Health care divides some Republican Senate rivals

By BILL BARROW

ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans see the 2014 midterm elections as a chance to capitalize on voter frustration with the problem-plagued health care overhaul, but the GOP first must settle a slate of Senate primaries where conservatives are arguing over the best way to oppose President Barack Obama’s signature law.

In intraparty skirmishes from Georgia to Nebraska, the GOP’s most strident candidates and activists are insisting on a no-holds-barred approach. They accuse fellow Republicans — including several incumbent senators — of being too soft in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act and to the president in general.

The outcomes will help determine just how conservative the Senate Republican caucus will be during Obama’s final two years. And they could influence which party controls the chamber, with Democrats hoping that the most uncompromising Republican standard-bearers will emerge from the primaries and fare as poorly in general elections as their counterparts did in several 2012 Senate races. Republicans need to gain six seats for a majority.
Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who wants to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, stepped into the rift recently when he seemed to scold much of his party during an interview on a conservative talk radio show.
“A lot of conservatives say, ‘Nah, just step back and let this thing fall to pieces on its own,” Kingston said. “Well, I don’t think that’s always the responsible thing to do.”

Rep. Paul Broun, one of Kingston’s rivals in a crowded primary field, pounced immediately, declaring in an Internet ad, “I don’t want to fix Obamacare, I want to get rid of it.” Conservative commentators hammered Kingston with headlines like “Kingston has surrendered on Obamacare.”

In Tennessee, state Rep. Joe Carr blasted Sen. Lamar Alexander for serving as a key GOP negotiator in the deal to end the partial government shutdown that resulted from House Republicans’ efforts to deny funding for the health care law. Alexander subsequently described himself as a “conservative problem solver,” a characterization that Carr says “typifies how out of touch he is.”

Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin is using a similar line of attack in trying to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as is Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel in his primary challenge to Sen. Thad Cochran. Carr, Bevin and McDaniel all say they’d be more like freshmen Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, tea party favorites who pushed the defunding strategy and vexed their longer-serving colleagues.

In Nebraska and Louisiana, Republican candidates who say they oppose the health care law have had to defend their past positions on health care.

National Republicans settled on Rep. Bill Cassidy as their best shot to beat Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. But retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness notes that Cassidy, as a state senator and a physician in the state’s public hospital system, pushed health care policies similar to those in the Affordable Care Act.

“He has to defend his entire record, regardless of how he’s voted in Washington,” said Maness, a GOP candidate who hopes to unseat Landrieu with tea party support.

Midland University President Ben Sasse, one of several Republicans running in Nebraska for retiring Sen. Mike Johanns’ seat, says he opposes the health care law but has had to explain previous speeches and writings in which he was less absolute, at one point calling the act “an important first step” in overhauling American health care.
“This goes right to the bigger fight between the ideologues and the pragmatists,” said Republican strategist Todd Rehm of Georgia, who isn’t affiliated with any of the eight GOP candidates for Chambliss’ seat. Candidates who want to capture the divided Republican electorate, he said, “see that you can’t compromise on any of it. … The moment you start to sound like you’re open to any compromise, you’ve sold out the ideologues.”

Indeed, Alexander, McConnell, Kingston and Cassidy all voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and for symbolic repeal proposals since then. Some in the GOP leadership say the intraparty struggle is only about tactics, not the bottom line. Carr insists that’s exactly the point.

“Their presumption is that tactics don’t matter because the outcome would be the same,” he said. “But it wouldn’t. There wasn’t a single Republican vote that passed the Affordable Care Act, whether we’re talking establishment, tea party, moderate, conservative, whatever. … So if it’s so bad — and it is — the question is why did establishment Republicans not fight to defund it?”

Leaders of national conservative groups, which have been key players in recent Senate elections, say the distinction is an important consideration as they decide endorsements.

“I would say that any candidate who is a vocal opponent of that (defunding) strategy would certainly cause us hesitation,” said Easton Randall of FreedomWorks political action committee. “The burden is on them to explain what they would do differently to achieve a goal we all claim to share.”

So far, FreedomWorks has endorsed McDaniel over Cochran in Mississippi and Nebraska state Treasurer Shane Osborn over Sasse. The group is watching several other races.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, split with FreedomWorks in Nebraska, siding with Sasse. But the fund endorsed Maness in Louisiana, Bevin in Kentucky and McDaniel in Mississippi, among others. DeMint now runs the Heritage Foundation, whose political arm also is monitoring several other races.

Those groups’ recent record is mixed. Democrats are hoping for a repeat of 2010 and 2012 races where the far right groups backed less-viable candidates who lost general elections in Colorado, Nevada, Delaware and Indiana. But the same groups also helped elect Lee, Cruz and Marco Rubio in the presidential swing state of Florida.
At FreedomWorks, PAC treasurer and policy chief Dean Clancy dismissed any notion that his efforts would hurt the party.

“Republicans make a mistake when they try to waffle on these issues or sound like Democrat-lite,” he said

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GOP struggle widens as Boehner rebukes hard right

By CHARLES BABINGTON

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican establishment’s much-anticipated pushback against the tea party wing is underway. House Speaker John Boehner made that clear Thursday, when he renewed his denunciation of groups that try to defeat GOP incumbents they consider too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Some Republican loyalists wonder what took so long. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently took steps to help mainstream Republicans in party primaries, but Boehner’s high-profile outburst will move the effort to the GOP’s front burners.

Cheering him on are mainstream Republicans who angrily watched for three years as hard-right groups exercised remarkable clout in the party, the Congress and elections. Tea party-backed nominees helped the GOP win control of the House in 2010, but they also lost several Senate races seen as winnable, keeping the Senate in Democratic hands.

This past summer, uncompromising House Republicans forced a partial government shutdown that damaged the party’s image, just as Boehner warned it would.

Many Republicans also feel conservative activists pushed presidential nominee Mitt Romney so far to the right on immigration and other issues that it eased President Barack Obama’s path to re-election last year.

“The establishment has no choice at this point,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who has criticized the tea party’s growing influence. “So they’re taking them on.”

“To follow these groups is a downward spiral,” Davis said.

Those groups will fight back hard, Davis warned, and it’s not clear which faction will prevail in next year’s midterm elections and beyond. “They’re dug in pretty hard,” he said.

For a second straight day, Boehner criticized groups such as Heritage Action, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity. These Washington-based organizations vary on priorities and tactics. But all have sharply rebuked Republican leaders on key issues. And they have aided insurgent Republican challengers who vow never to compromise with Democrats, even if it means shutting down the government or defaulting on the federal debt.

Critics say the groups chiefly want to raise money by constantly inflaming political activists.

“They’re misleading their followers,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at the Capitol. “I just think that they’ve lost all credibility.”

The issue at hand was a bipartisan budget plan that makes modest changes in spending levels. It is meant to avert another government shutdown and budget crisis in the near future.

But Boehner’s remarks appeared aimed more broadly at tea partyers who say true conservatives never compromise, and at groups that try to oust established Republicans seeking re-election.

House actions under his speakership, Boehner said, “have not violated any conservative principle, not once.” He then dismissed the activist groups, saying, “I don’t care what they do.”

Some Republicans fear an all-out struggle between the establishment and the tea party wings, saying both factions’ money and energy are crucial to winning elections. But others say tea party excesses leave little choice.

Even after tea party-backed nominees fumbled away likely GOP Senate victories in Delaware, Indiana and elsewhere, the groups continue to target prominent Republican veterans. They include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is seeking a sixth six-year term.

“We can only take so much from these guys that are out there on the ledge,” Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said. He faces a tea party-backed challenger in his bid for a ninth House term. The Chamber of Commerce, which traditionally has done little in Republican primaries, is airing ads for Simpson.

The chamber also helped defeat a tea party-backed candidate in a special House primary in Alabama last month.

Conservative activists say Boehner and others will regret their moves. Groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth have tens of thousands of followers, said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who has often feuded with Boehner.

“For any Republican to ignore them is dangerous to them electorally,” Huelskamp told reporters. Tea party activists were crucial to the Republicans’ breakthrough victories in 2010, he said. If party elders say, “We don’t need you anymore,” he said, millions of conservatives may sit out future elections.

Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler said his group won’t back down. When Boehner writes off the dozens of House members who won’t compromise on tax and spending issues, it means “he’s going to rely heavily on Democrats” to pass legislation, Holler said. That’s bad for conservative principles, he said, and bad for GOP cohesion in elections.

Boehner’s allies say the alternative is worse. When Boehner tries to placate the staunchest conservatives in his caucus, they say, the results are a government shutdown, a major loss on the “fiscal cliff” deal a year ago and other Republican embarrassments.

Sixty-two House Republicans voted against the Boehner-backed budget deal Thursday, requiring dozens of Democratic votes to pass it.

Steve LaTourette, a Boehner friend and former GOP House member from Ohio, said he is heartened by the stepped-up actions by Boehner, the Chamber and others frustrated by tea party tactics. He warned, however, that mainstream Republicans won’t tame the tea party faction without huge amounts of effort and money.

The intraparty struggle, LaTourette said, “is a script that’s yet to be written.”

Rep. Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican who embraces the tea party label, notes that American voters will have a big say in the outcome. He gets along fine with Boehner, Marchant said, but he opposed the leadership-backed budget deal.

“I’m just getting no input from back home that they have any interest in doing this,” Marchant said.

Don’t Sanitize Nelson Mandela: He’s Honored Now, But Was Hated Then

By Peter Beinart December 5th 20137:40 pm followMore Stories by Peter Beinart

If we turn the late South African leader into a nonthreatening moral icon, we’ll forget a key lesson from his life: America isn’t always a force for freedom.

Now that he’s dead, and can cause no more trouble, Nelson Mandela is being mourned across the ideological spectrum as a saint. But not long ago, in Washington’s highest circles, he was considered an enemy of the United States. Unless we remember why, we won’t truly honor his legacy.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress on America’s official list of “terrorist” groups. In 1985, then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a resolution urging that he be released from jail. In 2004, after Mandela criticized the Iraq War, an article in National Review said his “vicious anti-Americanism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise, given his longstanding dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.” As late as 2008, the ANC remained on America’s terrorism watch list, thus requiring the 89-year-old Mandela to receive a special waiver from the secretary of State to visit the U.S.

From their perspective, Mandela’s critics were right to distrust him. They called him a “terrorist” because he had waged armed resistance to apartheid. They called him a “communist” because the Soviet Union was the ANC’s chief external benefactor and the South African Communist Party was among its closest domestic allies. More fundamentally, what Mandela’s American detractors understood is that he considered himself an opponent, not an ally, of American power. And that’s exactly what Mandela’s American admirers must remember now.

We must remember it because in Washington today, politicians and pundits breezily describe the Cold War as a struggle between the forces of freedom, backed by the U.S., and the forces of tyranny, backed by the USSR. In some places—Germany, Eastern Europe, eventually Korea—that was largely true. But in South Africa, the Cold War was something utterly different. In South Africa, for decades, American presidents backed apartheid in the name of anti-communism. Indeed, the language of the Cold War proved so morally corrupting that in 1981, Reagan, without irony, called South Africa’s monstrous regime “essential to the free world.”.

In South Africa, it was the Soviet bloc—the same communist governments that were brutally repressing their own people—that helped the ANC fight apartheid. In the 1980s, they were joined by an American and European anti-apartheid movement willing to overlook the ANC’s communist ties because they refused to see South Africa’s freedom struggle through a Cold War lens. At a time when men like Reagan and Cheney were insisting that the most important thing about Mandela was where he stood in the standoff between Washington and Moscow, millions of citizens across the West insisted that the ANC could be Soviet-backed, communist-influenced, and still lead a movement for freedom.

They were right. When it came to other countries, Mandela’s leftist ties did sometimes blind him to communism’s crimes. In 1991, for instance, he called Fidel Castro “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.” But at home, where it mattered most, the ANC was a genuine, multiracial movement for democracy. And so the Americans who best championed South African freedom were the ones who didn’t view freedom as synonymous with the geopolitical interests of the United States.

Therein lies Mandela’s real lesson for Americans today. The Cold War is over, but mini-Cold Wars have followed. And once again, American elites, especially on the right, have a bad habit of using “freedom” as a euphemism for whatever serves American power. Thus, American politicians frequently suggest that by impoverishing the people of Iran with ever-harsher economic sanctions, and threatening to bomb them, we are promoting their freedom, even though the people risking their life for democracy in Iran—people like dissident journalist Akbar Ganji and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi—passionately disagree.

Mandela challenged that. Like Martin Luther King, who publicly repudiated Lyndon Johnson’s claim that Vietnam was a war for democracy, Mandela rejected George W. Bush’s idealistic rationalizations of the Iraq War. In 2003, when Bush was promising to liberate Iraq’s people, Mandela said, “All that he wants is Iraqi oil.” When Bush declared Iraq’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons a threat to the planet, Mandela had the bad manners to remind Bush that the only country to have actually used nukes was the United States. Mandela’s message to America’s leaders, born from firsthand experience, was clear: Don’t pretend you are pure.

As with King, it is this subversive aspect of Mandela’s legacy that is most in danger of being erased as he enters America’s pantheon of sanitized moral icons. But it is precisely the aspect that Americans most badly need. American power and human freedom are two very different things. Sometimes they intersect; sometimes they do not. Walking in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps requires being able to tell the difference.

The teenager who saved a man with an SS tattoo

In 1996, a black teenager protected a white man from an angry mob who thought he supported the racist Ku Klux Klan. It was an act of extraordinary courage and kindness – and is still inspiring people today.

Keshia Thomas was 18 when the Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist organisation, held a rally in her home town in Michigan.

Liberal, progressive and multicultural, Ann Arbor was an unusual place for the KKK to choose, and hundreds of people gathered to show them they were not welcome.

The atmosphere was tense, but controlled. Police dressed in riot gear and armed with tear gas protected a small group of Klansmen in white robes and conical hoods. Thomas was with a group of anti-KKK demonstrators on the other side of a specially-erected fence.

Then a woman with a megaphone shouted, “There’s a Klansman in the crowd.”

They turned around to see a white, middle-aged man wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt. He tried to walk away from them, but the protesters, including Thomas, followed, “just to chase him out”. Read More from BBC

A year after Romney loss, GOP woes run even deeper

By CHARLES BABINGTON

WASHINGTON (AP) — A year after losing a presidential race many Republicans thought was winnable, the party arguably is in worse shape than before. The GOP is struggling to control tensions between its tea party and establishment wings and watching approval ratings sink to record lows.

It’s almost quaint to recall that soon after Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee recommended only one policy change: endorsing an immigration overhaul, in hopes of attracting Hispanic voters.

That immigration bill is now struggling for life and attention in the Republican-run House. The bigger worry for many party leaders is the growing rift between business-oriented Republicans and the GOP’s more ideological wing. Each accuses the other of bungling the debt ceiling and government shutdown dramas, widely seen as a major Republican embarrassment.

The problems don’t end there. Read more

The selfishness in Congress is far from over

Reuters

By Ian Bremmer

Unfortunately, Washington simply isn’t built for long-term thinking. Instead, each actor in Washington focuses on his or her own individual constituency — just like the international community. In a country this polarized, there are no potential consequences back at home that would impel enough stakeholders to do anything different.

That’s the crux of this current crisis: society’s polarization has eroded politicians’ use for bipartisanship. In 1995-1996, the last time the U.S. had a government shutdown, more than 33 percent of Congressional Republicans came from districts that had voted for Bill Clinton in the previous presidential election. Today, only 7 percent of Congressional Republicans hail from districts that voted for Obama last year. When the electorate is this segregated, it’s no wonder the politicians they elect are interested in placating, not legislating. Read the Full Article