Fair and Unbalanced
We tend not to deify our leaders these days, which is generally a good thing. But also, unfortunately, a cynical thing.
When Barack Obama’s miserable approval ratings slipped into the high 30s, some pundits, right and left, have said he was basically done, ignoring the fact that every president since Kennedy has spent some time in the 30s. This is who we’ve become since Vietnam, where blind faith in government would go to die, along with the 58,000.
But we’ve put aside our cynicism today, as Nelson Mandela leaves us at age 95. If he is described as a combination of his country’s Washington and Lincoln, who is to argue? He was a Great Man in the way that a certain few transcend mere adjectives.
He fought against apartheid, one of the world’s great evils. In that fight, Mandela spent 27 years in prison and became, in time, a living martyr. He was finally released from prison and refused the opportunity for vengeance. He became South Africa’s official leader and preached and practiced reconciliation. He left office voluntarily after one term and stayed true to his cause, even as mere human South Africans have allowed too much of what he cherished to slip away.
The problem with the Great Man (or Woman) theory of history is that one man, or woman, accomplishes nothing alone. The fact that the white minority did not face retribution for apartheid is not one person’s contribution. It’s a nation’s. But without Mandela, who can say what might have happened? And as Obama would say, “He achieved more than could be expected of any man.” In the National Journal, Michael Hirsh says there’s no one to replace him.
In a Time magazine essay, entitled The Indispensable Man, it quotes Archbishop Demond Tutu, another of the warriors against apartheid, as saying that prison “gave gave him a new depth and serenity at the core of his being, and made him tolerant and magnanimous to a fault, more ready to forgive than to nurse grudges—paradoxically regal and even arrogant, and at the same time ever so humble and modest.”
And Mandela said, “I wanted South Africa to see that I loved even my enemies while I hated the system that turned us against one another.”
Regal, arrogant, humble, modest. He was a revolutionary (and labeled, naturally, a terrorist). He was a healer. You rarely see both in one person. He set the highest goals and, amazingly, he met them. There were costs in the fight to his personal life, and he paid them. An “international emblem of dignity and forbearance,” the New York Times would write.
You can see Mandela deliver what Mother Jones calls his epitaph “in his own words” in the famous 1964 courtroom speech that he thought would be his last.
And so, the world mourns, and we wonder when we’ll see his like again.
Just when it had become clear from the Colorado recalls that the NRA and its allies had scared Democrats around the land from ever mentioning guns again, it seems that not all the votes had been counted.
In the Virginia gubernatorial election, for example, the story reads a little differently. The governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli was about a lot of things – but one of those things was definitely guns. In their final debate, which just happened to be on the Virginia Tech campus, Cuccinelli, a hard-right conservative, brought up his A rating from the NRA.
He bragged about his A — I kept waiting for him to tell us his SAT scores — and then took a swipe at McAuliffe, the Democrat, who got, yes, an F from the NRA.
McAuliffe was ready. He was proud of his F.
“I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA,” he said. “I never want to see another Newtown or Aurora or Virginia Tech again.”
Guns probably weren’t the reason McAuliffe won. But, more to the point, he won despite taking on the NRA directly, in the state where the NRA is headquartered, in a state that has its own cultural attachment to guns, in a purple-trending-blue state much like our own.
McAuliffe’s views on gun control are not much different from what passed in Colorado. Universal background checks. Closing gun show loopholes. Limiting magazine capacities. If McAuliffe won on these issues in Virginia and three state senators lost on them in Colorado, that suggests the issue is a little more complicated than it seems. It also suggests that even politics is not always a zero-sum game.
At the risk of understatement, McAuliffe was not exactly a great candidate. He’s a Washington money man who is tied closely to the worst tendencies of the Clintons. And it had been decades since a Democrat won in Virginia when a Democrat was also in the White House.
But it wasn’t only McAuliffe who won. So did the rest of the Virginia Democratic ticket. Kevin O’Holleran, who managed Democrat Mark Herring’s winning campaign for attorney general, wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post about guns and how he was advised to stay far, far away from the issue.
“Like much conventional wisdom,” he wrote, “this was wrong — and we not only ignored this advice but did the opposite. There were stark differences between Herring and his Republican opponent, Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), on gun safety. Obenshain opposed comprehensive background checks and opposed closing the gun-show loophole. He opposed former governor Douglas Wilder’s landmark ‘one-gun-a-month’ legislation. Obenshain also made a habit of voting for such irresponsible proposals as allowing guns in bars and restaurants where alcohol is served.”
Herring ran on guns – and won, if barely.
So, what’s the lesson? You can count on Republicans making guns — and gun reform — big issues in the 2014 Colorado gubernatorial race. In the meantime, Republicans in the legislature will aim to repeal some of the laws. It looks like a winning issue for them. Of course, it probably looked that way in Virginia, too.
In Day 2 of the Quinnipiac poll of Colorado politics, Democrats get hammered again. Obama is way upside down — 59-36. Obamacare is is not much better — down 56-40. Mark Udall is not as bad, but if you ask Coloradans whether he deserves to be re-elected, the answer is a fairly harsh no, by a 47-41 margin. That’s a pretty similar answer to what Hickenlooper got in the poll released Tuesday (see below).
The bad news is seeping into presidential politics – - many years away, but never far enough away apparently — in which Hillary Clinton is losing to Chris Christie 46-38 and is basically tied with the other leading contenders.
There is one bright spot for the Democrats. It’s the same one that Hickenlooper saw. When Mark Udall is matched up against a real live Colorado Republican, he still comes out ahead. The numbers (cue the drumroll).
— Ken Buck 45-42.
— Randy Baumgardner 44-39.
— Owen Hill 45-39.
— Amy Stephens 45-38.
— Jaime McMillan 43-40.
— Mark Aspiri 45-36.
To understand what’s going on, just look at the McMillan number. He’s trailing Udall by 3 points and no one has ever heard of him. It’s telling, though, because it means that Udall would struggle today against anyone, and that no one, including Ken Buck, has separated from the Republican field.
John Hickenlooper may have had a terrible year, but he’s got at least one thing going for him: When he runs for re-election next November, he gets to run against someone in the Republican field.
In the latest Quinnipiac poll, Hickenlooper’s numbers are not good. Actually, they’re terrible. And no wonder. He got clobbered on Amendment 66. He signed gun laws that turned into recalls of two Democratic senators. He botched the Nathan Dunlap reprieve, giving Republicans something to run on: The promise to sign Dunlap’s death sentence the day they get into office.
So when Coloradans are asked whether Hickenlooper deserves another term, they say no by a 49-42 percent margin. That’s not exactly Golden Boy territory.
But when you put him up against a specific candidate, something magical happens. He beats each one of them, if not by margins he’d find too comfortable. The numbers:
— 46-41 percent over Tom Tancredo;
— 45-40 over Scott Gessler;
— 44-38 over Greg Brophy;
— 44-40 over Mike Kopp.
What’s interesting is that each of the Republicans polls basically the same, meaning, probably, that the numbers are a reflection of how a generic, but real-life, Republican would do against Hick. That’s before, say, Tancredo flips off any more potential voters. Or before Republican voters learn Brophy drives a Prius.
There was some other interesting stuff in the poll. Coloradans say they oppose the Democrats’ gun control package by a 55-40 margin. And yet. And yet. If you take the centerpieces of the legislation, you see an entirely different story. Background checks win in an 85-14 landslide. And even magazine limits – the most controversial part of the law – win a split response, with 49 percent favoring and 48 percent against.
So, how are both things possible? Are we that cognitively dissonant?
Quinnipiac University Polling Institute assistant director Tim Malloy has an idea what’s going on: ”Voters don’t like gun control,” he says, “or maybe they just don’t like the words, ‘gun control.’”
Maybe if the polling question were about “gun reform.” Or maybe about “George Zimmerman.”
However you word it, Coloradans don’t seem to like recalls either. Voters statewide oppose recalls for legislators they disagree with by 57-36. And they opposing recalling Sen. Evie Hudak 49-38. Of course, that’s not a measure of the vote in Hudak’s district, but it does give some idea that a third recall may be a case of overreach.
Of course, looking at the potential gubernatorial matchups, you could comfortably say it’s an overreach to pay much attention to a poll about a race that’s still a year away.
UPDATE: The New York Times has a statement from the Cheney parents – Dick and Lynne – trying to defend candidate Liz without further offending sister Mary in the Cheney family feud. I’m thinking it doesn’t help.
Read for yourself:
“This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public. Since it has, one thing should be clear: Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage. She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done. Compassion is called for, even when there is disagreement about such a fundamental matter and Liz’s many kindnesses shouldn’t be used to distort her position.”
The feuding is not just intra-family, but also intra-Republicans-in-Wyoming family. According to former Sen. Alan Simpson, he was told to shut up – repeatedly — by Lynne Cheney at a Republican dinner. She denied it. He called her a “bald-faced” liar.
Our political lesson for today: It’s getting harder and harder to oppose same-sex marriage. And it’s harder still when your sister is a lesbian with a wife and two kids and when your famous rightwing father, who’s famously against nearly everything, says he supports gay marriage.
This is the story of the Cheney family, of course. Liz Cheney would like to take what was once seen as a semi-reasonable position on same-sex marriage. Opposes it personally, but leaves it up to the states to decide, while agreeing that the State Department – among others — should grant benefits to same-sex couples.
The problem is, that position is so 2011.
In 2013, as she’s running to unseat a fellow Republican in a Wyoming senatorial primary, she’s basically called a liberal by a PAC supporting Sen. Mike Enzi and basically called a bigot by her sister and sister-in-law. In Wyoming, you could argue which is worse.
During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Liz Cheney said she loved her sister but same-sex marriage was just an area in which they disagreed.
Mary Cheney took to Facebook to say it was a little more than a disagreement.
“Liz – this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree, you’re just wrong – and on the wrong side of history,” Mary Cheney wrote.
Heather Poe, Mary Cheney’s wife, took matters a little further and made them a lot more personal. In her Facebook post, she wrote:
“I was watching my sister-in-law on Fox News Sunday (yes Liz, in fifteen states and the District of Columbia you are my sister-in-law) and was very disappointed to hear her say ‘I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage.’
“Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 – she didn’t hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us.
“To have her now say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive to say the least.
“I can’t help but wonder how Liz would feel if as she moved from state to state, she discovered that her family was protected in one but not the other.
“I always thought freedom meant freedom for EVERYONE.”
For those who may not follow Wyoming politics religiously, the line about moving from one state to another was a shot at Liz Cheney’s recent return to Wyoming in order to run for Senate against Enzi, a three-term incumbent.
That was a subtle jab. The rest was an unsubtle warning that Mary Cheney and Heather Poe — just like the issues surrounding same-sex marriage — aren’t going anywhere.
Once upon a time – I think it was this morning — Owen Hill was an obscure Colorado state senator who had joined the Republican primary to run for Mark Udall’s U.S. Senate seat.
Well, he’s obscure no longer.
He’s now the guy who recently made the stupid birther “joke” at a Denver County Republican breakfast and called it “sleazy” for someone to point out that he had made a stupid birther “joke.” Now he has joined Mike Coffman in Colorado’s all-Obama-as-Kenyan Hall of Fame.
Here’s the Hill funny stuff, via BuzzFeed, which got the tape from a Democratic tracker. Hill was talking about his time in Kenya for a Christian charity group called Compassion International.
Ha. Ha. Ha?
Hill didn’t apologize. He issued a statement calling the news of his birther remarks the “typical sleazy tactics used by Mark Udall’s radical operatives ….” He didn’t make himself available to reporters to explain how exactly Udall is the sleazy one here, except to have a spokesman tell News9 that Hill wasn’t a “birther.”
I’m sure it’s true that that he’s not a birther, which makes it even worse. Like Coffman, Hill is simply a typical pandering politician who will pretend go all birther in front of the right audience.
Coffman, you’ll recall, was caught on tape going birther to a Republican group. The money quote: ” I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.”
Coffman, good American that he is, apologized eventually. Will Hill? My guess is it won’t make any difference. He didn’t have a real chance before. Now he’s done as fast as you can say macaca.