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27
It was a rare feat: Frank Luntz somehow found the twenty maddest-at-Obama people in the country and put them in a ‘focus group’ on Fox News after the President’s State of the Union speech – and they didn’t have one kind word to say.
 
But you have to give the devil his due: Barack Obama can be a powerful speaker. Who has a unique political voice. And Tuesday night there was no ‘voice’ on the Republican side of the aisle with the power to match him. 
 
And that’s what Republicans need to find sooner rather than later: A ‘voice’ who can step to a podium, look Obama in the eye, and answer him.

 

 

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23

 

Most of us older white conservatives just naturally see a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts who taught at Harvard and figure – barring a miracle – she’s got to be a liberal so it came as a shock the other night when a young conservative posted a link to one of Elizabeth Warren’s speeches with one word beside it: Wow!
 
Wall Street, Warren said, is nailing American workers to a ‘Cross of Gold’ to make already rich corporations richer.
 
Then she got right down to brass tacks and said we need to break up the big banks. 

Whatever else Elizabeth Warren may be she’s not just a liberal or just another Massachusetts Senator – she’s a voice we haven’t heard in a long time: The living and fire-breathing reincarnation of William Jennings Bryan populism.

 

 

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21
Awhile back Ted Cruz got some unusual praise from two odd places.
 
“I think he’s the most talented and fearless Republican politician I’ve seen in the last 30 years,” James Carville said in an interview on ABC. Then, on his TV program, Dick Morris compared Cruz to Ronald Reagan.
 
When Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney walked onto the stage the tides shifted away from Cruz and the lights dimmed but, in time, tides tend to flow back into their courses so, for Cruz, this eclipse may be a trial and not a defeat.
 
Roughly half the people who vote in Republican Primaries do not call themselves “just conservative” or “somewhat conservative” – they call themselves “very conservative.” And they like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney just fine but, when you get right down to brass tacks, Ted Cruz is their cup of tea. He’s one of them. And it’s only a matter of time before they figure it out.
 
Maybe just until the first Presidential debate.  


 

 

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21
President Obama's speech last night showed he has a knack for coming back after a setback - and a knack for the comeback quip.
 
Three things about the night: (1) How Obama framed the debate (2) the partisan debate over bipartisanship and (3) the split-screen social media experience of watching political events like what Twitter dubbed #SOTU.
 
Framing the Debate
 
How good was the speech? Well, Democrats wish he had given it before the 2014 elections. And they liked the way he set up the battles to come in Washington this year and in the 2016 elections.
 
It helped, of course, that he had good economic news to talk about. As he chided the dour Republicans, “That’s good news, people.”
 
He framed the fight as good versus evil, fairness versus unfairness, Democrats fighting for the middle class while Republicans cater to the 1 percent. He said “we’ve turned the page” on the recession (read: “Bush”) and are creating more jobs since 1999 (read: “the last time we had a Democratic President, named Clinton”). Bill and Hill had to love that.
 
As one tweet noted during the speech, there probably wasn’t one idea in it that doesn’t get 70 percent support in the polls. The President put himself and the party on high ground for the battles ahead.
 
Partisanship About Bipartisanship
 
After sharply drawing the battle lines, Obama tried a difficult pivot by going back to his 2004 message: “There’s not a Democratic America or Republican America, there’s the United States of America.”
 
You wouldn’t know it by the reaction from Republicans in the hall and afterward. Things still look pretty divided.
 
One big divide is over what constitutes bipartisanship. To Obama, it’s passing the program he outlined. To congressional Republicans, it’s passing theirs. And never the twain shall meet.
 
Yes, we citizens yearn for the two parties to “put aside politics” and “work together” and “do their job.” But there is a fundamental divide in Washington and across the country about what that means. And the divide is over the role of government.
 
Democrats say government can do things to help people and, especially, protect them from the depredations of the free market. Republicans say government can’t do anything, period.
 
That’s a deep gap to bridge.
 
(A new book traces this fundamental debate over government back to the 1966 election: “Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America,” by Jonathan Darman. Check it out.)
 
Even as he called on Republicans to rise about the fray, Obama couldn’t resist a shot. When he said he’d run his last campaign, somebody on the Republican side clapped. He shot back, “I know, because I won both of them.” It sounded too much like the Obama of “you’re likeable enough, Hillary.” Better he had just smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”
 
Split-Screen
 
How did we ever watch political events without Twitter? As you listen to the speech, you can follow the commentary of your choice on Twitter. It’s like being at a basketball game, except people scream on screen rather than at the refs.
 
Judging from Twitter, Obama clearly roused his base. He had Democrats pumped up from the get-go. And Republicans, too. From their get-go, their response was: “Socialism, big government, higher taxes, blah, blah, blah.”
 
Speaking of being onscreen, you almost felt sorry for John Boehner. He had to sit there mute while the President pounded him like a piñata. He had to sit beside Joker Joe Biden popping up to applaud every minute or so. And he knew that millions of people were watching every gesture and facial expression he made.
 
You couldn’t help but stare at him: his skin tone almost exactly matched his red leather chair. He looked like some kind of lizard taking on the coloration of his natural surroundings.
 
All in all, it was a night that put the fun back into politics – for a night.

 

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07
John Boehner, Jeb Bush and Pat McCrory took their first steps this week along a Republican Party fault line that offers peril for each of them – and peril for Democrats if they succeed.
 
Boehner had to fend off a conservative challenge to his reelection as Speaker. Two dozen right-wing Republicans abandoned him. Lucky for him, 10 Democrats were absent for Mario Cuomo’s funeral.
 
The same day, Bush moved all-ahead full with a presidential campaign that includes reasonable talk about immigration reform, gay marriage and income inequality, even saying “the income gap is real.” Also striking was what his message didn’t have: the usual red-meat attacks on President Obama.
 
Governor McCrory sang from the same hymnal, pushing two issues that normally are anathema to the North Carolina GOP: job incentives and Medicaid expansion.
 
McCrory even asked Obama for help. Basically, he wants cover so he can say he has a “North Carolina plan” instead of a “Washington (read: Obama) plan.”
 
Democrats will get some jollies watching these less-than-red-hot Republicans walk this precarious precipice. But if the three get by, and look reasonable and effective, Democrats may not be so happy in 2016.

 

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07
In a realm filled with rumors in the blink of an eye fictions take root in fertile soil and blossom adopting the image of spoken truth like this one you’ve heard a hundred times: ‘Romney lost because he shifted too far to the right during the primaries.’
 
In fact, the polls told a completely different story
 
Here’s another: ‘Jeb Bush isn’t conservative enough to win the Presidential Primary’ – this new homily creates a damning circle of logic for Republicans and a heart-warming vision for Democrats: A conservative can’t win the General Election but only a conservative can win a Republican Primary.
 
Cruz can’t win, Paul can’t win, Bush can’t win, which only leaves one question unanswered: How on earth did the Democrats lose the last election?


 

 

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06
You’ve got to love Harry Reid, especially since Republicans hate him so bad.
 
The Harry-haters were hee-hawing and high-fiving last week after Reid hurt himself exercising. One wrote, “It Couldn’t Happen to a Nastier Guy.” Another speculated that Reid is into kinky sex.
 
Here’s hoping that Harry will get well and keep giving ‘em hell. He missed the Senate’s first day back, but his history suggests he won’t stop fighting.
 
Reid, who is 75, keeps in shape by doing pushups, situps and yoga. He was once an amateur boxer. As chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, he took on crooked gamblers. One planted a bomb on his family car, but Reid’s wife found the device.
 
He’s an old-style FDR Democrat. He pushed through Obamacare, which helps more people buy health insurance. And he fiercely protects Social Security, which he calls “the most successful antipoverty program since the fishes and the loaves.”
 
What will he say about the move by newly elected Republican Senators, including Thom Tillis, to eliminate the food-stamp program and replace it with “more affordable free market solutions”?
 
Reid is no golden-tongued orator. And he’s conservative on issues like guns and abortion. But he’s a tough battler who torments Republicans. Now, more than ever, with the handmaidens of the rich and powerful in the majority, the Senate needs him.
 
Get well, Harry.

 

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31
A reporter at The Hill newspaper up in Washington let Jeb Bush have it right between the eyes, reporting there’s ‘no love lost’ between Bush and the Republican base and that in Iowa the Tea Party activists are torching Bush’s conservative credentials.
 
Jeb Bush,” he quoted a radio talk show host as saying, “is on the wrong side of every issue that matters most to conservatives.”
 
It’s a simple picture painted in blacks and whites – with no bothersome grays. It also sounds a lot like the beginning of a classic political rant.
 
Now, granted, Jeb Bush isn’t Ted Cruz on immigration but, on the other hand, he was a tax cutting, austere, pro-school choice, pro-gun rights Governor. And it’s not every day a politician comes down the pike with the backbone to take a stand he knows is unpopular.
 
Jeb Bush’s record isn’t black and white but, who knows, a touch of nuance (with grays and subtle shadows) may lead to a more enlightened political debate than ‘he’s wrong on every issue.’


 

 

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30
Obama may be aloof but he’s also soft-spoken and temperate and if he’s unpopular (due to his failures) beyond his failures he’s a genial man – a traditional liberal who believes government should help people out by providing healthcare and school lunches and so on.
 
But now and then, standing at a podium, the President will speak and for a brief moment a window will open revealing a man who has a vision of America that goes well beyond traditional liberalism.
 
These days it’s unfashionable to be against almost any kind of sex. Enlightenment today requires new levels of tolerance and progress requires not just broadening our views on sex but reforming the related institutions of matrimony, adoption and filing joint tax returns.
 
The other day the President, along with the Attorney General, trod further down the road of sexual progress than anyone else has dared to go – they declared ‘Transgenders’ are an official American Minority under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that the Justice Department stands ready to deal with anyone who differs.
 
Now with no undue disrespect to the President – or to Transgenders – that was a stretch: Not one soul in Congress back in 1964 ever dreamed he was voting to make Transgenders a minority.
 
So now, it looks like, instead of a soft-spoken traditional liberal we have a President on our hands who has a radical vision of the future – and who’s telling us with a straight face he believes fifty years ago Congress declared Transgenders a minority.


 

 

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15
A little known prairie lawyer got up and gave a speech at the Democratic Convention in 1896 and the next day was nominated for President.
 
Last weekend, a conservative posted a link to this speech on Twitter with a one word comment: Wow.
 
It’s Elizabeth Warren’s talking about Citigroup and it’s as close to William Jennings Bryan talking about a ‘Cross of Gold’ as anyone’s heard in a long time.  

 

 

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