As congressional Republicans shut down the federal government last fall, there was some effort among conservatives to redefine the word "shutdown" to make it seem less politically provocative. Fox News and others said it was a "slowdown," not a "shutdown."
In time, even the most stubborn Republican voices gave up, realizing that a shutdown by any other name is still a shutdown. But as GOP lawmakers give up on legislating for the rest of the year and move into full-time campaign mode, the plainly silly effort to redefine the word is apparently making a comeback.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Sanford claimed in an interview that was posted on YouTube Sunday that the "government didn't shutdown" during the government shutdown.
"The government didn't shut down," Sanford said. "I mean everyone likes to describe it as such. The president in some cases shut down parts of government that were most visible to people. People were still getting their Social Security checks. They're still enacting, enrolled in Medicare. I mean, I could go through a lot of different functions of government. You know, we had planes that were flying on a nightly basis, you know, using pieces of sort of our national infrastructure grid. So a lot of things were happening."
And what about all of those closings Americans might remember seeing last October? That, according to the Republican congressman, was just President Obama "exerting political pressure," closing parks and monuments on purpose to make Republicans look bad.
I've watched the video; there was nothing to suggest Sanford was kidding.
It gets a little tiresome to hear Republicans complain about President Obama's handling on the crisis in Ukraine without suggesting credible alternatives. Too often, the rhetoric is little more than vague platitudes -- he should be "tougher" and "lead more" -- when the right isn't calling for specific actions the White House is already taking.
So it was heartening to see Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) publish an 830-word op-ed on the subject in Time. The good news is, the senator has a plan he's eager to share. The bad news is, his vision for U.S. foreign policy is truly awful (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
After some throat-clearing, the Kentucky Republican spells out the "specific and decisive measures" he'd like to see incorporated into U.S. foreign policy. Here's the gist:
1. "Economic sanctions and visa bans should be imposed and enforced without delay."
2. Drill for more oil and gas in the U.S., and boost exports to Europe.
3. Build the Keystone XL Pipeline.
4. Suspend financial support to Ukraine.
5. Withdraw from this summer's G-8 summit.
6. Put missile-defense technology in Poland and the Czech Republic, but only if they pay for it.
7. Don't spend any money because "the U.S. is broke."
Jon Chait calls the plan "completely nuts" and evidence of the senator letting out his "long-suppressed inner kook." It's a fair criticism.
West Virginia's legislature wrapped up its work for the year over the weekend, but not before approving a 20-week abortion ban.
An ongoing emotional debate on legislation to ban abortions of fetuses after 20 weeks gestation (HB4588) reached a crescendo in the Senate with a 29-5 passage vote on the controversial measure.
Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, who had demanded the bill be read in its entirety prior to the vote, admonished his colleagues for passing what many believe is unconstitutional legislation, saying the state will never move ahead so long as legislators are beholden to special interests.
"We want to focus on gays, abortion and guns, and I have to wonder when that's going to change," he said, adding, "We will never get past 50th if we worry more about the next election than the next generation."
Soon after, the state House approved the same bill, 83 to 15. There was no debate -- House leaders said members needed to vote on a variety of bills on Saturday night, so there wouldn't be enough time for lawmakers to address the subject before voting on it.
While 20-week bans have become a common proposal for opponents of reproductive rights, West Virginia is somewhat unique in the larger context -- this is the first state legislature with Democratic majorities to pass the bill. It's worth noting, however, that West Virginia Democrats are often well to the right of the party's mainstream.
The bill now goes to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) whose signature is hardly guaranteed. "The abortion bill obviously is one that causes me some concern because even the legislative attorneys and others said they feel this bill is unconstitutional," he said. "I'll be looking at all aspects of it once I receive the bill."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has a habit of complaining that Republicans just aren't far enough to the right, which regularly rubs party leaders the wrong way. But at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Cruz seemed to annoy his Republican elders more than usual.
"All of us remember President Dole, and President McCain and President Romney. Those are good men, they're all decent men but when you don't stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don't stand for principle, Democrats celebrate."
The message wasn't subtle: as Cruz sees it, Republicans lost in 1996, 2008, and 2012 because the party's presidential nominees just weren't conservative enough. If only they'd been further to the right, the argument goes, Democrats would have been in real trouble.
Because Dole is an elderly man with health concerns, Cruz has drawn fire from John McCain and others for going too far. The pushback is based on basic human decency -- Cruz's remarks, many in the party have concluded, were simply obnoxious.
And while that matters, it's also worth considering Cruz's argument on the merits, because the senator is arguably wrong in addition to being rude.
Republican Party leaders seem well aware of the demographic challenges they'll face in the not-too-distant future. The party has generally relied on a more homogenous base made up of older, white, religious voters, which Republican leaders have recognized as a problem in an increasingly diverse nation.
But it's important to realize the scope of the demographic difficulties facing the GOP, because it's not just the result of changes to the electorate's racial and ethnic makeup. The generational challenges should probably be just as alarming to Republican strategists. Consider, for example, the latest Pew Research Center report, released late last week.
Pew has released a new survey about the social and political attitudes of various generations, and it makes for interesting reading. The thing that strikes me the most is just how clear the trends are. Each successive generation is more politically independent; more religiously independent; less likely to be married in their 20s; less trusting of others; less likely to self-ID as patriotic; and less opposed to gay rights. There's virtually no overlap at all. It's just a smooth, straight progression.
But the single most interesting chart in the report is one that doesn't show this smooth progression.
Right. The Pew data shows voters under 30 moving sharply to the left in recent years. This isn't necessarily reflected in partisanship, but it is captured by ideology -- the "millennial" generation is the only generation in which self-described liberals outnumber self-described conservatives.
Republican strategist Kate Obenshain was recently on Fox News when Bill O'Reilly posited that there must be "some downside to having a woman president." He added, "There haven't been that many strong women leaders throughout history."
A week later, Obenshain was at CPAC reflecting on the right and the gender gap (thanks to reader J.B. for the tip).
One of the panelists on a discussion conservative women in politics had a message for men within the party: no dumb comments this cycle and let women talk about contraception.
"We cannot have any stupid comments this year. No stupid comments," conservative author Kate Obenshain said Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "Please think before you make pithy, obnoxious comments." Obenshain added that it's important to avoid comments that play into the "War On Women" attack against Republicans.
She went on to say that when it comes to contraception, "White men stay behind, let the women talk about this issue."
At the surface, all of this seems quite sensible. There's ample evidence that Republicans have struggled of late with women voters at the national level, at least in part due to "stupid comments," so Obenshain's advice has a sensible ring to it.
But the underlying problem persists: many Republicans still believe their difficulties have more to do with rhetoric than policy, as if substance just isn't that important.
President Obama occasionally takes a breather because, well, humans in stressful jobs sometimes need a break. For some reason, Republicans seem to find this fascinating.
While Russia beefed up its forces in Ukraine and the U.S. unemployment rate ticked up slightly, President Obama was criticized for spending the weekend on vacation with his family at an ultra-exclusive private community in the Florida Keys.... The Obamas combined their excursion with a stop at a high school in Miami to promote the president's education agenda.
"Only President Obama would deliver a brief speech about education and then have the nerve to jet over to the posh Ocean Reef Clubs -- an exclusive members-only resort for the wealthy -- for a quick vacation," said RNC spokesman Jahan Wilcox. "As President Obama enjoys the Florida Keys and Vice President Biden vacations in the Virgin Islands for the weekend, their economic policies are still leaving millions of middle-class Americans and young adults struggling to get by in the Obama economy."
To be sure, the Republican National Committee is supposed to launch silly lobs at Democratic administrations, but the RNC's talking points appear to have been embraced by some media conservatives. Fox News' Chris Wallace, for example, asked former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates yesterday if "it's helpful for President Obama to take the weekend off in the middle of what you call a crisis to be playing golf in Florida."
Peggy Noonan added, "He's sort of off for the weekend in a way that startles me in the middle of a crisis."
First, Friday's jobs report was actually pretty good, and even if it had been a disaster, there's nothing the president could have done about it over the weekend anyway. Second, Obama taking a short break in Florida didn't stop him from working the phones on the crisis in Ukraine, and if the circumstances warranted it, the president could have left anytime.
But even putting this aside, all of this handwringing wouldn't be quite so annoying if Republicans weren't conveniently ignoring the president's immediate predecessor.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney made his latest Sunday-show appearance yesterday, using the word "weak" quite a bit to condemn President Obama on "Face the Nation." But what struck me as especially interesting was the former VP, true to form, complaining that U.S. military options aren't being considered in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
DICK CHENEY: Well, I think -- I worry one would begin to address a crisis by the first thing we do is take options off the table. I don't think the administration should do that. And this--
CHARLIE ROSE: Have they done that?
DICK CHENEY: In a sense saying no military. He seems to operate that way most of the time. There are military options that don't involve putting troops on the ground in Crimea. We could go back and reinstate the ballistic missile defense program that was taken out. It was originally going to go in Poland, Czech Republic, Obama took it out to appease Putin. We could do training exercises in Poland, joint exercises. We can offer military assistance in terms of equipment, training, and so forth to the Ukrainians themselves.
Now, we could talk about how dubious Cheney's argument about missile defense is. Or we could note how amusing it is for the former VP to embrace his own caricature and talk up military solutions. Or we could even highlight the oddity of Cheney whining incessantly about Obama being responsible for the Ukrainian crisis, nearly six years after Putin went to war with Georgia, wholly unconcerned with what Bush/Cheney had to say about it.
But that's not what came to mind watching Cheney's latest condemnation of his successors.
In his speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rejected the idea that his party was in the midst of a "civil war." He told the far-right activists, "I don't see this great divide in our party."
Ryan stressed the same point on "Face the Nation" yesterday. "I don't think there's really this vast civil war in the Republican Party like many in the left like to suggest there is," the congressman said. "I think we're a party with a vibrant debate, adding ideas, solving problems, and I think we're going to be okay."
Metaphors can be tricky and if Ryan is uncomfortable with "civil war" references, his concerns are not without merit. In a civil war, there are generally two well-defined contingents struggling for control, but what Republicans have are multiple factions looking for power, but lacking in leadership and direction.
Robert Costa's post-CPAC report framed the landscape well.
The annual Conservative Political Action Conference came to a raucous and buoyant end Saturday as thousands of tea party activists cheered on former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who closed the gathering with a full-throated denunciation of President Obama and urged conservatives to embrace their views more fiercely than ever.
But over the course of its three days, the event put on display how factions within the Republican Party are still struggling to find a path out of the wilderness, illuminating the gap between the GOP's resolutely conservative grass-roots and a party leadership eager for a more moderate approach.
It became clear at CPAC that Republicans are united in their contempt for President Obama ... but that's about it. What's the Republican line on foreign policy? Ask different figures in the party and you'll get very different answers. What should Republicans do about immigration? There's no shortage of opinions, many of which contradict each other.
What role should social issues play in the GOP's agenda? Should the party try to be more inclusive? Should the focus remain on repealing the entirety of the Affordable Care Act? Who's leading the party and in what direction? No one, inside CPAC or out, seems to have the foggiest idea.
Sen. Rand Paul wins the CPAC straw poll, while NJ Gov. Chris Christie comes in 4th (behind "other"). (thegreenpapers.com) Duke Energy CEO: customers will cover the cost of NC coal-ash cleanup. (WRAL) And there's a third leak at the Dan River site. (WRAL) Malaysia has reportedly identified a passenger who boarded a now-missing jet using a stolen passport. (L.A. Times) Immigration detainees go on a hunger strike. (L.A. Times) read more