Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Rice makes sense for Obama

BOTTOM LINE, I’m more disturbed now than I was before,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday on Capitol Hill. We’ll let Graham’s toweringly hilarious double entendre go for now. His comment’s real intent was to express his frustration with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and her responses to a hour’s worth of questions about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, questions answered in a closed-door meeting with Graham, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, king of the Senate Republican malcontents.

“I want to say that I'm more troubled today knowing, having met with the acting director of the CIA and Ambassador Rice,” Ayotte told reporters on Tuesday. “Because it's certainly clear from the beginning that we knew that those with ties to al-Qaida were involved in the attack on the embassy. And clearly the impression that was given of the information given to the American people was wrong. In fact, Ambassador Rice said today, absolutely, it was wrong. ... I have many more questions that need to be answered.”

Let’s see … Graham’s disturbed, Ayotte’s troubled; God only knows what John McCain is, besides outraged in general. Other Senate Republicans like John Barroso of Wyoming and Susan Collins of Maine have also taken up the cause of cooking Rice.

But despite the sturdy Republican chorus of opposition to the ambassador as a nominee for secretary of state, and GOP support for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, there are some good reasons why, thinking tactically and strategically, small-ball and big-picture, President Obama will pick Ambassador Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton at State. Or at least he should:

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There’s the opportunity to gain from the Republicans’ punitive optics of the situation. The gathering GOP witch hunt is an attempt to short-circuit the independence of the presidential nomination process, and to scuttle a president’s choice out of not much more than pique.

To the American public that just rendered its judgment on Republican rule on Nov. 6, the Senate Republicans reasons for opposing Rice look small and cheap and mean-spirited.

It’s becoming more and more obvious Ambassador Rice is being needlessly pilloried for an unintentionally incomplete relating of serial explosive events on the ground at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and four three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11. The Senate Republicans’ harshness toward Rice, and a willingness to engage in their own incomplete assessment of Benghazi, the events, the aftermath and the ambassador’s role in explaining all, is beginning to look like what it is: indefensible obstruction of presidential prerogative.

What we’re likely seeing right now is a preview of the obstructionist tactics Republicans will adopt for other nominations to come — including any and all choices Obama may make for the U.S. Supreme Court. Calling this crap out now for what it is (and will probably be) gains the president the high perceptual ground of being seen as the adult in the room.

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IF OBAMA SO decides, the selection of Susan Rice to be the 68th United States Secretary of State would reflect her impressive intellectual heft. The word often attached to Rice — “brilliant” — is almost an understatement:

Rice, just turned 48, seems to have been hard-wired for achievement from the jump. The daughter of Cornell economics professor Emmett J. Rice, the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System, she graduated from Stanford University (Phi Beta Kappa), and earned a Rhodes scholarship.

A former fellow at the Brookings Institution, Rice was an aide to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the Clinton administration; she was assistant secretary of state for African affairs and worked for four years on the National Security Council staff. In January 2009, Rice was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to be United States Ambassador to the United Nations, the second youngest in the nation’s history and the first African American woman in the post. Oh yeah, almost forgot — she earned a doctorate at Oxford.

At the age of 26.

Ironically — or maybe not so ironically — Rice is at least as qualified for higher office as her detractors are qualified for the jobs they've got right now, and maybe more.

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A Rice nomination would send a message to the Democratic base. It stems from a perverse irony; from a populist Democratic perspective, the fact that several Senate Republicans prefer Kerry to Rice for secretary of state works to Kerry’s disadvantage.

For President Obama to acquiesce in the preference of Senate Republicans for one of the most important posts in his (or any) administration, he would be nullifying the powerful, galvanizing impact of his own landslide re-election three weeks ago — and the independence such a victory bestows.

Monday, November 26, 2012

This election and its consequences

ELECTIONS HAVE consequences. That was the conservative mantra that went up loudly and relentlessly in the wake of the 2010 midterm elections, and the climb of the obstructionist Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.

That sentence was used by the GOP and its supporters as a kind of verdict, a shibboleth intended to settle all economic policy disputes between the Republican-led House and the Obama administration — and to justify the outright rejection of various measures proposed by the administration for the purpose of resetting a deeply troubled consumer economy.

Well, that was then, and this is now. If midterm elections have consequences, presidential elections have bigger ones.

For the Obama White House, the outcome of the vote on Nov. 6 means that the intermittent on-offense attitude recently displayed by the president over impasses with the Tea-infused Republican-led House over the looming “fiscal cliff” and related economic issues will be more consistently (and more pointedly) applied from here on in. Winning in a landslide’ll do that.

For the Republicans, the results mean accepting the failure of a nation-view that tried desperately to be its own reality; renunciation of some of the GOP’s more strident hierophants; and at least a temporary attempt by some in the party to re-craft a message that isn’t working like it used to — and like it may never work again.

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Ohio Rep. John Boehner gets this like nobody else. The Speaker of the House has for some time been what amounts to the adult in the room, realizing his precarious position between the members of the House moderate (or at least practical) enough to understand the need for negotiation with the Obama White House, and the ideological hysterics who’ve done what they could to hold the House as a hostage to their economic demands.

That all changed on Nov. 6.

“With President Obama re-elected and Democrats cementing control of the Senate, Mr. Boehner will need to capitalize on the chastened faction of the House G.O.P. that wants to cut a deal to avert sudden tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts in January that could send the economy back into recession,” The New York Times reported.

“After spending two years marooned between the will of his loud and fractious members and the Democratic Senate majority, the speaker is trying to assert control, and many members seem to be offering support. ...”

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“Even so, some Republicans have issued a stern warning to Mr. Boehner that he cannot expect their votes if he makes a deal with Democrats before seeking their consent,” The Times reported.

“What we’ve seen in the past is the speaker goes, negotiates with the president, and just before we vote, he tells us what the deal is and attempts to persuade us to vote for it,” said GOP Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, to The Times. “We’re just not very happy with deals being baked, then we’re asked to stay with the team and support the speaker.”

The operative words there are “in the past.” As Fleming certainly knows, it’s possible, maybe even necessary, to draw a sharp dividing line between pre-election and post-election. The legislative landscapes are different; the leverage now is more decidedly with the president — the beneficiary of a landslide re-election victory, and a fortified Democratic presence on both sides of Congress.

Then was then, and now is now. Fleming knows that. So does the Speaker of the House.

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KARL ROVE knows it. The Republican strategist was at the helm of two GOP fundraising groups (American Crossroads and its sister group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, aka Crossroads GPS), which, between them, raised about $325 million for the defeat of President Obama. For Rove and his supporters, the consequences of the election reflect a textbook display of cognitive dissonance (“as bad as things were, it could have been worse”) at work.

Just after the deal went down on Election Night, Rove (in his analyst’s guise on Fox News), was asked by host Chris Wallace about the value — the return on investment, if you will — of the vast sums from megadonors into his two groups.

“We spent billions of dollars,” Wallace said. “Crossroads, which you helped found, spent, what, $325 million, and we’ve ended up with the same president, the same Democratic majority in the Senate and the same Republican majority in the House. Was it worth it?”

“Yeah,” responded Rove. “Look, if groups like Crossroads were not active, this race would have been over a long time ago.”

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Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who helped Rove’s fundraising efforts, said much the same thing to The New York Times, when he told reporters Nicholas Confessore and Jess Bidgood that Romney’s campaign wouldn’t have been as competitive as it was without the millions burned on anti-Obama ads during the summer months.

“I believe that some of that money actually kept Romney from getting beat down by the carpet-bombing he underwent from the Obama forces,” Barbour told The Times. “I did look at it more as us trying to keep our candidates from getting swamped, like what happened to McCain.”

Translation in both cases: “As bad as things were, it could have been worse.”

Rove knows the difference between then and now. Before the election, Rove was the Visionary, a SuperPAC Moses ready to lead the GOP to the promised land of the Oval Office. After the election? Not so much. Not nearly so much. Watch for news reports of Rove staggering bloody out of an alley somewhere on K Street after being accosted at night by two ... “associates” of the Koch Brothers “requesting” a refund on behalf of their employers.

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GROVER NORQUIST, the conservative anti-tax crusader and leader of Americans for Tax Reform, whose no-taxes-ever pledge (ready for signing) was all but included in the GOP congressional freshman orientation package for the last twenty years, has lately encountered spirited pushback against his authority to intimidate.

The pledge has been a litmus test, and one that Norquist has advanced both amicably and aggressively. But the tax-philosophical Kool-Aid that Capitol Hill Republicans used to knock back like martinis at a Georgetown soiree is harder to swallow these days.

Saxby Chambliss won’t touch the hard stuff anymore. “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge,” the Georgia Republican senator said in an interview on Georgia talk radio station WMAZ. “If we do it his way, then we'll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that.”

“I care too much about my country, I care a lot more about it than I do about Grover Norquist,” he said.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Morsi’s wrong move

WELL, THAT was fast. Two days after being hailed as a deft and possibly visionary leader of the largest Arab democracy, Mohamed Morsi of Egypt has made a rash and potentially destabilizing power grab that’s the opposite of democracy. In the process he’s not only endangered the stability of his own presidency; just as important, he may have put in jeopardy the very Middle East peace deal he just helped to broker.

On Friday the Egyptian president unilaterally assumed broad new powers, abrogating unto himself the authority to run his country of 91 million people virtually unchecked until a new constitution is signed by the Egyptian Assembly.

Morsi also ordered that that the Assembly, dominated by Islamists and now at work on the new constitution, could not be dissolved by legal challenges — effectively invalidating the judiciary. Morsi’s decree dismisses Egypt’s Prosecutor General, the head of the judiciary.

“I am for all Egyptians. I will not be biased against any son of Egypt,” Morsi said to an overflow crowd outside the presidential palace on Friday. “I have said before and I repeat again that I would never use the legislation against individuals, parties, men, women or Muslims or Christians for personal gains or to settle scores. ...”

“I will never be against any Egyptians because we are all together and we need to give momentum to freedom and democracy and the transfer. I like to support what you want, to have stability and safety, the safety of the individual and safety of the nation.”

Khaled El-Gindy, a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told CNN that Morsi has taken “full executive and legislative authority, and he has effectively neutralized the third branch of government, which is the judiciary.

“They are now unable to challenge any of his decisions. This is far more sweeping than anything the previous military rulers had done, or that [former president Hosni] Mubarak himself had done.”

But in the short term, it’s fallen on deaf ears; protests are growing right now throughout Egypt, with some violent clashes between police and pro- and anti-Morsi protesters reported in Alexandria, Ismailia, Port Said, Suez and in Cairo, whose Tahrir Square looked in news video last night eerily similar to the way it looked less than a year ago, when pro-democracy protesters rallied there against Mubarak.

According to CNN, anti-Morsi protesters have been shouting denunciations of Morsi's tactic as “birth of a new pharaoh!” Al Jazeera reports that offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization Morsi used as a springboard to the presidency, have been attacked in at least five cities.

And some hours ago, Al Jazeera reported that Morsi’s presidential aide has resigned.

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ALL IN ALL, it’s a stunningly wrong move by Morsi, president of Egypt since June and a man who just days ago was lionized by opinion leaders and analysts in the region, and by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for his masterful role in achieving the truce in Gaza.

“One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution,” said Victoria Nuland, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, in a statement.

“The current constitutional vacuum in Egypt can only be resolved by the adoption of a constitution that includes checks and balances, and respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights, and the rule of law consistent with Egypt’s international commitments.”

Beyond Nuland’s focus on Egyptian domestic politics, this complicates things immensely for the Gaza truce. Morsi had pledged to use his influence with Hamas to help keep things calm in Gaza. Now, as Morsai navigates the fallout from an astonishing unforced error, he’ll be distracted from his leading role in the Gaza situation. Whatever leverage he has with Hamas may be diluted by the new domestic unrest in his own house, and of his own making.

Frankly, as a growing number of protesters at home call for his ouster (with the same energy and passion they used to gain the removal of Hosni Mubarak less than five tender months ago), Morsi may be perceived as having no political leverage outside Egypt at all.

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MORSI’S GAMBIT has also aroused worries over possible human rights violations. “We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt,” Rupert Colville said at the UN in Geneva, as reported by Al Jazeera. “We also fear this could lead to a very volatile situation over the next few days, starting today in fact.”

For one scholar, it’s not necessarily what Morsi did, it’s the way he did it. “The problem is not about the content of the decisions itself, but about the way it was taken,” Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, told Al Jazeera.

“This is a dangerous situation for the whole country. It is very confusing, because we don't know if we are in the presence of a constitutional declaration, or of a law, or of just administrative degrees.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give thanks II: The gift of memory

CATALOGING WHAT we’re thankful for on our ritual feast day, in our world that seems to come at us likethisallthetime, it’s easy to be thankful for the ability to hold on to something that matters — for the ability to remember.

So much of what we consume, so many of the ways we communicate have a built-in evanescence, an almost instant vanishing. From text messages to tweets, e-mails to IMs, we’re bombarded by snapshots of information whose number and relentlessness mean that they flash by and are gone — not because they can’t be recalled (which they can, of course), but because they can’t be remembered. They don’t go deep enough, don’t last long enough, to qualify as evidence of memory. In the digital world in which we bump into one another, one emoticon or de-voweled msg or LMAO makes room for the next one. Any second now …

It’s hard not to be thankful for the gift of memory; there seem to be fewer and fewer occasions to really use it.

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Good thing we have elections to help with that. The one on Nov. 6, the latest canvass of the national mood, showed that memory persists when it counts. Americans who remember the worst economic years of the Bush #43 administration voted not to repeat its folly of imbalance, or to revisit the era of cowboy swagger in the White House.

The re-election of Barack Obama as president showed that the American people are capable of seeing past the rhetoric and bright noise that defined this last election cycle, and deciding with the vote what is in their best interests. A consolidating coalition of America’s more socially and economically vulnerable demographic components used that vote, decisively, to help pull the nation forward.

It’s something that William Greider, writing in The Nation, understands. Greider observes that “the 2012 election was a profound watershed in the life of the nation. Whatever else President Obama accomplishes or fails to accomplish in his second term, his re-election is in some ways even more significant than his initial triumph in 2008. He will be forever remembered as the president who opened America to a different future—more promising and fulfilling, more just and democratic than anything achieved in the American past.”

And who really lost the election?

“Forget Romney and the Republicans,” Greider says. “The real loser was the bitter legacy of ‘white supremacy.’ That poisonous prejudice has endured in political reality and the national culture for two centuries. It still does, though it is now cultivated most zealously only by white Southerners who took over the party of Abraham Lincoln (who surely weeps for his Grand Old Party).

"In 2012, white supremacy not only lost the election. It was a crucial factor in explaining how Obama won.”

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GOOD THING we’ve got history, too. For African Americans, remembering is a long and bittersweet second nature; in this election year, with plenty of reminders of a past that’s not really past, with memories of the vote denied, they forgot nothing of history. You’ve seen them: the black voters in Florida and Pennsylvania and Ohio who lined up a few weeks back, putting up with hours of waiting in lines that stretched for blocks in order to exercise their constitutional franchise.

It was a civics lesson, manifest evidence of remembering what they knew they damn well better never forget: The vote matters, and a vote for this president was a vote to further something essential to the nation's character.

Greider notes: “If Obama had lost, a wise history professor pointed out to me, it would have taken many years, probably many decades, before either major party would ever again dare to nominate a person of color for president. Black Americans understood this, probably better than most of us white folks. So did Latinos, Asians and a whole bunch of other 'minority' voters. African-Americans might have had quarrels or disappointments with Obama, but they understood their historic stakes in winning a second term for him.”

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If history is what we’ve learned, memory is what we’ve lived. For the nearly 70 percent of the American population under the age of 50, there’s no recollection of what happened on this date 49 years ago in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 in the afternoon. When John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated on that grimly transformational day, it seemed to foreshadow the arrival of a kind of future, to usher in the velocities of a world and a nation tearing themselves apart ... some of which we feel today.

Those who weren’t around back then will never know. Those who were around back then will never forget it. But some of what we lost in Dallas, we regained on Election Night: that sense of the American possible, that courage and invention that, we like to think, defines us as Americans, and as human beings.

And there’s no forgetting that, and what it says about us, no matter when you got here.

Image credits: President Obama: via The Huffington Post. Black voters in Cincinnati: Politic365. Official portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler.

Give thanks I: A pause in Gaza

FOR NOW anyway, there’s a lot to be thankful for based on what’s happening, and not happening, in the Middle East.

Unless all hell’s broken loose, a fragile truce is holding between Israel and Hamas, ending eight days of rocket attacks and airstrikes that left 162 Palestinian civilians (including more than 40 children) and Hamas sympathizers dead in Gaza, and five Israelis killed within the state of Israel.

Under the terms of the agreement, both Israel and Hamas have agreed to “stop all hostilities ... in the land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals” and urges the Palestinian factions to end “rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.”

Israel agrees to end its targeted killings of Hamas leadership. If things have remained quiet for 24 hours — several hours ago now — Israel is to consider lifting border controls, easing the movements of everyday Palestinians.

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An end to fighting that victimizes civilians is obviously cause for relief; what’s even more promising is how this tenuous cease-fire is being orchestrated, and by whom, and what it says about the evolving power equation in the region.

Now like before like always, the central players have been present and accounted for in the negotiations: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But the current cease-fire was in part brokered by Mohammed Morsi, president of Egypt, who’s pledged to use his friendly relationship with Hamas to help keep the peace.

“Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace,” Clinton said in Cairo on Wednesday.

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MORSI HAS stepped up to the plate in a way that certainly, in the short term, burnishes his bona fides as a world leader. This is a big baby step for at least the hope of an enduring peace; the Egyptian president has committed his nation to a status of change agent, and returns Egypt to its historical role as regional acrobat: a reliable ally of the United States and a comparatively sturdy third party between Israel and its antagonists. Shades of the days of Anwar Sadat.

Morsi appears to have handled the first big regional crisis since he took office in late June with a pragmatism that answers both the immediate need for quiet and the longer-term need for a real negotiation process, in pursuit of a long-term solution.

Early reaction has been positive. "The Gaza truce was the first big test for Morsi, and it is doing well. He led the negotiations in a balanced manner," El-Sayed Amin Shalabi, head of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Agence France-Presse.

Hassan Nafaa, an Egyptian columnist and political analyst, said Morsi “cleverly used relations with Hamas to help achieve a primary objective of Egypt, which is a cessation of violence.”

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While Clinton built up her frequent-flier miles in the region — sprinting from Israel to Ramallah to Cairo — President Obama performed shuttle diplomacy by phone, talking with Morsi and Netanyahu, and pledging to the Israeli leader more funds for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system.

Overnight news reports from Gaza showed Palestinians and Hamas celebrating the deal; Aymon Moyheldin of NBC News said sermons at mosques in Gaza were spinning the agreement as a victory for Hamas and the Palestinians — which is to be expected.

It’s a given that the outcome of events — a psychological victory, if not a military one — would be portrayed in Gaza as proof of Hamas’ toughness and its leverage in the region, their $800 rockets hailed as a match for the might of the Israeli military, whose use of the Iron Dome system over the eight days of conflict cost between $25 million and $30 million, Reuters reported.

In an address, Netanyahu took the high road, saying that “at the present time, the right thing for the state of Israel is to exhaust the possibility of reaching a long-term cease-fire.”

But Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed of the University of Cairo told AFP that Netanyahu was under heavy pressure from the United States to sign on to the agreement. "One wondered about Netanyahu's reaction to a cease-fire that appeared as a failure because it has not met Israeli military objectives," he said.

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BARRING THE cease-fire blowing up, the next clash between Israel and the Palestinians is set to take place in a better place for conflict resolution: At the United Nations.

Haaretz reports that, during her talks in Israel, Clinton warned Netanyahu against extreme reaction to an expected Palestinian request for recognition of the Palestinian Authority as a non-member state.

The Palestinians intend to ask the UN General Assembly to vote on upgrading the status of the Palestinian Authority to non-member status on the symbolic date of Nov. 29.

That’s the anniversary of the UN vote on accepting the Partition Plan in 1947, a vote that led to the creation of the Jewish state the following year.

Nov. 29 — next Thursday — is also the UN’s Day of International Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Image credits: Palestinian father in Gaza: Screengrab from Al Jazeera video. Morsi: AFP. President Obama on Air Force One: Pete Souza/The White House. Palestinian boy and Hamas fighter: AP/Adel Hana.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cannabis sativa terra incognita:
Washington state, Colorado and pot

THE LEGALIZATION Day in Washington State!!! Facebook page posted a tip on Tuesday: “I have learned from a very reliable source that a stash~mob is planned on December 6 to celebrate the first day of marijuana legalization in Washington State. It is to be at the Seattle Center starting at 7:00 exactly at the fountain. Bring your ounce of marijuana.”

This looked to be an update on a page post from a couple days earlier: “123 confirmed attendees for a smoke-in at Seattle Center.” People were then encouraged “to bring an ounce of pot, a friend and any leftover fireworks."

On Nov. 6, while you were watching the results of the presidential election, Washington state generated fireworks of its own. This state and Colorado became the first two in the country to legalize recreational marijuana use, rebuffing longstanding federal law in the bargain.

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With the results of both states’ elections, the will of the people has created a new and thorny landscape in which state and federal law are at odds; and the new world of a state-government economic model regulating the sale of the first psychoactive substance since alcohol came back with the repeal of Prohibition.

For a national culture that’s veered from “Reefer Madness” vilification to wry winks at pot as a personal eccentricity, the effective repeal of marijuana’s illicit status in some areas is a break from the past with no road map forward. It’s uncharted territory for those state governments, as they figure out how to walk a walk they’ve never walked before.

Under Washington’s Initiative 502, which won decisively at the polls, “possession, by a person twenty-one years of age or older, of useable marijuana or marijuana-infused products in amounts that do not exceed those set forth in section 15(3) of this act is not a violation of this section, this chapter, or any other provision of Washington state law.”

It’s this language of the law that makes it “simply not pre-emptable,” according to Pete Holmes, the Seattle city attorney, a prosecutor and an I-502 co-sponsor, interviewed by The Stranger.

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KEITH STROUP, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), hailed Washington’s initiative as "the single most important thing in the marijuana legalization movement in the last 75 years," and predicted other states would follow suit.

“That's exactly what happened at the end of alcohol prohibition. I think that's exactly what's going to happen here," Stroup said to The Seattle Times.

But there are some issues that aren’t that clear-cut. Possession is cool, for example, but cultivation or sale are not. But one thing’s clear: Washington state is already staking out its territory as dealer of first resort. Under the new law, It will be illegal to buy marijuana for recreational use anywhere except state-licensed marijuana stores; those stores won't open until at least December 2013. Those stores are estimated to generate almost $2 billion in revenue over five years.

And the new law could create issues in the workplace, as employers decide how to proceed long-term with a legally-decided shift in public tolerance toward marijuana — and how, or whether, that shift will affect their hiring and promotion decisions deep in the future.

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“There’s no handbook for any of this,” said Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, 29, a former crime reporter for The Stranger, in an interview with The New York Times. He wrote the “Marijwhatnow” blog post on the Seattle Police Department Web site, a kind of guide to this uncharted legal landscape — and apparently a well-regarded one; The Times reported that the blog post has more than 26,000 Facebook “likes” and more than 218,000 page views since it went up shortly after the election.

Passages from the “Marijwhatnow” blog are probably the best snapshot way to make sense of the changes in Washington state:

Can I legally carry around an ounce of marijuana?

According to the recently passed initiative, beginning December 6th, adults over the age of 21 will be able to carry up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Please note that the initiative says it “is unlawful to open a package containing marijuana…in view of the general public,” so there’s that. Also, you probably shouldn’t bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property).

Well, where can I legally buy pot, then?

The Washington State Liquor Control Board is working to establish guidelines for the sale and distribution of marijuana. The WSLCB has until December 1, 2013 to finalize those rules. In the meantime, production and distribution of non-medical marijuana remains illegal.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The next GOP frontrunners, or not

DO NOT adjust your calendar. If you watched NBC's “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend, you may have seen the first populist shot fired in the presidential campaign of 2016.

On the show’s “Weekend Update” segment, Seth Meyers did a “report” on how New Jersey was faring in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the Jersey shore and its people. And just in for a comment on how the Garden State’s faring — please welcome New Jersey Governor Chris Christie!

The reliably combustible Republican governor, who received generally high marks for his handling of the Sandy crisis in his state, availed himself of several targets of opportunity. Christie lambasted as “stupid” and “idiots” the state officials who failed to follow his evacuation orders, even as he thanked the Red Cross and first responders — and his wife for enduring “a husband who has smelled like a wet fleece for the last three weeks.” He ended with a recitation of the lyrics from “Atlantic City,” by Bruce Springsteen, son of New Jersey and lately Christie’s Best Friend for Now (if not Forever).

It was all light-hearted enough and, given what New Jersey’s been through since Oct. 31, probably a welcome break from a tragedy the state is only now beginning to recover from. But implicit in Christie’s benign appearance on a sketch comedy program is a message to the nation as a whole and the handicappers already lining up prospects for the 2016 race: Don’t fuggedabout the governor. He’s a national player now.

Christie is already on the short list of possibles for the Republican nomination; other names surfaced even as the Romney dreadnought sank beneath the waves in the days after the election. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio just took a trip to Iowa.

What possible senatorial business could a Florida senator have going on in Iowa, you ask? This trip was for a birthday party fundraiser for Gov. Terry Branstad, but considering Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses begin in three years and two months … well, for someone thought to be a White House contender in 2016, early beats hell out of late.

And Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor and lately an eager apostate from established GOP orthodoxy, has long been considered a 2016 likely suspect. In the wake of the Romney implosion, Jindal was among the first to offer postmortems for Mitt’s campaign and the Republican Party as a whole, with a bracing, willfully lacerating assessment of the GOP’s prospects in the wake of Hurricane Romney.

THESE ARE the most likely of the early frontrunners in name recognition only. Others — like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez or Texas Rep. Ted Cruz — have gotten less press, but they make good sense given the GOP’s sorry outreach to Latino voters in recent years, and the virtual election-year vilification of Latinos by the state governments of Arizona and Texas. Cruz, a Tea Party stalwart, can’t be expected in the short term to offer any big departures from the political rhythms of that wing of the Republican Party. It’s Martinez who’d be maybe the biggest test of the GOP’s new Kum Ba Yah narrative.

The governor, 52, supports Medicare — something that puts her deeply at odds with the GOP meat-axe ethos of the Path to Prosperity budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan. “I believe in providing services to adults and children who can’t take care of themselves,” she told Newsweek in May. “Sometimes Republicans engage in number-crunching analysis that doesn’t always take the neediest into account. We have to factor them in before we start proposing these cuts.”

And she’s a voice of reason on immigration. “I absolutely advocate for comprehensive immigration reform,” Martinez said. “Republicans want to be tough and say, ‘Illegals, you’re gone.’ But the answer is a lot more complex than that.”

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Some other names have come up; South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the nation’s youngest governor, was briefly bruited as a possible Romney running mate, and she’s also under the presidential microscope for 2016. There’s two challenges first. One is her own expected bid for re-election as governor in 2014, and how well that goes. The other is the deep strain of her own party’s multiple identities.

Jake Knotts, a South Carolina Republican state senator, proved that in June 2010, when he was a guest on “Pub Politics,” an Internet talk radio show, speaking off the cuff at a Palmetto State bar. Knotts expressed having issues with Haley, who was then running for governor. “We got a raghead in Washington,” Knotts said. “We don’t need a raghead in the statehouse.”

Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley is of Indian descent.

◊ ◊ ◊

IN ANY serious discussion of 2016 Republican hopefuls, you have to cherry-pick from the leavings of the primary season. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been flirting with the idea of flirting with the idea of a White House run. “2016 is a long way to trying to make any decisions about what you’re doing,” he told the Houston Chronicle, and other news outlets, back in August — this after telling NBC News that he’d “absolutely” consider a 2016 run. “There’s a long time until 2016 and a lot of good things can happen,” he said.

One of the good things that can happen, or not, is his own re-election as governor, a bid coming up in 2014.

◊ ◊ ◊

Don’t count Rick Santorum out. The former Pennsylvania senator was a hit during the primary season, employing a moving personal biography and a direct, accessible style of retail politics; all of it deeply connected with primary voters.

He won the Iowa caucuses, and swept the Colorado and Missouri caucuses and the Minnesota primary, and seemed to be gaining traction, but he later adopted an on-offense strategy, morphing into a culture warrior guise that alienated some voters and confused others.

All in all, though, not fatal lapses; his classy, principled exit from the race left people feeling he’d acquitted himself well during the bruising primaries. He didn’t stink up the joint, at least not much. And Santorum's primary-season warning about the dangers of nominating Romney could give Santorum the gravitas of a party oracle if he runs again. Pencil him in for ’16.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Black turnout: How’d the GOP get it so wrong?

ONE OF the more revealing postmortem aspects of the 2012 presidential election is the way that, with a striking apparent uniformity, Republican strategists and political nostradami underestimated the turnout of African Americans for President Obama, predicting that black turnout at the polls in 2012 would be substantially less than 2008.

“We didn't think they'd turn out more of their base vote than they did in 2008, but they smoked us,” said one Romney campaign operative, speaking to Politico about black Election Day turnout in the crucial state of Ohio.

Something was being smoked, maybe by the Republicans themselves. What should have been obvious to those paying attention — virtually anyone accessing information outside the conservative media ecosystem — is that African American voters had as much invested in the outcome of this presidential election as the last one, and actually a good deal more.

◊ ◊ ◊

As the national economy continues its slow rebound, black Americans will be picking up the pieces of their personal economies, like everyone else. But it was counter-intuitive to think that, with the many straight months of job growth that’s happened under President Obama in the first term, African Americans would abandon the policies, initiatives and executive orders that have at least put black America on the road to economic recovery.

Black voters have a lot at stake in the process of that recovery already underway; as the 93 percent black popular-vote total for Tuesday’s election indicates, starting over with a new Republican administration was never an option.

Black voters were clearly incentivized to exercise their constitutional franchise, ironically for reasons that had less to do with re-electing President Obama and everything to do with reasserting the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in their 21st-century lives … even as the fate of that landmark legislation may be in the hands of the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear a challenge from Alabama of the Act’s Section 5, which Attorney General Eric Holder has called “our nation's most important civil rights statute.”

◊ ◊ ◊

THE EFFORTS of lawmakers in some of the swing states to curb voter registration and early voting, and to introduce nettlesome voter-ID restrictions on the eve of the election, galvanized black Americans at every level, reawakening the spirit of the civil rights era in many, or (for the tens of millions who weren’t around then) awakening that spirit for the first time.

The Republicans and the Romney campaign relied heavily on state legislatures to advance voter ID laws and to complicate voter registration efforts. They weren’t expecting aggressive pushback by civil rights organizations — or being soundly rebuffed in the courts, as they were in a late-August series of thunderclap federal-court decisions in Ohio, Texas and Florida.

◊ ◊ ◊

Republicans were caught flat-footed on technology; they failed to make the necessary pivot to accommodate users of social media and smartphones. Voting-rights advocates didn’t make that mistake.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Association of Latino Appointed and Elected Officials Education Fund, New Organizing Institute Education Fund, Rock the Vote and the Verified Voting Foundation joined forces to create a smartphone app that let voters confirm their registration status, find polling places, complete voter registration forms, and contact election officials.

The Obama for America campaign spent $31 million on digital ads through June, more than three times the $8.1 million the Romney campaign digital-ad spend for the same time period, Kate Kaye reported Aug. 17 at ClickZ Politics.

Team Obama spent nearly $4.5 million on digital advertising and text messages in June, according to ClickZ’s analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. Romney's campaign spent about $500,000.

Lesson unlearned by the Republicans: Landlines matter, but smartphones are the present and the future. The best place to reach voters is where they live, and more and more often, they live on the phone. Everywhere.

◊ ◊ ◊

THE REPUBLICANS confused disenchantment with abandonment. They conjured lowball estimates of black turnout based, in some part, on a misreading of news stories and analysis pieces reporting that African Americans were dissatisfied with Obama’s first-term performance, and blaming him for not focusing enough on issues pertinent to the black community.

Republicans overamplified the impact of author-activist Tavis Smiley and author and Princeton professor Cornel West, two of the more consistent burrs under the Obama saddle, commentators who have frequently criticized the Obama White House for failing to pursue programs and initiatives specifically benefiting African Americans.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Election 2012: The postwar world

A WEEK after the bright dividing line of a transformative presidential election, the country is hunkering down behind shorter days, longer nights, the first hints of winter weather to come, and the wait to implement the dueling political interpretations of America that made the election what it was.

Effective as of yesterday's start of the lame-duck session of Congress, we’re now in a transition period; the officers of the 113th Congress have been decided since Nov. 6, but they can’t take office before the end of the 112th Congress. This year it’s also an interregnum between iterations of the Obama administration, and a relative lull after the storm of the most consequential national vote in decades. Call it another kind of postwar period, if you like (a lull before the next combat, about the Bush tax cuts).

But there are signs that, on matters from taxes to immigration reform to the way the Republican Party generally relates to the half of the nation that doesn’t look like its base, the GOP intends to devote some time to giving itself a serious talking-to, rethinking its identity and its relationship with the millions of voters who will determine its destiny. You know... voters that don’t look like its base.

There’s also proof that some Americans are having a hard time processing what just happened a week ago, and are expressing their confusion and outrage in predictable and sadly surprising ways.

◊ ◊ ◊

You knew something was up when William Kristol, columnist and regent of modern conservatism, went on Fox News Sunday and said, “You know what? It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires. It really won’t, I don’t think.”

The idea that a conservative icon could kick one of the GOP’s eternal pieties to the curb would have been unthinkable a year or two ago. So would the ideas of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who may have fired the biggest broadside on the pre-election GOP in a Monday interview with Politico. Message to Republicans: “Stop being the stupid party.”

“We’ve got to make sure that we are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything,” Jindal said. “We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys.”

Jindal, who’s been mentioned as a presidential prospect for 2016, laid into his party’s bad behavior in the previous campaign, and did so with a refreshing candor and conviction.

◊ ◊ ◊

“It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that,” Jindal said. “It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party. We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”

“Simply being the anti-Obama party didn’t work. You can’t beat something with nothing. The reality is we have to be a party of solutions and not just bumper-sticker slogans but real detailed policy solutions.”

(It'll be interesting to see how the Ivy League-educated Jindal reconciles this call to reason, this petition for an end to “dumbed-down conservatism,” with his own status as a champion of creationism in the classroom. Expect an evolution over the next four years.)

◊ ◊ ◊

WHILE IT’S been underway in the United States for decades, this seismic transition in American politics — a shift of age, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation to a wider, more tolerant social agenda, and the Democratic candidates that embraced that agenda — was formally announced with the demographic breakdown of voters in the election. It was an eye-opening series of revelations:

Barack Obama won re-election as president with only 39 percent of white voters; he swept to victory over Mitt Romney with 93 percent of African American support, 71 percent of Latino voters, 73 percent of Asian American voters, 60 percent of the voters under 30, and 55 percent of women.

This combination — and a subset of Catholics, LGBT Americans, young veterans, union workers and independent voters — is the basis of a new power demographic equation in the United States, one that holds immense leverage over the national future ... and one that, for the second time in as many election cycles, won the White House without a majority of the white vote.

For true believers in the historical centers of America’s political, cultural and social gravity, that’s not a wake-up call. That’s a wake-up bomb.

◊ ◊ ◊

As a voting bloc with authority to sway elections, evangelicals found their political power similarly under siege this election, their impact diluted not by any flood tide of atheistic values seeping into the American soul, but by the same tectonic shift in American demographics that blindsided the Republican Party with whom evangelicals find common cause.

Author Jonathan Merritt, writing in The Atlantic, offers two sound reasons for the decline in evangelicals’ punch at the ballot box:

“First, evangelicals’ size is a limitation. While white evangelicals comprised a quarter of the electorate, other religious groups that lean Democratic have grown substantially. Hispanic-American Catholics, African-American Protestants, and Jewish-Americans voted Democratic in overwhelming numbers. Additionally, the ‘nones’ -- those who claim no religious affiliation -- are now the fastest growing ‘religious’ group, comprising one-fifth of the population and a third of adults under 30. Seven out of 10 ‘nones’ voted for Obama.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

And the tax deduction you rode in on

There’s more to life than politics.

       — Mitt Romney, Alfred E. Smith Dinner, October 2012

He stood for nothing and everything at the same time.
       — Erick Erickson,

DAVID FRUM, the conservative columnist, turned up on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last week to perform the double duty of offering post-election analysis and to promote his latest long-form published work, the e-book “Why Romney Lost.”

Frum told Matthews: “I actually started work on this book six weeks ago.”

The utter collapse of what I’ve called “the most panoramically inept presidential campaign of the modern American political era” was clearly something you could see coming. David Frum did. The Romney campaign didn’t. Or they didn’t believe it.

Whichever it was doesn’t matter now. We’re left with a Democratic president lifted into American history with a demographic-spanning landslide re-election; a Republican party wandering the desert in search of itself; and one last look, a kind of political valedictory for Willard Mitt Romney, a man whose ego and sense of presidential inevitability were at just the right height for a pruning.

◊ ◊ ◊

Any overview of the Romney 2012 quest for the presidency needs to be just that, a wide view — a study not just of the gaffes and unforced errors that came to define his bid for the White House, but also the more foundational factors, the basic things that seemed to animate Romney throughout the campaign.

Ironically, his business skill wasn’t really one of them. It was his experience and comfort zone in the world of business that, in retrospect, hurt his chances for the presidency as much as anything else. Mitt Romney couldn't understand how his time in the world of business was never a dovetail with the needs of a nation — an entity that is only partly a business. That was only one of many disconnects.

He doubled down on this qualification that wasn’t: He was the CEO and co-founder of Bain Capital. He was effectively the CEO of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. He was also the CEO of the state of Massachusetts, but he spent so much time running away from that fact, it was never a Team Romney talking point — well, not much, anyway … until it didn’t matter. Until it was too late.

◊ ◊ ◊

ROMNEY’S EXPERTISE in the world of business was the unique selling proposition of his campaign; that’s what he brought to the table. In the primary season and beyond, his use of the words “experience in the private sector” was pretty much an everyday thing.

But much of that “experience” fell to pieces. Yes, he more or less single-handedly rescued the Salt Lake Games, bringing his turnaround skills to bear in an impressive way. But that genuinely remarkable achievement paled to great degree when compared with his time at Bain Capital, the private-equity asset strip-mining operation he co-founded. And with what Bain Capital really did to thousands of American workers. And with the, uh, sequestration of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in various international locations, from Ireland to the Cayman Islands — most of it profit from Bain-related enterprises.

Earlier this year, I wrote: “[…F]or all his purported expertise in the Private Sector, Mitt Romney is also the unfortunate beneficiary of the public’s perception of the downside of a free-market economy — that, rather than taking credit for creating jobs, Romney is seen as responsible for (or certainly complicit in) the ruthless efficiencies that take jobs away. Right or wrong, his business acumen is defined — in the public eye, anyway — by what’s been lost or downsized, rather than by what’s been gained or enhanced.

“This may be just a messaging problem or something more foundational to his campaign, but for now it’s clear there’s a fundamental disconnect between Mitt Romney and the populism he professes.

“And there’s nothing to be done about this. There’s no way to spin or tweak this narrative because it’s organic to what Mitt Romney is, and it’s central to what he believes he brings to the 2012 presidential campaign.”

◊ ◊ ◊

What doomed Mitt Romney’s campaign, almost from the beginning, was the built-in sense of entitlement the candidate brought to bear in every manifestation of the campaign. It was implicit in his superior bearing, in the vast wealth that was a family trademark, in the self-satisfied smirk on his face at every interview and debate performance.

That sense of being the smartest one in the room is, in and of itself, not a deal-breaker. Every presidential candidate buys into that, in his or her own way. But Romney also imparted that sense of really, truly believing he was better than everyone else. Above everyone around him. To him, the laws of political gravity didn’t apply. There was no penalty for contradiction of statements made the month (or the week) before. The need to clearly establish himself and his policy ideas for the voters wasn’t necessary. He was to be the anointed one. Regardless of what he said or didn’t say during the campaign, it was “his turn” to be the nominee. It was “his turn” to be president.

This faith in a divine right of plutocrats was evident in everything he did. In his mind, everything was all arranged. Right up to the very end: In the D.C. news blog Capitol Hill Blue, Callie Moran reported last week that “Romney was so confident of victory against President Barack Obama that he spent $25,000 for victory fireworks, had already drawn up a list of White House appointments and took it easy on election day when his opponents were still working hard to get out the vote.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Revenge of the number II: Mr. 47 Percent

WITH THE state of Florida now conclusively in the win column of President Obama, the state’s 29 electoral votes take his total to 332, while the EV total for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney drops to 206.

If you’re keeping score at home, that means the latest nationwide popular vote tally is Obama 50.5 percent, Romney 47.9 percent. That’s right, folks. For Team Romney, karma is now officially a bitch: The percentage of Romney’s popular votes has slipped into the 47th percentile.

Unless you’ve spent the last four months on the ocean floor, you already know the number 47 has been a millstone around Romney’s neck since his philosophical big reveal at the home of a fellow multimillionaire in Boca Raton.

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” he said that night. “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what …These are people who pay no income tax. ...

“[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not ...”

There’s some thought that, since votes are still out there to be counted, Romney’s ultimate popular-vote percentage could dip even lower into the 47th percentile, diluted as Obama's totals increase. Maybe, maybe not. But if nothing changes to reverse the trend, Mitt Romney is permanently wedded to a resounding cosmic joke, a statistical irony that will haunt him from here on in.

There is a God, and He or She has a profound sense of humor.

Image credits: Popular-vote chart: The Huffington Post. Romney in Boca Raton: Mother Jones.

Revenge of the number

IN THE face of Tuesday’s one-sided victory by President Obama, it’s hard to resist the temptation to go into schadenfreude mode — “Serves you right to suffer,” John Lee Hooker once said — but the veritable landslide (Obama finally captured Florida, giving him 332 electoral voters to Mitt Romney’s 206) was a vindication of raw, cold, satisfying statistical science.

The outcome of the presidential election disproves the longstanding assumption that the mainstream media was the fount of rampant bias toward the president. Personal inclinations of the anchors and commentators notwithstanding, much of what the mainstream media reported on the Obama and Romney campaigns, their strengths and weaknesses, was based on facts — a long and deep parade of statistics, metrics and reliable polling from a variety of news and information sources, as well as granular information from studiously nonpartisan sources in the federal government.

Much of this information Republicans and conservatives communicated to the public as proof of liberal bias, even as the Romney campaign indulged in its own extravagant embroideries of the truth — or flat-out lies — and locking itself so completely in the echo chamber of a belief system that Neil Newhouse, a pollster working for the Romney campaign, said “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The Republicans thought had an unbeatable hand. From before Mitt Romney’s campaign was launched, the stage was set for the Republican nominee to be the beneficiary of the conservative media ecosystem: the Fox News television wind machine; the Wall Street Journal editorial page; water carriers like Newsmax and The Daily Caller; popular outliers like the Drudge Report and; the Regnery book-publishing house; long-form news and analysis outlets like the Weekly Standard; and the ubiquity of a radio audience tuned to the perspectives of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh, the talk-radio Doberman lately considered the voice of the Republican Party.

Later, once it was determined that Romney would be the nominee, that ecosystem got a big assist from SuperPACs, outside groups and contributors; their money for radio and TV ads was a force multiplier for expressing the Romney campaign message.

With every aspect of media so thoroughly covered, Team Romney and the Republican Party set out to do the impossible: to transform history, to impose on the electorate their own conservative view of the last four years by carefully constructing their own alternate historical narrative — by effectively making their own reality.

“Fact-checkers? We don’t need no stinkin’ fact-checkers.”

◊ ◊ ◊

THE MAINSTREAM media and Team Obama were allies in nothing more than pursuit of the available facts. The strength or weakness of each campaign was subject to the results of a wide range of polls, from the independent outfits like PPP, Marquette University Law School and Pew Research Center to polls with connections to mainstream media orgs (NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist, Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS, Gallup/USA Today).

The torrent of data from those polls, and others, was combined with a wealth of information from nonpartisan independent groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and info from government sources like the Congressional Budget Office, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose unemployment-rate figures in the final two months of the campaign were discredited by Team Romney as wildly inaccurate — or evidence of the liberal bias that his campaign and the party in general had long suspected.

And mainstream media had a force multiplier of its own: Nate Silver, the statistical guru whose FiveThirty Eight blog in The New York Times became daily reading for campaign insiders — and whose constantly updated, well-researched statistical conclusions of a Romney defeat (many weeks before it happened) were regularly dismissed by conservatives and Team Romney.

◊ ◊ ◊

Robert Reich, in the Christian Science Monitor, observed that what took place on the Republican side was “a parallel Republican universe of Orwellian dimension – where anything can be asserted, where pollsters and political advisers are free to create whatever concoction of lies will help elect their candidate, and where “fact-checkers” are as irrelevant and intrusive as is the truth.”

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It was a classic case of protracted denial on and off the campaign trail. By Election Day, Team Romney had the conservative media convinced that the governor would win the White House in a cakewalk. Glenn Beck predicted a Romney victory. Charles Krauthammer said Romney would win; Dick Morris, another of the resident seers on Fox News, predicted a Romney “landslide.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The wall and the mirror:
Republicans confront the future

If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record ... then shut down the party. Shut it down. Start new, with new people.

Laura Ingraham

The demographics race, we're losing badly ... We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham

TUESDAY NIGHT on Fox News, after the election results were in, political personality Sarah Palin told Greta Van Susteren that “it's a perplexing time for many of us right now.”

Palin's confusion is apparently also shared by her fellow conservatives; the outcome of Tuesday’s genuinely historical presidential election has elicited some early self-recrimination and what passes (48 hours after the vote) for sober-sided reflection about what went wrong.

But no worries. Apparently true to form, as soon as the chin-pulling began, the long knives came out too.

◊ ◊ ◊

On MSNBC, longtime Republican strategist Steve Schmidt used a recent torrent of malicious anti-Obama tweets by millionaire bloviator and publicity enthusiast Donald Trump to make the case that the Republican leadership needs to be more forthright about facing down extremists, and their love of the coded dogwhistle politics that appeal to the base’s baser instincts.

“Now, people calling for revolution and these extreme statements — when I talk about a civil war in the Republican Party, what I mean is, it's time for Republican elected leaders to stand up and to repudiate this nonsense, and to repudiate it directly,” Schmidt said.

“There has been a culture of fear and intimidation, that you are not a real conservative if you won’t, you know, if you won’t, you know ... stand up to these extreme statements, whether it's Rush Limbaugh calling that young lady a slut or a hundred other examples over the last four years.”

◊ ◊ ◊

“The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them," said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to The Huffington Post.

Erick Erickson, at “There was no fraud. There was no stealing the election. There was just a really good ground game from Barack Obama and a lot of smoke and mirrors from Team Romney and outside charlatans, many of whom will now go work for Republican Super PACs making six figure salaries, further draining the pockets of rich Republicans when not on television explaining how awesome and expert they are.”

“We have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, to McClatchy Newspapers. “While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost. ... Clearly, we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”

◊ ◊ ◊

VETERAN REPUBLICAN strategist Mike Murphy told NBC on Tuesday that “we’ve gotta modernize conservatism in a way that appeals to the demographics of the country we’ve got now, not the demographics of 1980 and 1988.”

But Murphy only gets to some of the problem for Republicans, its problems with perception and image. This isn’t about changing or modernizing the label on the can; it’s about a fundamental change of at least some of the formula inside the can.

That’s what makes the Republican challenge so potentially tectonic in how it’s resolved. The change required by the GOP originates with what’s baked into the Republican-conservative psyche, principles of culture and identity that are hard-wired into the Republican soul.

That’s more than just a matter of “modernization.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Republicans have long harbored a fear of compromising their principles; they hate the idea that they might do just that as a tradeoff for widening the tent-flap opening, of increasing their outreach to cohorts of the population that haven’t been inclined to vote Republican. They’re loath to “give away the store” of their values just to deepen the membership rolls.

There’s an easier test of how far Republicans may be willing to go to accommodate the inevitability of a changing national demographic. It’s not about policy prescriptions or potentially divisive economic proposals. It’s about real American values. It’s about the right to vote.
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