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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Poisoning The Judiciary

The new inexplicable Republican fever today is the push to repeal three members of the Florida Supreme Court: R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. These justices are guilty of that crime-in-Republican-eyes of existing at all.

Not to say we shouldn't take this seriously, but I have to say this is most likely a matter of Republicans throwing a lot of money uphill. In that sense, I am thrilled! While this plot to poison our courts and give reactionary Gov. Rick Scott the right to pack the bench is certainly insidious and wrong, it is also absolute folly.

First off, let's touch on the real motives. The state GOP officials who endorsed the repeal effort today sourced some insignificant ruling on a death penalty case six years ago, but the deep feelings run further. Most notably, the state Supreme Court was the legal force pushing us to count votes in an election in 2000, and Republicans have never forgiven them.

The irony in both cases, of course, is that conservatives won out in the end and got their way. But never mind that. Any vote against the wishes of conservatives is "judicial activism" so these justices are awful.

The good news? This has been tried before and never, ever worked. Not even in the highly partisan atmosphere post-Bush v. Gore when Lewis and Quince survived a similar repeal effort the next election cycle. Not when pro-life nuts and racists went after Justice Leander Shaw in 1990. Not ever.

To date, in fact, no Florida justice has ever failed a vote for merit retention in the state of Florida. And I don't think an issue as not-sexy as judicial merit retention will draw anyone but the most basal of base voters to turn up at polls. By the way, they are there anyway thanks to their vitriolic and irrational fear of President Obama.

Nevertheless, the Koch brothers funded ads airing on Florida stations today calling for a no vote on merit retention.

Our best response, though, is to just laugh. Yes, I know we should stay vigilant and make sure to keep these voices of rationality on the bench, especially when such reactionary people control the legislative process in Tallahassee. But mocking the billionaires funding this effort helps too.

Consider that this money could be spent on helping Mitt Romney win Florida (and he's losing badly right now). It could fund Connie Mack's efforts to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson (an effort which is going even worse).

No, instead those dollars are being spent to fight judicial activism by vetoing the decision of thoughtful justices through a purely political process. This isn't just hypocrisy on display. It is sweet entertainment dripped with schadenfreude.

This effort is scrupulous and wrong. But it is also bound to fail. To have at it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Don't Be So Surprised

I'm not going to say the implosion of Mitt Romney in the past few weeks has been anything short of shocking. Between the exploitation of a foreign tragedy, the leak of an embarrassingly frank talk to Boca donors, the proclaiming of the $200k-$250k earners as "middle class and the delayed tax return release, this has been a spectacular parade of unforced errors like I have never seen.

But there has been a cry among flustered Republicans that this was a year the GOP could not lose. Not that they care what I think, but rubbish.

That last link goes a widely-quoted piece by Peggy Noonan essentially blaming Romney's poor polling on a sloppy campaign. But if nobody noticed in the clown show that was the 2012 Republican primary, Mitt was the best they got.

Does anyone really think this election would be closer had Republicans nominated Newt Gingrich? Or Rick Santorum? Or laughably Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain? Of course not. But that was the choice presented to voters.

Now, that's not to say this list of Republicans from the shallow end of the cestpool are truly the most attractive candidates for president. But the greatest sign last year that the tide, whatever you think of jobs reports, was in our favor was the number of folks who stayed on the sidelines. Mike Huckabee. Sarah Palin. Mitch Daniels. Jeb Bush. Really, Romney and Rick Perry were the only major contenders any realistic Republican was dreaming about who actually threw a hat in the ring. Perry, it turned out, was not ready for primetime, so we ended up where we are today.

Actually, I laid out more than two years ago the reasons that while Jeb may well harbor White House ambitions, 2012 wasn't the year to pursue them. My top reason:

Jeb Bush won't run unless he can win. He knows that, unlike governor, there are no second chances at the White House. 

Barack Obama at no point in the last four years has seemed like a loser for re-election. That gets forgotten by Republicans so blinded by hatred of his liberal principles that cannot see the broader view of the president. Let's just check out some conventional GOP wisdom.

Republicans believe Obama is ruining this country by taking it far to the left, yet he has pushed tax structures well to the right of uber-moderate Bill Clinton. Indeed, most liberals have been starkly disappointed that he failed even to go that far. The same goes for the hardly-ambitious ObamaCare reforms which look more like DoleCare even than RomneyCare.

While Republicans believe Obama has done way too much, most liberals, and I believe moderates, feel he has actually done too little.

In that sense, it seems no surprise that the Romney campaign has floundered so. The message of the GOP, after all, is that intervention is the wrong medicine, but Romney as a challenger to an incumbent has to make the case this president has not done enough to fix the economy. Those messages simply don't jive.

So Obama was always a favorite. And in their hearts, Jeb and Huck and Sarah and Mitch and Marco and Fred and everybody viable candidate with some base instinct for the lay of the land knew it. The polls have born that out too, with Romney failing to hold a lead in the polls since cinching the nominations and finally having to share broadcast time with a Democrat.

The growing conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney with his recent gaffes has lost the election. But the truth is he was never winning in the first place.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Insignificant Purge

It appears any great fears about a voter purge significantly affecting the Florida election this year have been calmed. Thanks to a highly scrutinized process—and don't let anyone convince you the scrutiny was anything less than critical—Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to purge non-citizens from the polls resulted in just over 200 people getting cleared off voter rolls.

All but two counties (including quite sadly the one in which I live) had stopped purging from Scott's once-mega list of potentially fraudulent voters. The number of voters being dumped now seems a very reasonable assessment of how many people might be in a state of nearly 20 million people who were both illegal immigrants and who had the gall to register to vote. Truthfully, the bulk of the 207 people being purged from the rolls likely never voted in a single election.

The big takeaway to me is that Florida officials who embarked an obviously partisan mission tinged with racism ultimately did nothing but demonstrate how small a problem in-person voter fraud actually is. This has been another embarrassing episode in a state with a pungent reputation for protecting voters' rights.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

West's Disgusting Vision of Unity and Patriotism

When the nation was attacked more than 10 years ago in the worst attack ever committed on American soil, the entire nation unified together. It was a beautiful thing to see in a moment of terrible darkness. But even then, as the Sean Hannitys of the world made quick and partisan attacks on President Clinton for something that happened well after he left office, I wondered if Republicans were capable of rallying around a president in times of national tragedy if the president was from across the aisle.

U.S. Rep. Allen West answered that question in a tragically predictable way when he turned the Libyan attack on the anniversary of 9-11 into a chance to assault the president. Here is the bulk of West's statement on the Libya tragedy, made not through his campaign arm but sent out as his official statement as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Americans need to question whether the deaths of these innocent patriots could have been avoided. The Obama Administration touted the Arab Spring as an awakening of freedom, which we now see is a nightmare of Islamism.

Even more concerning, is the initial response to these attacks last night from the embassy officials of the Obama Administration was to apologize for a Facebook video that supposedly hurt Muslim feelings.  President Obama's policy of appeasement towards the Islamic world has manifested itself into a specter of unconscionable hatred.

How anyone can believe this President is strong on national security and foreign policy is beyond my comprehension.  President Obama has clearly surpassed former President Jimmy Carter and his actions during the Iranian Embassy crisis as the weakest and most ineffective person to ever occupy the White House.

Understand, readers, that this is more than half of West's statement. To blame Obama, not even the Islamic extremists responsible for the attack and whom West has made a career of blaming for everything.

So much is wrong with this statement. Rejecting the Arab Spring, and in it the very concept of freedom itself, West sides squarely with violent dictators who have turned the Middle East into a garden for violence. But again, such extremism comes as no surprise from a man who first came to national prominence using thug violence and intimidation as a way to supposedly keep the peace.

National debate and conversation should not shut down because of tragedies. But it is stunning that a party who so loudly has shouted for the need for America to speak strongly and with one voice when it comes to international incidences such as this, it is disgraceful for men like West to use the megaphone of public office to critique American leadership with such wicked and hate-filled rhetoric. Allen West didn't criticize the president today, he criticized America.

What this all the sadder is that West is speaking in the same misguided tones as the current standard-bearer of his party, but just as sensible foreign policy experts on the Republican side have critiqued Romney for his ill-timed words, they should also condemn West.

Don't misread this. West has the right to disagree with the president on all matters, including those related to foreign policy. But to use the Libyan attack as a chance to score cheap political points against the White House is shameful. And West should receive nothing but shame for doing so.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chain Gang Charlie Turns Whip On GOP

The speech from Charlie Crist on Thursday night was an impressive lead-in on the DNC's big night. Florida's ex-governor went on the offensive against a party as offended by his moderation as President Obama's left-of-centerness.

The full transcript is on the Tallahassee Democrat's site. My favorite line?

I look around Florida, and I see a state bursting with diversity and opportunity, a state that looks like America’s future. When I look at the Republican ticket today, I see two candidates who would break the fundamental promise of Medicare and Social Security, and cut investments in our middle class which are so important to our economic recovery.
Of course, Crist had many positive notes as well, and some nice inside jokes for those who watched a polite embrace of the president during a visit to Florida result in the end of his political career. But this message was more than just a thumbing of the nose at the extremists in his party who drove him from his seat of power. It was a careful, strategic speech set on making sure Obama wins Florida this Fall.

And a reminder to those especially naive people who see this race as leaning toward the GOP, Florida is enough to cinch this thing for Obama, and even in advance of the president's speech, Obama has been leading in Florida for most of 2012.

But this blog is focused on Florida politics, and there is a reason I am focusing on Crist tonight, not Obama. The real question of this speech for me is not whether it will help Obama win (it will, but Obama is winning anyway). It is whether Charlie Crist is positioning himself truly and honestly as a Democratic politician for the future.

On that lines, it seems to me Crist is still straining hard to appease a batch of Republicans who wouldn't give him the time of day. He cited the governing prowess of Reagan as if it existed, and he still made sure to leave ideological daylight between himself and the president he is endorsing.

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t agree with President Obama about everything. But I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve worked with him, and the choice is crystal clear. 
Maybe I'm sensitive, but that felt a little back-handed. And it was less than I hoped for. Perhaps it should just be read as an appeal to those voters who dislike Obama's more liberal leanings whom Crist would like casting pragmatic votes for the president.

But this was less than I hoped for. I had hoped Crist would come out tonight and declare as a Democrat. If Crist is genuinely thinking of running for governor in 2014, and especially if he wants to run for Bill Young's House seat, we need to know Crist will be a reliable supporter of some progressive values. Specific progressive values. When will we get that speech? It wasn't here tonight.

Still, all things said, Democrats must stay optimistic about Crist's trajectory. They just can't let him start direct our political agenda, especially if he is intend and directing it in a rightward direction. Let's hope Crist's transformation continues, and that his evolution can be shown as more than political opportunism. The great fear in embracing Crist fully is that he could always bolt the Democratic Party as easily as he did the GOP.

Let's cross our fingers on this one.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Romney Down Under

As I predicted, Mitt Romney post-RNC remains down in the national polls. He enjoyed a bounce for sure, but not enough to take the lead. More impressive, he didn't even pull ahead in Florida. Via Pollster:

So even in the state where the convention was held, a state which two years ago felt a stronger rush from the GOP wave than most, Romney is doing poorly.

Granted, when you look at the national polling, the race is very close (though a glimpse at the electoral college shows how little that matters). Knock at Rasmussen, a notoriously right-leaning poll, and you dispose of the only poll showing a Romney lead and dramatically reduce Romney's chance at victory this Fall.

The thing is, though, that the Democrats are also about to feel a bounce. Romney did pick up some support from the RNC, just not enough to get him out of the quagmire that is his candidacy (good luck with Afghanistan).

Also striking, Connie Mack seems almost to have had a negative bounce in polls post RNC. Real Clear Politics shows Sen. Bill Nelson with a six-point edge, while they called the race a a tie in mid-August. If this isn't just volatility because of so little polling being done, it it probably because of how the national GOP has so clearly written off this race.

I frankly was a little shocked that prime speaking time was given to Marco Rubio, who isn't on any ballots for four years, while Mr. McGillicuddy was practically relegated to opening act status. Via the Tampa Bay Times:

Mack, the Florida congressman, was the first speaker of the evening and came on the stage directly after a musical interlude. Scores of people searched for their seats or socialized during the Florida congressman’s five-minute speech. 

For all the bravado, it looks more and more like the national GOP is ready to throw in the towel on this who election year. I'm not crying, of course, but it is hard to take anyone seriously who says the Republicans are in a good position for anything in 2012.