Friday Talking Points [364] -- New Speaker's Speaking Problem

[ Posted Friday, October 2nd, 2015 – 17:43 PDT ]

Kevin McCarthy is not worthy. Of using the English language correctly, among other things. Amusingly, though, this will likely not stop him from becoming the next speaker of the House. And if his past is any prologue, hearing the speaker speak should provide all sorts of amusement for the rest of us. It may not be the return of the garbled George W. Bush era of mangled English, but it could be close.

Without getting into the fallout of his recent announcement that Republicans had indeed convened the Benghazi committee to politically take Hillary Clinton down a few pegs, his statement led up to a key pronouncement: "She's untrustable." Um... "untrustable"? Is that anything like "non-trustally-minded"? Or maybe "distrustacious"? How about "untrustalicious"? I mean, the English language is flexible, so if the poetry muse strikes, why not come up with something even more hilarious to the late-night comics, such as perhaps "atrustadonkadonk"? Hillary Clinton might not be trustworthy, but Kevin McCarthy is just plain not worthy of being anybody's "speaker," really.

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Program Note

[ Posted Thursday, October 1st, 2015 – 19:32 PDT ]

No column today. Airport runs and family responsibilities, sorry.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


Bernie Don't Get No Respect From Media

[ Posted Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 – 16:58 PDT ]

Bernie Sanders, as far as the media is concerned, is the Rodney Dangerfield of presidential candidates -- "he don't get no respect." Of the 23 candidates running for president in the two major parties, precisely four of them have ever shown even 20 percent support (in their polling averages from their base voters). Actually, to be completely accurate, five people have hit the 20 percent support level since the race began this year, but Joe Biden is not actually a candidate yet. The other four are Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders.

Andrew Tyndall, who monitors broadcast news from ABC, NBC, and CBS, has some numbers which starkly show Bernie's Rodney Dangerfield problem. Tyndall tracked the total time the three networks have devoted to the presidential race this year: 504 minutes. This is more than their coverage (to this point on the calendar) in 2011 (277 minutes) and 2007 (462 minutes), so it's not like they're shying away from covering the race or anything. Out of that total, 338 minutes this year has been aired about the Republican race, while only 128 minutes was centered on the Democratic race. Granted, the Republicans have more candidates, which might explain some of the lopsided nature of those numbers.

Even so, the numbers get even more jaw-droppingly uneven when you look at individual candidates. Donald Trump (of course) leads the pack in coverage of his campaign, clocking in at an impressive 145 minutes. Hillary Clinton has gotten 82 minutes of campaign coverage, and an additional 83 minutes devoted to the email scandal. Jeb Bush, who is currently polling in fifth place in the Republican race with less than 10 percent in the polls, has received 43 minutes of coverage. The Bernie Sanders campaign has received a grand total of eight minutes of coverage -- one-fifth of Bush's time, or one-tenth of Clinton's time (one-twentieth, if you count the scandal coverage). Bernie got roughly the same amount of time as Chris Christie (polling below four percent, far back in the Republican pack). Bernie got the same amount of time that Mitt Romney got, when he was teasing a bid earlier this year.

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Reince Priebus Agrees With Jimmy Carter

[ Posted Tuesday, September 29th, 2015 – 16:52 PDT ]

I should start out by apologizing for the sensationalism of that title, but somehow I just couldn't resist. "Priebus Agrees With James Baker" didn't quite have the same punch, but I'm apologizing in advance for two reasons: I actually agree with the chairman of the Republican National Committee on this one; and because of that, the article's going to be supportive and not snarky, as the headline might imply.

I noticed the connection when reading an article on how Reince Priebus is contemplating a major shakeup of the presidential primary process. Most of the article focused on Priebus hinting at challenging the early primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada), and perhaps giving some other states the front position in line. But here's the part that leapt out at me:

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Will Someone Please Point Out Ben Carson's Religious Hypocrisy?

[ Posted Monday, September 28th, 2015 – 17:52 PDT ]

Ben Carson would not support a Muslim candidate for president. This statement was made a week ago, and the media is still pressing him on the issue. But what's kind of puzzling to me is why they don't ask a few very obvious questions that would expose the rank hypocrisy involved in Carson's thinking. Instead, they just ask him the same question (in slightly different formats) over and over again, ignoring the fundamental contradictions in what Carson is espousing.

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Friday Talking Points [363] -- New Job Vacancy: Chief GOP Cat-Herder

[ Posted Friday, September 25th, 2015 – 15:03 PDT ]

Every so often, when preparing to write these weekly wrap-up columns, I wake up Friday morning and a political bombshell has happened which pretty much wipes out all the political news from the entire rest of the week. Obviously, today was one of those days, as we all learned this morning that Speaker of the House John Boehner will be a private citizen again by Hallowe'en. He'll step down not only from his speakership, but also from his House seat itself, more than a year before the end of his current term. So it looks like the Republicans are going to need a new cat-herder to (attempt to) lead them in the House.

The impact of this news is stunning, all along the political spectrum. The far-right folks are overjoyed, as they've never liked or trusted Boehner much at all. The not-quite-as-far-righties (we simply can't call them "moderates" anymore) are a bit anxious and confused. Democrats are experiencing a burst of smirking schadenfreude (which is entirely to be expected, really, but so far they've been doing it fairly quietly and in private). Late-night comedians are -- quite sadly -- filing away all the "Boehner/boner" jokes they've relied upon for the past few years (especially that one priceless clip where Boehner himself makes the joke to a reporter).

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GOP Polling Ups And Downs

[ Posted Thursday, September 24th, 2015 – 17:11 PDT ]

It's been a week since the second Republican presidential debates, and the polling data is finally in from multiple sources. So it's time once again to look at who is up and who is down in the horserace numbers (all polling data comes from the Real Clear Politics Republican nomination poll-tracking page).

First, a quick overview: the biggest winner of the second debate was easily Carly Fiorina, both in position and in raw poll numbers. The biggest loser depends on how you measure it -- by position, I'd have to say Ted Cruz was the biggest loser, but measured by actual poll numbers Donald Trump lost the most.

Fiorina was judged the winner of the first debate as well, but it never really translated into much of a bump in the polls for her. She did rise, but only slightly -- however, in the crowded bottom of the field, even this modest rise was significant. This time around, though, her bump was dramatic and noticeable no matter how you look at it. Fiorina jumped from seventh place before the debate all the way up to third place -- a monumental leap. Before the debate, her polling average was only 3.3 percent. It has now rocketed up to 11.8 percent -- a boost of 8.5 points, far and away the largest absolute gain of any candidate in the field.

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Predicting Next Republicans To Exit The Race

[ Posted Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 – 17:27 PDT ]

So we're down to the paltry number of "only" 15 Republican candidates for president, as Scott Walker has now joined Rick Perry on the sidelines of the race. I must admit, I'm doing a pretty horrible job of picking who will exit the race in what order, as when I wrote about the subject last month, neither man was on my list of the first five candidates I thought would drop out earliest. Both Perry and Walker had substantial support from the billionaire class, which meant both had plenty of funds pouring in to super PACs to support their candidacy. The problem for both men, in the end, turned out not to be lack of funds to air television ads, but rather lack of funds to keep the lights on and pay their official campaign staff. Before their respective exits, Perry put almost all his campaign staff on a volunteer basis (because he couldn't afford the payroll) and Walker announced he was pulling back everywhere but Iowa, and shrinking his campaign staff accordingly. So even with millions sitting in super PAC coffers, what killed their campaigns in the end was lack of financial support for the campaign itself.

This was not foreseen by much of anyone, least of all me. In that previous article I wrote:

Both Rick Santorum and Rick Perry seem to be out of money already (Perry reportedly just put all his campaign staffers on volunteer basis, since he couldn't make the payroll). But while running out of money usually stops a candidacy in its tracks, this is not always true. Some candidacies are closer to crusades than anything else -- true-believers in one cause or another that won't quit no matter what happens (at least, until the primaries get underway). And in the new Citizens United world, super PACs mean even a technically-broke candidate can still be out there running television ads. So picking the early exits isn't as easy as it might seem.

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From The Archives -- Church And State Revisited: The Story Of Smoot

[ Posted Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 – 18:53 PDT ]

[Program Note: Due to an unexpected emergency run to the airport today, I was unable to write a column. The column I was going to write would have been on the theme: "I'm not doing so great in the game of picking which Republican candidates will drop out early," but that'll have to wait for another time. Instead, I'm running a column which compliments yesterday's discussion well, since it deals with a time in American history when there was a gigantic fight over what amounted to a de facto religious test to hold public office. Specifically, the first Mormon senator. We'd all like to believe that religious tests have never been used, since the Constitution forbids them, but this rule was severely bent over 100 years ago, when Utah became a state. What follows is a chapter of our history which many have either never heard of, or completely forgotten. I thought it'd be pertinent to the discussion surrounding religion that has cropped up in the 2016 contest.]


Originally published December 10, 2007

It always amuses me when Americans are told that the political climate today is "poisonously partisan" or "divided" and that this is "the worst partisanship Washington has ever seen." While pundits in the mainstream media love to whip this non-story into a frenzy every election year, it only goes to prove their utter ignorance of American history.

Take just one example: the church and state debate. Much ink was spilled over Mitt Romney's speech last week about his Mormon faith. Very little attention was paid to America's dark history of anti-Mormonism. Americans, as a whole, are not taught these things in their basic history classes in school, because we naturally shy away from the uglier episodes in our country's past.

But the history remains, for anyone willing to take a look. Mormons have the unusual distinction of being the only religious group in United States history to be singled out in one state for extermination. Well, OK, it was in the midst of the "Mormon War" and the Mormons were not entirely blameless themselves in the run-up to the incident, but still... extermination?

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How About A Jewish President?

[ Posted Monday, September 21st, 2015 – 17:01 PDT ]

For the past few days, the presidential election has focused on religion -- in specific, the Islamic religion. This started with Donald Trump failing to challenge a questioner's assertion that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, and then shifted to asking Republican candidates whether they could hypothetically support a Muslim to become America's president. This time it was Ben Carson who stumbled, not Trump. Other Republican presidential candidates have -- to their credit -- condemned Carson's remarks, most notably Ted Cruz (on constitutional grounds: "the Constitution specifies there shall be no religious test for public office and I am a constitutionalist") and Lindsey Graham (on historical grounds: "America is an idea, not owned by a particular religion"). Bobby Jindal tried to win the gotcha battle in his own unique way:

If you can find me a Muslim candidate who is a Republican, who will fight hard to protect religious liberty, who will respect the Judeo-Christian heritage of America, who will be committed to destroying ISIS and radical Islam, who will condemn cultures that treat women as second-class citizens and who will place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, then yes, I will be happy to consider voting for him or her.

This ignores the fact that, as Ted Cruz pointed out, there is no requirement a president "place their hand on the Bible" while being sworn in (the words "so help me God" don't even appear in the official oath of office), and also brushes aside how today's Republican Party could be described by many as a "culture that treats women as second-class citizens," but Jindal's always been known to unintentionally utter some rather ironic statements.

But all of this media attention over a hypothetical Muslim presidential candidate (not one of the major party candidates is, in actual fact, a Muslim) completely ignores a truly pertinent question -- one that I am personally astonished that nobody's really even noticed yet. The question: Could America elect the first Jewish president in 2016?

You may not be aware of it, but Bernie Sanders is Jewish. You are probably not aware of it mostly because the subject has yet to be raised in any meaningful way in the media surrounding the presidential campaign. We all know that Hillary Clinton (or Carly Fiorina, perhaps) could become the first woman president in American history. Those aware of modern history know that John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president. So why has nobody noticed that Sanders could be the first Jewish president?

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