Shock rocker Ted Nugent’s campaign appearances with Texas GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott have roiled the US political firmament. Democrats have called on Texas Attorney General Abbott and other top Republicans to denounce Mr. Nugent for calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel," among other things. Abbott, hasn’t done that, saying the Motor City Madman is a strong supporter of the Constitution and Second Amendment gun rights.
Among Republican national figures, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky has unambiguously censured Nugent. The Nuge’s “derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize,” Senator Paul tweeted on Thursday.
Another possible 2016 presidential contender, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, said he did not agree with Nugent’s sentiments and wouldn’t use Nugent’s words. But he noted “there are reasons ... people listen to him," in an interview with CNN.
We’ve opined that Nugent’s political persona may help Democrats as much, if not more, than Republicans. He’s a useful bogeyman with which to fundraise and fire up the left. He’s a distraction that can deflect attention from Democratic candidates’ own problems.
Given that, what’s his appeal to presumably rational Republican politicians? Mitt Romney sought Nugent’s endorsement in 2012, too. Why can’t they leave such a forceful political provocateur alone?
Enthusiasm. One reason is that he generates excitement on the right, particularly among gun rights proponents. In Texas, Abbott is almost certain to win the Republican gubernatorial primary, and he’s a heavy favorite against Democrat Wendy Davis for the general election. But his aides have noted that attendance at the two Abbott rallies featuring Nugent was triple their predictions. That sort of crowd draw is hard for any politician to turn down, even one who’s cruising to victory.
Anger. After six years of Mr. Obama as president, many Republicans are fed up and can’t take it anymore. They’ve seen him push through a sweeping health-care law they vehemently oppose and, in general, change the country in ways they resent. Nugent is the id of this mind-set, someone who expresses the anger many in the GOP feel, however harshly.
Nugent is co-chair of Republican Sid Miller’s campaign for Texas agriculture commissioner. Mr. Miller’s website prominently features a video of Nugent asking donors to give his “blood brother” $20. Asked for comment about Nugent’s statements, spokesman Todd Smith said Miller would not “use the same words," according to the Dallas Morning News. But the candidate “shares a mutual disdain for [Obama’s] policies” with the rocker, said Mr. Smith.
Polarization. It’s no secret that US politics is perhaps more polarized than ever before. That’s a process that began in the 1960s when conservative Southern Democrats started migrating into the GOP, even though it was the party of Lincoln. In that environment, partisan identity is a powerful indicator of attitude. The more sorted and separate our political teams become, the more we see our opponents as not just wrong but destructive and possibly illegitimate.
Lilliana Mason, a visiting scholar at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., has a very interesting piece on this at the "Monkey Cage" political science blog. She writes that political polarization is making us prejudiced. Team victory is becoming all.
“The more sorted and powerful our political identities become, the less capable we are of treating our political opponents with fairness and equanimity.... This means that no matter what the political debate of the day is officially about, it’s rooted in the partisan bias, eager action, and exaggerated anger that come directly out of our political identities,” Mason writes.
That’s a fertile environment for the provocateurs, posers, and professional trolls of both political parties.
How do you get Americans to pay attention to a healthy-living initiative for kids four years after it’s launched?
Take it to New York City, and join Jimmy Fallon and Will Ferrell – both in drag as teenage girls – on a basement couch, a la “Wayne’s World,” and pull out the kale chips. That’s what first lady Michelle Obama did Thursday night on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” demonstrating her comedy chops in a sketch called “Ew!”
Mrs. Obama played herself, and that meant promoting fitness, saying “ew” to jelly doughnuts, and getting up off the couch for an “ ‘Ew’ dance party.” It wasn’t “The Evolution of Mom Dancing” – perhaps the most eye-popping TV performance ever by a first lady – but Mrs. Obama showed, once again, that she can move.
And that was the point. Her Let’s Move! campaign, four years old this month, is Mrs. Obama’s main initiative as first lady, and Fallon has become a regular stop on her circuit. Two years ago, she competed with the comedian in feats of strength at the White House – push-ups, dodgeball, a potato sack race – for the second anniversary of “Let’s Move!," back when he was host of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Last February, it was mom dancing.
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This year, the fourth anniversary coincided with Fallon’s debut as host of “The Tonight Show,” a week packed with A-list guests. After the “Ew!” sketch, she joined Fallon on the regular interview couch for some conversation about her girls, who we’re guessing may have taught her a bit about things that are “ew.”
Now 15 and 12, Malia and Sasha Obama aren’t as into hanging out with their parents as they used to be.
“They want nothing to do with us,” the first lady said. “I am so serious.”
Mrs. Obama also warned the people of Washington, D.C., that Malia is getting close to one of the dreaded (to parents) milestones of adolescence: learning to drive.
After the Obamas leave Washington in a few years, the girls “have got to be able to function as normal people, and driving is a part of that,” she said. “Ladies and gentlemen of D.C., watch out!”
Mrs. Obama also made a push for enrollment in health insurance, and came up with a new term for “young invincibles,” the 20-somethings who don’t think they need coverage: “knuckleheads.”
“They’re the ones cooking for the first time and slicing their fingers,” she said. And “dancing on the barstools.”
While in New York, Mrs. Obama promoted another of her healthy-living initiatives, the Drink Up campaign, which encourages drinking water. She visited the New Museum in Manhattan, which has an exhibit of street art that encourages people to drink more water. She also appeared at a private fundraiser, reportedly at the home of Obama “bundler” Maneesh Goyal.
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Shock rocker/political provocateur Ted Nugent is a new hot issue in the Texas gubernatorial race. The Motor City Madman has appeared onstage with GOP candidate Greg Abbott, and Democrats say they’re livid about this use of Nuge as a campaign prop.
After all, Nugent has said stuff about ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that’s not printable in a family blog because of its explicit references to her anatomy. In January, he called President Obama a “communist-raised subhuman mongrel." CNN’s Wolf Blitzer has noted that this is the sort of language the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust – a rebuttal one fact-check group this week rated as “true."
So here’s our question about the controversy: What was Mr. Abbott thinking? For him, the upside of a Nugent appearance may be small, and the downside considerable. The rocker’s flaming words may sell his eponymous ammunition, but as Mitt Romney discovered in 2012, the uproar Nugent leaves in his wake may help Democrats as much or more than the GOP.
“It reveals Abbott, at the very least, as someone who doesn’t have acute political judgment,” writes Paul Burka of the Texas Monthly, the acerbic dean of the Lone Star State’s political press corps.
Why was enlisting Nugent a questionable tactic? Here’s why:
Abbott is winning anyway. In all likelihood, Abbott is going to succeed Gov. Rick Perry (R) after the 2014 vote. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, in his "Crystal Ball" blog, rates Abbott’s race as “safe Republican." Look at the "Crystal Ball" map – Texas is colored in about as deep a shade of red as you can find.
In the RealClearPolitics rolling average of polls for the race, Abbott leads by almost 10 percentage points. (State polling can be iffy, though, and the data here are a little old.)
Nugent changes the subject. The Democratic candidate, state Sen. Wendy Davis, hasn’t had a great winter image-wise. Press reports have accused her of distorting aspects of her biography to make her account of rising from childhood poverty sound more dramatic and difficult than it actually was.
In that context, Nugent is a lifeline. It gives her a matching, ethically charged subject to talk about. She’s already using the rocker’s appearance to raise money. As the Dallas Morning News reports Thursday, she’s fired off a fundraising appeal to supporters that charges the Abbott-and-Nugent show insulted “every father, every mother, every family in Texas."
Meanwhile, Abbott is “fleeing reporter questions about Ted Nugent," writes Wayne Slater of the Morning News.
Cannon, loose. You never know what Nugent is going to say in a political context, which, to a politician, makes him both a formidable foe and a dangerous friend. After all, this is a guy who, after the State of the Union address in 2013, criticized both Mr. Obama and the Republican Party leadership, saying of the latter that they did not fight the president “because somehow they have lost their [deleted]."
And once you appear with him, the press is going to endlessly inquire whether you agree with the stuff he says. (Yes, comedian Bill Maher has said reprehensible things about Sarah Palin, and that should go for him, too. But he’s not campaigning with Democrats on the 2014 ballot.) Plus, Nugent nationalizes. That means reporters will ask other Republican figures if they agree with him, given his past statements. It also means Democrats across the country will share the latest Nugent outrage on social media and get all fired up.
Bottom line: We agree with NBC’s "First Read," which calls the Nugent appearance on “unforced error” on Abbott’s part.
“Neither Abbott nor Davis seems to be running a Texas campaign right now; instead, they appear to be hijacked more by national politics,” write NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro.
President Obama has apologized for dissing art history majors. At least, he’s apologized to one art history professor who took exception to remarks last month in which he jabbed the discipline as less lucrative than skilled manufacturing or a trade, such as plumbing.
“Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history,” said Mr. Obama in a hand-written note to Prof. Ann Collins Johns at the University of Texas at Austin, according to Politico.
Obama went on to say that art history had been one of his own favorite subjects in high school and that he’d learned a lot about culture he might otherwise have missed. Such as, how hard it is to stay awake when art history is right after lunch, and they dim the lights and show a million slides on the differences between Byzantine and Romanesque architecture.
Sorry, the president didn’t actually say that last bit. That was our own memory leaching into the narrative.
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Anyway, here’s the background to this story: Late last month, Obama gave a speech at a General Electric plant in Waukesha, Wis., on the need to improve job training programs nationwide. To bolster his argument, at one point he said, “folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”
After that, the Botticelli hit the fan. Obama’s larger point was uncontroversial: It’s true that a well-trained manufacturing worker or plumber can make a pretty decent middle-class wage. Not everybody needs four years at a liberal arts institution. But in demeaning one liberal arts discipline in particular, the president annoyed a passel of professors and students.
In response they made two points. One – art history teaches you appreciation for beauty, details, and critical thinking. It enlarges your understanding of life. (This is the argument Professor Johns made in a letter to the White House, which drew Obama’s response.) Two – majoring in art history is not the same as becoming an art historian. Lots of people spend their college years looking at art history slide shows and then enter other, more lucrative professions.
About 6 percent of people with art history degrees make it into the lofty top 1 percent of US earners, for instance, according to census data. That’s a better success ratio than the one facing finance and business economics majors! Prince William was an art history major, and he’s going to be King of England. Can’t do much better than that.
Thus the apology. Maybe Obama realized that in arguing against college generally, he’d picked on one particular college discipline that perhaps produces Obama voters. Johns told the art blog "Hyperallergic" that she’s a fan of the president, for instance.
Meanwhile, some critics of the president had gone all mea culpa on a point where he was actually right. College is expensive. Why spend so much money to not prepare yourself for life after graduation?
“If you don’t want to take on fifty grand or more in debt, skip it and learn a trade instead,” writes Allahpundit at the right-leaning "Hot Air" site.
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Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas are both favorites of the tea party wing of the Republican Party. If both run for president in 2016, as seems likely at the moment, they’d vie for the same conservative voters as a base upon which to build a winning GOP primary coalition.
Given that potential White House candidates are jockeying right now for support from key donors and party figures, it’s not too early to ask this question: Which of these two men is currently winning the most tea party support?
Despite their similar electoral roots, they are very different politicians, of course. And they’re taking two different roads to building name recognition and support in advance of the official White House race.
The libertarian-oriented Senator Paul is emphasizing his vision of a changed, more inclusive Republican Party. And he’s doing so in a pretty blunt way. In an interview with Glenn Beck that aired last week, Paul said the GOP will not win the White House again in his lifetime absent radical change.
“And it has to be a transformation. Not a little tweaking at the edges,” Paul told Mr. Beck in a segment aired on TheBlazeTV.
That means some kind of immigration reform, though Paul hasn’t outlined specifics on this issue beyond opposition to the indefinite jailing of detainees.
“If you want to work and you want a job and you want to be part of America, we’ll find a place for you,” Paul said in an interview with Politico published Tuesday.
Deemphasizing the war on drugs could win support in minority communities, which have a disproportionate share of their population jailed on drug charges, according to Paul. When the Kentucky senator speaks before audiences of young voters, he talks about civil liberties, not taxes.
Senator Cruz is taking a more confrontational approach. Where Paul has endorsed majority leader Mitch McConnell against a tea party primary opponent, angering some conservatives, Cruz won’t support Texas colleague Sen. John Cornyn (R), who also faces a tea party primary challenge.
Cruz clashed openly with establishment GOP leaders last week when he forced them to break his filibuster to allow a final vote on a bill to raise the national debt ceiling. Senator McConnell had hoped the legislation would pass without Republican fingerprints, avoiding a messy fight that might spook financial markets.
Afterwards, the Lone Star lawmaker was unrepentant. Lots of GOP senators misrepresented their intentions to constituents, he said, vowing they’d fight the debt ceiling when they had no intention of doing any such thing.
“It’s like they think the American people are just a bunch of rubes, that we don’t remember what they say,” Cruz told conservative radio talk host Mark Levin late last week.
Such defiance thrills insurgent-minded conservatives. Slate’s Dave Weigel notes today that Cruz is so popular in Texas that a number of Republican candidates now prominently feature photos of themselves with Cruz on their web sites – even though Cruz hasn’t actually endorsed them.
As for Paul, his endorsement of establishment leader McConnell shows he’s bailed on bringing big change to Washington, charges Leon Wolf in the conservative RedState website.
“When it comes to actual accomplishments that have changed the way things are done in Washington or even within the Senate GOP caucus, Paul’s cabinet is pretty empty,” writes Mr. Wolf.
But here’s the kicker: Right now Paul leads Cruz in polls of GOP voters. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys has Paul as the presidential nominee choice of 11.2 percent of Republicans, as opposed to 8.2 percent for Cruz.
Paul appears to have an edge among conservative and tea party voters as well, though the data here is a bit thin. In a January McClatchy/Marist survey, 10 percent of self-described tea party supporters picked Paul as their presidential choice. Nine percent picked Cruz. Paul won eight percent of “strong Republicans” in the McClatchy data; Cruz won six percent, which is within the poll margin of error.
A poll from Democratic-leaning firm PPP released Jan. 29 has similar results. Among self-described “very conservative” voters, Paul bests Cruz as a nominee choice by 15 to 11 percent. (Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee beats both men in this category with 20 percent of the “very conservative” respondents.)
PPP finds Paul’s favorability ratings higher than Cruz’s among conservative voters, as well.
It’s early yet, though, and these results might just reflect the fact that Rand Paul’s father Ron Paul ran for president last time around and the family brand remains well-known in GOP circles. It’ll be interesting to see how the Paul/Cruz matchup develops in months ahead.
The Monica Lewinsky scandal has returned to US politics, after a fashion
Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky raised it late last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying President Bill Clinton engaged in “predatory behavior” in his affair with the young intern in 1995 and 1996. Since then the Clinton/Lewinsky subject has arisen on many political chat shows as hosts ask guests to discuss its possible significance to a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy.
David Gregory asked Mitt Romney the Lewinsky question on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, for instance. The 2012 GOP nominee started off by saying that Hillary Clinton has her own record on which to run and that the Monica Lewinsky affair is not hers to explain. Then he added that Bill Clinton had “embarrassed the country” with his actions.
Then on Monday, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski laced into Republicans who bring up Lewinsky in the context of 2016.
They are “misogynist, sexist hypocrites,” said the co-host of “Morning Joe.”
“Rand Paul, please keep going after it, I am telling you right now it will backfire so badly,” added Ms. Brzezinski.
Well, there’s an obvious reason Rand Paul and other 2016 GOP hopefuls may keep raising the Lewinsky issue, even if he is concerned that Brzezinski may be right, and the general electorate does not want to revisit the mid-90s.
The reason is this: you have to win a nomination before you can face off against the other major party’s candidate. And Republican primary voters may be fed up after two White House losses and eager for a standard-bearer who will take the fight to Democrats. In that context bashing Bill Clinton as a “predator” may make electoral sense.
For a sense of the frustration on the right look at last week’s National Review editorial on this subject. The conservative magazine held that Senator Paul is right to raise Hillary Clinton’s role in the scandals of the Bill Clinton presidency as a means to counter Democratic charges that the GOP has a “war on women.”
“The Clintons are our national grotesques,” wrote National Review editors.
Hillary Clinton’s national polls are high in part because she is very, very popular with Democrats. That masks how low she rates with Republicans. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News survey, 88 percent of Democratic respondents rated the former secretary of State favorably, for example. But only 31 percent of Republicans gave her a favorable ranking. Sixty-six percent of GOP voters said they had an unfavorable view of Mrs. Clinton.
Again, it’s quite possible that waving the flag of past scandals could hurt a Republican nominee in a general election. GOP consultant Karl Rove noted as much on “Fox News Sunday,” saying that back in 2000 George W. Bush put a positive spin on the same subject.
“Instead of being against something, he said I will restore dignity and honor to the White House, describing what he was for,” Mr. Rove said.
Yes, Rand Paul and others might say, that’s all well and good – but sometimes you have to take risks just to make it to the playoffs.
When is Presidents Day 2014? The correct answer to that question is “never.” When it comes to federal holidays, there is no such thing as Presidents Day. We’ve been saying this for years, but shockingly, the charade continues.
The official name for the holiday celebrated Feb. 17, 2014, is Washington’s Birthday. If you don’t believe us, look at the Office of Personnel Management’s list of 2014 holidays for federal workers.
There it is, Washington’s Birthday, right between Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and Memorial Day. There are an asterisk and a helpful note at the bottom of the page, which says that the holiday in question is specified as Washington’s Birthday under Section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code.
“Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law,” OPM states.
Long story short: Washington’s Birthday has been a US holiday since 1886. In the late 1960s, Congress scrambled around a bunch of federal holidays to make three-day weekends, and Washington’s Birthday got thrown into that mix. The Illinois congressional delegation thought it would be a great idea to honor Abe Lincoln by expanding the name to Presidents Day. But Virginia lawmakers blocked the move to protect the prerogatives of The Father of Our Country. That’s where things still stand today.
As we noted, we’ve written more fully about all this in the past, so we’re not going to dwell on that at this time. Instead, we’ll float theories as to why the myth of Presidents Day continues.
States’ rights. As OPM notes, states can do what they wish, and some do call it Presidents Day. (Many also follow the federal lead and don’t.) Perhaps they want to stretch the day to get a little recognition for their own native sons. New York’s Martin Van Buren, come on down!
Corporate conspiracy. Maybe advertisers believe that consumers are more likely to get out and spend on a holiday called Presidents Day, so that’s what they call it on all their fliers. For all his virtues, George Washington seems formal and chilly: Would he approve of you buying that mattress? Even if it’s on sale?
Richard Nixon. There’s an urban legend that Richard Nixon started Presidents Day in the early 1970s. He issued a holiday proclamation turning Washington’s Birthday into a more inclusive event honoring all US chief executives, including him, according to this rumor.
That’s not true: His proclamation clearly referred to Washington’s Birthday. The debunking site Snopes.com has the full story. But what if Nixon started that rumor himself? He might have planted it knowing full well it would get repeated in the years ahead and he might get some Presidents Day recognition after all.
Yes, that’s kind of a back flip, but Nixon was a shrewd guy. And look at his own presidential library: This year it’s having a celebration of Presidents Day, not Washington’s Birthday, complete with actors playing Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.
Not that we’re complaining. We’d go if we could: First 100 guests get a free slice of cherry pie.
This much we know about President Obama’s three-day weekend at Sunnylands, the luxurious 200-acre estate near Palm Springs, Calif., that has become something of a West Coast Camp David: He has played golf with three buddies, and planned to binge on TV.
Mr. Obama may well feel he’s earned his three days of R&R. On Friday, he addressed a House Democratic retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, then took Air Force One to Fresno, Calif., for events focused on the state’s severe drought, then headed south to Sunnylands for a working dinner with King Abdullah II of Jordan. By our count, it was a 15-hour day.
King Abdullah didn’t stick around for golf and TV. But Obama has been joined by three high school friends and regular golf companions – Bobby Titcomb, Greg Orme, and Michael Ramos. Sounds like a boys weekend, kind of like the extra time first lady Michelle Obama spent in Hawaii with girlfriends after the holidays. This weekend, Mrs. Obama and their daughters had other plans.
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And who can argue with the locale? Back in Washington, it’s in the 30s and it just snowed. Again. Here in Rancho Mirage, it’s partly cloudy and 82 degrees.
The president, of course, never really stops working. On Saturday afternoon, Obama signed the debt ceiling bill and another bill that restores full cost of living benefits for military retirees. National Security Adviser Susan Rice is also at Sunnylands for the weekend, having come for the Abdullah meeting.
Regardless of why one’s here, it is an elegant place to be, set in the desert against a mountain backdrop, and featuring acres of desert gardens, a nine-hole golf course, and world-class art.
The estate was built in the 1960s by philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg, who set up a trust that governs its use, now that they're no longer alive, as a “sanctuary for generations of high-level national and world leaders seeking the privacy, the peace, and ‘the pause’ needed for solving the most pressing national and international issues,” according to the Sunnylands website.
On Friday, Obama said meeting with the king here allowed them to have an extensive consultation “in a less formal setting.” Indeed, the two leaders went without neckties. The king had just spent the previous week having meetings in Washington, but for his meeting with Obama, he got the royal treatment here on the West Coast, complete with red carpet.
Obama’s first Sunnylands summit was last June, when he hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping here for two days of official working meetings. Obama presented Mr. Xi a California redwood bench as a gift to the people of China, a replica of which sits in the garden at Sunnylands.
Tourists, too, can come here (though not this weekend). Still, when tickets become available, they sell out fast. As this reporter walked around the Sunnylands Center Saturday morning – as part of the traveling press pool, far away from POTUS’s golf game – staff were fielding phone calls from people frustrated that newly available tickets had sold out already.
The allure isn’t hard to understand. Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Princess Grace all visited. Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to come, followed by President Nixon and all presidents since. Walter Annenberg was a friend of Ronald Reagan long before he became president, and was part of the “kitchen cabinet” that urged him into politics. Leonore Annenberg served as President Reagan’s chief of protocol for two years.
As high-minded as the Annenbergs’ aspirations for their estate were, they also knew the value of kicking back. The residence, where Obama is staying, features a game room where “presidents, actors, and friends enjoyed private film screenings there while indulging in Annenberg signature snacks – jelly beans, potato chips, and pretzels,” the Sunnylands brochure says.
We’re thinking Obama will use that game room for some screenings of his own. Last Thursday, @BarackObama (which is run by the political support group Organizing for Action) tweeted: “Tomorrow @HouseOfCards. No spoilers, please.” We must note that since the tweet was not followed by “-bo”, it was not Obama himself who wrote it.
Still, it has been widely reported that he enjoys edgy series like “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire.” According to The New York Times, Obama approached the head of HBO, Richard Plepler, at the state dinner for the French president last week, and asked for DVDs of the series “True Detective” and “Game of Thrones.” Obama isn’t due back in Washington until Monday night, so he should have time for a few episodes, and more golf.
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Hillary Clinton said Thursday that women who want to get ahead in politics or other high-profile jobs should “grow skin like a rhinoceros.”
This is a bit of wisdom the former secretary of State may have learned the hard way. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But first, the background: Mrs. Clinton was speaking at an event for the No Ceilings project, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to empower women in the 21st century.
No Ceilings is launching a review of global data to see how far women have progressed in education, income, political participation, and other measures since the mid-1990s, Clinton said. It picked that parameter because Clinton had addressed a big UN World Conference on Women in 1995, when she was first lady.
Flanked by her daughter, Chelsea, and Melinda Gates onstage at New York University, Clinton gave no hint of her future political plans. But she did give interesting counsel to other women who might want to follow in her footsteps.
“One of the best pieces of advice that I have ever heard from anyone is from Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1920s, who said that women in politics or in public roles should grow skin like a rhinoceros,” Clinton said. “I think there is some truth to that.”
That’s true, of course. But it’s not just true for women. Men in politics have to be able to withstand the slings and arrows of rhetorical abuse, as well. Remember how Texas Gov. Ann Richards mocked George H.W. Bush in 1988? “He was born with a silver foot in his mouth,” she told the Democratic National Convention that year, to riotous applause.
But women may face particular kinds of insults. For instance, political qualities that in men might be seen as admirably slick, in women are deemed “ruthless.” That’s what Bill Clinton’s pollsters said of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s public image back in 1992, according to the trove of documents from friend Diane Blair published this week by the Washington Free Beacon.
“Ruthless,” of course, is pretty close to a word that rhymes with “witch,” which is a slash men don’t usually suffer. Women complain that they have to be tougher than men to get ahead, but then they get slapped with the “witch” word, so in the public eye they can’t win.
The need to gird against such attacks is something to which Hillary Clinton did not come naturally. That’s also apparent in the “The Hillary Papers” of Ms. Blair. Blair, a political scientist who had planned to write a book about the Clintons, took copious notes of private talks with the then-first lady. One of the emotions that comes through from this record is the bubbling anger Mrs. Clinton had toward critics. She thought D.C. “superficial,” for one thing. In 1994 she said that “bonding with creeps” was the story of her year.
She particularly disliked the baying beagles of the press. She thought them “hypocrites” with “big egos and no brains.”
At one point, Blair noted, Clinton was “trying to work through her anger so she can talk calmly to the press.”
Does that sound like someone who has a thick skin? No, it doesn’t, as Clinton critics are pointing out.
“What a relief to know that the woman who felt persecuted by the world in her husband’s administration has learned an important life lesson,” writes the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on her conservative “Right Turn” blog.
Clinton went through quite a bit in those years, though. There was the administration’s failed health-care reform, led by her. There was her husband’s dalliance with an intern and his impeachment. And so on.
Then she became a US senator, and then secretary of State. That latter job in particular is one you’ve got to have a thick hide to endure. So she’s obviously toughened up in this regard along the way.
But inuring yourself to the chattering class does not mean making yourself into something different, Clinton added at Thursday’s appearance.
Women should be true to themselves in public life “without it making you less authentic or undermining your confidence, and that is not an easy task,” she said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas is unpopular with many establishment Republicans in D.C. They see him as the driving force behind last year’s partial government shutdown, which sent their party’s approval ratings to new lows. Perhaps as a result, Senator Cruz was pretty quiet through the first part of 2014. But now he’s forced GOP Senate leaders into a vote they badly wanted to avoid.
Cruz is doubling down on his outsider status. He’s burning his remaining bridges with a blowtorch, to throw more metaphors into the mix.
Not that he’d see it that way. Cruz describes his actions as consistent with GOP small-government principles. It is party leaders who have moved away from those, according to the Texan.
“Today’s vote is yet another example that establishment politicians from both parties are simply not listening to the American people,” said Cruz in a statement Wednesday after the Senate approved an increase in the national debt ceiling.
Here’s the background: Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner (R) gave up and agreed to bring a clean debt-ceiling bill to his chamber floor. He could not get his own caucus to agree on an add-on provision, such as elimination of insurance firm “risk corridors” in Obamacare, to the must-pass debt legislation.
The bill cleared the House with mostly Democratic backing. Then it went to the Senate, where Democrats, with 55 votes, control the majority. Republicans could allow the bill to pass without having their fingerprints upon it. Easy sailing, time to fly home to beat the storm, right?
Wrong. In a caucus meeting prior to the vote, Cruz made it clear he would filibuster the bill. That meant it would need to get 60 votes to proceed to final passage. Five Republican senators would have to join the Democrats in saying “yea.” Otherwise, the US would be right back on the fiscal brink, with Wall Street worried about the government defaulting on its debts and financial markets spinning.
Minority leader Mitch McConnell was particularly displeased. At the GOP meeting there was a “spirited exchange” between Senator McConnell and Cruz, according to a source quoted by right-leaning National Review’s Betsy Woodruff.
McConnell is running for reelection, and he faces a spirited tea party challenger, Matt Bevin, in the primary. So Cruz’s move put him personally in a tough spot.
Long story short, that’s what happened. Late Wednesday McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, the minority whip, tried to round up some usual suspects. But even GOP moderates such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine apparently declined to jump, unless the leadership went first.
“No Republican wanted to be vote No. 60 to advance a bill to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts,” according to NBC News’ “First Thoughts” political blog.
So McConnell and Senator Cornyn, described by spectators as “grim-faced,” voted to let the bill proceed. Eventually, a total of 12 Republican senators voted to let the bill proceed. All voted “no” on final passage.
Perhaps Cruz is now at the top of McConnell’s personal list of lawmakers he does not like. Back in Kentucky, Mr. Bevin is already tweeting out anti-McConnell ads that feature the Senate minority leader and a blank check made out to President Obama.
We’ve got a couple of thoughts on that, however.
McConnell may have himself to blame. Cruz did not pioneer debt-limit politics. For years, Republicans have tried to use this legislation as a lever to enact policies otherwise unpopular with Democrats. As Brian Beutler argues in Salon, this has created an impression among many in the GOP rank and file that Republicans should not agree to a raise of the debt ceiling without an attempt at quid pro quo.
“McConnell and Cornyn invited all this upon themselves,” writes Mr. Beutler.
Cruz's Senate future may be uncomfortable. That said, Cruz is still going to be a backbencher in a caucus whose leaders may feel he has attacked them personally. That could mean few favors, chilly meetings, and less desirable committee assignments, among other things.
State primary polling is not particularly accurate, and Kentucky’s GOP primary is still months away, but all indications are that McConnell’s lead over his tea party challenger is in the double digits. If anything, McConnell appears more concerned about the Democratic candidate, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who leads by a narrow margin in recent polls.
Yet right now, Republicans also have a better-than-even chance of capturing Senate control. That means McConnell could return as majority leader. Hmmm, are there any offices in Senate basements to which Cruz could be exiled?
Cruz will be more popular than ever on the right. If Cruz wants to run for president as leader of the tea party right, he’s done a good job solidifying his credentials. After all, Wednesday's debt-limit vote is a symbol of the split in the Republican Party, not a cause of it. The Senate Conservatives Fund on Wednesday unveiled a tough new ad comparing McConnell’s actions with IRS scrutiny of conservative nonprofit groups seeking tax-exempt status.
“Bullying. Threats. Intimidation. The IRS? No, try Mitch McConnell,” the ad begins.
In that context, Cruz’s filibuster push was a direct challenge, not just to the Senate GOP leadership, but to the party as a whole.