Live-Blogging the CNN Republican Presidential Debate

11:108 pm: Governor Walker’s claim to fame remains the fact that he broke the power of most public-employee unions in Blue Wisconsin, and that he recently made Wisconsin a “Right-to-Work” State in which workers in a trade aren’t automatically union members.

Scott Walker’s claim to distinction is that he is personally an agent of the unraveling of worker security in America.

11:04 pm: Dr. Carson closes by recalling having been a “radical Democrat” until he heard former California Governor Ronald Reagan speak.  He said Reagan “sounded logical,” and that he hoped he sounds “logical.”

He’s now a radical Conservative (he should probably mostly stick to medicine), but Dr. Carson doesn’t cause the Liberal Ironist’s spider sense to tingle.  He is politically naive, with very hard views and no government experience, and it is very difficult for me to believe that he could be a good President, but he is sincere and thinks before he speaks, and he knows how he sounds and doesn’t make it for show.

While he plays well with the Conservative base, he’s nothing like Donald Trump.

11:01 pm: Senator Rubio closes by talking about his heritage.  China.  Cuba.


He’s eloquent, but it’s not trite to observe that the World has changed.  There is a lot of politicized and institutionalized evil out there and in international politics; let’s see if Senator Rubio can move out of the Cold War binary thinking while maintaining his hawkish foreign policy liberalism.  That could be interesting.

11:01 pm: Governor Huckabee closes by hoping for an America in which abortion is as much an abhorred part of our past as slavery.  That will play well with the Pro-Life crowd; President George W. Bush used to invoke the Dredd Scott Decision as a way of condemning Roe v. Wade.

Governor Huckabee also wishes for a return to greater civility and respect; he’s too far gone to be the President who could give us that.

10:58 pm: As a lighthearted question to close-out the debate, the Republican hopefuls were all asked to give themselves Secret Service code-names.  Senator Paul the Libertarian proposed “Justice Never Sleeps.”

Brevity is the soul of wit, Senator: You’re supposed to arrive at 1 word, preferably a short one.

10:37 pm: Senator Rubio makes the same tired argument that we’ve always heard from Conservative opponents of gun control: Only law-abiding people follow the law, so gun control can never stop criminals.  The problem of gun violence in America, thus, must be…all of the problems in society.

Sadly, it seems that America has waay more social problems than the rest of the Western World (or East Asia) with their lower murder rates (and incidentally, much stricter gun control).

Yes, his answer to a general question about gun control was vacuous and it has been the Conservative refrain on this issue for a long generation while it has been repudiated empirically.  (Basic effective gun control by the States, as by other countries, is strongly associated with lower homicide and suicide rates overall.)  But Senator Rubio speaks so well.  I’m keeping an ironic eye on him.

10:27 pm: A question about the Federal laws against marijuana is addressed to Senator Paul.  He makes a good case about hypocrisy in politics and the War on Drugs.  He notes that 1 candidate onstage has admitted he smoked pot in high school–

–Oh, it was Governor Bush.  Anyway, Senator Paul notes that low-income and racial-minority and inner-city drug users who are caught by police tend to fall victim to mandatory-minimum drug sentencing while affluent or White kids don’t.  Senator Paul calls the War on Drugs immoral and unjust.

Governor Bush thinks that Colorado should be allowed to legalize marijuana for its own residents if they want that.  But drug use as an issue looks very different in Florida, with many scary cases of roving criminality and a lot of hard drug use.

Governor Christie defends limited decriminalization of marijuana, of which he was a relatively early adopter, and medical marijuana–but he adamantly resists drug decriminalization.  Paul cleverly doubles-down, insisting that enforcing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 over the wishes of Colorado which wants to legalize marijuana, violates the 10th Amendment, which reserves much statutory power “to the States respectively, or the the people.”  He’s right; the War on Drugs is authorized by an unconstitutional statute.

10:20 pm: Senator Cruz attacks Governor Bush for having previously supported Chief Justice Roberts, and for defending him now; Governor Bush quotes Cruz on having previously endorsed Roberts’ appointment to the Supreme Court; Cruz admits that he endorsed Roberts then but that he made a mistake.  I believe he’s now saying exactly what Governor Bush said about Roberts.

…The informational quality of this debate is frayed by the number of participants in it.

10:18 pm: Governor Bush avers that Supreme Court Chief Justice “John Roberts has made some good decisions, but he didn’t have the proven record” of Conservative jurisprudence that Republicans should have demanded of a Supreme Court appointee.  Chief Justice Roberts makes decisions at around the middle of the Supreme Court now; he is calling his brother’s more-famous Supreme Court appointee into question.

In good Liberal Ironist fashion, I think that the cases where Conservatives feel “betrayed” by Chief Justice Roberts–He is a high court judge, not their monkey–are exactly the cases where he proved his integrity as a judge and as a legal scholar…and as an umpire.

10:17 pm: Ms. Fiorina grandstands a bit trying to enumerate every aspect of her proposed defense policy–but  she ends on borrowed time on a strong note, saying that veterans of the United States Armed Forces are dying without getting the health care they are entitled to through Veterans Affairs.

10:14 pm: “There will always be a Bush or a Clinton if you want to go back to war in Iraq,” Senator Paul says, obviously allergic to all of the Neoconservatism on the stage around him.  Sometimes his indignation is easy to understand.

10:13 pm: Governor Walker insists that he will only deploy military boots on the ground in a war if our national security is at stake, and that if we commit to a war, our armed forces will have the full support of the public.  What our armed forces are going to need are the full support of *the administration,* and a public that will pay attention to the war they’re fighting–but it is good to hear that Governor Walker is saying.

10:07 pm: Governor Christie speaks with electric clarity about his experiences on and after September 11th.  He speaks at length and is allowed to finish.  He defends George W. Bush’s national security and foreign policy record with a fervor that exceeds even that used by his brother.

No mention of illegal roundups of Muslims in and outside of the United States, wrongful indefinite detentions including dozens of innocents, the use of torture, an EPA that lied to Ground Zero first-responders knowingly exposing them to toxic air and dust, the badly planned and entirely-unnecessary Iraq War, 4,487 dead American servicemen in Iraq, the Pakistani nuclear weapons technology auction, an utterly failed drug war in Afghanistan, the feckless appeasement of a nuclear North Korea, failure to deal with Iran in any way whatsoever…

Oh, right, George W. Bush’s Veterans Administration made veterans pay an unprecedented $250 copay for doctor appointments.  George W. Bush couldn’t even protect our veterans from a huge hike in their medical bills.

10:00 pm: Donald Trump claims to be the only Republican on the debate stage who was against the Iraq War all along; Senator Paul, who is an ardent non-interventionist, objects; he has to defer his chance to speak.

9:58 pm: Governor Bush is asked about his name; he says that he will in fact appoint some people from his brother’s administration, because a new President will have to do that.  That’s not really true, and besides that weak defense, bear in mind: Donald Rumsfeld, who was an awful Secretary of Defense, had “experience” going  back to the Nixon Administration.  Dick Cheney, who was an unprincipled and corrupt Vice President, was Bush’s father’s Secretary of Defense.

9:53 pm: Senator Rubio makes a hard-charging case that Donald Trump may not be sufficiently-versed in international politics to be President, invoking Trump’s confusion in an interview of a reference to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force with the Kurds of Iraq.  This is a hard-charging case…but not a strong one.  Donald Trump is a national embarrassment, but he made a very-credible case that he simply misheard his interviewer.

Where Senator Rubio, who is a foreign policy specialist in the Senate, should have pushed back harder was when Trump claimed that he could learn-up on international politics faster than any other candidate onstage if he won the Presidential nomination and the Election.  That’s nonsense.  Studying international politics and foreign relations is a vocation.  It is a calling.  It takes years, decades, to be an expert in international politics, and it does make a difference.

9:47 pm: Ms. Fiorina went a little further than the other Republican candidates have in attacking Secretary Clinton; she’s done this before.  I don’t know if she attacks Clinton with less ambivalence because she is also a woman…and I’m not particularly interested in that question.  I know that Ms. Fiorina wants to break into the mold of vacuous, angry Conservatism currently occupied by Trump, Governor Huckabee, and (with notably greater gentility) Dr. Carson.

She still wants to hold Secretary Clinton to account for the Benghazi attack in which 4 Americans died at a US Consulate in Libya; she should read 1 of the House Republicans’ several voracious investigations into the incident which have all cleared the former Secretary of State of any wrongdoing.

9:43 pm: Governor Walker notes that he is the only Republican Presidential prospect running this time who has publishes a plan for how to repeal “Obamacare,” the Democratic comprehensive health-care reform passed in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court twice since.

No applause from the audience; no defensive rejoinders from the other candidates.  Have Republicans finally given up?

No, there’s no way; former Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry recently called for the repeal of the 17th Amendment and making US Senators appointed by the States again.  Say what you will, Republicans don’t give up even when it’s the right thing to do.

9:42 pm: Senator Paul repeats his call for a 14.5% flat Federal income tax, which sounds almost within sight of being moderate compared to Governor Huckabee’s call for basing Federal revenues on a tax of goods purchases.

9:38 pm: Governor Huckabee is asked about having previously said that he is “disturbed” by the  low rate of taxation on hedge fund managers; he responds that we shouldn’t tax “producers” and calls for replacing the Federal income tax with “a tax on consumption.”  So, we’ve gone from Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax which split taxation among income and consumption…to a proposal for a tax on sales solely.  That’s incredibly regressive; the poor have to spend much or all of their income on necessary goods; they would pay Federal sales taxes where they currently get Federal tax rebates!  And this is the tax reform plan proposed by a mild-mannered former minister; that’s the power of being a Republican.

9:34 pm: Ms. Fiorina and Trump get into a fight over who was a better businessperson; Trump quotes a detractor of Fiorina’s; Fiorina dwells on Trump’s…several bankruptcies and what they did to his investors or partners.  She typifies Atlantic City, the old gambling resort city which was notoriously not a nice place to live and which is now decaying, as evidence of the Trump touch; Trump says it’s just a sign of the times and that everyone in business in Atlantic City is hurting now.

Wow, he got mad about that one.

Mercifully, Governor Christie calls this debate childish and self-involved, and calls for re-centering the debate on who is doing well for themselves on the middle- and working-classes, to applause.  That’s how you move in, Chris…

9:31 pm: “We must lead in this nation again.  Some tough calls must be made…” Ms. Fiorina says, burnishing her record as a CEO.  It really makes me feel odd hearing these businessmen talk as if their successes as businesspersons (which I don’t deny or begrudge) incur to them the leadership virtues we need in executive politicians.  That relationship is not established.  Just look at Donald Trump: There is a reason why a man who inherits a fortune from his father says whatever he likes whenever he likes, and an effective statesman does not.

9:27 pm: Carly Fiorina has said that Democrats don’t want immigration reform to go away “because they want it as an issue.”  For what it’s worth, she has just secured my contempt; she noted that President Obama entered office with large Congressional majorities, but she may not recall the 111th Congress, which was very productive yet in which Republicans voted against nearly every major bill in unison; having completed most of his first term agenda in his first 2 years, President Obama had no means of passing comprehensive immigration reform without going through Republican votes in the House since.

9:17 pm: Governor Bush and Senator Rubio both defend speaking Spanish to schoolchildren or prospective Hispanic voters, respectively, to engage them as Americans in whatever language they feel most-comfortable speaking.  They are not booed; actually, they get some applause.

Senator Rubio spoke about his grandfather coming to the United States as an exile from Communist Cuba, and telling his grandson how deeply he appreciates the United States, it’s democratic government, and its tradition of free enterprise–in Spanish.  It sounds good.  Pretty-much everything sounds good when Senator Rubio says it.  I think that “voice” will have staying power; I just don’t know when it will come of age and manifest.

9:15 pm: Governor Bush hit Donald Trump for implicating his wife, who is Mexican-American, in Governor Bush’s, I guess “soft” position on immigration reform.  Governor Bush asks Trump to apologize to his wife for involving her as an agent in the mudfest of the campaign; Trump avers that he’s heard many good things about Bush’s wife but that he doesn’t owe her an apology.

Wow, I bored myself writing that much about that.

9:13 pm: Dr. Carson comes up with his first step of a Plan to Keep all of the Mexicans Out: “A double-walled fence, with a road for easy access for law-enforcement,” as was established in Yuma County, Arizona.  He notes that this fence reduced illegal crossings by 97%.

Setting aside the issue of the fence, doesn’t Dr. Carson’s figure sidestep the fact that illegal migrants and the “Coyotes” that sometimes spirit them across the border simply moved to a less-guarded stretch of the border?  Shall we build the Great Wall?

Yes, that rhetorical question has been asked before.  I’m getting tired of hear Conservatives talk about building a wall, too.

9:10 pm: “First of all, I want to build a wall, a wall that works.  So important, and that’s a part of it.  Second, we have a lot of really bad dudes in this country.  My first day, they’re out of here…”

That’s Donald Trump responding to Governor Christie’s very-practical observation that there aren’t enough law-enforcement in the United States at all levels of government who could be spared to participate in the deportation of about 11 million illegal immigrants.  Seriously, Trump Republicans need to actually think about the things Donald Trumps says and ask themselves if they don’t think it sounds like nonsense.  Forget whether it’s profoundly offensive, because that obviously doesn’t bother them, but just that it’s nonsense.

9:07 pm: Ms. Fiorina shot back at Donald Trump for reducing her to “a beautiful woman” with understandable contempt under the circumstances, and a seemingly-lost Trump doubled-down, “I think she has a beautiful face, and that she is a beautiful woman.”

Fiorina flinched…I think.  I actually don’t find her particularly engaged in her surroundings.

And Trump always seems lost when he campaigns; it’s just that this time I think some of his support base could see it.

9:05 pm: Governor Walker tries to mildly 1-up Governor Bush by noting that he, “defunded Planned Parenthood, but in a Blue State.”

I agree with him that Wisconsin is a Blue State in Presidential politics, but it usually makes pundits’ and pollsters’ lists of swing States even now, because of its potential strategic value in many Republican electoral strategies.

9:04 pm: Donald Trump, who told us he’s confident he could get along a lot better with many World leaders than President Obama, just called North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Un “a maniac” in prime-time on CNN.

9:01 pm: Governor Christie and Ms. Fiorina have both called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to account for her association with Planned Parenthood, both referring to a heavily-edited video that misleadingly gave the impression that Planned Parenthood was illegally harvesting fetuses for organs.  Applause from the audience.

8:59 pm: Governor Christie identifies himself as “the first Pro-Life Governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade,” and says he defunded Planned Parenthood in his first budget.

Considering Christie entered office with about a 45% projected annual budget deficit, State government in New Jersey ran clear through the low-hanging fruit in budget cuts, and his cut of New Jersey’s contributions to Planned Parenthood might have meant anything, or nothing.

8:55 pm: Governor Bush says that if a Conservative county clerk finds processing the marriage licenses of gay couples contrary to her sacred moral principles, she shouldn’t have to work on them–but someone else in country government should be duly-deputized to do it in her place so that the civil rights of those couples are not impeded in any way.  This is the Utah Compromise on gay marriage rights, and it works.

8:54 pm: Governor Huckabee: “If the Court can just make a decision, and we all just surrender to it, what we have is what Jefferson called judicial tyranny.”

Many Southern politicians would have said exactly the same thing about Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, or Griswold v. Connecticut, or Roe v. Wade, or Lawrence v. Texas…and since he is speaking in response to the instance of a Kentucky county clerk refusing to process marriage licenses of gay couples in keeping with Obergefell v. Hodges, I stand by that observation as in-point, proportionate and fair.

8:52 pm: “This agreement trusts the Iranians to inspect themselves!  That makes no sense,” Senator Cruz says.  I agree, that doesn’t make sense; maybe he didn’t actually read the agreement or any of its constituting understandings, or maybe he doesn’t actually understand them.  That is not the agreement.

8:48 pm: Again, Senator Paul demonstrates a knowledge of Middle Eastern history that we should expect from a man who keeps it both physically and intellectually at a safe distance.  He calls both the Assad Family Regime of Syria (which drops barrel bombs on city streets because it’s an easier way to kill rebels) and the rebels in Syria evil; before the Islamic State reared its dark visage, before al-Qaeda franchised the Nusra Front in Syria, there was the secular Free Syrian Army.  Senator Paul simply says that if we had bombed Assad’s forces 3 years ago, that “ISIS would now be in Damascus.”  You can be serene in politics if you don’t have sufficient vision to know when we’ve missed our moment.

8:46 pm: Governor Huckabee pushes back against Senator Paul (and Governor Bush) in saying that a diplomatic agreement with Iran on unranium enrichment should at least be given a chance to work.  Huckabee mocks President Obama, who he says ” treats this agreement like the Magna Carta, while the Iranians treat it like toilet paper.”  He calls on all of his fellow Republican Presidential hopefuls to commit to tear up that agreement upon entering office.

That’s great; our allies would already have (happily) lifted the sanctions President Obama persuaded them to impose on Iran.

8:42 pm: Senator Paul criticizes Ms. Fiorina’s (and Governor Walker’s) call to break off relations with Russia, and takes the brave move of criticizing the call from the right to “tear up the (nuclear) agreement with Iran” upon electing a Republican President even though he intends to vote against the uranium-enrichment restriction agreement with Iran.

I’m not being ironic, that’s a brave move.  The Senator deftly moved past his old reputation as a foreign-policy isolationist, a brand he inherited from his father.

8:38 pm: “Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to, because the only way he will stop is if he senses strength from the other side,” Carly Fiorina says.  Having been advanced from the JV Debate to the prime-time event because so many Conservatives liked the cut of her jib, Ms. Fiorina’s own lack of political experience and expertise shows as much as Trump’s and Dr. Carson’s.  Our Presidents even “talked to” the premiers of the Soviet Union.  For all the geostrategic challenges we face today, I wouldn’t go back to George W. Bush’s foreign policy of “We don’t talk to bad guys” for anything.  President Obama hasn’t made any concession to President Putin without his eyes on his own strategic goals, and ultimately frustrated or not, he has made no concessions to President Putin that he isn’t in a position to rescind at his discretion.  Oh, and he’s talking to the man though he clearly doesn’t like him.

8:35 pm: Donald Trump, who has distinguished himself from all other Republican Presidential hopefuls by being far more-willing to insult other people at the first opportunity, just claimed that he would be able to get along better with many World leaders than the current President, “including Putin.”  He also complained about the state of our diplomacy with China and Mexico.  If he’s implying that he would conduct relations with Mexico better than President Obama, that’s just amazing.

8:33 pm: 3 hours of debate…It seems the Keystone Cops of journalism over at CNN can’t even start a Presidential Primary debate at the standard time for national primetime events.  The Liberal Ironist starts live-blogging now.

Happily, there’s still 3 hours to go.

Live-Blogging the First 2016 Republican Presidential Primary Debate

11:04 pm: “It’s over!  Relieved?  They don’t look relieved; they look like they’re saying, ‘Ugh, get me out of here!’ Hah hah hah!”  Megyn Kelly closes-out the debate.

11:02 pm: Governor Walker tells us that he destroyed unions in the birthplace of the progressive movement and gutted the University of Wisconsin system because he was concerned for his children’s future.  Well, Walker would win the election if it were decided by the US House of Representatives…

10:58 pm: …OK, Senator Paul closes his participation in the debate calling himself “a different kind of Republican.”  He speaks of his balanced budget proposal, which would slash or abolish programs that millions of minority voters depend on…and offers as compensation his concerns about police abuse of minorities in the inner city.  I don’t think he is going to outmaneuver the Democratic candidate on this issue in a general election, and I hope he will soon be more-prepared to discuss the particulars of these program cuts and how empowering they will be for the minority voters he is so eager to cultivate as Republicans…

10:55 pm: Dr. Carson speaks very eloquently about how we shouldn’t talk about racial disparities in America, which has become as solemn of a Republican refrain as anything.  I don’t know just how many anecdotes of police abuse and killing of unarmed Black men Dr. Carson and the other Republican Presidential hopefuls can countenance, but I’m sure they will abide the suffering of others with the same unmoved demeanor they are so proud of.

10:50 pm: Senator Cruz gets a question from a concerned (or maybe a very snarky) citizen about whether any of the candidates believe they have received word from God over what would be a priority for him as President; Cruz avers that he gets “a word from God every day, from the Bible.  And the Bible is the Word of God.”  Applause; the Christian Right is strong with this one.

Governor Kasich talks of his upbringing…and then says that “We’ve got to listen to other people,” and notes that America should be an exemplar of human rights.  He’s really serious about this kinder, gentler tone.

Governor Walker actually launches into Christian dogma.  He notes that he turned the other cheek to Liberal critics as a Conservative Governor of Wisconsin; what he doesn’t say as he invokes the Sermon on the Mount is that he told a man he thought was David Koch over the telephone that he had considered putting agents provocateurs into union protests to stir-up trouble from the police, but that he hadn’t gone ahead with it because he was concerned it might backfire.  That’s Scott Walker’s Christianity.

10:45 pm: Senator Paul is good at soapboxing about the national debt, but his inability to discuss it outside of sound bytes is…more-fascinating than infuriating.

10:42 pm: Governor Walker hits President Obama hard on a lack of support for Ukraine and Eastern Europe to guard against Russia, including the more-extensive deployment of George W. Bush’s missile defense.

In fairness to his Republican critics, President Obama’s overtures to Russia, which extended across 5 years, have been rendered a total failure as a result of the events of 2014 and our muted response to it.

10:39 pm: Senator Cruz actually believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran freed the U.S. Embassy hostages in 1981 on the day President Reagan was inaugurated because they were afraid of him; they actually decided to free the hostages at that point in order to give plausibility to the myth that their resistance brought down a U.S. President.

10:37 pm: What Donald Trump just said in criticism of President Obama’s proposed Iran nuclear agreement was too vacuous and dumb to discuss in particular.

10:31 pm: A concerned citizen asks, “What will you do to ensure that Christians are not prosecuted for speaking-out against gay marriage?”  Nothing has to be done to ensure this, as Obergefell v. Hodges will not cause this to happen.

Senator Paul makes the ill-conceived suggestion (Senator Paul is prone to ill-conceived suggestions) that the government should not be involved in regulating guns (He is desperate to assert himself in this debate!) or in marriage licensing.  You cannot remove government from marriage licensing; the courts have to rule on marital disputes, divorce, spousal rights, powers of attorney and inheritance and the like; what are we to do if this is not the subject of statute?

10:27 pm: Megyn Kelly notes Donald Trump’s past pro-choice stance on abortion and asks, “When did you become a Republican?”  Trump says his views have “evolved” (meaning, of course, that political circumstances have forced him to profess to believe something other than what he believes) on abortion.  He talks like a deprogrammed cultist, claiming that he lived somewhere where he was geographically surrounded by Democrats and that he is now coming to his senses.

I don’t think that anyone who is really listening to Donald Trump can really view the way he talks as the benefits of a lucid moment.

10:25 pm: Senator Rubio insists he doesn’t make exceptions for rape or incest victims in prohibiting abortion.  “I believe every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws…whether they have a birth certificate or not.”  Legal fetal personhood apparently has become the mainstream position of the Republican Party on abortion.  This would enjoin making abortion equivalent to murder in our laws; would these guys like to discuss the implications of this?

10:18 pm: Senator Paul criticizes President Obama for not “negotiating from a position of strength.”  Did he actually read the provisions for Iran’s uranium enrichment and monitoring?  It sure sounds like he didn’t.

Governor Huckabee accuses the Islamic Republic of Iran of genocidal intent towards Israel and an inflexible vendetta towards the United States.  As has previously been noted, his assumptions basically enjoin not only rejection of this nuclear refinement agreement with Iran, but any, and eventual war with Iran.  But at least we’re standing tall…

10:16 pm: Governor Walker is asked what comes next if we reject the Iran nuclear disarmament deal; he invokes his childhood memory of the 444 days American Embassy workers were held hostage in Iran following the 1979 Revolution.

10:14 pm: I’m going to ignore all of Governor Walker’s empty rhetoric about what we need to do to fix this country, and focus on the fact that he wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.  There it is: Republicans have reached the point where they feel safe militating to return us to the fundamental financial instability that distinguished the previous decade in this country.  The Koch Brothers have their knight-errant.

10:11 pm: Donald Trump declares that he has always tried to do his best by his companies, himself, his friends, his family, etc…and he notes that he has never personally declared bankruptcy.

Chris Wallace responds by noting that investors in Trump Entertainment Resorts in Atlantic City lost over $1 billion; Trump comes back by demonizing his own investors and noting that Chris Christie is the Governor of New Jersey!  Cheers and applause.

10:07 pm: Governor Huckabee is asked about his past criticism of Governor Christie’s proposal of raising the collection age of and means-testing Social Security.  Look, a policy debate!

Governor Huckabee proposes cutting Congressional benefits instead of Social Security benefits…If all you could cut after doing that were Social Security, you’d practically have to cut it just as much.

10:06 pm: Governor Christie proposes raising the collection age for Social Security (which is regressive because the wealthy live longer) as well as subjecting the program’s beneficiaries to progressive means-testing (which by definition is progressive).

10:03 pm: Jeb Bush has accused the President of taxing people’s aspirations.  Has he heard of the payroll tax cut? Republicans fought the extension of that in late-2010 in order to extend George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich!

He also accuses President Obama for fighting “the energy revolution in this country.”  He is clearly referring to the oil-drilling side of it and not the renewable energy side of it, for which President Obama is actually centrally-responsible.  Also, the drilling permits President Obama’s Department of the Interior has approved has been controversial in some places, and pretty continuous with George W. Bush’s promotion of more domestic oil and natural gas drilling.

10:01 pm: Dr. Carson accuses Hillary Clinton of following “the Saul Alinsky model” of taking advantage of “useful idiots,” asserting that “I don’t think that people are stupid,” and promising to “educate people” about how damaging the progressive Left (who they put in the White House by unambiguous margins twice in the past 8 years) is for America.

10:00 pm: Governor Kasich attributes the economic growth of the late-90s tech boom to a balanced Federal budget.  Things aren’t good for you just because they sound virtuous: Big Republican policy problem.

9:52 pm: Brett Baier asks Governor Bush about his own embrace of Common Core education reforms; many Republicans who know nothing whatsoever about Common Core “boo” him for it.  Governor Bush asserts the many unhelpful Conservative reforms he brought to Florida, such as school vouchers.  Senator Rubio, in response, warns that Federal guidelines always become Federal mandates; isn’t the Senate doing exactly the opposite right now in reforming the No Child Left Behind Act to remove unhelpful mandates?  Is Senator Rubio not going to vote for that reform, the way he usually doesn’t endorse legislation passing through that chamber?

9:52 pm: Dr. Carson just called for a “proportional” tax system: “You make $10 billion, you pay a billion; you make $10, you pay one.”

That is a powerful demonstration of Republican moral logic: A tax system that leaves one person with $9 billion and another person with $9 is a priori “fair,” if that is what the market provides for.

9:48 pm: Donald Trump parries a question about his money donations to the Clintons with surprising cleverness: “When they call, I give,” he says of all politicians.  He notes that he was able to get Hillary Clinton to come to his wedding because he had donated to the Clinton Foundation.  He calls it a broken system but is unapologetic about making use of it.  I think…he’s calling for taking private financing out of politics.  Republicans are usually in such denial about the corrupting influence of this exchange.

Ugh, I was just impressed by Donald Trump!

9:46 pm: Donald Trump is asked about his advocacy for Canadian-style single-payer health care…He first is careful to establish that he opposed the Iraq War…in 2004.  (The war was first discussed in 2002 and launched in March 2003).  Trump first notes that single-payer health care has worked great in other countries, but then calls for simply allowing Americans to buy insurance plans across State lines.

I think that is the only health care idea Republicans have had since early 2009.

9:45 pm: Ben Carson says “There is no such thing as a politically-correct war,” to some applause…I think he is saying he doesn’t care about war crimes.

9:43 pm: Having been asked to discuss his support, knowing what he knows now, for his brother’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq, Florida Governor Jeb Bush blames President Obama for pulling  our occupation force out of that country…8 1/2 years after that war of choice was initiated.  What a weak argument just to defend his family’s name.

9:41 pm: Ted Cruz grandstands: “…If you wage jihad against the United States of America, you are signing your own death warrant!”  Didn’t a Democratic President, whom Senator Cruz offers up for mockery now, actually launch the raid that killed the terrorist bin-Laden?  Senator Cruz calls for ending citizenship for suspected terrorists (wow, due process? no?) and celebrates General al-Sisi, the Egyptian dictator.  Does he have anything to say about the relationship between Egyptian domestic politics and its anti-terror policy?  Is that fair to ask?

9:37 pm: “I will make no apology about protecting the lives of Americans,” Governor Christie says.  He speaks in defense of the NSA’s telecommunications data-canvassing programs.

Senator Paul angrily opposes his response.  He shouts his consternation the way I imagined the Founding Fathers did; Governor Christie tells him it’s easy to inveigh that way in a Senate subcommittee hearing.  Senator Paul fires back that “I don’t trust President Obama with our records.”  He sounds a bit like the town crank; he attacks Governor Christie for hugging President Obama.  (That would be after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Coast.)  These 2 men are trying to knock each other out tonight, I think.

9:35 pm: “President Obama has talked about ‘fundamentally changing this country,'” Senator Cruz says.  Noting that “There are over 7 billion people around the World,” he essentially preaches fear of immigration and also closes the door on immigration reform, restating his opposition to the Gang of 8 Senate immigration reform agreement.

9:32 pm: Senator Rubio says “America is the most-generous nation in the World to immigrants.”  I don’t think that’s true anymore by any quantitative benchmark.  Rubio means well in saying this, but it is at this point somewhere between a myth and a falsehood.  He notes that lawful immigrants who have had applications in processing for 15 years have come to his office desperately asking for help.  The status quo on immigration is an outrage; how can we restrict immigration further?

Governor Walker immediately inveighs against “amnesty” and essentially closes the door to immigration reform; I don’t think we have to worry about him winning the election, though talk like that might be enough to make him the Republican nominee.

9:30 pm: Chris Wallace asks John Kasich about Trump’s line of argument (why?), and Kasich gives Trump credit for “touching a nerve”–and then launches into a discussion of his Congressional record (That’s right, Governor Kasich served in Congress–and worked for FOX News!–before becoming Governor of a must-win swing State for the Republicans).

9:24 pm: Chris Wallace asks Donald Trump about his claim that the Mexican government has intentionally sent “criminals, rapists, drug dealers” across the U.S. Border.  He asks for evidence of this.

Donald Trump claims victory by default by making the assumption that this…issue has only been raised during the Debate because he had the…courage to bring it up during his candidacy announcement.

Chris Wallace gives Trump an additional 30 seconds of debate time in order to actually provide evidence; Trump uses this time to grandstand further.

9:20 pm: Megyn Kelly asks Governor John Kasich of Ohio about his justification of embracing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion by invoking St. Peter.  She asks whether he will “invoke St. Peter to expand every government program.”  Kasich justifies his Medicaid expansion…by actually discussing it on its particulars.  He also champions his record of fiscal management and tax cutting in Ohio.

Kelly used a popular line of argument in Republican politics: Isn’t any justification of the expansion of a government program inherently-dangerous, because it might be used again?  The fundamental lack of trust Conservatives seem to have in the ability of human beings to make pragmatic distinctions is very telling, I think.

9:18 pm: Governor Huckabee has declared that “we know” that human personhood is established at the moment of conception because we know that a fertilized zygote has the same “DNA signature” as a born human being…All I think we know at this point is that we can count on Governor Huckabee to demonstrate the value of argumentative fallacy to ideological advocacy.

9:15 pm: Governor Christie is asked if he is really willing to run on his record in New Jersey.  He responds, “You should see how it looked when I got there.”  …I’m giving him that one; New Jersey’s fiscal shape was almost catastrophic when Christie entered office in 2010.  He has at least elevated New Jersey’s fiscal shape to merely-bad.  But I think one of the considerable strikes against Christie will be controversy over the details of how Christie managed to tide that State’s budgets over.

9:13 pm: Chris Wallace asks Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) how he can hope to win a Presidential Election when he is such a divisive figure.  Cruz’s response is to equate bipartisan compromise with corruption in Washington, DC.  This is the caliber of insight I expect to hear from Senator Cruz, and I’ve given it too much time already.

9:12 pm: “I don’t have time for total political correctness.”  Donald Trump is not viewed with skepticism because he doesn’t have time to be politically-correct; he is viewed with skepticism because he doesn’t have time to think…either before speaking or upon what he considers reflection.

9:08 pm: Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) connects with the audience early.  He actually managed to leverage his charisma in order to make observations about current economic insecurities.  He noted that is the largest domestic retailer but has no store locations, and asked, “How is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about the problem of student loans when I held over $100,000 in student loan debt just 4 years ago?”  Tonight might be the Senator’s breakout opportunity.

9:05 pm: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) gets the dig in on Donald Trump for giving money to the Clintons (oops!) first.  Senator Paul can attack other candidates for “buying politicians,” since he hasn’t demonstrated his fundraising prowess in this field…

9:04 pm: Brett Baier asks if any of the 10 Republican Presidential prospects will not pledge tonight that they can support the eventual 2016 Republican nominee (as 9 of them will eventually be asked to do).  Only Donald Trump raises his hand, to a chorus of boos.

9:03 pm: “…(S)omewhere between a LeBron James dunk, and the Cleveland Public Library across the street: That is the sort of response we are looking for.”  Brett Baier going for the Cleveland local flavor!

9:02 pm: Looney Tune Donald Trump, who made a name for himself in politics by denying the current President’s American birth, is positioned at the center of the debate stage because he’s currently first-ranked among Republicans in nationwide polling.  I suppose that’s as fair of a means of placement as any; it is also madness.

9:00 pm: Megyn Kelly made jokes about the 10 top-polling 2016 Republican Presidential prospects looking shy onstage; is complying in humiliation part of the character test FOX News wants to subject a field of Presidential candidates to?

…Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker actually did look shy.

8:55 pm: The Liberal Ironist isn’t even morbidly-curious; he’s just curious.  I really don’t know what to expect tonight.  Some of these guys–There are a lot of them, and there are non-politicians who are constitutionally-incapable of being good Presidents but there are no women–have talked a little smack about the others, but many of them have not interacted together in a major national forum.  As Chris Wallace just noted, they finally have the opportunity to meet one another.  “It’s part of the great American process,” as he calls it.

He’s right; this should be hilarious.

Equivocation is Denial: The Armenian Genocide

On this date 100 years ago, Talaat Pasha, Interior Minister to the Ottoman Empire, began hatching a plan for mass deportations and, where that was not convenient, targeted executions of Ottoman Armenians.  Over the next year and a half, the Armenians of eastern Anatolia, an ethnic group that had been native to that region for thousands of years, were rounded-up and death-marched into the Syrian desert.  No water was provided to them, and certain Kurdish hill tribes were apparently commissioned to harass the Armenians on their forced march, robbing and murdering unarmed civilians and kidnapping or gang-raping younger women.
The rationale for this genocide, initiated by the Ottoman Empire’s radical nationalist government, was the leaders’ own belief that Ottoman Armenians were loyal to their fellow Orthodox Christians in the Russian Empire.  Aside from 1 insurrection in a city in eastern Anatolia earlier that year, there wasn’t even circumstantial evidence of this; most Armenians by all accounts considered themselves Ottoman citizens, which they were under the law.
Many young Armenian men, at the urging of their religious and municipal leaders, had enlisted in the Ottoman Army; these men were quietly pulled from their units and executed.  Though the larger Armenian population of Constantinople was left alone (the government’s sole official concession to mercy, made due to the greater visibility of events in that city), prominent members of the Armenian community in the capital city were also executed as suspected agitators.
Djemal Pasha, the Governor of Syria and Minister of the Ottoman Navy and himself a part of Turkey’s ruling triumvirate, violated these genocidal directives and allowed fleeing Armenians to settle in Syria and Lebanon–though he charged his Armenian countrymen for the luxury.
In a year and a half of systematically unsparing murder and manslaughter, out of a prewar Ottoman Armenian population of about 2 million, 1 million-1.4 million were killed with several hundred thousand survivors each in Constantinople, Syria and Lebanon, and what remained of Armenia.  Not only was this a textbook case of genocide, but it was used by Adolf Hitler as a model for his rationale that genocide was a serious option that could be pursued with impunity.
The record of the genocide of Armenians perpetrated by the small directing faction of the Committee of Union and Progress government of the Ottoman Empire, initiated 100 years ago today, was roundly-corroborated, by shocked American nationals, the New York Times and even its perpetrators.  But due to politics and incessant angry denial by all Turkish governments since, discussion of this genocide is inherently “controversial.”
This recent Washington Post article offers some compelling if abbreviated American accounts of what happened in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1916, but in a resigned nod to politics, its headline is strangely coy.  There is no credible grounds for debate over what happened in Ottoman Armenia, only an acknowledgment of what happened and politically-driven genocide denial, which every Turkish government down to that of the current thuggish and authoritarian Islamist President has now studiously maintained for 100 years.
Some have gotten this call right and have stood-up to the loudest and most-monotonous voices on this subject, which seem to be those of the Turkish government; the German President and Speaker of Parliament and Pope Francis seem to be among them.  So far, President Obama, notoriously taciturn regarding his sentiments on international politics, has not.
A article that succinctly covers both the incident of the Armenian Genocide, or Aghet, and rejects equivocation about the campaign of murder by the Three Pashas, nonetheless arrives at an odd explanation of modern Turkey’s ongoing denial, which it attributes to complicity of the Kemalist government which created modern Turkey with the genocide.  To the best of my knowledge, this is actually an erroneous and misleading association (though it doesn’t change the fact that culpability for denial of the Armenian Genocide extends to the first government of modern Turkey).
The Liberal Ironist thinks that official denial of the Armenian Genocide has less to do with Turkey’s people looking backwards than with Turkey’s leaders continually calculating in the present.  In spite of its current President’s best efforts, Turkey still has the trappings of a modern democracy–but it hasn’t quite emerged from its authoritarian shadow in 1 of the most militarily-contested regions of the World, and has also been a consistently-important geostrategic player in the Middle East in spite of the loss of its empire.  A generation of rapid economic development, its founding NATO membership, relatively large military and usual political stability have, if anything, made it more-important in its region today.  And whenever the subject has left the tips of other statesmens’ tongues, Turkey’s political leaders have cannily played-up their denial of this model genocide as such.  “Fog of war,” they say.  “A lot of people died in our country during World War I, not just Christians,” they say.  “No one really knows what happened.”  This totemic unaccountability for the most-basic transgression of its purpose a state can exhibit has provided Turkey’s leaders a sound barometer of their leverage over their allies for a century.

Live-Blogging the Republican Response to the 2015 State of the Union Address

10:36 pm: The Republican Response to the State of the Union Address was surprisingly cautious.  It was mostly deferential aside from yet-another call to repeal the Affordable Care Act and predictable but terse rhetoric about Executive overreach.  The response was surprisingly light on the substance; I think national Republican leaders were very eager to avoid the reputation for partisan hostility they have reinforced over the past generation, to leave plausible space to win the President’s assent on some of their bills, and possibly to stay out of the way of the many, fractious Republican Presidential hopefuls.

10:33 pm: “We’ll also keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that has hurt so many American families.”  Hurt them with less-costly and more-comprehensive health care than they’ve ever had in their lives, does it?  I find that increasingly unlikely, not just because President Obama could veto any such proposal over the next 2 years if it somehow survived a filibuster, but because Republicans truly have no plan for what to replace the Affordable Care Act with, and probably never will.

Also, brief boilerplate about fighting President Obama’s Executive orders; court challenges may restrain some parts of certain of these Executive orders, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Congress fails to do anything about them.

10:31 pm: “There’s a lot we can achieve if we work together.”  Free trade with Europe and East Asia; reform of the tax code focusing on eliminating many deductions and credits and lowering overall tax rates.

The President is given credit for supporting these measures in principle and asked to work with the Republican Congress on them.  So far, the speech is giving the President a lot of slack for an opposition response to the State of the Union Address.

10:28 pm: Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a Senate freshman of the large 2014 Republican cohort, recalls wearing breadbags on her feet in the place of viable footwear.  This approach is a gamble, but a Conservative who comes from poverty probably gets a longer rope with the crowd.

10:27 pm: “Rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities. I want to talk to you about the new Republican Congress you just elected.”

…OK, interesting approach…

10:26 pm: “Good evening.  I’m Joni Ernst.”


Why shouldn’t I give equal time?  Republicans have a vision, too…and they’re probably pretty ticked right now.

Live-Blogging the 2015 State of the Union Address

10:10 pm: President Obama notes that he wants our children to grow up knowing that “This is not just a collection of Red States and Blue States; it is the United States of America.”  We’ve probably all heard that one before; the mere speaking of it isn’t substantial…but many Democrats rise to their feet in applause while Republicans are largely silent and still.  Do Republicans want to separate?

10:07 pm: “I have no more campaigns left to run–”

(thunderous applause from the Republican side)

“…I know because I won both of them.” (the President laughs)

10:06 pm: Mention of excessive police use of force and protests in Ferguson and New York City.  Oh boy.

Democrats quickly rise to a standing ovation at the mention of reform of the criminal justice system; Republicans applaud and mostly remain seated; some actually rise to their feet.

10:00 pm: “How ironic, the pundits say, that we seem more divided than ever,” 6 years into the supposedly post-partisan Obama Presidency, the President says.  “I still believe that we are 1 people.  I still believe that we can do great things, even when the odds are long.  I believe this because, over and over in my 6 years in this office I have seen Americans at their best.”  Americans are increasingly at their best, he declines to note, in cultural silos.  Are we one people if we increasingly unconsciously cluster with people who share our perceptions and values?  We’ve lived through 6 years in which the 2 parties in Washington, DC have worked together about as little as was possible in order to get whatever they could on those terms.

9:58 pm: I remember President Obama in mid-2013 saying “I welcome this debate” over NSA surveillance methods leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden, who soon thereafter defected to Russia.  It’s worth noting that the President made no effort to have that conversation until an unsurprising but embarrassing leak forced him to.

9:54 pm: The President invokes the universal consensus of the scientific community and many other experts to say that “…climate change poses an immediate threat to our national security,” and that “We should start acting like it.”  He also notes the agreement he struck late last year with China; Democrats stand and applaud all this; Republicans sit with their arms tightly folded.  “National security” was his strongest ask; so, there we have Internet security and global warming as 2 now-partisan issues to which Republicans’ commitment to national security does not extend.

9:52 pm: The President calls for a comprehensive approach to protect commercial and national security assets (and, you know, people) from hackers on the Internet.  Republicans in the Senate filibustered the last attempt at an Internet security bill without giving a reason for it.  I believe based both on what he was saying about the bill at the time and his own national security credentials, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) may be able to explain more…

9:48 pm: The President notes without much elaboration that the trade and diplomatic embargo against Cuba has achieved nothing and that it is time to embrace Cuba as a neighboring country.

9:47 pm: “Mr. Putin’s display of aggression was supposed to be a masterful show of strategy and strength–That’s what I heard from some people.”  There is some mild gloating about Russia’s disastrous diplomatic isolation and unfolding financial collapse.  “This is how America leads: Not by bluster…”  This is an example of our President at his best: No line-drawing, no sloganeering, less talking and more communication.  Many have called for strident gestures against Russia; they would have done no better.  I hope George W. Bush is listening; he can see how unfit he was for this role.

9:45 pm: The President gets fairly broad applause when he affirms his commitment to take actions against Islamist terrorism.  NSA surveillance methods and the use of drones seems to have had its 15 minutes of Luke Skywalker talk.

9:42 pm: This for me is one of the most-revealing moments of the evening: “Let’s simplify (the tax code) so that a small business owner can file her taxes based upon her bank statement rather than the number of tax lawyers she can hire.”  Almost no Republicans applaud the suggestion; some of them are shaking their heads!  A simplified tax code that would remove unhelpful deductions and credits was supposed to be one of their most-principled causes, and for some reason they can’t make a gesture of approval for it when it’s articulated that way.

9:40 pm: A call for more-convenient and personalized information technology in health care available to patients, so as to lead to more-informed decision-making about lifestyle and treatment courses, gets bipartisan applause.  It isn’t just window-dressing, if it leads to actual implementation.  Better access to comprehensive health care information for either doctors, physicians’ assistants or patients can save lives.

9:38 pm: President Obama spoke-up for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a planning collaboration aimed at bringing free trade around the Pacific Rim: Republicans give a standing ovation, Democrats sit down!

9:35 pm: “So, to every CEO in America, let say tonight: If you want to get the job done, and get it done right, hire a veteran.”  From jobs programs to increased counseling and Veterans Affairs spending and scrutiny, President Obama’s long effort to improve the often fragile lives of veterans of the US Armed Forces has gone largely unnoticed.  It’s a small indignity following the outrage of the way so many of our veterans of this generation are living.

9:32 pm: President Obama repeats his plan for free community college for students who maintain a certain GPA and plans to graduate on-time.  He notes that State and local governments are supposed to play (pay) a part in the plan, and that both Republican Tennessee and Democratic Chicago are already doing their part.  This proposal actually gets as much applause from Republicans as it does from Democrats; there might actually be political and budgetary slack to do this in Congress.

9:30 pm: 20 minutes in, the President says, “We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give them more of a voice.”  The fact is that the decline of labor unions has occurred more because of economic changes than because of government discouragement in places like Wisconsin and Michigan.  The decline of labor unions really came first.

9:25 pm: “We set-up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid…We set-up schools…the Internet.   That’s what middle-class economics is: Everyone gets ahead.  Everyone pays their fair share, everyone plays by the same rules…” *applause*

The President rolls into the idea of an expansion of middle-class and working-class tax deductions and credits (paid for through higher taxes on the capital gains of the rich).  Also, “It’s time we stop treating child care like a side issue, or a ‘womens’ issue,’ and treat it like the national economic priority it is for all of us.”  $3,000 per child annual expansion of the child tax credit.

The President notes that the United States is the only developed country on Earth that doesn’t have paid maternity leave or paid sick leave as a requirement of the law.  43 million Americans don’t have paid sick leave.

Mostly silence from the Republicans; how exactly are Republicans going to respond to this?  Are they confident that a message of simplifying the tax code and lowering tax rates (starting at the top) is going to resonate as well?

9:20 pm: President Obama notes that the deficit has shrunk considerably on his watch, the economy has grown, the stock market has grown rampantly, and that millions more Americans have health insurance since 2010.  “That’s good news, people,” the President says to laughter from the Democratic side of the House chamber.  There is icy silence and stillness from the Republicans.  It must be really awkward for them, after 6 straight years of doomsaying, to have accurately called nothing about what would happen in that time.

Republicans in Congress have no accomplishments to point to other than some budget cuts, and have probably said nothing that had any bearing on the course of the past 6 years.  Think about that.

9:17 pm: “It is amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to.  We are a strong, tight-knit family that has been through some very hard times…We are a strong, tight-knit family that has been through some very hard times…”  The President has used the typical SOTU human interest story in a different way; it’s a little disarming, after years of partisanship and even the President’s recent defiance of a Republican Congress on multiple fronts, to see the deeply and narrowly divided American public referred to as a “tight-knit family.”  It sounds so nice until you remember it’s just a speech.

9:15 pm: President Obama has claimed the United States has more freedom to chart its future course than any other country on Earth.

9:12 pm: “Our economy is growing jobs at the fastest pace since 1999…Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was during the financial crisis.”  This is intended to serve as the groundwork for the discussion of wealth inequality, more or less: Corporations and other big employers are literally putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to their prognosis of our economic recovery; they just aren’t putting enough of it there.  The tide is coming in without the boats, will be his position.

9:10 pm: “Members of Congress, I have the distinct honor and high privilege of presenting to you the President of the United States.”  I give House Speaker John Boehner credit for his Ohio nice; that introduction had some feeling to it.

9:09 pm: (I’m not going to speculate and prognosticate about the next 2 years without any prompting from anyone whatsoever.)  You have the television news to do that.)

9:06 pm: “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!”  We’re running 6 minutes late; happily, I’m not superstitious.

It’s 2015: No hoverboards, no flying cars, no self-drying clothes.  No bipartisan middle ground to be had in Washington, DC.  The President is already committed to come out swinging for income inequality: Increase Federal spending broadly, raise taxes on the rich to cut them on the middle class and the working class.  Is this the start of negotiations or a declaration of war?  All we have in order to determine, or even to find whether Democrats and Republicans in Washington themselves know, is their language and gestures.  Junkies, stay tuned…

Live-Blogging the 2014 State of the Union Address

I know people who insist on the irrelevance of State of the Union Addresses.  As far as I’m concerned, which measures of the Address lead to legislation, and which do not, tell us as much about the state of play in American politics as anything.  Non-action on an issue, or specific themes which the opposition party raises during their rebuttal speech, also raises the pertinent questions.  I for one want to know what the President hopes to achieve during the calendar year.  Even if, as was the case with President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, he hopes in part that his agenda will contribute to the alienation of the opposition party, the issues he raises and the frame he uses tells you a lot about what he believes about the disposition of the opposition party, and of the sentiments and perceptions of the country.

For what it’s worth, I sincerely thought Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers would have more to say, whether attacking President Obama’s proposals (some of which she had plenty of time to anticipate) or offering an alternative agenda, which is what a Republican Governor would have had no trouble doing.  This was a shallow, disappointing Republican Response.  The punditry is largely harping on the same point: To a surprising extent, McMorris Rodgers simply failed to propose real policy goals.

10:38 pm: McMorris Rodgers gives us an anecdote about a Washington constituent whose health insurance premiums rose $700–an extreme case.  Interestingly, she doesn’t mention whether less-expensive health insurance was available to the woman she invoked through the Washington State health insurance exchange!  Republicans continue to be intellectually paralyzed by health care issues since passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit in 2003.

10:35 pm: McMorris Rodgers mentions her son who was diagnosed in the womb with down syndrome.  She says that she and her husband saw potential, that they appreciate the value of each and every human life.  That’s some interesting dog-whistle politics for invoking the “pro-life” movement during a response to a State of the Union Address that was entirely focused on bread-and-butter issues.

10:34 pm: Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers says the Republican goal is “A Washington that plays by the same rules that you do!”  So, that’s why the Republicans are trying to starve the Federal Government of cash and telling everyone to be afraid of the future.

10:31 pm: Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), a Conservative footsoldier in the House of Representatives, delivers the Republican Response to the State of the Union Address:

10:20 pm: The President refrains on our well-trodden differences, but notes that these differences haven’t stopped us from fighting tyranny abroad and ending injustices at home.  The speech closes, coming in at 55 minutes.  I wonder if insisting that our differences haven’t gotten the better of our moral sense is the right way to close.  It would raise some grim thoughts in future readings if there is no action on these policy priorities again.

10:18 pm: Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) gives the wounded veteran a thumbs-up during his extended applause.  Just a small reminder that he might in fact want to run for President.

10:14 pm: It’s an interesting tradition of State of the Union Address that the President picks out ordinary citizens who have done something extraordinary in order to compose a narrative of where America stands.  Presidential candidates will point to people who need help, or who are indignant; a President will find examples of strength, people who the national audience will want to see succeed and whose account sometimes challenges one’s perspective.  Tonight he mentioned a Midwestern small businessman who raised his workers’ pay to $10 an hour on his own motion, and a severely-wounded recent war veteran whose rehabilitation progresses steadily.

10:09 pm: A plea to Congress to allow talks with Iran to end its independent uranium-enrichment program.  Critics of President Obama’s position that talks should be allowed to proceed seem to forget that President W. Bush’s paralysis over Iran in his 2nd term–an outgrowth of his realization that he was unwilling to bear the heavy cost of going to war with Iran–was pathetic to behold.  Talks with Iran were the only policy to proceed with under these circumstances, and they were unprecedented in over 30 years of icy tension with the World’s first Islamist revolutionary state.

10:06 pm: President Obama insists on his faith in the international community’s capacity to achieve a lasting peace, both for the people of war-torn Syria and in the Israel-Palestine dispute.  Those are the right conflicts to mention and decry in such a speech, but the Palestinian Territories have been under IDF occupation for about 47 years now; the best that can be said for our non-involvement in Syria’s civil war and all the harm it has enabled is that it has left the door open for international action to dispose of Syria’s large chemical weapons stockpile, and to provide emergency food and medical assistance to some of the Syrian populations that have been dispossessed and wounded by their near-3-year-old civil war.

10:03 pm: We’re into the part of the speech where the President defends his policies on drone attacks on terrorists and NSA surveillance methods.

As an addendum to the last point, the President defended the Affordable Care Act on very general terms just now.  He had no reason not to, and I’m convinced that he’s speaking from the heart in defending his best-known law.  (That would be “Obamacare,” for those who have never heard it called any other name.)  I’m convinced that continuing opposition to the Affordable Care Act, now that new health insurance policies conforming to the law are in place, and now that most health insurance exchanges are working well, and with the Act’s expansion of Medicaid being hugely popular, will be politically harmful to the Republicans.

9:55 pm: “We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.”  The President notes the attendance of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a popular Democratic Governor of a very Red State.  “I did not get my highest vote totals in Kentucky,” the President says in a massive euphemism.  Governor Beshear very eagerly embraced both a Commonwealth-based health insurance exchange and the Medicaid expansion offered through the Affordable Care Act.

9:51 pm: “Let’s give America a raise.”  Raising the minimum wage is very popular with the public.  We may have called the President’s efforts to create an “everyone versus House Republicans” frame in national politics unsuccessful prematurely.  The issues he’s emphasizing this year are a little less recognizably partisan and more-popular with the public than last year.

9:50 pm: President Obama notes that, adjusted for inflation, the value of the Federal minimum wage is more than 20% yes than it was when Ronald Reagan was President.

9:49 pm: The President notes he asked Congress to raise the minimum wage a year ago, and that 5 States have raised their own minimum wage.  He also tells us that he will pass an Executive order to raise the minimum wage for Federal Government contractors to $10 an hour.  He is harping on the need to go around Congress, or at least House Republicans.

9:47 pm: “It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.”  Income inequality between the sexes, embarrassingly, continues at a wider than 5:4 ratio for the same work.  Republicans applaud, perfunctorily.

9:44 pm: The President notes that Federal Government collaboration with Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon will bring broadband Internet access to 20 million more American students.  A friend watching the debate with me noted that it is currently easier to get corporations to move on infrastructure development (which they are notoriously reticent to invest in) than the Federal Government.

9:40 pm: The President calls on Congress (that is, Congressional Republicans) to do more to give the long-term unemployed “a fair chance.”  Our high rate of long-term unemployment, of course, is the reason the maintenance of what is technically a temporary extension of Federally-funded long-term unemployment insurance is a salient issue.  Extended unemployment insurance was a component of the Stimulus–and like many individual parts of both the Stimulus and the Affordable Care Act, it is very popular with the public.  Much like their apparently about-face on immigration reform, the apparent Republican collapse on resisting the extension of unemployment insurance suggests that Republicans perceive how vulnerable they are in continuing to resist the President.

9:35 pm: “Let’s get immigration reform done this year.  Let’s get it done; it’s time.”  No more needs to be said in this speech.  That’s in part because former President George W. Bush eagerly talked-up similar immigration policy liberalization during the 2004 Presidential Election, and made an honest push to achieve it in his 2nd term that ultimately went nowhere.  President Obama’s sponsorship of the DREAM Act during the 111th Congress was 1 of just 2 policy failures from his first 2 years.  The Senate passed its own immigration reform bill by about 2-to-1 last year, but the House refused to work on it.  Now the far more-Conservative House is working on its own immigration reform proposal, and it is much closer to the Senate bill than anyone had expected; President Obama probably doesn’t want to jinx this positive development by involving himself in a discussion of the particular measures too deeply.

9:33 pm: In a discussion of industrial pollution and global warming, President Obama notes that the United States has done more in recent years than any other country to control its carbon emissions.  This in part is probably an effect of the many investments in energy efficiency and cleaner power sources made by the woefully under-appreciated 2009 Stimulus.

9:31 pm: The President promises to use Federal funds to protect more wilderness lands.  I was a little surprised to hear that one; President Clinton had made big strides in preserving Federal lands, and while George W. Bush did not, he didn’t fight those National Forest, Park or Monument dedications.  In a time of prolonged economic stagnation, land preservation by the Federal Government has taken a back seat, including to other environmental priorities.

9:29 pm: “Remember, China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines; neither should we.”  This smart transition links the President’s discussions of trade integration and Federal funding for science and technological research.  He notes that Google and smart phones were made possible because of generous Federal research funding.  These Federal research grants have been squeezed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and subsequent sequestration budget cuts.

9:26 pm: President Obama proposes closing tax loopholes for corporations that outsource jobs, and to create tax incentives for businesses that create jobs inside the United States.  Again, he raised this issue back during the 2004 Democratic National Convention: Depressing.  Congressional Republicans have thus far resisted the elimination of any corporate tax deductions.

9:24 pm: President Obama talks-up college access for those of limited means.  It may encourage more if he talks about the efforts of his administration to publicize rankings of the job prospects of the graduates of various colleges and universities, and to gear university programs towards professional skills.

9:21 pm: “Too many Americans are working harder just to get by, not just to get ahead.”  If you consider that then-Senator Obama’s Keynote Speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention contained similar themes, you might feel depressed.

9:18 pm: The President notes that many investment analysts no longer rank China as the best country to invest in.  That’s partly because debt-financed capital spending in China has gone on too long; not only are current municipal deficits in China not sustainable over the long-term, but capital spending has become more and more-infamously dominated by make-work projects not always rationally scaled to growth.  It is also true that US competitiveness is improving, but there is a warning sign in the minor keys now being struck in China’s development jingle.

9:16 pm: “Today in America, a teacher spent more time with a student who needed it…An entrepreneur flicked the lights on at her tech startup…An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best-made cars in the world…A rural doctor gave a child the first prescription for asthma that his mother could afford…”  That’s right, in case you haven’t heard: The theme of President Obama’s speech is going to be income inequality.

9:10 pm: Wow, not in much of a hurry tonight, are they?

Conservative Groups and Money–Both Mind and Body–Undermine the Republican Party

It took just a few months for us to be able to call the Republican Party’s latest effort at re-branding a failure.  If anyone thinks that’s a bit much, why are the House Republican leadership unable to pass the bills they have previously called crucial to this effort?  To date the 113th Congress has actually been far less-productive than the 112th to this point in 2011.  This includes Republican filibustering of background checks for unlicensed gun sales, House Republicans’ refusal to support a catastrophic-risk insurance pool favored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as a partial alternative to the Affordable Care Act, failure to reach agreement in the Senate to prevent a doubling of student loan interest rates, House Republicans’ oddly-timid refusal to negotiate a budget with Senate Democrats (after demanding Senate Democrats pass a budget plan for years) and the failure of a farm bill that was supported by a majority of House Republicans but opposed by a majority of the House.

Because of its chronic inability to follow-through on any broadly-accepted agenda outside of obsessive opposition to President Obama’s policies, the Republican Party is actually much weaker than its current electoral strength should suggest.  Two sources of this weakness were until recently believed to be strengths of the New Right–its intelligentsia which insist on ideological purity, and the free flow of money to and from special-interest groups that can organize votes more-easily than local constituencies of interest.  Some people have called these groups a cancer in American democracy, but strictly-speaking they are actually a cancer in the Republican Party.  National Journal has had some excellent reporting of House Republicans’ undeniable and unprofitable dysfunction of late, and these remarkable words of protest from the House Agriculture Committee Chairman in a recent article on the next step for the farm bill bring to mind the closing words from Lord of War: “Never go to war–especially with yourself”:

“Last week the relentlessness of the conservative campaign became apparent when House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., was back in his district. On July 1, the Tulsa World reported that conservative activists, some of whom do not live in Lucas’s 3rd District, had shown up that day at a town-hall meeting in Skiatook, Okla. ‘If you want the conservative Republican vote, you need to come forward with a conservative Republican bill,’ said Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, a conservative activist from Broken Arrow, which is in the 1st District, where tea-party groups in 2012 ousted Republican Rep. John Sullivan in favor of now-Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who voted against the farm bill.

“Lucas, who has also been the target of Heritage Action radio ads threatening to recruit a ‘real conservative’ to run against him, fought back. ‘I’m under attack by those people,’ Lucas said. ‘They’re coming after me. They are all special interest groups that exist to sell subscriptions, to collect seminar fees, and to perpetuate their goals.’

“Lucas continued, ‘You’ve got to understand: They don’t necessarily want a Republican president or a Republican Congress,’ he continued. ‘…They made more money when [Democrat] Nancy [Pelosi] was speaker.… It’s a business.’

“Vuillemont-Smith replied: ‘That’s a perverted way to look at it.’

“‘I’m sorry. I have to deal in the real world,’ Lucas said, adding that by opposing the bill, conservatives were turning their back on the bill’s $40 billion in savings over 10 years, including a $20 billion cut in food stamps.”