Monday, December 10, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week: Republican Watch

Time and reason must cooperate with each other to the final establishment of any principle; and therefore those who may happen to be first convinced have not a right to persecute others, on whom conviction operates more slowly. The moral principle of revolutions is to instruct, not to destroy. -- Thomas Paine

For some reason, I found myself focused on Republicans this week (plus Mike Gravel).

Presidential Candidates Up Close
The article based on my one-on-one interview with Mike Gravel is up on the UU World website. Gravel is a Unitarian Universalist, so I parlayed my status as an online columnist for UU World into an interview. It's the first time I've done something like that.

Interviewing Gravel is a hoot. He's willing to talk about anything you want and he's a great story-teller. You can get a little of that flavor by watching the panel discussion about the Pentagon Papers from the UU General Assembly last June. (Skip past the 2:30 of dead air at the beginning. Daniel Ellsberg comes on at the 10:50 mark and Gravel at 28:30.)

Saturday I saw John McCain in Nashua. My full account is here. One detail I left out of that article: When the question period ended, McCain started the hand-shaking aftermath by stepping off the platform in my direction, offering me his hand, and thanking me for my thoughtful question. (Naturally I had just turned off my recorder, so that little keepsake is lost.) That graciousness -- it wasn't a softball question -- is one reason why it's hard not to like McCain when you see him in person. I still disagree with a lot of what he says, and won't vote for him in January, but I like him. In 2000 I was mystified how Republicans could look at him and Bush and choose Bush. I'm still mystified.

Mitt is No JFK
It's hard to express just how disappointed I was in Mitt Romney's "Faith in America" speech Thursday. On October 15 I told you about an article by Steve Benen explaining why Mitt Romney could not have a "JFK moment" where he faced the Mormon issue directly. I summarized Benen's reasoning like this:
JFK defused the Catholic issue by embracing the separation of church and state. But the Republican base doesn't believe in the separation of church and state. So what's Mitt supposed to say to them?
Well, Romney answered that question. The way to paper over the differences between Romney's Mormonism and the evangelical Christianity of the Republican base is to unite believers against unbelievers. His speech is full of references to the villainous "some". As in:
The notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
Even a favorable review of the speech by conservative columnist David Brooks notes:
Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious.
That's not what JFK did. His speech was genuinely unifying and spoke to all Americans.
I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice
But in today's Republican Party it is rare for anyone to take a position that doesn't pit someone against someone else. Unbelievers, gays, illegal immigrants, liberals, Muslims, peaceniks, people on welfare -- there's always got to be a scapegoat.

Finally, I was disgusted by the way Romney cherry-picked his theology to pander to evangelicals. He hides behind noble sentiments to avoid discussing the less popular parts of Mormonism like this:
There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.
But in the previous paragraph he said:
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.
So a religious test is appropriate if Romney can pass it. Otherwise it violates the spirit of the Constitution.

I started telling you about Mike Huckabee in early September. And on October 22 I made this prediction:
Huckabee could break into the top tier. The Evangelical Republicans haven't warmed to Fred Thompson yet, they've never liked McCain, Romney's Mormonism and past pro-choice and pro-gay-rights positions bother them, and Giulani's current social-issue positions (plus his multiple marriages) make him the least acceptable of all. The thing keeping the Evangelicals away from Huckabee is that he looks like a loser. If that starts to change, it could change fast.
Well, the Huckabee Surge is upon us. A Newsweek poll has him ahead of Romney 39-17 among people like to attend the Iowa caucuses. He has moved into second place in national polls. (The Huckabee line is the pointing-straight-up green one in this graph.)

Up until now, playing nice with Huckabee was part of pandering to the evangelical base. The other Republicans knew the the evangelicals liked Huckabee but weren't going to vote for him because he wasn't a serious candidate. So it made sense to show respect and not be mean. It's similar to the way the Democrats treated Al Sharpton in 2004.

Now that he's a serious candidate, the gloves are off. The plutocratic wing of the Republican Party is not going to accept Huckabee, and they're the ones with the real power. The Club for Growth has put out this ad. And suddenly Wayne DuMond is becoming Huckabee's Willie Horton. Oh, and he's said wacky things about AIDS and he doesn't believe in evolution. None of that is new, but suddenly people have to take it seriously.

And then there are the liberals. Here's Stranahan's hilarious suggestion for a Huckabee attack video.

Anyway, I'll make my next Huckabee prediction: The attacks will work. There's a hard-core evangelical vote in the Republican primaries that will net him 20-25% in a lot of states, but that's going to be the ceiling. As other candidates start to fall by the wayside, that 20-25% will stop looking so formidable.

News I Haven't Assimilated Yet
In a shock to everybody, the administration released a summary of the National Estimate on Iran's nuclear program. It's not that long, you could read it easily. (The actual content on is on pages 6-8.) "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."

Suddenly, we're no longer headed for war with Iran. And dozens of other questions open up: Why was this NIE compiled? Why did the administration release it? Did President Bush know about this when he was threatening World War III? Speculation is everywhere; information is hard to find.

And coincidentally -- or not coincidentally, who knows? -- a scandal broke at the CIA. Tapes of some "harsh interrogations" were destroyed. (See TPM's collection of Sunday news show comments.)

And coincidentally -- or not -- a scandal broke in Congress. The top Congressional leaders, including Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller, were briefed about the CIA's interrogation techniques a long time ago. They knew and said nothing.

This is head-spinning stuff, and I'm sure we haven't heard the end of it yet. Instead of trying to make sense of it all, I'm going to recall the principle I want to uphold: the rule of law.

When something inexcusable comes out, the standard Republican tactic is not to defend, but to say "Democrats did it too." They seem to think we'll say, "Well, OK then." But this isn't about parties, it's about what America stands for. Torture is a war crime. Destroying evidence of torture is obstruction of justice. Keeping silent about it may be criminal conspiracy, and even if it isn't the voters should punish it politically. Everyone connected with torture needs to go down. Otherwise this country will never get back to being a force for good in the world.

Short Notes
Adam Klugman wants to start a campaign to rebrand the Democratic Party. Before you reject that idea, watch his video.

Marty Lederman at my favorite legal blog Balkinization recommends a working paper on the issues around FISA.

Nerdcore Rising's "Nerd of the Week" feature pays a visit to last summer's Yearly Kos convention. It's cute and informative, and if I studied each frame with a microscope I'd probably find myself somewhere.

It's just as bad as you think. Interrogators determined Murat Kurnaz was innocent in 2002. He finally got out of Guantanamo in 2006.

You know all those people who tell you that the troops and their families support the war and believe in the mission? Well, they're wrong.

TPM has put together a collage of all the TV ads of all the Republican presidential candidates. Enjoy.

Just in case you still need to fix that good mood you're in: Here's Cass Dillion and Billy Joel with Christmas in Fallujah.


Blogger Bill Baar said...

You think it coincidence Iran stopped development on nukes in 2003? From Michael Barone today,

Is it possible that the major military action in Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein, which motivated Muammar Qaddafi to cancel Libya's nuclear weapons program, had the same effect on Iran's mullahs? If so, it was not as much of a blunder as so many Americans thought a year ago.

McCain is indeed the only great running. He drawf's everyone else.

From Deb Saunders,

New York Times columnist David Brooks described McCain as the only great man from either party in the race. As McCain said of his support of the Senate immigration bill, "I came to the Senate not to do the easy things, but the hard things." But do voters want the hard things?

1:27 PM  

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