Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

control panel

For those Democrats starting to panic about Hillary Clinton and the email flap, they need to understand at least two things:

It’s too early to panic. And it’s too late.

As scandals go, the one thing you can count on is that this won’t be the last of its kind. We’re not even sure whether to call it a scandal or, as columnist Joe Canason put it the other day, a “scandal.”

Whichever it is — and I would put it more in the blunder category — you can bet that the email story is not going away any time soon. It not only looks bad, it is bad. It’s a blow against government transparency and a reminder of every concern that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has about Clinton.

But the real problem is not Clinton, who is a frontrunner for a reason. As one prominent Arkansas Republican once told me, the surest way to lose to the Clintons is to make the race about them. The real problem for Democrats is that, if things really do go wrong, there’s no fallback plan. They have Clinton and only Clinton. Meanwhile, Republicans, who are much practiced in attacking Clintons, can’t resist. And so, get used to it.

It’s too early to panic. And it’s too late.

In any case, I doubt if many votes will change in 2016 because Clinton used a “homebrew email server” — the apparent term of art for the Clinton setup — when she was Secretary of State instead of using a government account. If it hadn’t been reported first in the New York Times, and if it hadn’t come on the heels of the Clinton Foundation foreign donations story, we might be talking about something else, like the Nuggets’ winning streak.

Instead, we are reminded that scandal and/or “scandal” follow the Clintons wherever they go.

You can pick your own narrative for this one: It’s overhyped. It’s another case of Clinton entitlement. It’s the old Clinton obsession with privacy. It’s the old Clinton obsession with privacy born of every Republican attack. It’s an unforced error. It’s the unlearned lesson of 2008. It’s little different than what Colin Powell did when he was Secretary of State.

But the enduring narrative will be that Clinton must have been hiding something. And even if no one can prove that she was, Clinton will have a hard time proving she wasn’t.

Now Clinton has said she wants the 55,000 pages of emails she turned over to the State Department to be made public. That’s a lot of pages — and they’ll have to be checked first to see whether national security is involved — but there are more pages that she didn’t turn over, and the demand will be that she turns those over, too.

But even if all is revealed, it won’t be enough, because how can we know if all is revealed? That’s the problem Clinton has made for herself.

One lesson of 2008 was supposed to be that Clinton needed to be more open. But so far, she hasn’t answered a question about the emails. Eventually she’ll have to say why she chose to set up a private account and why, it turns out, a Clinton-era ambassador was fired, in part, because he was using a private email account. It’s hard to see any explanation other than Clinton wanting to make it difficult for the press and for Congress to get at her emails, as if she had anticipated that there would be a Benghazi “scandal” — yes, that one is clearly a “scandal” — that would never go away.

What we see now is that the Obama administration was chasing down reporters over leaks while Hillary Clinton was running a private email that, for all we know, was vulnerable to hackers.

And yet, it’s not exactly unreasonable for Clinton to have anticipated fishing expeditions. We know the whole sad history. And now, the email story will give Republicans the opportunity to extend the never-ending Benghazi hearings, in which one committee clears Clinton and the next begins anew.

What I mean is, you can fire up your computer, with or without homebrew email, and find bumper stickers that say, “Hillary Clinton for Prison 2016.” If that doesn’t explain everything, it’s a start.

There’s the other issue, though. And that’s how Democrats got themselves into a situation. While Democrats like to mock the overflowing Republican clown car presidential field, Democrats don’t have enough legitimate presidential candidates to fill a Mini.

Joe Biden is not just too old. He’s Joe Biden. Elizabeth Warren is not running, and, as appealing as she might be to liberals, she wouldn’t win if she did run. Bernie Sanders? At this point, he’s not even a Democrat. Martin O’Malley? Did you ask who Martin O’Malley was? Jim Webb? Really?

It would take a real scandal — one of giant proportions — to change that dynamic. Don’t expect to find one in your email.

[ Control Panel photo by Cory Doctorow via Flickr.]


If you look past the Democratic boycott and past the GOP’s fawning Bibi BFF love-fest and past the regrettable fact of a Joe Biden-free joint session, it was pretty much like any other day at the Republican-controlled Congress.

Benjamin Netanyahu certainly fit right in. Like the Republicans, he doesn’t like what Barack Obama is doing. Like the Republicans, he doesn’t have a viable alternative to what Obama is doing. Like the Republicans, Netanyahu believes that stopping Obama is always the answer to the question, and then, you know, we’ll just see.

If Bibi had taken a shot at Hillary Clinton Tuesday morning, I think he could have run away with the Republican nomination. Yes, he was born in Tel Aviv, but he went to high school in Philly and college at MIT, and if your name isn’t Obama, isn’t that close enough?

If Bibi had taken a shot at Hillary Clinton, I think he could have run away with the Republican nomination.

He’s got qualifications. He’s strong. (You think Jeb Bush is strong?) He’s a good speaker. (I’m sure Scott Walker was furiously taking down notes.) He knows his sound bites — “When it comes to Iran or ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.” (Ted Cruz could only look on with envy. Of course, ISIS and Iran are the same, and while we’re at it, let’s bring out the “axis of evil.”)

The speech accomplished many things. It probably helped Netanyahu back home where there’s an upcoming election in which he’s reportedly in some trouble. It gave John Boehner some cover to say the House will pass a clean funding bill. And it almost certainly deepened the divide between Netanyahu and Obama, despite the brief and winking praise of Obama near the top of the speech. Soon, Netanyahu would get to his point — and I’ll paraphrase here — that Obama is naive in the ways of the world and that, in his ignorance, he is selling out Israel’s very existence. No wonder the Republicans went wild in their response.

Netanyahu has long buddied up to the party that the great majority of American Jews have repeatedly rejected. But if he smiled Mitt Romney’s way, that was just a flirtation. This is different. Netanyahu can appeal to fawning Republicans all he likes, but, in the real world, the president is a Democrat and the Democratic president — whose administration is currently negotiating with Iran along with the other major world actors — is the one who will actually make the call. Does it really help Netanyahu’s cause to recruit a Republican Congress as his cheerleaders?

Let’s get to the basis of Netanyahu’s argument — that the deal Obama is negotiating is worse than no deal. I haven’t seen many experts praising the outlines of the deal. There is legitimate concern that Obama so much wants to negotiate an agreement that he’ll settle too easily. It’s certain that America’s partners in this negotiation are less hardline than Obama.

But here’s Netanyahu’s alternative plan: Unless Iran gives up its entire nuclear program, removing itself forevermore from nuclear ambition, and unless it renounces the vicious anti-Semitic, we-will-bury-you, anti-Israeli rhetoric Iranian leaders regularly spew, there should be no agreement. He says that if America and the West even further tighten sanctions that that should be enough, and Iran will eventually crumble.

Unfortunately, the argument makes no sense. As the inimitable Jeffrey Greenberg points out, Netanyahu likes to call Iranian leaders a “messianic apocalyptic cult.” Do messianic apocalyptic cults crumble in the face of sanctions? Facing the current level of sanctions, the messianic apocalyptic cult has built 19,000 centrifuges. Facing the current level of sanctions, Iran and the cultists are a major player, and not in a good way, throughout the region.

Whatever Netanyahu thinks, I’m pretty sure Obama’s team is aware of all the pitfalls and the actual danger that Iran poses — and has posed for many years. What Obama is looking for is a way to contain Iran, which depends on the fact that Iran is a rational player, and prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power over the next 10 or 15 years.

As Peter Beinart says in the Atlantic, Obama is not alone. He writes:

That’s why the Bush administration’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate said Iran is “guided by a cost-benefit approach.” It’s why Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in 2012 that “we are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor.” It’s why Benny Gantz, then head of the Israel Defense Forces, declared the same year that “the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.”

And so on.  

But if Iran can never be trusted to stick to a deal, if Iran can never be deterred, if Iran truly is a suicidal cult certain to rain down its bombs on Israel, what is the alternative? There’s only one — to bomb Iran out of the bomb business. No one knows if that is even possible, given all the sites that would have to be taken out — and the likelihood that Iran could simply rebuild. But what’s pretty clear is that we, the United States, would have to play a role in that. A large role. With probably large consequences.

Netanyahu gave a good, effective speech. But if you agree with him and you don’t like Obama’s plan, you might actually want to consider the real alternative before you stand up to applaud.

[ Screenshot: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing Congress, 2015.]

gun bang

As the shutdown showdown in Washington winds down, there’s no surprise in how it’s going to end.

The House may extend the argument for another three weeks, in order, I guess, to save some face, but the ending would look the same today as it will in mid-March.

I mean, this was always pointing toward a disaster for Republicans, who picked this fight and now are desperately trying to find a way to semi-gracefully throw in the towel before they lose any more important teeth. Here was the plan, in short: Instead of threatening to shut down the entire government in order to defund Barack Obama’s immigration orders, they would threaten to shut down Homeland Security in order to defund Obama’s immigration orders.

How bad was this plan? For it to work (it couldn’t work), Obama would have to back down (he wouldn’t back down) and Republicans would have to be willing to shutter Homeland Security while ISIS-eyes our country and plans an assault (a risk they wouldn’t take).

I don’t know if anyone ever took the threat seriously, but as ISIS produced one outrage after another, clearly hoping to provoke a land war with the West, it became obvious that the real threat wasn’t coming from the House of Representatives.

For this plan to work (it couldn’t work), Obama would have to back down (he wouldn’t back down) and Republicans would have to risk the danger of an ISIS-related assault (a risk they wouldn’t take). And so the Senate caved, and now it’s just a matter of time before Congress sends Obama a so-called “clean” bill, and we’re onto something else, like maybe another Senate snowball fight.

But we learned something — and it may be an important something — about immigration. For the most part, Republicans didn’t try that hard. As Dave Weigel points out in Bloomberg View, their hearts just weren’t in it.

In fact, Weigel quoted Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, saying just that. “Their heart,” Krikorian said of GOP leadership, “isn’t in the fight; they see it as simply a matter of base management. They don’t mind having these people amnestied and like the idea of being able to blame it on Obama.”

If you watched the Republican presidential contenders parading before conservative voters at CPAC convention Thursday, you got a taste of it. Everyone slammed Obama for being a “dictator” and for “amnesty.” (Here’s a thought: If Obama were, in fact, a dictator, could they actually get away with slamming him?) But nobody talked much about going over any cliffs. The CPAC attendees were definitely angrier than any of the candidates. And it’s no coincidence that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner skipped the affair altogether. They wouldn’t have gotten out two words between them.

OK, you have heard outrage from from the usual suspects — although the talk in Washington has been about how little Ted Cruz has had to say on the topic — but to little effect. While the polls show most people think Obama overreached with his executive orders, the same polls show Obama’s approval ratings climbing.

And how real is your threat when McConnell had promised no shutdown and Boehner spends weeks trying to find a graceful out?

The truth is, there couldn’t be a worse time to consider any kind of partial shutdown of Homeland Security. ISIS leaders want a land war because they’re pretty sure that, win or lose, they would still win. And so the provocations get increasingly difficult to ignore. The New York Times led Friday with the latest — a video of ISIS militants destroying ancient Assyrian works of art, some that date back to 800 B.C. The Times reported that the group emptied 30 Assyrian villages, took maybe 300 captives and demanded that Christians pay a tax, in gold.

But there’s something else, too. We must know by now how the immigration wars are going to end. There will be immigration reform, although certainly not until Obama leaves office, but probably not that long thereafter. The outcome has always been obvious — we were never going to deport 11 million illegal immigrants — but it all came into focus after Mitt Romney’s self-deport plan went nowhere. And at the same time, Obama promised he would do something. He’s done something, and there was always going to be a fight over it.

When the Texas federal judge put a temporary stop to the Obama plan, that was the obvious chance for Republicans to back away. Even Karl Rove wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal advising them to just declare victory and leave it to the courts. Instead, House Republicans stuck with a self-destructive threat that Obama was free to ignore.

That isn’t to say that the fight is over. As the 2016 race heats up, there will be plenty of talk about Obama and immigration. When we get to the debates, immigration reform will once again take center stage. Republicans who aren’t Jeb Bush will undoubtedly try to pin Obama’s orders on Bush.

And Hillary Clinton, assuming she’s the Democratic candidate, will be thrilled any time they bring that particular fight to her.

[Clown confetti shot image by JT.]

Littwin: Forever running against Obama

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.24.52 AM

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Rudy Giuliani was collaborating with the enemy (by which I mean, of course, Hillary Clinton).

Clinton is the all-but-certain Democratic candidate for president, but hardly anyone on the Republican side is laying a glove on her. The media is all over the Clinton Foundation for taking money — apparently legal, but perhaps not altogether ethical, money — from foreign countries while Hillary Clinton has presumably been preparing to run for president.

And, meanwhile, the headline story continues to be that Republicans are all over Barack Obama, who can’t run again, for supposedly not loving America enough, or at all.

Haven’t we gotten past this? Quick answer: Uh, no.

They won’t be running against Obama but they can’t stop running against Obama. The fringe attack lines are still going mainstream. They come from Rep. Mike Coffman and America’s ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

If it all seems so 2012 — back when people like Mike Coffman were saying of Obama “that in his heart, he’s not an American” and Newt Gingrich was on his “Kenyan, anti-colonial” kick — that just means you haven’t been paying attention. It’s 2008, 2012, 2015 and every year in between. Obama paranoia is a constant in our political world. If it’s not a birth certificate, it’s his religion or — you can actually hear this from GOP Rep. Scott Perry on YouTube — it’s his collaboration with the “enemy of freedom” (by which I don’t mean, of course, Hillary Clinton).

The latest round began, as we all know, with Giuliani, once America’s Mayor and now, sadly, a Donald Trump wannabe. If only Rudy could get his own TV show.

It was Giuliani who told a meeting of rich Americans that Obama didn’t love America, whatever that means. I grew up in the era of love-it-or-leave-it bumper stickers — which didn’t make much sense even then — and now for years a significant percentage of Republicans have been stuck on the idea that Obama doesn’t love/won’t leave and can’t accept either.

No one would have paid attention to Giuliani except that Scott Walker, the hot new thing in GOP presidential politics, was also at the dinner. And Walker chose to say nothing to refute the Rudyness or to defend Obama’s patriotism.

Actually, saying nothing might have been his best course. It’s when Walker started answering questions about saying nothing that he got himself in trouble. The right answer for a Republican candidate — see: Marco Rubio, as one example — was that, of course, Obama loves America, but it’s his policies that are questionable.

Walker said, “I’m not going to comment on whether, what the president thinks or not. . . . I’ll tell you I love America, and I think there are plenty of people, Democrat, Republican, independent and everyone in between, who love this country.”

That was just the beginning. In a follow-up interview, the Washington Post asked Walker if he believed Obama when he said he was a Christian, and Walker said “I don’t know,” leading to the obvious question: Which answer is the more dangerous kind of pandering? I’ll go with America-hater, but it’s a close call.

None of this may hurt Walker in the GOP primaries, but the reason the Wisconsin governor suddenly got so hot is that he’s seen as a hard-nosed conservative who seemed able to also talk to moderates. And worse still, every conceivable GOP candidate is now being asked whether Obama loves America, and whatever the right response, it’s clearly the wrong question to have to answer.

American presidents pretty much all love America. It’s part of the job description. It’s harder to define exactly what loving America is — I’m guessing that Rudy and I see the whole thing differently, and not just because he’s a Yankees fan — but Giuliani goes so far as to accuse Obama of not loving actual Americans, including American voters who elected him twice.

In Rudy’s words, ones that will haunt him forever: “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

I’m sure Walker didn’t agree with Giuliani. I don’t know if Giuliani agreed with Giuliani. It’s just as clear, though, that Walker didn’t quite know how to say so, which suggests a larger problem.

Demonizing your opponent — from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama — is the modern product of red-blue, cable-TV-news, Internet-driven choosing up of sides. It’s not enough to question policies. We have to question motives. And so, from the fringes, Clinton killed Vince Foster and Bush blew up the World Trade Center. But Obama is different because, in his case, the fringes have gone mainstream. It’s from Mike Coffman. It’s from America’s ex-Mayor.

And when the why-is-this-so question is inevitably asked, the inevitable answers divide us even more. As Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote the other day, can you really not love America when your vice-president is literally America-loving Joe Biden?

Obama will be president for nearly two more years, and you don’t have to be Karl Rove to figure out that the best strategy for any Republican candidate will be to tie Hillary Clinton to Obama whenever possible. Except for now, of course, when Walker helped Giuliani make defending Obama all too easy.

[Photo by Barry Hackner.]

Littwin: Who’s in charge, Mr. Cadman?

dr strangelove

I don’t know about you, but I’m old enough to remember when Democrats in the state legislature were accused of overreaching on a series of gun-control bills. All it would cost them was two recall elections and, a year later, loss of seats in the House and loss of control of the Senate.

It was an obvious lesson, but one that at least some Democrats thought was worth learning. They got their three gun bills passed after all, and we might even be a safer state for it.

And then there was the distant memory of how Republicans had lost the Senate in the first place — by pushing too hard in the culture wars — and the Democratic dream that, given the opportunity, they just might do it again.

Which brings us to now.

Remember the Cory Gardner ‘play the centrist’ model for Republicans winning in Colorado? If you do, you might want to give someone at the state Senate a call.

Now is when the newly minted, Republican-controlled Senate — which had been in Democratic hands for a decade — has moved into overreach overdrive. I don’t know what the state record is for going 0-to-60 in lessons unlearned, but I’m sure Republicans have shattered it.

Remember the Cory Gardner play-the-centrist model for Republicans winning in Colorado? If you do, you might want to give someone a call.

It’s still early days in the legislative session, but it looks like Republicans are in a mad rush to jeopardize their one-seat Senate majority with one headline-grabbing vote after another. I don’t know who’s running things in the Senate — President Bill Cadman, JBC chairman Kent Lambert or Chief Gun Nut Dudley Brown — but the place has turned into a lesson-free zone.

Let me count the ways.

Republicans went out of their way to offend Latinos by using the Joint Budget Committee to gut funding for the law allowing those living here illegally to get a driver’s license, greatly increasing the DMV wait time (as if that were possible). In the process, they also offended anyone who thinks the JBC is the one place where legislative grown-ups come to meet. And in any case, it can’t be smart to kill funding for already-passed laws with a 3-3 vote when the other party can then do the exact same thing to you.

Meanwhile, in the face of news that Colorado is last in the country in kindergarten-age vaccination rates, the Senate passes a “Parent’s Bill of Rights” — a conservative culture-war wish list — that would pretty much ensure that the bipartisan anti-vaxxer crowd would keep us at the bottom.

And then there’s this. First, the Senate passed a bill that would allow basically anyone who can legally buy a gun to legally carry a concealed weapon virtually anywhere, without need of a permit. Then they rejected a House bill that would reduce waiting time to get, yes, a concealed-weapons permit.

Confused? Of course you are. Everyone is, so let’s go over that one again. Democrats want the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to spend $370,000 in already-collected fees to hire people to make the permit process go more quickly. And Republicans voted no, beating back the bill on a party-line vote. This is a bill that — and you might want to read carefully here — was passed unanimously in the House (yes, all Republicans and all Democrats voted for it) and included funding for rape kits and child-abuse investigations, among other public-safety concerns.

Democrats say CBI background checks now take approximately 45 days and would go to 54 days with no new hires. Republicans say they question the numbers. But why would they reject the bill, whatever the numbers? I think you have it figured out. This is what they call starving the beast. The more difficult CBI checks get, the thinking goes, the easier it would be to get rid of them altogether.

It’s the weirdest legislative fight I can remember. Democrats suddenly want to make life easier for concealed carriers; Republicans, meanwhile, insist that it’s easy enough to get the permits now, even as they pass another bill to get rid of them, saying they’re too great an inconvenience.

What comes next? I think we know. The state legislature is headed for a showdown. The public-safety bill goes back to the Democratic-controlled House, which, the betting goes, is not going to back down. And eventually, Senate Republicans will have to explain why they seem willing to make things harder for their own gun-rights constituency while, at the same time, allowing rape kits to go unfunded. I don’t know what kind of explaining that is, but it’s not the easy kind.

What this does is allow Democrats to charge that Colorado is lapsing into Washington-style dysfunction. In fact, they’ve already begun. I’ve even heard use of the “S” word — shutdown — as if Ted Cruz had taken up residence here.

And here’s the irony: I was there on Election Night when Cory Gardner claimed his victory over Mark Udall was a victory over government paralysis, saying, “We have signed up to be the tip of the spear, the vanguard of the movement that is sweeping our nation, to pick the shackle of gridlock and fundamentally change the dysfunction of Washington, D.C.”

I don’t know if Gardner is the tip of the spear — Washington still looks pretty dysfunctional to me — but it looks like he left the rest of the weapon in the hands of Colorado Senate Republicans, who are aiming it directly at their own feet.

[Top image: George C. Scott in “Dr. Strangelove.” ]