Lord of the Idiots

The 2016 Presidential election has officially entered silly season. There are plenty of political issues on which, no matter how heated and recalcitrant my positions may be, I can understand that there are two realistic answers to the question. On others, however, the same simply cannot be said. Natural selection occurs, the world is more than 5000 years old and vaccines do not cause Autism. Just for good measure, the earth is also round and the sky is blue.

Unfortunately, two serious candidates for president from the Republican Party are having some serious problems accepting one of those axioms, specifically the one about vaccines. First, as The New York Times reports, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) defended parents who irresponsibly opt out of vaccinations such as measles for their children, saying that parents “need to have some measure of choice” in the matter. In doing so, he broke with President Barack Obama’s position, which is that all children should be vaccinated against preventable diseases.

Christie unsurprisingly received a barrage of criticism for his remarks, and despite attempts to walk back the remarks, the damage was done. But suddenly, a new contender has emerged: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

In an interview with NBC News, Paul spoke frankly about his views on immigration. A reputed civil libertarian, Paul took exception with the alleged individual liberty violations inherent in mandatory inoculations. Most troubling, Paul lent his support to the deleterious hoax that vaccines can cause profound mental disorders such as autism.

“I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” he said in his CNBC interview.

This doesn’t happen. He would have been better off saying that a magical unicorn deposits gold ingots in his backyard; at least, that way, nobody would have their health put at risk because of his baldfaced lies. There was one study linking Autism and vaccines (specifically the MMR one). It was discredited, many times. The doctor in question had his license revoked, and eventually retracted the entirety of his findings. It has since come out that he just fabricated the whole thing.

Why Paul, a medical doctor, would support such preposterous dribble is beyond comprehension.

Mandatory vaccinations should be self-explanatory. Individuals with compromised immune systems or other serious ailments often cannot manage the stress of receiving a vaccination (which is minimal for those with functional immune systems), so they must rely on herd immunity. Those who can vaccinate but do not selfishly put those who cannot at risk. It is not just foolish, it is negligent and hurtful.

I never thought we would actually have to defend the validity of the measles vaccine in a presidential election. What century is this? Say what you want about Rick Perry, but his unequivocal and succinct response to all this silliness was absolutely spot-on. His partisan compatriots should learn a thing or two.

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The Rick Perry legacy

Tomorrow, Governor-elect Greg Abbott will take the reigns from Rick Perry and officially become just ‘Governor Abbott.’ For the first time since the Clinton administration, Texas will have a new governor. Indeed, Perry has served in office for more than 14 years, shattering all the old records set by his predecessors.

I’ve been putting off writing about this, because I do not necessarily feel qualified to editorialize about political events that transpired in 2000 or 2001. I was six years old when Perry assumed office, so opining on some of Perry’s first acts would be a lot like my father talking about his experience in observing Dwight Eisenhower or Allan Shivers’ respective tenures in office.

Perry, of course, took office on December 21st, 2000, the day that George W. Bush resigned the governorship in preparation to become president. Perry had served as the Lieutenant Governor since 1999, and previously served two terms as Agriculture Commissioner from 1991 to 1999. He also served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, from 1985 to 1991, the first two of which as a Democrat.

I’m not going to meticulously go over the ebbs and flows of his time in office, others have done a much better job at that. Rather, I want to examine two ideas about Perry that have always stayed with me from his time in office. Contrary to what some may expect from me, they are actually quite positive.

If this makes sense, Perry is an ideologue –but in a good way. When he first took office, his co-leaders were quite different. The Speaker of the House, Pete Laney, was a Democrat, and the acting Lieutenant Governor, State Senator Bill Ratliff (R-Titus County), was a tremendously moderate Republican who could absolutely not succeed in one of his party’s primaries today (think Nelson Rockefeller, except from East Texas). After the conclusion of the 77th Legislature in 2001, Perry vetoed a record number of bills. Even when compared to Ratliff’s successor, David Dewhurst, Perry was right-wing.

Today, however, Perry is seen as an establishment figure. Bud Kennedy at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram opined that he could run for president as the “anti-Cruz,” a more pragmatic establishment type. Compared to, as of tomorrow, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick or Attorney General Ken Paxton (or even Abbott), Perry is on the moderate side of his party. Obviously, the governor did not tack to the left in an era when so many others zoomed the other way. On the other hand, Perry has a firmly planted set of core beliefs, which does not change because of partisan winds. Love him or hate him, that’s an admirable quality, one that is less and less common in successful politicians.

Second, Perry — at his core — always appears to have all of Texas at heart. Sure, there was the rampant cronyism/corruption. But any even rudimentary student of Texas political history knows that is the rule and not the exception. Unlike Abbott or Patrick, in my opinion, Perry genuinely believed what he was doing would be good for the average Texan (as much as he may have been mistaken in some instances), not the average Republican primary voter.

I have found myself agreeing more and more with the band of Democrats who feel that Perry’s successors will be considerably worse than him, and we will one day covet the comparable pragmatism in the Perry administration. There is certainly some truth in this, but it is important to not get carried away.

Perry pushed through venal so-called “tort reform” that lobotomized much of our court system, including the resurgence of cruddy legal jurisprudence typically only found in Great Britain. He was instrumental in the horrendous gerrymandering scheme that reduced 90%+ of legislative districts to uncompetitive backwaters. More recently, he vigorously pushed the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and he attempted to coerce an unfriendly prosecutor into resigning by threatening (and following through) to veto funding (this is what he was indicted regarding).

Obviously, Texas can’t get much worse off on many fronts, but on others it surely can. Perhaps most horrifying about Abbott and his ilk is that they have no central moral principles, nothing preventing them from grandstanding and demagoguery in the face of an increasingly extreme minority that monopolizes the political process. When they start demanding book burnings or the rescinding of the bill of rights, Perry would have rightly put his foot down. Abbott and Patrick, to the contrary, I’m unsure about.

Adios, mofo. We’ll miss you (sort of).

Catching up, Part III

Last week, we saw the brief rise and spectacular fall of the self-aggrandizing Texan believing their own delusions of grandeur. Specifically, I’m talking about Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a Tea Party favorite who launched a last-minute challenge to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the two term incumbent. Gohmert, when all was said and done, received two other votes: Congressmen Randy Weber (R-Texas) and Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma). A grand total of 25 Republicans defected from team Boehner, allowing the speaker to still be easily re-elected.

The total shellacking of the right-wing by establishment Republicans lead Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune to openly wonder if it was a harbinger of things to come for the quixotic race to topple State House Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County). State Representative Scott Turner (R-Rockwall County), a Tea Party favorite, is challenging Straus for the gavel but will likely only garner two dozen votes or fewer.

Meanwhile, a great deal of attention has been placed upon the prospective 2016 Presidential candidates. Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) have already taken official steps toward running, making a mainstream victory in the Iowa Caucuses highly unlikely. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and the party’s 2012 nominee, has begun assembling a new campaign team. The Washington Post reports he is “almost certain” to run for president once more. This coming the same day that Romney’s running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), announced he would not run himself.

On the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continues making cacophonous rabble, but has done little to put together a real campaign. Grassroots activists continue pining for Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), no matter how many times she says, in no uncertain terms, that she will not run. That contest still looks like Hillary Clinton’s to win, lose or draw…almost certainly to win.

Kubosh for Congress?

kubosh

Texpatriate reports that a concerted effort has begun to draft City Councilmember Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) into running for congress, specifically within the 7th District. Kubosh would challenge the incumbent congressman, John Culberson, in the Republican primary, if he were to run. Kubosh’s office did not immediately return a request for comment, but sources close to the councilmember confirmed that he is intently thinking over the decision to run and he has specifically not ruled it out.

Granted, the 2016 primary is still more than a year away, and a whole lot can happen between now and then. But Kubosh would instantaneously have the superb name recognition needed to run a credible campaign against Culberson, who is not exactly a sterling representative of his constituents.

Culberson, a former state representative first elected to congress in 1998, is an astonishingly lightweight politician. In most sessions, he introduces only a handful of pieces of legislation (sometimes none at all) and does little to nothing to see those bills through the process. His sole claim to fame is grandstanding against the proposed Richmond Avenue light rail line, which he has successfully blocked through bullying, intimidation and dirty tactics for many years. Even though the area in question is no longer in his district (it is in Congressman Ted Poe’s), he has gone to possibly unconstitutional lengths to deny federal funds for light rail expansion. He has also, more recently, set his sights on blocking a bus rapid transit line on Post Oak Road in Uptown.

Ostensibly, this is because of a dedication to property rights. But in literally any other instance, Culberson is a lousy defender of the people against claims of eminent domain, namely when the Katy Freeway was recently expanded. It is obvious he sheds crocodile tears on this issue. Sources close to Kubosh, on the other hand, intimate that he would be more amenable to light rail expansion, much like Poe.

All this is to say that Kubosh would be a remarkable improvement just as a result of not being the incumbent. But since taking office on council in January, Kubosh has served in his own right as an effective and well-intentioned officeholder. Whether or not you agree with him on specific issues, his dedication to the job is nearly unmatched among his colleagues.I have, overall, been a big fan of his tenure and would be most excited to see him run for congress.

A bail bondsman by trade, Kubosh first got his start in politics by organizing the successful referendum effort against red-light cameras. He later lead the charge against an asinine ordinance that criminalized feeding the homeless on public property. Historically associated with Republican causes, many within the political establishment feared that he would be a right-wing rabble-rouser on the council. However, his tenure has proven to be anything but, as he has become a steady, compassionate and articulate voice on the council.

I’d like to see Kubosh in Washington. But, given the choice between Kubosh and Culberson, I’ll pull out all the stops to retire the incumbent congressman.

Jeb Bush 2016

The New York Times reports that former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) has taken the first decisive step toward running for president in the upcoming 2016 election. Bush created something called a “leadership PAC” that actively explores the possibility of running for president. It is tantamount in all but name to an Exploratory Committee, and few — if any — serious observers contend that there is a realistic chance he would not follow through and run at this time.

Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, is largely seen as the continuation of a quintessential Republican establishment dynasty. While the family may have been, in some circles, considered on the rightward periphery of the party in 2000, times have markedly changed since that time. Specifically, since the advent of the Tea Party, Bush has been lambasted by the base of his own party as insufficiently conservative on immigration-related issues. Earlier this year, he even suggested unauthorized border crossings were an “act of love,” drawing the ire of the right-wing. Bilingual and the husband of a Mexican-immigration (additionally the father of Land Commissioner-elect George P. Bush), Bush is seen as a uniquely formidable Republican opponent for Democratic presidential contenders, namely former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Prompted by Bush, a few other names have clamored to reiterate their longstanding almost-campaigns. The serious politicians who belong in that category include Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), among other less glamorous options.

Last month, I prognosticated that Cruz has the best chance of the pack to be nominated, and I reiterate that comment again tonight. Make no mistake, the ultra-conservatives (Tea Party) are in firmer control of the party now than they were four years ago. They have only been enraged over the years as their preferred candidates have been cast aside in favor of comparable-pragmatists, such as John McCain and Mitt Romney, who then fell in the general election. Bush — or Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), for that matter — will be shunned because he will be seen as a continuation of the “play it safe” strategy.

Of course, the success of a presidential candidate has little to do with ideology, because the American public does not care enough to understand said ideology. They care about the charisma and soundbites of the messenger. That is why Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in a way that Gerald Ford likely would not have, even though Reagan was significantly more conservative.

Much in the same respect, Cruz is a phenomenal messenger in a way that none of the other candidates are. Not since Joseph McCarthy have the Republicans had a national figure so comfortable with making things up and completely disregarding the truth without so much as a modicum of shame. The only difference is that the media is so impotent and feckless nowadays that there is no Edward R. Murrow to call him out. Cruz is confident, assured and smart, so the base in his party goes along for the ride, even though I think it is fairly obvious he would sell them out in an instant to further his own interest. When the time comes, I believe, the general public will similarly fall for him.

If the Tea Party is looking for a knight in shining armor, they will be sorely disappointed just about any way. Cruz may be appealing, quoting Cicero and all. But in the end, his most rapid supporters will just be muttering “Et Tu, Theodore?” At least Bush puts his cards on the table.

New 2016 tidbits

During the summer, I wrote up a fairly lengthy analysis of 2016 Presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican. Since that time, one Democrat — Jim Webb — has unofficially thrown his hat into the ring by forming an exploratory committee, a formality that always precedes an official announcement. Meanwhile, a Republican — Ben Carson — looks all but certain to make some type of official announcement in coming days. Neither, in my opinion, will make much of a difference, but it is fun to analyze them anyways.

First, as The Washington Post reports, former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) looks to be the first major contender. Webb is a ferociously moderate Democrat, the epitome of so-called “blue dog” values. A longtime military officer, his service culminated with him being the Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. He thereafter served one term in the Senate from Virginia, from 2007 to 2013. He declined to stand for re-election because, as he put it, he hated Washington and its dysfunction. Historically, he has also been a somewhat harsh critic of President Barack Obama, both deriding Obamacare and lambasting the president’s general use of executive power.

Now, I’m surely not the most obsequious fan of Obama, notwithstanding my recent adulation. I think, given his horrendous unpopularity, that the Democrats would not be all that misguided to look toward a candidate not afraid of criticizing ‘the anointed one,’ so to speak. I think former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the definitive Democratic (if not general election) frontrunner, is playing a somewhat safe middle ground by not complimenting or criticizing Obama too heavily. From a policy point of view, I don’t find anything wrong with Webb. He almost reminds me of a modern-day Jimmy Carter. But America, politically speaking, has gotten far dumber — and far less open minded –since the days of the the peanut farmer from Georgia. The media crowns winners years in advance now in the dichotomous, “four legs good, two legs bad” dystopia that we currently live in. Even though I would still venture to say that Clinton is the better candidate because of both policy and, especially, general election standing, her political future has been written years in advance as practically an inevitability.

Second, with Bloomberg Politics doing the honors, Ben Carson has all-but-officially-announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination for president. A brilliant surgeon, Carson’s intellectual prowess does not appear to extend to the political arena, where he bumbles from one conspiracy theory to the next. In addition to having no political experience whatsoever, Carson appears more than willing to cater to the lowest common denominator. I believe he recently suggested he would literally live in some type of socialist autocracy by 2016, if my memory serves me right. If he’s campaigning for a seat on a Fox News talk show, right on. But if he’s serious about the presidency, we should insist he move along.

Otherwise, there are plenty of the same Republican names flirting with the issues as there were in the summer. A few new names include Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who does not have much of a base to prop him up. Additionally, although he hasn’t made official comments one way or another, Governor John Kasich (R-OH) is starting to cause more of a buzz. A pragmatic Republican, he has developed a penchant for moderation, and has received a generous pour of positive press since his landslide re-election.

But perhaps the most significant point I wish to discuss tonight is what I feel is the growing momentum around the inevitable campaign of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). All other things being equal, I think he would win a Republican primary held today. Perhaps more importantly, I think he would also defeat Clinton in a general election.

Cruz is brilliant and articulate. Those with little exposure to him generally like what they see, and he would be sure to extend this mindset to the campaign trail. And while, nationally, his identification is generally negative, the vast majority of Americans do not know who he is. If, for example, I walked around West Campus in Austin, the setting of my apartment, and stopped the first 10 people I spotted, I doubt more than five would be aware of the existence of our state’s junior senator. This, at ostensibly the best pubic institution of higher learning in the state. Transport me to a state outside of Texas, and I’d postulate the number drops to three. For most Americans, including most who will vote in the 2016 election, their first exposure to Cruz will be after he would lock up the Republican nomination.

This is where what I call Cruz’s “Obama resemblance” becomes so important. Throughout the summer, I highlighted what I found to be a similarity. While many other pundits have made the Cruz-Obama connection, including my contemporary Erica Greider in Politico, these profiles have all focused on the duo’s lack of experience (less than one full term in the Senate). However, rather than experience, Cruz’s reminiscence to Obama is his cult-like popularity among his party’s base, and how it provides a uniquely strong transition from primary to general election mode for a presidential candidate.

Throughout the 2008 primaries, and even continuing into recent times, Obama has enjoyed almost a messianic popularity among the most diehard Democrats, the ones who vote in all the primaries. I lamented this fact in The Brandeis Justice last year. Similarly, Cruz looks like he is the holy one among Tea Party Republicans, the exact type who will hand him decisive victories in the Iowa Caucuses and South Carolina Primary, both of which will help propel him to victory in the Republican primaries. I have noted many times that Clinton’s weakness in 2008 was her record of centrism on many important issues. Democrats, fed up with perceived moderation in their party, flocked to the charismatic young guy who told them exactly what they wanted to hear; never mind that he was lying. Thus, Obama talked out of both sides of his mouth, appealing to his base with one breath and the general electorate with the other. Expect Cruz to do the same.

And Cruz, more than any Democrat could ever get away with it, sure does love to lie. Take, for example, is recent bout with the Net Neutrality issue. The gist of it is that internet service providers should — as they always have — treat all online data equally; that is, not intentionally slow down specific sites or applications (read: those who do not pay more).  The Oatmeal has a rather good illustration on all this. Cruz has ridiculously claimed that Obama wants to strictly regulate the internet, and even tax it, both of which are just baldfaced lies. But he keeps on lying anyway, and is rather good at it. Given the feckless, impotent nature of the media, people will eventually come to believe him and heed his words.

Democrats will largely be complacent with Clinton atop the ticket. More reassuring, demographics and tradition are on their side. But Cruz will, in what I have to think of as the more likely scenario, win by a squeaker.

Romney 2016?

About two months ago, I wrote a featured five-part series about the 2016 Presidential election, specifically all of the politicians (Democrat and Republican) who have been discussed as prospective presidential candidates. (If you don’t want to navigate through five different articles, I have abridged the entire thing onto one post here). I pointedly only considered candidates who had openly discussed the prospect of running for President, and not those who have unequivocally ruled it out of the picture or remained silent. Among those individuals was Mitt Romney. I wrote, back in July, that “There is still an active draft movement for Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts and the Republican Presidential nominee in 2012,” but no more. I kept my comments rather concise because, hitherto that article, Romney had been quite adamant with his intention to not run for President again. Romney, of course, was the Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, and then ran for President twice, in 2008 and 2012.

Last week, POLITICO reported that Romney’s tone had changed, ever so slightly, on his future Presidential prospects. The previous rhetoric regarding the future had changed from “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no” to “circumstances can change.” That’s a big change, and it’s the milquetoast, political way of telling the world you have somewhat changed your mind on the matter.

A few days later, POLITICO also reported on a Gallup poll out of Iowa that shows Romney decisively leading the pack for the 2016 Republican Iowa Caucuses. Romney received 35% of the vote in the survey, whereas the next-highest recipient was Undecided with 10% (number three was Mike Huckabee with 9%). When Romney was omitted from the survey, Undecided hops up to 17%, and Huckabee leads the humans with a pitiful 13%. Needless to say, Romney sure looks a panacea for Republican primary voters.

And, irrespective of one’s political orientation, you would be hard-pressed to not admit some of his comments in the 2012 election were rather prophetic. Specifically on the topic of foreign policy, what was once ridiculed as absurd conjecture on the instability of Iraq and the nefariousness of Russia, Romney has largely been vindicated.

That all being said, I’m not so sure that –even if he were interested– Romney would be an ideal candidate for the Republicans in 2016. While many polls have, indeed, shown that the American people have some buyer’s remorse vis-a-vis Romney and Obama in 2012, the same polls still show that Romney would not outdo Hillary Clinton in a 2016 match-up.

Let me be clear, speaking purely objectively, Romney would be a terrible choice for the Republicans in 2016. He lost last time not because he was outgunned by a superior candidate, but because he was such a lousy one himself. He lost an election against a vulnerable incumbent in a bad economy. The reason why was quite simple: he offended the American people by espousing extreme political positions and repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth. There is no reason to think he will not do the same thing once more.