There's ample precedent for members of a president's team leaving office, writing a book, and having unkind words for their former boss. And as a simple matter of capitalism, it stands to reason that these books have to be controversial to make money -- books in which former officials spend 300 pages saying, "The president and I made a bunch of smart and effective decisions," probably don't sell well.
But former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been pushing his luck lately, taking a series of dubious shots at President Obama.
Panetta is hardly the first former cabinet official to publish a self-congratulatory, self-serving book, and if the former Pentagon chief hoped to generate interest in his memoir, he's succeeded -- Republicans can't stop talking about how much they suddenly love Leon Panetta.
But if we look past the personalities and the partisans, and focus solely on the policy, there are some striking problems with Panetta's complaints about Obama. For example, he toldUSA Today this week, "For the first four years, and the time I spent there, I thought [the president] was a strong leader on security issues.... But these last two years I think he kind of lost his way."
[Panetta's] basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries -- then he's a "strong leader on security issues." But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn't acquitted itself too well over the past few years -- in that case he's "kind of lost his way."
That's the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don't even seem to realize they feel this way. It's just part of the air they breathe.... This is what Obama is up against.
And while every syllable of this is true, the scope of Panetta's odd complaints goes further.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) unveiled a new ad yesterday that suggests he's a tad concerned about the gender gap (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
"Hi, I'm Scott Walker. I'm pro-life, but there's no doubt in my mind that the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one. That's why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options. The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor. Now reasonable people can disagree on this issue. Our priority is to protect the health and safety of all Wisconsin citizens."
Right off the bat, this is the sort of ad an incumbent runs when he's on the defensive. If reproductive-rights issues weren't a problem for the Republican governor this year, Walker wouldn't bother airing messages like these.
For that matter, last November, the governor boasted that he felt inoculated on these issues, to the point that Walker was no longer concerned about their impact. Apparently, this prediction turned out to be wrong.
But it's the substance of Walker's ad that's especially striking. He supports measures to "increase safety and to provide more information"? Those are interesting euphemisms: the Wisconsin Republican supports imposing regulations that close health clinics while forcing women to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds.
Indeed, last year, Walker approved these sweeping new restrictions on reproductive rights in Wisconsin, signing the legislation in private, late on a Friday before a holiday weekend. The measures have run into trouble in the courts, which is obviously good news for reproductive rights advocates in the state, but in the context of a political campaign, what matters is Walker's policy goals.
And while the governor may call medically unnecessary ultrasounds "more information," it's hard to imagine anyone taking this seriously.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) faced off against former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in a New Hampshire debate last night, and choosing the most amazing part is surprisingly difficult.
We could, for example, start with Brown's odd boast that he's pro-contraception -- a position he says he's held "since I was 18 years old" -- despite the fact that he agrees with the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling. Or maybe we should kick things off with the fact that Brown has now changed his mind, once again, about whether he believes in climate change.
Shaheen argued that the already shrinking deficit could be even smaller by closing some existing tax loopholes, including billions of dollars in tax breaks the extraordinarily profitable oil industry receives but doesn't need. "There's real money there, and if you add it up, you begin to see the impact it would have," the Democrat said.
Brown wasn't buying it, however, saying that going after "fraud, waste and abuse" was a better idea. He also lumped all loopholes into one great big category, and suggested they should be left alone. [...]
"What's a loophole? Well, the investment tax credit is a loophole. The R&D tax credit is a loophole, the child care tax credit, the homeowner interest deduction," he said.
Wait, did Brown really equate the child care tax credit with oil-industry subsidies? Why, yes, actually he did.
Last week, Senate hopeful David Perdue, the Republican nominee in Georgia, ran into a little trouble. The candidate had already been damaged by criticisms of his private-sector background, which includes significant job losses through outsourcing, on top of factory closings, consolidations, and reduced work hours at U.S. facilities, but the story returned to front pages at an inopportune time.
In a 2005 deposition, Perdue was asked about his "experience with outsourcing," to which the Republican replied, "Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that."
Perdue and his campaign team have had a few days to come up with a compelling defense. This is what they came up with.
"Defend it? I'm proud of it," he said in a press stop at The White House restaurant in Buckhead. "This is a part of American business, part of any business. Outsourcing is the procurement of products and services to help your business run. People do that all day." [...]
In remarks Monday, he attempted to draw a line between his business decisions and Washington policies. "I think the issue that people get confused about is the loss of jobs," he said. "This is because of bad government policies: tax policy, regulation, even compliance requirements."
Unlike Perdue's 2005 deposition, yesterday's comments were on video -- which means voters in Georgia will be seeing the Republican talk about his outsourcing pride quite a bit in the near future.
As for Perdue blaming government for the job losses he helped orchestrate, Ed Kilgore's reaction rings true: "I dunno, Dave. The stretch run of a U.S. Senate campaign is a pretty bad time to be conducting a public education program in right-wing economics, or telling people they are 'confused' for disliking outsourcing."
By mid-day yesterday, hours after the Supreme Court had tacitly expanded marriage equality to several states, only one Republican U.S. senator, Utah's Mike Lee, had issued a press statement. In the midst of an extraordinary societal shift on civil rights, Republicans - from Capitol Hill to the RNC -- had effectively decided to take a pass on saying much of anything.
But it wasn't long after that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) decided to weigh in. The fact that the far-right senator wasn't pleased didn't come as a surprise, but take a moment to soak in the Texas Republican's incredible reasoning.
"The Supreme Court's decision to let rulings by lower court judges stand that redefine marriage is both tragic and indefensible," said Sen. Cruz. "By refusing to rule if the States can define marriage, the Supreme Court is abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution. The fact that the Supreme Court Justices, without providing any explanation whatsoever, have permitted lower courts to strike down so many state marriage laws is astonishing.
"This is judicial activism at its worst."
It wasn't too long ago that "judicial activism" was a phrase that actually meant something. Folks on the left and right who were outraged when judges made up new legal rationales to justify controversial decisions could credibly use the words as part of a reasonable complaint.
In time, the phrase became diluted. Soon, every judge a partisan disagreed with became a "judicial activist," whether the label made sense or not. Every ruling a partisan objected to became an example of "judicial activism," even if it wasn't.
But leave it to Ted Cruz to render the phrase utterly meaningless in a new and creative way: the Supreme Court, the senator now believes, can be guilty of "judicial activism" even when the justices literally haven't done anything. Yesterday's news was a breakthrough moment for equal-marriage rights, but in a practical sense, all the justices did was announce they wouldn't hear some cases -- something they do all the time, on all kinds of issues and areas of the law.
But that's not all: Cruz then told everyone what he intends to do about this outrage.
Rachel Maddow shares video of Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst insisting that she has special knowledge of there having been weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, on the 10th anniversary of the Duelfer Report finding no WMDs in Iraq. watch
Clay Jenkins, Dallas County judge, talks with Rachel Maddow about the challenges of handling the Ebola case in his county and his efforts to treat those affected with respect while working to quell the fears of the general public. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on how the compassion Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has shown for immigrant children and the family of Ebola patient Thomas Duncan has drawn protests to his house and criticism in the right-wing press. watch
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, talks with Rachel Maddow about the fight to preserve the abortion rights of Texas women and the appeal to the Supreme Court to intervene in the law that is shutting Texas health clinics. watch
Edith Windsor, plaintiff in the Defense of Marriage Act case argued before the Supreme Court, and her attorney Roberta Kaplan, react to how their case became the lynchpin for the spread of marriage equality across the United States. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the Supreme Court's ruling in the Edith Windsor case and how it laid the groundwork for the spread of marriage equality, furthered today by the Supreme Court declining to hear the same-sex marriage ban appeals of five states. watch