blush like schoolchildren and insist that only Congress could make that call. So brave!

Josh Barro reports today that even with only a few candidates yet in the race, Republicans are already tying themselves in knots over taxes:

There are a few ways the 2016 Republican candidates can avoid the Romney middle-class tax trap. They can break with party tradition and abandon the position that there should be significant tax-rate cuts for top earners. They can forthrightly defend the idea that people with low and middle incomes should pay more. They can abandon the promise of revenue neutrality — so a tax cut for the rich does not need to be offset by tax increases elsewhere. They can be as vague as possible.

So far, apparently, the scorecard looks like this:

  • Carson, Cruz and Paul are calling for flat taxes but are taking the classic position that they'll talk about ways to stay revenue neutral sometime.....in the future. Like maybe the 14th of never.
  • Christie has a slightly modified version of the classic. He won't talk about how he'll stay revenue neutral either, but he's also claiming that he might just let the deficit take some of the hit, which would mean fewer hot-button deductions to eliminate that could wreck his candidacy.
  • Rubio, the boy genius of the Everglades, goes even further, taking what I'll call the Sam Brownback position: screw the deficit, he says. He's just going to lower taxes and leave it at that. After that we're in God's hands.
  • Finally, Jeb Bush has taken the most unusual position of all: he's not even talking about taxes. He's generally in favor of lowering taxes, but that's as much as he's willing to say.

That's only six candidates, and there are many more to come—and we can expect plenty of tax fantasyland from all of them, I think. I mean, can you imagine what Lindsey Graham or Carly Fiorina are going to come up with? The mind reels. With the exception of the poor shmoes at the Tax Policy Center, who have to pretend to take this stuff seriously while they trudge through their analysis of each and every farfetched plan, it should be plenty of fun for the rest of us. Which candidate will come up with the most ridiculous, most pandering plan of all? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Obamacare Is Making It Easier to Be a Young Working Parent

| Tue May 19, 2015 6:20 AM EDT

With Kevin Drum continuing to focus on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to present a post from economist Dean Baker.

The main point of the Affordable Care Act was to extend health insurance coverage to the uninsured. While this is a tremendously important goal, a benefit that is almost equally important was to provide a guarantee of coverage to those already insured if they lose or leave their job. This matters hugely because roughly 2 million people lose their job every month due to firing or layoffs. As a result of the ACA most of these workers can now count on being able to get affordable coverage even after losing their job.

The ACA also means that people who may previously have felt trapped at a job because of their need for insurance now can leave their job without the risk that they or their family would go uninsured. This could give many pre-Medicare age workers the option to retire early. It could give workers with young children or other care-giving responsibilities the opportunity to work part-time. It could give workers the opportunity to start a business. Or, it could just give workers the opportunity to leave a job they hate.

While it is still too early to reach conclusive assessments of the labor market impact of the ACA, the evidence to date looks promising. Republican opponents of Obamacare have often complained that the program would turn the country into a "part-time nation." It turns out that there is something to their story, but probably not what they intended. The number of people who are working part-time for economic reasons, meaning they would work full-time if a full-time position was available, has fallen by almost 16 percent from the start of 2013 to the start of 2015. This is part of the general improvement in the labor market over this period.

The number of people working part-time involuntarily is still well above pre-recession levels, but it has been going in the right direction.

It is true that the employer sanction part of the ACA has not taken effect (which required that employers with more than 50 workers provide insurance or pay a penalty, but it is not clear this would make a difference. Under the original wording of the law (Obama subsequently suspended this provision), employers would have expected that the sanctions would apply for the first six months of 2013. We found no evidence of shifting to more part-time work during this period compared to the first six months of 2012.

But there is a story on increased voluntary part-time employment. This is up by 5.7 percent in the first four months of 2015 compared to 2013. This corresponds to more than 1 million people who have chosen to work part-time. We did some analysis of who these people were and found that it was overwhelmingly a story of young parents working part-time.

Back in the old days we might have thought this was an outcome that family-values conservatives would have welcomed.

There was little change or an actual decline in the percentage of workers over the age of 35 who were working part-time voluntarily. There was a modest increase in the percentage of workers under age 35, without children, working part-time voluntarily. There was a 10.2 percent increase in the share of workers under the age of 35, with one to two kids, working part-time. For young workers with three of more kids the increase was 15.4 percent.

Based on these findings it appears that Obamacare has allowed many young parents the opportunity to work at part-time jobs so that they could spend more time with their kids. Back in the old days we might have thought this was an outcome that family-values conservatives would have welcomed.

As far as other labor market effects of Obamacare, there has been a modest uptick in self-employment, but it would require more analysis to give the ACA credit. Similarly, older workers are accounting for a smaller share of employment growth, perhaps due to the fact that they no longer to need to get health care through their jobs. These areas will require further study to make any conclusive judgments, but based on the data we have seen to date, it seems pretty clear that Obamacare is allowing many young parents to have more time with their kids. And that is a good story that needs to be told.

It's Experiment Week

| Mon May 18, 2015 12:49 PM EDT

As you all know, I'm recovering nicely from my chemotherapy. That is to say, technically I'm recovering nicely. All my numbers are in a good range and are continuing to improve, and there's every reason to think that will continue.

However, I still feel crappy. Heavy fatigue and nausea rule my day. But I'm thinking that I might—might!—be feeling ever so slightly better on that front. Just a smidgen. Plus I'm so bored I could scream. So I'm going to test my energy level this week by writing two blog posts a day. It's unlikely that any of them will include heavy analysis. They'll be more in the mold of this morning's post, "Marco Rubio is a Moron," which was not exactly a strain on my gray matter or powers of concentration. But it was kinda fun.

Anyway that's the plan. And just to add to the difficulty factor, it turns out my neighbors are beginning a 3-month home gutting and remodel. That should be nice and noisy, especially since we share a common wall with them. So here's my tentative daily schedule:

  • Eat breakfast
  • Rest
  • Write blog post.
  • Rest.
  • Take a walk around the block.
  • Rest.
  • Write blog post.
  • Rest.
  • Take a shower.
  • Rest.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Rest.
  • Take another walk around the block.
  • Rest.

And....that will probably do it. We'll see.

Marco Rubio Is a Moron

| Mon May 18, 2015 11:51 AM EDT

Here's the latest from Florida wunderkind Marco Rubio:

Marco Rubio Struggles With Question on Iraq War

Under a barrage of questions from Chris Wallace of Fox News, Mr. Rubio repeatedly said “it was not a mistake” for President George W. Bush to order the invasion based on the intelligence he had at the time. But Mr. Rubio grew defensive as Mr. Wallace pressed him to say flatly whether he now believed the war was a mistake. Mr. Rubio chose instead to criticize the questions themselves, saying that in “the real world” presidents have to make decisions based on evidence presented to them at the time.

“It’s not a mistake — I still say it was not a mistake because the president was presented with intelligence that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, it was governed by a man who had committed atrocities in the past with weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Rubio said on “Fox News Sunday.”

A moment later, as Mr. Wallace tried to pin him down on his view, Mr. Rubio began to reply, “Based on what we know now, I think everyone agrees — ” but Mr. Wallace cut him off before he finished the thought.

“So was it a mistake now?” Mr. Wallace asked.

“I don’t understand the question you’re asking,” Mr. Rubio said.

The truth is that I don't care about Rubio's actual position on the Iraq War. The guy's trying to run on a platform of more-hawkish-than-thou, and that's pretty much all I need to know. Most of the time he sounds like a ten-year-old trying to sound tough in front of the older kids.

But I'm seriously beginning to wonder if he has a 3-digit IQ. After Jeb Bush's weeklong debacle trying to answer this question, every Republican candidate ought to have their own answer figured out. And not just figured out: by now their answers ought to be poll-tested, cut down into nice little sound bites, and so smoothly delivered you'd never even know this was a tricky issue in the first place.

But no. Rubio sounded like this question came as a total surprise. Seriously, Marco? This guy does not sound like he's ready for prime time.

No, the GOP Has Not Lost Its Lust for War

| Mon May 18, 2015 6:15 AM EDT
Sen. Marco Rubio favors the Liam Neeson "Taken" strategy: "We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you."

It seems like only yesterday that the conventional wisdom was that the Republican Party was on the cusp of a major shift in philosophy: The libertarians had made huge inroads into the party and the rank and file was very, very taken with their agenda—most especially their isolationist foreign policy. The fact that there are exactly two senators who might be called true libertarians, Rand Paul and Mike Lee, and no more than a handful in the House, did not strike political observers as evidence that Republican voters might not be quite as enthusiastic in this regard as they believed.

For a piece entitled "Has the Libertarian Moment Finally Arrived?" in the New York Times magazine last August, journalist Robert Draper spent some time with a few "libertarian hipsters." He was apparently smitten with their hot takes on various issues, and how they were changing the face of Republicanism as we know it. Of course, there's nothing new about libertarians and conservatives walking hand in hand on issues of taxation, regulation, and small government, which orbit the essential organizing principle of both movements. Where libertarians and Republicans disagree most is on social issues like abortion, marriage equality, and drug legalization. (The libertarian-ish GOPers have found a nice rhetorical dodge by falling back on the old confederate line that the "states should decide," which seems to get them off the hook with the Christian Right, who are happy to wage 50 smaller battles until they simply wear everyone down or the Rapture arrives, whichever comes first.)

This was now a return to "the real" GOP philosophy, as if the last 70 years of American imperialism never happened.

But what Draper and many other beltway wags insisted had changed among the GOP faithful was a new isolationism which was bringing the rank and file into the libertarian fold. They characterized this as a return to "the real" Republican philosophy, as if the last 70 years of American imperialism never happened. Evidently, the ideological north star of the GOP remains Robert Taft, despite the fact that 95 percent of the party faithful have never heard of him. After quoting Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying that we should cut costs by closing prisons, Draper asserted:

The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget. And deep concern over government surveillance looms as one of the few bipartisan sentiments in Washington…

The bipartisan "concern" over government surveillance is unfortunately overstated. Polling shows that it ebbs and flows depending on which party is doing it. And regardless of the sentiment, the default solution is to fiddle at the edges, legalize the worst of it, and call it "reform."

And while it is correct to say that Republicans loathe what they perceive as "federal profligacy," there is little real evidence that they think reigning in the military budget is the proper way to cut spending. Politico quizzed a group of activists and "thought leaders" in Iowa and new Hampshire recently on the subject who said that federal debt was their primary concern and suggested that cutting the defense budget had to be on the table. But polling tells a different story. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza noted this in the latest NBC-WSJ survey:

Republicans say that national security/terrorism is the single most important issue facing the country.

More than a quarter of Republicans (27 percent) chose that option, putting it ahead of "deficit and government spending" (24 percent) and, somewhat remarkably, "job creation and economic growth" (21 percent), which has long dominated as the top priority for voters of all partisan stripes.

Beyond those top line numbers, there are two other telling nuggets in the data.

The first is that Republican voters are twice as concerned as Democrats about national security and terrorism. In the NBC-WSJ survey, just 13 percent of Democrats named national security as the most pressing issue for the government; job creation and economic growth was far and away the biggest concern among Democrats (37 percent), with health care (17 percent) and climate change (15 percent) ranking ahead of national security and terrorism.

The second is that national security is a rapidly rising concern for Republicans. In NBC-WSJ poll data from March 2012, just eight percent of Republicans named it as the most important issue for the government to address.

The GOP has carefully laid the groundwork for a full-scale assault on Hillary Clinton on this front with their Benghazi crusade.

Cillizza reported that a "savvy Republican operative" explained that this threefold increase in concern can be attributed to the rise of ISIS and the movie American Sniper arousing the militarist urge in the GOP base. That may be true, but let's just say it was never exactly deeply buried. In the aftermath of the latest disaster of nationalist bloodlust, they kept a low profile just long enough for the rest of the country to get past the trauma of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But it didn't take ISIS or a Clint Eastwood movie for the right's patriotic fervor to return; it is one of the ties that binds the coalition together, and it's never dormant for long.

Moreover, no one should be surprised to see national security returning to the top of the agenda as Republicans set their sites on the first woman Democratic nominee for president. After all, they have spent many decades portraying the men of the Democratic Party as little better than schoolgirls on this front. You can be sure they will not forsake the tactic in the face of an actual woman candidate. Indeed, they've carefully laid the groundwork for a full-scale assault on Hillary Clinton's capabilities in this department with their Benghazi crusade. And as Heather Hurlburt pointed out recently in the American Prospect, there is good reason for Dems to be concerned here:

The majority of voters express equal confidence in men and women as leaders, but when national security is the issue, confidence in women's leadership declines. In a Pew poll in January, 37 percent of the respondents said that men do better than women in dealing with national security, while 56 percent said gender makes no difference. That was an improvement from decades past, but sobering when compared to the 73 percent who say gender is irrelevant to leadership on economic issues.

Yet, aside from the fact that the GOP base has been hawkish on national security for at least 70 years, and that their best opportunity to defeat the (presumed) first woman presidential candidate may lie in deep voter anxieties about a woman's ability to execute the role of commander in chief, we are to believe that Republicans are going to run in 2016 on an isolationist platform. If that's the case, the GOP presidential candidates didn't get the memo. As Karen Tumulty reported recently in the Washington Post:

As recently as two years ago, it appeared that the 2016 presidential contest was likely to become a monumental debate within the Republican Party over national security and foreign policy.

But not anymore. Although national security is Topic A for the growing field of candidates for the GOP nomination, it is becoming harder to discern any differences among them.

The contenders are a hawkish group—at least in their sound bites. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been the most skeptical of military intervention and government surveillance, but even he has proposed increasing defense spending and staged an event during his announcement tour in front of an aircraft carrier in South Carolina.

That's right, even Rand Paul is proposing to increase defense spending. And the rest of them are sounding more like cartoon movie heroes than presidential candidates on the stump (perhaps lending some support to that American Sniper theory). Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who just released his very muscular national security manifesto, the "Rubio Doctrine," probably wins the award for most hawkish speech thus far, thanks to this bit during a recent meeting of GOP candidates in South Carolina:

On our strategy on global jihadists and terrorists, I refer them to the movie Taken. Have you seen the movie Taken? Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: "We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you."

The crowd went wild. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker went in a different direction by first sharing his innermost thoughts:

National security is something you hear about. Safety is something you feel.

But lest he be construed as some kind of touchy feely, wimpy Wisconsin cheese-eater, he then brought the house down with a red-meat cri de coeur:

I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.

The crowd came to its feet and cheered.

Frankly, I feel a little bit sorry for poor old Rick Perry who, back in October, delivered what may be the most aggressive warhawk speech of the cycle so far—before anyone was paying attention. He spoke in London, where there's no shortage of national security anxiety these days:

What all of these various hate groups have in common is a disdain for, and a wish to destroy, our Western way of life.

And someone needs to tell them that the meeting has already been held. It was decided, democratically, long ago—and by the way through great and heroic sacrifice—that our societies will be governed by Western values and Western laws.

Among those values are openness and tolerance. But to every extremist, it has to be made clear: We will not allow you to exploit our tolerance, so that you can import your intolerance. We will not let you destroy our peace with your violent ideas. If you expect to live among us, and yet plan against us, to receive the protections and comforts of a free society, while showing none of its virtues or graces, then you can have our answer now: No, not on our watch!

You will live by exactly the standards that the rest of us live by. And if that comes as jarring news, then welcome to civilization.

(Prime Minister David Cameron seems to have taken notes: He was reportedly set to say pretty much the same thing in his Queen's speech, while adding some meat to the bone by proposing various kinds of government censorship and suppression of activity.)

It's obvious that the GOP is not making the big switch to isolationism any time soon. So what are all those libertarian Republicans going to do? Are they willing to suck it up and sign on to the GOP's imperial project, once again selling out their most deeply held views about America's place in the world for a couple of cheap tax breaks? It's not as if they have to. There is one candidate in the race who has a long record of antiwar positions and is fully onboard with shrinking the military industrial complex until it only needs a bathtub in which to float. He has no interest in worrying about American "prestige" around the world or spending any blood and treasure on behalf of commercial interests.

His name is Bernie Sanders in case anyone is wondering. He's even an Independent, one of the very few in the US Congress. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that any libertarians will join his campaign. Which is also quite telling. When it comes to making a choice between voting against war and voting for tax breaks for millionaires, tax breaks for millionaires wins every time. Their priorities have always been clear—and the leaders of the Republican Party know they'll never have to change a thing to buy their loyalty.