Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

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

Littwin: Hillary, the relaunch

hillary relaunch

OK, you’ve read by now all the Hillary-is-ready-and-running stories, and in each one we’re told how polarizing she is and how cold and suspicious she is and how she has to change if she is going to win this time.

And it might even make sense unless you actually think about it.

Because how can someone quite so polarizing be odds-on to win the Democratic nomination and also favored, according to the sports-betting sheets, to win the presidency? Doesn’t something have to be wrong? Maybe the whole polarizing Hillary thing is overstated. Or maybe her chances of winning are.

Clinton has been “polarizing” since long before it became the in thing to be for a U.S. politician.

Or maybe it’s the fact that Clinton has been polarizing since long before it became the in thing to be. I mean, every politician today is polarizing. Once upon a time in America, there was the red-blue divide. That was around the time of the Bush v. Gore triple overtime race. Now there’s a red-blue abyss.

So, yes, Clinton will try to show a warmer side, the grandmotherly side, the van-riding human side. But it’s fair to note that Clinton was likable enough to give Barack Obama a much better race than John McCain or Mitt Romney ever could.

Adding a Clinton to the political mix doesn’t change the level of polarization. You can blame cable TV news or the Twitter or Citizens United for the abyss. You can blame Obama or you can blame House Republicans for the present state of Washington dysfunction. You can blame the Big Dog and the re-emergence, briefly, of Monica Lewinsky for the ugly campaign to come. (Note, please, Bill’s absence from the Hillary campaign video).

The thing is, even if Clinton is not as unpopular as you’d imagine — and she’s not — we already know who she is, long before the TV ads hit in force. And, in any case, as the smart pundits tell you, the election is about the economy or about the third-term itch or about the emerging (or non-emerging) Democratic majority or about turning out the white vote or about turning out the minority vote or about the widening gap between the parties — on Obamacare, on Medicaid, on global warming, on oil vs. wind, on letters to the Mullahs, on, well, everything.

Everyone’s got a model in the Nate Silver era, but the models have little to do with Clinton’s polarization quotient or, for that matter, with the person likely to win the Republican nomination, so long as that person doesn’t turn out to be, say, a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz.

According to a fivethirtyeight.com chart of polls since Jan. 15, cold and unpopular Clinton is barely above water, and yet with far higher favorables than both Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. The gap is much closer between her and both Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, but most people are just getting to know them. What I mean is, the only Republican with higher favorables than Clinton is Ben Carson. Have we said enough?

OK, we haven’t said enough. There’s no way to sum up Clinton, except to say that in her decades in public view she has always seemed to push buttons, from the left and right, although mostly from the right, and certainly because she happens to be a woman. She has been made to stand in for far more than any one person should. You don’t have to be a Clinton fan — and there is ample reason not to be, as the erased emails remind us — to know that her critics have consistently overreached. And — see: Benghazi — that they’ll almost certainly do it again.

The expected attacks on Clinton will bring the base back to her. They always do. Liberals, like conservatives, are rarely happy with their party’s nominee. But Clinton, as John Cassidy points out in the New Yorker, has given liberals hope that she is prepared to do more about income inequality than husband Bill or the New Democrats ever did.

My guess is that if former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley runs to Clinton’s left, he’ll get more votes than people think. But I’d guess, too, from the evidence of her campaign rollout, that Clinton will be running on income inequality, climate change, glass ceilings and in defense of Obamacare. That won’t be a hard call in the end from the left.

It may be a coincidence, or maybe not, that the first three Republicans to officially announce are all young senators who can make the generational argument, like Kennedy did and like Obama did. Marco Rubio — the one of the three who has a real chance — hit Clinton and his mentor Jeb Bush with twin blows, suggesting one was a “leader from yesterday” and the other one of those “who come from power and privilege.” At first glance, it was difficult to tell which is which.

What won’t be difficult to tell by the time we get to 2016 is which candidate is from which party. And whether Hillary changes — or is thought to — may turn out to be far less important than whether, in this election, the voters do.

Littwin: This time, coming down on a killer cop

walter scott

The most shocking thing about the Walter Scott killing is that we can still be shocked when a white cop kills an unarmed black man.

It’s not just that there was video. We’ve seen plenty of video. We’ve seen Eric Garner “I can’t breathe” video and 12-year-old Tamir Rice with a toy gun video. And the shocking thing in both cases is that despite the videos, we weren’t shocked quite enough.

This is different. And not just because the video is so horrific. It’s because this video so clearly puts an end to the usual arguments and challenges anyone who watches it to say otherwise.

Of course, it was about race.

Of course, it was about harassment turned fatal.

North Charleston, in the heart of the South, didn’t want to be another Ferguson. That’s progress of a kind.

Of course, you could understand how, in an essay written for Time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would call Scott’s shooting death an assassination.

If you haven’t seen the video, you can’t understand just how great the shock is. An unarmed black man, stopped for a broken tail-light, is seen running away from a cop. The cop, Officer Michael Slager, aims and fires eight times. Scott falls. It is horrific, and yet it does not look quite real, either. It looks like a low-budget movie, in which the bad guy shoots the good guy in the back. All that were missing were the white and black hats.

And then it sinks in. This bad guy shoots the unarmed man in the back and then rushes to cover up the crime. Slager had called in the shooting as a tussle about a Taser gun. He went to the body, handcuffed Scott, and then went back for what looked like his Taser, which he planted next to Scott. He did all this as Scott lay dying.

It was horrific and much worse. Scott had run away from the traffic stop, apparently fearing arrest for an old warrant.There had been a scuffle, according to the man who witnessed the event and caught it all on his cell phone.

But the cop killed a man and then lied about the shooting. He apparently tried to plant incriminating evidence. And you could see how, without the video, he probably would have gotten away with unaccountably — unimaginably — shooting an unarmed man eight times in the back.

It wasn’t the only shock. Some were shocked that the North Charleston mayor and police chief acted so quickly in removing Slager from the force and charging him with murder. Again, it wasn’t just the video. This was about the post-Ferguson world, in a time after #blacklivesmatter hash tags and after a damning Justice Department report about white cops and harassment and racist emails and tickets handed out as a tax on the poor.

North Charleston, in the heart of the South, didn’t want to be another Ferguson. That’s progress of a kind. And so we’re unlikely to hear testimony like we heard from Darren Wilson, who called Brown a “demon” who “looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.”

Who knows if Wilson was telling the truth or how much of the truth? We learned later that Brown probably didn’t have his hands up in surrender. We can only wonder what a video might have shown of that fateful encounter, one that began with two teens walking in the middle of the street.

The story in South Carolina didn’t begin or end there, however, because a man was walking to work, saw the scuffle and did what people do. He pulled out his cell phone and started shooting video. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. And he was scared to death to think what he had in his phone.

Feidin Santana, a Dominican immigrant, would say he thought about erasing the video and leaving town. He worried that the cops must have seen him. He was afraid, after watching the shooting, what they might to do him.

“My life has changed in a matter of seconds,” Santana told MSNBC on Thursday. “My family’s afraid what’s going to happen next with me. I’m afraid, too, of what can happen. But I guess I feel that what I did is just, you know, look for justice in this case.”

After hearing what Slager had to say about the shooting, Santana took his video to a vigil for Scott and gave it to the family. The video was released to the press, and, as it was played for the world to see, Slager was charged with murder and Santana was rightly being called a hero.

Days later, the North Charleston police released the dash-cam video of the traffic stop. And the mayor had promised that the police would soon be outfitted with body-cams. And if more video doesn’t really solve the problem, it can force us to see it for what it is.

And so Santana would tell the Washington Post that if people see “something bad … happening,” they should reach for their cell phones to record it. It’s a matter of justice, he said. As shocking as that can sometimes be.

Littwin: A pretty big deal


OK, the deal is not perfect. That’s what the experts say anyway. It’s not even a deal yet, although the way to bet is that what is now being called a “framework” will become one eventually.

Barack Obama took to the Rose Garden to call the nuclear deal with Iran “good,” which was just the restrained language he needed, although he also called it “historic.”

A deal with Iran — a successful deal, anyway — would be Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievement. But it was not the time to oversell. It was not — in one enduring lesson of Iraq — the time to claim any missions had been accomplished. What Obama did claim — and what is difficult to refute — is that the deal was better than anyone, including his congressional critics in both parties, could have expected.

The only way to reject this Iran deal out of hand now is to reject any deal with Iran out of hand.

That’s why the critics have been so muted. No enriched uranium for 10 years. Inspections for as long as 25 years. A deal more comprehensive than expected. A deal more detailed than expected. It could all fall apart by June, but the only way to reject this deal out of hand now is to reject any deal out of hand.

No one expected John Kerry to come back with so much detail — on verification, on reducing centrifuges, on the diminished nuclear plant in Arak, on the halt of uranium enrichment at Fordo, on the snapback of sanctions if Iran breaks the agreement, on the 10-year sunset that isn’t a 10-year sunset. The details help make Obama’s case that if Iran cheats, the world will know, and if the world knows, it would take a year before Iran could make a bomb. As of today, the “breakout” timing is said to be two to three months.

How do you say no to this deal? If it’s a real deal — if the details come to life in a real-time agreement — the easy answer is that you don’t. Not unless you’ve got something better.

We’ll be hearing a lot of debate on Arak and on Fordo and on other unfamiliar names and places from people whose credentials aren’t much better than yours or mine. Still, the deal can be critiqued on its own terms — and should be. It will be debated in Congress when/if the deal is finished in June — and even before — and should be.

But the framework/deal makes the open letter to Iran’s mullahs, written by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by 46 other Republicans senators including Cory Gardner, look even more naive and unserious. John McCain, who blamed the hurried decision to sign the letter on the threat of a snowstorm, must be embarrassed. The deal is good enough even in framework form that when people like would-be-president Scott Walker say they’d scrap it on their first day in office — presumably right after killing off Obamacare — you know not to pay attention.

What this deal demands is that its critics come up with a serious alternative. The question is whether there is one.

As Obama said in his Rose Garden speech, history has shown us that Iran is not going to give up its search for the bomb just because we ask nicely, or even not so nicely. He said to put it this way to the inevitable critics: “Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East? Is it worse than doing what we’ve done for almost two decades with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections? I think the answer will be clear.”

So what is the alternative? Most critics — and, yes, they are from both parties — have said more sanctions and tougher negotiations would be their choice. Then there’s the let’s-do-another-Iraq-but-do-it-right-this-time chorus, led by people like former U.N. ambassador and professional hawk John Bolton, who insist that war, bombing to prevent the bombing, is the best option.

But here’s where the risk comes: If there is a deal, the tougher-sanctions alternative probably disappears. Congress can vote for tougher sanctions, scuttling the deal, but it can’t reasonably expect the rest of the world’s powers to go along. The world’s powers were in there with John Kerry negotiating the deal that Congress would be rejecting. If the details on the framework are successfully filled in, a fully negotiated deal is not just risky for Obama to implement, but also risky for any Congress to turn away from.

If there is a deal and Congress rejects it — a deal made in concert with Britain and Germany and France and Russia and China — let’s just say that writing an open letter to the United Nations Security Council won’t help.

So, in the Obama framework, if you’re going to stop Iran from getting a bomb, there are two options: a negotiated settlement or the Bolton alternative. Bombing to stop the bomb is a short-term solution, if it’s a solution at all. We don’t have to outline the risks; they’re obvious enough. So, of course, is the great likelihood that, with an agreement, Iran will continue to support terrorism, will continue to threaten Israel, and will make even more trouble, as sanctions are lifted and Iran’s economy improves, in Syria and Iraq.

But as every working pundit has pointed out, Reagan negotiated with the Soviet Union, Nixon went to China. And now Obama has talked to Iran. I’m not qualified to say whether the deal — if completed — would actually work. But I am qualified to say its critics have yet to explain why it wouldn’t.

[Photo of U.S. “Fat Man” atomic bomb via Wikimedia.]


In case anyone is still confused, the world has officially changed, including the part that belongs to Indiana.

In today’s world, when you pass a so-called “religious freedom” law that can readily be interpreted as the freedom to use religious beliefs to discriminate against the LGBT community, everything turns upside down.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a would-be Republican presidential candidate, is learning that the hard way. You’d have thought he would have caught on around the time that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar law, but apparently not. She knew boycotts were coming. Indiana Republican leaders said they had no idea.

It’s fair to say this law wouldn’t have been controversial 10 years ago. Or maybe even five years ago. For all I know, it may not be controversial today in Arkansas, where a similar law is being passed. After all, there are laws like this one — if not exactly like this one — in states around the country. There’s a federal religious freedom (RFRA) law — but one that passed in a different time, twenty-some years ago, with liberal and conservative votes and which was instigated by a case about Native Americans being fired for using peyote. No one mentioned whether they were gay or straight.

Indiana’s governor knows what’s going on, but he can’t admit he knows what’s going on. So he appears on TV with George Stephanopoulos and pulls a Cory Gardner.

That was then. And now?

Now, Indiana’s new law comes the year after a court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in Indiana. No one can honestly question the timing.

Now, after Pence signed the bill into law in a private ceremony, nine leaders of major Indiana corporations send a letter to the governor and legislative leaders demanding a change; Apple president Tim Cook blasts the law as discriminatory; rock groups and political leaders announce boycotts; leaders of the Indiana state legislature call a news conference to say they need to address the fact that a bill they say was meant to be inclusive now seems exclusive; the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis and is holding the Final Four there this weekend, says it might be forced to leave unless the law is changed; the state’s flagship newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, gives up its front page to an editorial headlined, in go-to-war type, “FIX THIS NOW.”

The Star’s editorial says the law threatens Indiana’s reputation and its economic well-being — and that it must be changed to prohibit discrimination “on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Everyone seems to get it except Pence, who actually probably does get it, but can’t figure out what to do about it.

What he did say was that he had no plans to push an anti-gay-discrimination law. The next day, though, he’s writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying he “abhors discrimination.” He said if a restaurant discriminated against gays, he wouldn’t eat there. What he didn’t say is that it should be illegal for the restaurant to discriminate.

Why can’t he make that jump?

You know why. Ask Jeb Bush, who knows that he’s having problems winning over the conservative vote, and so he goes on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show to align himself with Pence, saying: “This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to have, to be able to be people of conscience. I just think, once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have also backed Pence. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, tweeted that it was “sad this new Indiana law could happen in America today.”

We can all remember when same-sex marriage was very much a wedge issue. The thing is, it still is a wedge issue — but one that points in the complete opposite direction. It’s hard to put a date on when this issue changed, but what we know is that it has changed dramatically, and when bakers and florists cite religious reasons for refusing service to LGBT customers, it becomes a headline story about discrimination.

Pence has tried to blame the media for the controversy, but the media, of course, rarely pay much attention to Indiana unless they’re playing the Final Four there, as they are this weekend. He wants to blame Obamacare, because which Republican doesn’t want to blame Obamacare? He notes that Barack Obama voted for a religious freedom bill when he was in the Illinois state legislature, but forgets to mention that it was a very different bill, passed in a very different political atmosphere.

So what does Pence do? He defends the law, sort of.

He goes on This Week with George Stephanopoulos and pulls a Cory Gardner. Stephanopoulos asks him six times whether the law allows people to discriminate against gays. And six times Pence dodges the direct question, refusing to say.

Because, of course, there’s no good way for him to answer, which is at the root of his problem.

If Pence answers yes, he’s saying it really was all about the right to discriminate. If he answers no, he’s saying there was no reason to pass the law to begin with.

[Photo via the National Monitor.]

Littwin: Overripe ‘Dr. Chaps’ implodes


Like many of you, I’m surprised it took nearly three months for Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt to finally implode.

I’d have guessed six weeks — max.

He was the surest bet for legislative disaster since Doug Bruce, who kicked a photographer his first day on the job and would be censured on a 62-1 vote. Dr. Chaps didn’t invent TABOR, but he has an even longer list of goofy ideas on his resume.

I thought the goofiness — like his claim to have exorcised the gay out of a lesbian soldier — would do him in. It’s been a few years, after all, since any of our elected representatives had compared same-sex marriage to marrying a horse, and we were due.

But Dr. Chaps’ transgression turned out to be worse. Much worse.

It’s easy to see how Dr. Chaps would not be taken seriously. It’s difficult to see how anyone would have elected him to serve in the legislature.

It was so much worse that no one could have predicted it — because no one could have even imagined it. He took the story, the true-life horror story, of the pregnant Longmont woman who had her unborn child carved from her womb and, somehow, made it even more horrifying.

Only from the fevered mind of Dr. Chaps — state legislator by day, fire-and-brimstone minister by day or night — could we get this explanation for the crime: It was an act of God, he said. A punishment for America’s abortion laws, he said. God’s will, in other words.

I don’t want to paraphrase him. Here’s the direct quote from his “Pray in Jesus Name” show: “This is the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb, and part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open.”

If you know your scripture — and I confess I don’t — this is straight out of Hosea. I watched the video. According to Dr. Chaps, back in the day, God was quite upset with the Samarians, who apparently weren’t godly enough, and, as a punishment, he said “their little ones shall be dashed in pieces and their pregnant women ripped open.”

“I wonder,” Dr. Chaps said, “if there is prophetic significance to America today in that scripture.”

I wonder how much thought Dr. Chaps gave to the victim, Michelle Wilkins, whose baby had died and whose trauma had already been made all too public.

When the story blew up, Republicans couldn’t run fast enough away from Dr. Chaps. They’ve been holding their collective breath ever since he was elected, knowing that something like this — if not quite this — was inevitable. It must have become even more worrying as the Republican-controlled Senate has dominated the headlines this session passing one going-nowhere culture-war bill after another.

Over on the House side, Dr. Chaps had his moments — his motion from the floor delivered to the tune of “Yesterday”; his original take on the same-sex wedding cake issue — but the biggest surprise was how little attention he had demanded. Right Wing Watch — which broke the act-of-God story — has been paying close attention to Dr. Chaps’ ministry. But no one else seemed to notice.

Until now.

It’s easy to see how Dr. Chaps would not be taken seriously. I mean, Dr. Chaps? It’s a little more difficult to see how anyone would have elected him to serve in the legislature. How do you vote for someone who predicts that “openly homosexual congressman” — his words — Jared Polis would join ISIS and behead Christians? Or who cites biblical verse to determine that Madonna was possessed by demons? Or who says Obamacare causes cancer?

But now he has crossed a line. It’s not the line between his ministry and his political work — which he says should be seen as separate. It’s not a line between serious and unserious. This is the line between decency and indecency. It’s the line you cross when you presume to tell the victim of an unimaginable crime that it is God’s punishment for all America.

Maybe the most astute quote on his line-crossing comes from Laura Carno, an El Paso County Republican who runs a Facebook page called “Conservatives against Gordon Klingenschmitt.” She told ace reporter Lynn Bartels: “It’s disgusting. I thought Gordon Klingenschmitt would be our next Todd Akin. I didn’t know he would be our next Westboro Baptist Church.”

Dr. Chaps, meanwhile, met with every reporter in sight and wouldn’t apologize for his statement, saying that he was quoting the bible and that if people were offended by the bible, that wasn’t his problem. But I didn’t expect him to apologize. I didn’t expect him to understand that people weren’t offended by the bible, but by him.

I’m sure Dr. Chaps doesn’t think he has done or said anything to apologize for. And, in a way, he may be right. The people who should apologize are those from House District 15 in Colorado Springs who — no joke — actually voted for him.

[Image: Screen grab of Gordon Klingenscmitt from his Pray in Jesus Name web series.]