The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.
Getting into the Zionist Organization of America’s annual dinner Sunday night at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan proved surprisingly difficult. There were a dozen protesters outside holding signs calling for an end for US aid to Israel. They did not get in my way, but a security guard, referring vaguely to an ominous “situation,” demanded that I wait until his supervisor could inspect my media credentials before letting me up there. “You’re not with the people outside?” the supervising guard asked me. So that was the “situation” that put the Hyatt, in the words of the first guard, “on lockdown.”
Does that strike you as a bit paranoid? Well, it was very much in keeping with the overall tenor of the evening. The state of Israel, according to the various speakers, most notably Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), is surrounded by ever-worsening threats. From the “Arabist” professors on college campuses invoked by one ZOA speaker, to the menace of a potentially nuclear Iran, the message of the evening was clear: no one can let up their guard for even a second against Israel’s opponents.
Speaking via video, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “vilification” “the greatest threat of all” to Israel. Netanyahu thanked the evening’s high-profile honorees—Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Glenn Beck—for “being fearless in defending Israel from slanders hurled against it, at great personal cost.” In Netanyahu’s alternate universe, it appears that defending Israel is a threat to one’s American political career.
The ZOA event confirmed that the extremist wing of pro-Israel activism has become virtually indistinguishable from the political right. Ros-Lehtinen gave shout-outs from the dais to three House colleagues: Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), Bachmann and freshman “majority maker” Representative Ann-Marie Burkle (R-NY).
When ZOA President Mort Klein introduced Bachmann, he proudly noted that she holds an LLM in tax law and practiced at the Internal Revenue Service. There was no obvious reason for him to point out this out, except that from the tone of his voice, it sounded as if he was fending off the impression that Bachmann is less than the brightest light bulb. After all, the ZOA doesn’t care about taxes one way or another. But the clearly conservative crowd reacted, by booing dramatically, as if they were in the Club for Growth.
When Bachmann took the stage, she tried to spin her years at the IRS to conservative advantage, claiming, “I wore a white hat, and I tried to be an advocate for lower taxes, not higher taxes, in that position.” That’s a strange assertion. Her job at the IRS contained no advocacy role with regard to public policy. It is Congress, not the IRS, that sets tax rates. Her job, according to The New Yorker, was “representing the commissioner of the IRS before the US Tax Court and advising agents who were conducting audits and collecting tax assessments.”
ZOA President Mort Klein was careful to note that the group is nonpartisan and that pro-Israel Democrats such as Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and former Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) have attended regularly in the past. The invocation of Weiner brought all the guffawing you might expect.
To say that the protesters on the street and the crowd in the ballroom were talking past each other would be an understatement. Neither is willing to make the concessions that would be needed for peace. One of the protesters, Phyliss Gelman of Adilah, New York, told me they support “justice for the Palestinian people” and that includes a right of return for refugees to within the 1948 borders of Israel. Meanwhile Ros-Lehtinen cracked that two West Bank settlers she met in the audience are “the impediment to peace,” as if no sane person could possibly think Israel stealing Palestinian land to construct settlements with their own, militarily protected infrastructure gets in the way of making a fair peace deal. “We say that’s not an impediment, that’s the solution,” said Ros-Lehtinen, to applause. How settlement building, much like continued demands for the “right of return,” brings us closer to a two-state peace agreement, is unclear.
Ros-Lehtinen made two points: President Obama is too reluctant to side with Israel against the United Nations, and a nuclear Iran is an unacceptable threat to the US as well as Israel. “The Little Satan and the Great Satan, we’re in it together,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “When you hear the Obama administration or UN apologists, but I repeat myself,” she joked. It should be noted that Representative Ros-Lehtinen, who apparently thinks so little of the United Nations, chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Before the dinner I caught up with Bachmann and got to ask a few questions. She replied with talking points. When I asked what exactly Obama has done that has so injured Israel, she said, “He has failed to stand for Israel. He has put daylight between the US and Israel for the first time since Harry Truman recognized their sovereignty.” The nerve that man has, acting as if Israel and the United States are two different countries with occasionally diverging interests! When I asked what she makes of the concerns of liberal Jews that policies such as hers are unhelpful to the peace process, she looked confused. So I gave the illustrative example of how US support for settlement construction is controversial. She responded with a point she would repeat during her speech: “Settlements are not the problem, a nuclear Iran is.”
Bachmann’s speech was laden with heavy-handed religious imagery and invocations of the Holocaust. The Book of Genesis, Bachmann reminded the audience, “says opponents of Israel will be cursed.” She compared Mahmoud Ahmedinijad to Adolf Hitler, saying the modern threat to the Jewish people must be treated with comparable seriousness. “When a madman speaks, the world must listen,” Bachmann declared to applause.
Bachmann believes that the United States should go to war with Iran if that’s the only way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Apparently, the lessons of our last war in the Middle East, supposedly to stop Iraq from getting nuclear weapons—4,421 Americans dead and 31,921 wounded, at least 103,640 Iraqis killed, and trillions of dollars spent—is lost on Bachmann.
But most chilling was her statement, to great applause, that “all options are on the table,” with regard to Iran. Typically if a US president says “all options,” it is an oblique reference to nuclear weapons. Does Bachmann think we should launch a nuclear strike against Iran? I e-mailed her campaign press office for an explanation, but got no response.
Potentially nuking Iran is not Bachmann’s only extremist idea on the Middle East. She also wants to undermine the principle of disinterested civil service. “We need secretaries of State and Defense who fully support a pro-freedom and security policy towards Iran, and we need them to replace those in the bureaucracy—especially at State—who will not fully support this policy,” said Bachmann. In other words, a President Bachmann would conduct an ideological purge of the State Department because she does not care for career foreign policy expertise if it does not lead to her desired conclusions.
There is no reason that one could not support Israel’s right to exist and defend itself without disagreeing with virtually all this lunacy. But the ZOA seems to feel differently. After her address Bachmann was mobbed by adoring fans snapping cell phone photographs with her.
Anyone who has watched the Republican candidates trading factoids—debating one another would be far too generous a description—has probably become familiar with Rick Perry’s and Jon Huntsman’s favorite: during Mitt Romney’s term as Governor of Massachusetts, the state had the forty-seventh best rate of job growth. That statistic looks even worse when you consider that Romney left office a year after Hurricane Katrina, which gives Louisiana a good excuse for ranking below Massachusetts. Romney’s feeble rejoinder is that the state’s unemployment rate was lower when he left office than when he entered.
So which statistic is more meaningful and what impact did Romney’s decisions as governor have on job growth?
The answer to the first is easy: Massachusetts’ economy performed poorly during his tenure and his defense is misleading. Massachusetts’ unemployment generally follows that of the nation as a whole, but it went from slightly better than the national unemployment rate (5.6 percent in the state versus 5.8 percent in the country) when he took office to slightly worse when he left (4.7 percent in Massachusetts versus 4.4 percent nationally). And his record is even arguably worse than that: Massachusetts lost population for two years in a row during Romney’s term. That means the unemployment number went down because the denominator shrank, but that’s hardly a sign of a growing economy. Total jobs in Massachusetts were the same when he left office as when he started and many key industries actually lost jobs.
Of course, that may not be Romney’s fault. “The curve follows the national average,” says Fred Bayles, a veteran political observer at Boston University. “Massachusetts took a little bit of a bigger hit when the dotcom bubble burst and took a little longer to recover.”
But a number of Romney’s actions did not help. Romney is accused by critics of four main failures on the job front: absenteeism and trashing his state while running for president, blocking stem cell research that could benefit the state’s strong biotechnology sector, refusing to invest in renewable energy and neglecting the state’s infrastructure.
Around the mid-point of Romney’s term, according to Massachusetts’s political experts, Romney realized he might not win re-election and began to focus on raising his national profile in preparation for a presidential run. While Romney had run to the center in liberal Massachusetts, he would need to tack right to win a national Republican primary. That meant two things: traveling the country to crack jokes for conservative audiences at Massachusetts’ expense, and flip-flopping to take conservative stances on hot-button issues from abortion to climate change. That, in turn, led to policy decisions on the environment and stem cells that may have damaged the Bay State’s economy.
“In the last few years of his term Romney was out of the state more than he was in the state,” says Bayles. “When he was running for president, the last two years of his governorship, part of his campaign rhetoric was to dump on Massachusetts. He made a conscious decision not to run for governor again and he left office with fairly lousy approval numbers.” Romney was traveling out of state for part or all of more than 200 days in his last year in office, and jokes about liberal Massachusetts were part of his stand-up routine on the stump. This was precisely the opposite of what Romney promised to do when running for office. At that time he said he would use his business experience and salesmanship to talk Massachusetts up to investors from around the country.
On climate change, Romney went from leading the charge to create a Northeastern Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to being the region’s only governor who wouldn’t join the group. As Steve Kornacki reported in the New York Observer in 2006:
Take the case of Douglas Foy, a former president of the Conservation Law Foundation. Mr. Romney, upon winning the governorship in 2002, deputized Mr. Foy to develop an environmentally friendly “smart growth” blueprint for the commonwealth.
Mr. Foy didn’t disappoint, promptly teaming with counterparts throughout the Northeast to create the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a miniature Kyoto Accord aimed at stemming carbon-dioxide emissions. Then Mr. Romney made up his mind to go national—and suddenly, Mr. Foy’s work reeked of Al Gore–ism. So the governor, unlike his five fellow governors, refused to sign onto the agreement and pushed Mr. Foy out.
There is another possible explanation for Romney’s reversal: according to Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Romney pulled out of the RGGI under pressure from a self-interested business lobby. “When [Romney] was running for governor he was talking about renewable energy as a job creator. But then the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which represents small manufacturing firms, lobbied him against it. He reversed right after meeting with them.”
The RGGI would have included money for renewable energy investment. A February 2011 report shows participating states have received more than $900.5 million from auctioning permits. They are investing 80 percent of the proceeds in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Romney might counter that protecting small manufacturers was important for the state’s economy. But he didn’t do a terribly good job of it. During Romney’s tenure Massachusetts lost more than 48,000 manufacturing jobs.
In 2006, according to the Boston Globe, “the Romney administration inserted a restriction [into state rules] stating that embryos could not be produced with the sole intent of using the embryo for research.’” With schools like Harvard, MIT, Boston University and Tufts in Massachusetts, bio-medical research is an important part of the state’s economy. “Bio-tech has actually been one of the stronger growth areas in Massachusetts,” notes Barrow. Many schools publicly opposed Romney’s decision and his successor, Deval Patrick, reversed it.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts’ infrastructure accrued a $20 billion deficit of overdue maintenance by the end of Romney’s term, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayer’s Foundation. “When you’re not fixing bridges, that’s a sector not creating jobs,” says Massachusetts Democratic Party chair John Walsh. “It’s foolish because you’re not creating savings, you’re just deferring the spending until problems get worse and the cost gets higher.”
So did Romney, who ran on a promise to improve job growth in Massachusetts, do anything good on that front? No, and he barely even tried. “During his time as governor he attempted only one statewide economic development initiative: to incentivize manufacturing companies with a rebate on state income tax,” says Barrow. “It didn’t work. I think he really just wasn’t doing a lot.”
The Romney campaign did not return a request for comment.
The most dramatic moment in Wednesday night’s Republican debate on CNBC was certainly when Rick Perry boasted that he would eliminate three cabinet agencies but could not remember all their names. But it was not the most illuminating.
The more revealing moments in the debate were the blanket statements issued by Perry and other Republicans about repealing regulations. And Perry’s was the most extreme.
Republicans universally attacked regulation as an ill in and of itself. Someone who is serious about policy, even with a free market or small government orientation, does not simply declare regulations to be bad the way cancer is bad. Any given regulation may aid or hinder economic activity and if it hinders economic activity it may or may not be worth the tradeoff between the cost and the social benefit. But that is all way too complex for any Republican running for president, especially Rick Perry.
The first candidate to decry regulations on Wednesday was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has a wholly undeserved reputation as a policy wonk. “We have had two cycles in my lifetime,” said Gingrich, “Ronald Reagan, and the Contract with America, both of which had the same policy: lower taxes, less regulation, more American energy, and have faith in the American job creator as distinct from the Saul Alinsky radicalism of higher taxes, bigger bureaucracy with more regulations.”
Former Senator Rick Santorum was more specific: “I’ve said I’m going to repeal every single Obama-era regulation that cost businesses over $100 million. Repeal them all.” Suppose Obama had issued a regulation outlawing the use of arsenic in children’s toys that cost toy manufacturers $101 million per year, but saved millions of American children from arsenic poisoning. Rick Santorum would repeal that regulation. Even from a purely economic perspective this is extremely shortsighted and possibly self-defeating. A regulation that imposes direct business costs could save society far more in unnecessary medical costs, missed days from work from sick employees and so on.
But it was Perry who issued the most absurdly simple-minded denunciation of any federal regulation. “The real issue facing America are regulations,” said Perry, struggling as he often does with verb agreement. “It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s the EPA or whether it’s the federal banking—the Dodd-Frank or Obamacare. That’s what’s killing America. And the next president of the United States has to have the courage to go forward, pull back every regulation, since 2008, audit them for one thing: Is it creating jobs, or is it killing jobs? And if that regulation is killing jobs, do away with it.”
So Perry believes that the only basis on which a regulation should be measured is whether it has a net positive or negative effect on job creation. This is absurd, since the purpose of most regulations is not to create jobs. Regulations serve any number of purposes: to insure that corporations treat customers, workers or each other fairly, to preserve the health and safety of humans, animals, their air, water and habitats. That’s what the EPA does, and what Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act are meant to do. If any such regulation diminishes job growth, reasonable people can argue over the tradeoff. But the fact that Perry either doesn’t understand what regulations are for, or doesn’t believe the government has any role except to promote job growth, reveals far more about why he is unqualified to be president than a momentary memory lapse.
As Jamelle Bouie notes, Perry has established a reputation for having an especially poor grasp of policy, and a distinct lack of intellectual and communicative skills, so the gaffe is particularly damaging for him. Campaign reporters and pundits breathlessly speculated that Perry’s once-promising campaign might be effectively over.
But, ultimately, we all forget things sometimes. Republicans have a long history of making empty promises to eliminate cabinet departments. The real question is not how many agencies the same set of governmental functions is spread over, but what government should do. And on that question Republicans, especially Perry, seem to have no idea, or a dramatically wrong one.
The schedule at the Defending the American Dream Summit, a conference of thousands at the Washington, DC, convention center on Friday and Saturday, said nothing about Occupy Wall Street. The event, organized by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a fiscally conservative activist organization, had a series of issue and skills-building panels, a few keynote speeches by conservative celebrities and a “Cut Spending Now Rally.”
But OWS was a phantom presence. Nearly every speaker mentioned the Occupy movement, invariably to vilify it. Conservative propagandists such as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and web activist Andrew Breitbart tried to mock and dismiss the Occupy activists with bluster and bravado. They alternated between haughty derision and panicked fear-mongering. They all insisted that their side is winning and Occupy will be surely self-defeating. But their constant obsession with Occupy suggests they doth protest a bit too much.
The New Yorker reported last week that some Occupy Wall Street activists think the Tea Party is as legitimate a movement as their own, and one they should seek to work with. The feeling is not mutual.
The descriptions on Occupy Wall Street broke down into several, sometimes somewhat conflicting categories:
§ They are really mad at President Obama. “The community is organizing against the community organizer,” cracked Andrew Breitbart.
§ They were inspired by Obama and other Democrats, so anything they do can be blamed on Obama and his party. “They would not be organizing if they were not blessed by Nancy Pelosi and organized by Obama,” said Breitbart. “Occupy Wall Street is the direct result of Barack Obama’s relentless class warfare that he’s been practicing since he was a candidate,” said Rudy Giuliani. “I believe that Barack Obama owns the Occupy Wall Street movement. It would not have happened but for his class warfare. He praised it, supported it, agrees with it, sympathized with it. As it gets worse and worse it will be the millstone that takes his presidency down.”
§ They are a bunch of lazy hippies. “I'm happier than a hippie in Zuccotti Park on free hash brownie day,” joked Jonah Goldberg, who apparently moonlights as a Borscht Belt comedian. “How about you occupy a job?” Giuliani rhetorically asked the protesters. “How about working? I know that’s tough. Woodstock is more fun. How about proceeding with your education? Nah, they’d rather do Woodstock in Manhattan, which is what it’s turned into.”
(Giuliani must be unaware of the widely reported fact that many of the protesters hold a bachelor’s or even master’s degrees, and it is because they cannot find work to pay off their student loans that they are protesting.)
§ They are a bunch of violent criminals and sexual predators. “Your entire thought process is violent,” said radio and print pundit Tony Katz. “Occupy Oakland is using Molotov cocktails,” claimed Giuliani. Goldberg: “I wouldn't let my daughter within ten miles of Zuccotti Park.”
§ They are just haters. “They possess a vehement hatred of free enterprise and capitalism,” said AFP Foundation President Tim Phillips. “[OWS] is based on anger and envy.”
§ They are a divisive manifestation of class warfare. “They openly call for socialism and disparage job creators,” asserted Phillips. “Their calling card is class warfare and unrestrained envy.” “Occupy Wall Street thinks you should give up your money to people who refuse to work,” said Katz. Giuliani: “And this is under President Obama, who promised to unite us.”
Breitbart, kicking off the rally on Saturday, said nothing about cutting spending but plenty about the Occupy movement. Indeed, he hit every anti-OWS talking point heard over the course of the conference. This makes sense since Breitbart is really an anti-liberal rather than a conservative. He started off lightly, calling them “the radical wing of the Democrat Party, with the silver ponytails to prove it.” But he soon turned angry, saying liberals are motivated by jealousy and envy, seeking to steal your money instead of their making their own. “I want my own Tea Party!” Breitbart whined in the heterosexist impersonation of an effeminate voice that every conservative adopts when imitating liberals. “And what did they create out of envy?” He bellowed. “A group of public masturbating violent freaks!”
“They’re freaks!” Breitbart kept repeating. “Seven hundred people getting arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, that’s a lot,” said Breitbart, as if it wasn’t possible the NYPD arrested more people than they needed to. Breitbart went on to throw out shocking, slanderous assertions about Occupy Wall Street. “These are international socialist groups, these are international communist groups, pro-jihad, pro-Palestinian groups who would not participate unless Jews were on the docket.” (It’s not clear what this last assertion even means, but the point, that OWS is a bunch of anti-Semites, is a well-established conservative meme.) Breitbart even asserted that “the Nazi party and David Duke,” are part of the movement.
But Breitbart was sure to end on a positive note, saying, “There are more of you than there are of them.” Radio host Mark Levin attempted to convey the same confidence, saying, “We’re here to occupy the White House, to occupy the Senate, to occupy the House of Representatives and no band of miscreants and malcontents is going to stop us.” Levin, Breitbart et al might have been trying to convince themselves as much as the crowd. If they really weren’t worried that Occupy Wall Street would move the public debate leftward, they would just ignore it.
I stopped by McPherson Square Friday night, a one-square block park downtown where Occupy DC has set up its tent city. I asked if they knew anything about AFP. “We’ve got people protesting there right now,” the young men hanging out there told me. They were well acquainted with the Koch brothers’ far right agenda, and they do not approve. But what about those Occupiers in New York who think they share concerns with the Tea Party? The Occupy DC folks make a distinction between the original grassroots Tea Party activists—regular people who were enraged by the corporate bailouts of 2008—and the corporate-funded right-wing organizations like AFP that have since co-opted them.
Unfortunately, I missed the Occupy protest outside the Convention Center that night, but apparently it turned ugly. The conservatives say they were trapped inside the Convention Center as the Occupiers massed outside trying to get in and the police tried to keep the two groups separate.
So it’s probably safe to assume that no populist coalition between OWS and the Tea Party is going to develop. That’s as it should be, since they don’t really have much in common.
The two Republican front runners for president, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, spoke at the Defending the American Dream Summit at the Washington, DC, Convention Center on Friday afternoon. The event, which brought together thousands of conservative activists from all over the country, is sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a Tea Party–aligned fiscally conservative organization funded by right-wing billionaires the Koch brothers and Art Pope, among others.
Based on the reception of the crowd, it’s apparent that Herman Cain—despite revelations this week that multiple women accused him of sexual harassment when he was their boss at the National Restaurant Association—is still far more popular among this segment of the right-wing base. Indeed, judging from interviews, he may have emerged even stronger for it.
Romney entered to notably tepid applause, and often had to pause at key moments during his remarks to let the crowd know that they were supposed to clap. His only standing ovation came when he enumerated his first of three steps to balance the budget, which is repealing “Obamacare.” Romney joked that he should have led his whole speech with that, seemingly aware that he wasn’t generally setting the crowd on fire.
It is strange to say that you will balance the budget by repealing the Affordable Care Act, since the law would reduce our deficit. But Romney’s budget section was devoted entirely to giving this sort of red meat to the base. When enumerating agencies he would cut, he led with hilariously small expenditures that will do almost nothing to balance the budget but will touch the conservative erogenous zone. “I like Amtrak, but I'm not willing to borrow $1.6 billion a year to subsidize it,” said Romney to applause. “I like the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but I refuse to borrow almost $1 billion a year from China to pay for them,” he continued, to noticeably less clapping. Now, why is that?Don’t conservatives want to cut funding for all those programs? Indeed, they do, but Romney erred in admitting that he likes what they do, which no true conservative would.
Romney went on with all the other ideological hobbyhorses—too much foreign aid, too much money for Planned Parenthood. The real savings he would achieve come from an awfully vague pledge to limit government workers’ salaries and benefits to the level of private sector workers. How this would work in practice—which private sector workers exactly are his benchmark—is the real question.
Given the extreme anti-government sentiment of the audience, Romney made some wise choices, such as bragging that he can balance budgets because he worked in business, and some less wise ones, like vowing to protect Social Security through benefit cuts, with no mention of privatization. But he also called for privatizing Medicare. Ultimately, the lack of enthusiasm for Romney—the applause when he arrived, left and hit a rhetorical high point was almost always polite rather than excited—was more visceral than intellectual.
So is the enormous enthusiasm for Cain. He entered and exited to rousing cheers—the video monitors even showed an elderly lady in a bright red dress dancing to celebrate his arrival in the front—and he received several standing ovations.
Curiously, and perhaps in recognition of his greatest policy liability, Cain started with foreign policy as his first of three priorities we must adopt. As all conservative speakers do, Cain invoked Ronald Reagan at every opportunity. His foreign policy he said, is an extension of Reagan’s “peace through strength” to “peace through strength with clarity.” The second plank of his platform is the economy and his bizarre 9-9-9 tax overhaul. It used to be that the third leg of the famous conservative stool, along with strong national defense and low taxes, was moral values. Not anymore. Cain’s third priority is our lack of domestic energy production.
Cain would surely say the fact that the event’s sponsors, Charles and David Koch, make their money in the energy industry is totally coincidental to his sudden focus on it. Cain, is certainly fond of the Kochs though. He dismissed an article in that day’s New York Times noting the ties between him and the Kochs by proudly declaring he is “the Koch Brothers’ brother by another mother.” The crowd loved it, and even the secretive David Koch stood up to wave.
The audience seemed to enjoy Cain’s most vacuous rhetorical flourishes, such as when he said to huge applause that in his administration “there will be no entitlement programs, only empowerment programs.” And, of course, “I am reminded of one our greatest presidents... Ronald Reagan.” Cain closed by promising to push America back up the hill that Reagan said we reside atop, and left to whoops and cheers.
Attendees I buttonholed later generally expressed satisfaction with Romney’s speech but greater enthusiasm for Cain’s. “What I’d like to see from Romney is more passion,” said Vicki, an AFP activist who asked that her last name and home state in the Midwest not be used. “[Romney] had some really good things to say,” she conceded, though she couldn’t think of any specifics. Cecil Kusler, a Republican activist in Oklahoma whose wife is an elected Republican County Clerk in the Wagner County, Oklahoma, said: "They were both good. I liked Herman Cain better.” Romney, says Kusler, “is political; Cain comes across as non-political.” This is an impression Cain deliberately stokes, bragging during his speech that he has never “held high office,” which is true only because he lost his 2004 Senate race. Perhaps losing helped him though. He could hardly claim to be a non-politician if he spent six whole years in Washington. Kusler plans on voting for Cain in the primaries, but he will support Romney if Romney is the Republican nominee. That's a common situation. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform told me that Romney could win over fiscal conservatives, but he hasn't yet, "but if he's the nominee, he does it by default."
The one Romney supporter I talked to, Lois Snowe-Mello, is a state senator in Maine. (US Senator Olympia Snowe is married to her cousin). Snowe-Mello has endorsed Romney, although she likes Cain and his tax plan, because she isn’t sure Cain has the ability to govern and work with Democrats that Romney demonstrated in Massachusetts. Being a Northeastern Republican, she says she understands Romney’s challenges in Massachusetts and doesn’t judge him for his apostasies as harshly as other conservatives. “Cain is right now what Obama was to Democrats and independents in 2008,” she says. “He’s a guy with enthusiasm, who speaks well and is passionate, and [Republicans] aren’t looking past that.” Snowe-Mello readily concedes that the “ultraconservatives” found at the event may not be persuadable to come over to Romney’s camp.
Most attendees said the charges against Cain either had no effect on their opinion of him or actually strengthened it. “It’s a cheap shot,” says Snowe-Mello, “people are tired of political correctness.” Snowe-Mello believes the whole concept of sexual harassment to be a form of political correctness, as do some other attendees. One man told me that "every healthy American male has been accused of sexual harassment." Vicki meanwhile said the charges give her “a higher opinion of Cain, if that’s all that could be dug up. It follows a pattern of when an individual gets to a certain point in the polls, they get attacked.” In other words, Cain is the conservative martyr of the moment. But there were some notes of caution for Cain. One attendee said he’s not concerned by the allegations against Cain, “unless there’s something I don’t know.” Since the allegations seem to grow worse by the day, there very well may be.
Herman Cain has shot into the lead of the Republican primary race despite articulating no notable foreign policy vision. As a pizza chain executive and motivational speaker, Cain has no experience on foreign policy, although he did tell Fox News’s Sean Hannity that he has “been studying [foreign policy] for months.”
When Cain has said anything noteworthy on foreign policy, it has been to expose his unapologetic ignorance by dismissing the need to know the name of the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan,” or worrying that China—which has had nuclear weapons since 1964—is “trying to develop nuclear capability.” When Cain ventures an opinion, he is prone to making a gaffe and swiftly issuing a retraction, such as when he said he would consider trading all the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay for a captured American.
How can we figure out what a Cain presidency might entail in the foreign policy and national security arena? The Cain campaign’s communications director, J.D. Gordon, served as Western Hemisphere spokesman for the Defense Department from 2005 to 2009. He doubles as Cain’s sole foreign policy adviser. Since 2009 he has been a part time commentator on conservative op-ed pages and Fox News, and he told The New Republic, “I’ve had about fifty columns published over the last year and a half, and so those are a lot of the things that I tell Mr. Cain.”
On that basis it would appear that Cain is getting the same national security advice he would from Dick Cheney. Gordon’s views are reflexively right-wing.
Despite the Obama administration’s notable successes in taking out leading terrorists, Gordon maintained in a Fox News piece that “in contrast to the Bush administration’s record on protecting the public, we are less safe under the Obama administration.” He offers five reasons, two of which are perhaps legitimate concerns but not actually shifts in policy under Obama (the increasing threat of homegrown terrorists and anti-American sentiment that still exists outside the United States). The remaining three are classic Republican bugaboos of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations: “Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament,” “Inability to meaningfully confront Iran,” and “A Change In Policy On Terror Suspects Switching to Prosecution as a Law Enforcement Issue vs. a Military Issue.”
As you might expect, Gordon leaves out the frightening implications of his complaints. Why does he think we need more or better nuclear weapons than everyone else? So that we can win a devastating mutual nuclear exchange? How exactly can one prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons without invading it? Or is it an invasion that he wants? Legally, how would we treat, say, a US citizen caught attempting a terrorist attack on US soil as a military rather than law enforcement issue, and how would that pass constitutional review? Gordon doesn’t say.
One of Gordon’s primary policy commitments is to defending the legal netherworld of Guantánamo and the inhumane practices there. In the Washington Times, Gordon attacked critics of the illegal detention facility and cheerfully predicted, “Perhaps the administration may be coming to the realization that as long as al Qaeda continues its war against the United States, Guantanamo just might be here to stay.”
As for what goes in Guantánamo, Gordon is an unreconstructed advocate of torture. After Osama bin Laden was killed, Gordon acknowledged on Fox News that the information Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave that helped lead to bin Laden’s detection was four years after he had been waterboarded, but nonetheless Gordon claimed the event proves the efficacy of waterboarding. “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded in 2003, and the information came four years later,” said Gordon. “Waterboarding wasn’t about getting information at that time, it was about breaking his resistance. So that’s what a lot of people miss in the whole waterboarding debate. It was trying to make a detainee think he should cooperate rather than continue with this treatment. So even though waterboarding didn’t directly result in the information from KSM, it did help to break his spirit back in 2003 and that was probably a critical piece to this.” Given the four year lapse between his spirit supposedly being broken and the critical breakthorough, any rational person would infer precisely the opposite: that waterboarding probably had nothing to do with it. But some people just love to torture. Gordon goes on to cite and praise Marc Thiessen, another Bush administration veteran who has become the country’s leading apologist for torture.
Gordon’s other proclamations include the same generic Republican hack series of assertions: the “Ground Zero Mosque” is bad and President Obama is wrong for “focusing his energies on supporting the mosque,” “Libya and Syria show Obama to be “in over his head,” and so on. The ironies and falsehoods abound. Obama spoke on the mosque only in response to questions and only to point out the religious freedom they had to build on the site. To say that Obama focused his energies on supporting it is ridiculous. If, as Gordon says, “Mr. Obama arguably still doesn’t have the experience of a seasoned chief executive to deal with thorny issues like the Arab Spring,” then how does Herman “Ubeki-beki” Cain?
If these open questions or contradictions can be answered in an intellectually consistent manner, that doesn’t matter to Gordon. His views are not realist or idealist or subject to any such overarching approach or ideology. Asking what world view will guide a Cain White House’s foreign policy is like asking what economic theories guide John Boehner as House Speaker. The answer isn’t intellectual, it’s partisan. Gordon’s views could broadly be called conservative and hawkish but they are more accurately described as Republican. If Obama does something, even kill a terrorist, it is ipso facto the wrong choice. (Gordon thinks instead that we should capture and interrogate them in the hopes that four years after they are tortured their spirit will be broken and they’ll give up useful information.) There are some things one can safely assume Gordon is telling Cain—for example, that torture of terrorist suspects is justified and effective. But since the entirety of Gordon’s policy assessment technique seems to be defending anything Bush did and attacking anything Obama does, it is impossible to guess how he or Cain would respond to future threats as they emerge. Looking at some of the belligerent extremists who have run for president as Republicans in recent times, such as John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, that uncertainty might seem comforting by comparison. But the idiom “better the devil you know than the devil you don't” exists for a reason.
Lisa Simpson says prayer is the last refuge of scoundrels, but what if you already pray every day, as the ostentatiously devout Rick Santorum presumably does? Despite practically moving to Iowa to campaign for president, despite having impeccable conservative and personal morality credentials, and despite constant Republican dissatisfaction with their candidates, the former Pennsylvania senator just can’t seem to catch on.
So Santorum has resorted to exploiting his youngest child’s disability for political gain. In a new ad, Santorum holds his young daughter who was born with Trisomy 18, a condition similar to Down Syndrome, as he talks about her health struggles and his love for her.
“Some people describe people like Bella as ‘disabled children,’ ” Santorum says. “I look at her and I look at the joy, the simplicity, the love she emits, and it’s clear to that we are the disabled ones, not her.” I find it offensive that Santorum uses “disabled” as a synonym for small-minded or otherwise flawed. It’s akin to saying “retarded” as a synonym for stupid (e.g., “it’s clear that we are the retarded ones, not her”). But we know what he means and let’s give him credit for meaning well.
Unfortunately, this sentiment does not in any way relate to Santorum’s policy proposals or platform. And that’s the problem. Disability is a legitimate political issue, but not in the way that Santorum uses it. People with disabilities need real policy commitments, not feel-good commercials. Chiefly, say advocates, those policies are: robust protection from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), adequate funding and enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), and sufficient funding with the right priorities for health insurance and long term care. On every single one of these, Santorum, like nearly every other Republican, is either silent or in the wrong.
The ADA has been gutted by conservative judges, invariably Republican appointees, who have ruled that requiring state or local governments to make facilities accessible to people with disabilities violates states rights. When he was a senator, Santorum routinely voted in favor of George W. Bush’s anti–civil rights judicial nominees, without ever raising the question of how their rulings might impact people with disabilities. Nothing he has said on the campaign trail suggests he would take a different approach as president.
On education, Santorum’s fiscal conservatism is contrary to meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Santorum has pledged to “cut back a lot in the Department of Education.” That’s the Department responsible for overseeing IDEA. Santorum acknowledged there are programs “that may still need to be provided for on the federal level,” but IDEA is not one he mentioned.
As for healthcare, Santorum has taken advantage of his daughter’s disability to denigrate a proposal that was very much in the interests of people with disabilities, namely healthcare reform. Speaking in Iowa in April, Santorum claimed that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will deny coverage to children such as his daughter Bella. ““I look at how society with socialized medicine treats children like Bella, and children like Bella don’t survive, Children like Bella are not given the treatment that other children are given.” This is false. As Think Progress noted: “the law actually prevents insurance carriers from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions (and disabilities), prohibits health plans from putting a lifetime dollar limit on benefits and offers new options for long-term care. This why groups like the American Association of People with Disabilities, National Organization For Rare Disorders, and The Arc of the United States not only support the law, but have gone filed an amicus brief [sic] in its defense.”
The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD’s) board chair responded in a letter at the time, writing, “We find the comments of Sen. Rick Santorum in his recent visit to Iowa regrettable and misleading.… AAPD firmly believes that the ACA advances health care coverage broadly for those with all types of disabilities. Most important, the ACA eliminates the use of pre-existing conditions to deny insurance to people with disabilities, like Senator Santorum’s daughter Isabella.”
So Santorum’s campaign pledge to repeal the ACA is the opposite of support for people with disabilities. “When you talk about valuing people with disabilities, is there a policy behind that?” asks Lara Schwartz, spokesperson for AAPD. “Most people with disabilities don’t have a dad who is a former senator. For them medical care, long-term care and education are potentially bank-breaking issues. Santorum should make sure everyone has the opportunities his daughter does.”
Conservative activists and talking heads, taking their cue from Herman Cain’s campaign, are dismissing the revelation in Politico that Cain was accused of sexual harassment by two employees when he was president of the National Restaurant Association. Politico gave Cain ten days to respond to queries to their detailed and thoroughly reported article, and he provided only inscrutable answers that verged on an admission:
In a series of comments over the past 10 days, Cain and his campaign repeatedly declined to respond directly about whether he ever faced allegations of sexual harassment at the restaurant association. They have also declined to address questions about specific reporting confirming that there were financial settlements in two cases in which women leveled complaints…. Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told POLITICO the candidate indicated to campaign officials that he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges and that the restaurant association’s general counsel had resolved the matter.
Rather than furnish a compelling argument for himself in the Politico story, since Cain didn’t have one to make, he waited for the piece to come out, then went after them with name-calling. As CNN reported, “A statement from Cain’s campaign vice president J.D. Gordon did not directly address the allegations and called the report a sign the media ‘have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain…. Since Washington establishment critics haven’t had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain’s ideas to fix a bad economy and create jobs, they are trying to attack him in any way they can.” (Coincidentally, Gordon himself sent a public letter in 2009 accusing a Miami Herald reporter of sexual harassment.)
Anyone with half a brain can see this for the dishonest misdirection it is. A report on an unflattering aspect of your personal history is not an “attack.” Nor does Politico count as one of Cain’s “critics.” Politico is a straight newspaper, not a journal of opinion. (Disclosure: I worked there for a year, so I speak from experience.) The article did not attack or criticize Cain. It did not say, “You should not vote for Herman Cain,” or “Herman Cain would make a bad president,” or even “Herman Cain may be a bad boss for women.” It made no value judgments of any kind. It simply reported the facts.
But most conservative media blowhards are echoing Cain’s talking points. As partisan hacks who prize their side’s victory over truth, they are completely incapable of recognizing that Politico has no anti-Cain agenda. As far as most conservatives are concerned, if a newspaper runs a story that reflects poorly on Cain, it might as well be a Democratic press release.
Rush Limbaugh lumped the Politico piece with another recent article by an objective newspaper that he didn’t like—the Washington Post’s discovery that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) routinely lied about his parents’ immigration from Cuba—as partisan smears of non-white Republicans. “This story appears to me to be a close relative of the hit job that the Washington Post is doing on Marco Rubio,” said Limbaugh on his radio program. “And it’s not news. This is not a news story. It is gutter partisan politics and it’s the politics of minority conservative personal destruction.”
On Fox News Ann Coulter said, “This is the second time a conservative black has had outrageous and what appears to be a false allegation of a sexual nature leveled against him by the left, Clarence Thomas being the first.” This—unlike the accusations about Cain which we simply do not have enough evidence to assess—actually is a falsehood. The allegations against Cain were not leveled by “the left.” They were made by employees of Cain’s. They were reported to the public by Politico, which is a newspaper, not “the left.” She and host Sean Hannity agreed that it constitutes a “double standard,” that liberals accuse conservatives of being racist for criticizing Obama, but themselves criticize Cain. That, of course, is completely irrelevant, since Politico reporters are not professional liberals and the story does not constitute a critique of Cain as such.
What’s especially telling about these conservative responses to Politico’s scoop is that no one on the right feels the need to even establish their premise that Politico is part of “the left.” Politico has no political orientation, and they strive for neutrality in their reporting. You cannot simply assume that an article in Politico comes from a left-leaning or “anti-Cain” perspective. You could attempt to prove that—despite their claims of neutrality—Politico has such a bias, but that would require factual research and intellectually honest analysis, which are anathema to conservative talkers. The Cain campaign, Coulter, Hannity, Limbaugh et al. performed no rigorous, or even half-assed, examination of Politico’s coverage of politics in general or Cain in particular to prove that Politico has some liberal or anti-Cain bias. Of course, any such study would disprove their thesis. And to conservatives, if the facts might disprove rather than bolster your view point, there’s no reason to discover them.
Needless to say, even if the report came from a liberal publication, that would not make the allegations false nor unimportant. If a conservative publication found out that Barack Obama had been accused of sexual harassment by subordinates, one would hope the liberal media would take the allegations on their own terms rather than simply dismissing them because of the reporters’ motives. And certainly, if the report came from a mainstream newspaper, liberals would take it seriously.
I asked Bryan Fischer, a spokesman for the American Family Association and host of a radio show on the American Family Radio network, what he thinks of the Cain allegations. From a family-values perspective, Fischer says the allegations should be taken seriously, but he notes that since the accusers are anonymous it is impossible to assess or interrogate the strength of their accusations. That’s a fair point and Fischer deserves credit for—unlike most conservatives—conceding that we do not know for a fact that the allegations are false and, if they are true, they would be troubling.
But Fischer shares the conservative media’s view that this incident is evidence that “the left” is going after Cain. “The left hasn’t taken [Cain] seriously,” says Fischer. “They’ve mocked him. Now they’ve realized he’s serious and they’re going after him like they did Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.” What does Politico have to do with “the left” I asked. “They are a left wing organ,” said Fischer. His evidence? “I read them.” And as any conservative can tell you, if you read a story revealing unpleasant truths about a Republican, then the publication that ran it is ipso facto part of “the left.” As Stephen Colbert says, the truth has a well-known liberal bias.
If you go down to Zuccotti Park, you’re not likely to witness any dangerous activity, but according to the conservative media the Occupy Wall Street demonstration is causing an outbreak of sex, drugs and violence in New York City. According to articles in the New York Post, and conservative bloggers, television and radio shows that take their cues from Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid, the protests themselves are not only filled with criminals, they are indirectly responsible for an increase in violent crimes miles away. There’s only one problem with the claims: they vary from thinly to totally unsupported.
According to a Post article last week, New York saw an increase in shootings over several weeks and it’s because the NYPD are too busy monitoring Occupy Wall Street to prevent real crimes from occurring. “The number of people shot surged 154 percent two weeks ago—to 56 from 22 over the same week last year—and spiked 28 percent in the last month…. Four high-ranking cops point the finger at Occupy Wall Street protesters, saying their rallies pull special crime-fighting units away from the hot zones where they’re needed.” The Post relied entirely on anonymous sources, adding that 3,000 cops per day were being dispatched to handle the protests.
The story was picked up by other conservative outlets. Radio host Mike Gallagher talked about the story at great length, saying it was justification for the police to eject the protesters with fire hoses. Multiple conservative blogs repeated the story. Only one—Howard Portnoy of Hot Air—had the good sense to admit the obvious possibility that this was just random variation and no causal relationship had been definitely established: “So does this imply a cause-and-effect relationship between the two phenomena? Not necessarily. When you look at the small sample numbers available for comparison—56 shootings last week as compared with 22 for the same week in 2010—the finding may well be outside the realm of statistical significance.” But then he goes on to blame Occupy Wall Street for not just the overall rise in shootings but a specific one. “The drain on resources in high-crime neighborhoods was underscored dramatically last week when a pregnant Brooklyn mother was killed by a rooftop gunman.”
Neither the Post nor Portnoy cites any evidence that the cops would have been able to prevent that particular crime if Occupy Wall Street were not occurring. As for the claim that crime in the city as a whole rose as a direct result of police deployments caused by Occupy Wall Street, the most generous description would be that it’s unproven. “This is, of course, one of those questions for which there is basically no answer,” explains Michael Jacobson president of the Vera Institute of Justice. “First, you’d have to track shootings on a daily/weekly basis over time. I’m sure when you do that, you’d see some marked variation up or down based on a number of factors (seasonality, gang activity etc.). Then, assuming you saw some significant increase in the last couple of months, you’d have to rule out every other possible explanation to get to the ‘it’s the lack of cops on patrol’ conclusion.” Note that that neither the Post nor conservatives who repeated the Post’s assertions considered other possible explanations.
“Could that be an explanation? Possibly,” says Jacobson. “On the other hand, the NYPD reassigned over 1,000 cops many years ago from patrol to anti-terrorism duties, thus permanently lowering patrol strength, and all crime has declined since then. These are never easy or direct relationships to measure so basically anyone can attribute any common sense (or not) theory to explain ups or downs in crime—especially in the short term. They occasionally might even be correct, but usually not.”
Says Frank Zimring, a law professor at urban crime expert at the University of California at Berkeley: "Any attribution of cause in that sort of setting is what psychologists call a 'projective technique' which tells us much more about the person coming to the conclusion than about the processes that generate lethal violence in big cities."
Moreover, the whole accusation’s premise—that crime is up in New York—is suspect. For the week ending on October 23, according to the NYPD, there were ten murders in New York, precisely the same number as the same week in 2010. Over the preceding four weeks there thirty-seven murders, down from 47 in 2010. That’s a 21.3 percent decrease. Total crime complaints for the twenty-eight-day period were 415, down 6.5 percent from 444 last year.
Nor do conservatives ask whether it is really necessary to post 3,000 cops per day to Zuccotti Park. Perhaps that is a bit of authoritarian overkill?
Of course, if you imagine Zuccotti Park is a den of iniquity, then you probably do think we need an overwhelming police presence there. Earlier in October the Post reported, “Lured by cheap drugs and free food, creepy thugs have infiltrated the crowd of protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park for Occupy Wall Street.” Also, some people are having sex there!
When repeated on Fox News by Steve Doocy that transmogrified into the wild exaggeration that the “number one reason people are going to this thing: the food. There is free food.”
It seems that the conservative media will do anything they can to discredit Occupy Wall Street rather than engage with their ideas.
With research by Josh Eidelson
Could Herman Cain be the Republican nominee for president? The idea sounds preposterous but seems increasingly likely. Cain, who has never held political office, has policy experience limited to serving on the Kansas City Federal Reserve Board and representing the interests of fast food chains as president of the National Restaurant Association. His biggest success is boosting sales of the country’s ninth-largest pizza chain, and his current job is hawking books and giving paid speeches as a motivational speaker. On crucial subjects such as foreign policy, he demonstrates startling ignorance or a simple unwillingness to even take a position. On domestic subjects that don’t require detailed policy knowledge, such as what he thinks of abortion, Cain manages to contradict himself and flip-flop, often within the same interview.
And yet, here he is, tied with or leading Mitt Romney in the national polls, and ahead in Iowa and South Carolina. Statistical analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times, whose predictions on the last election were consistently the most accurate, cautions that while he doesn’t know what Cain’s chances are, “I do know what an analyst should not do: he should not use terms like ‘never’ and ‘no chance’ ” when applied to Mr. Cain’s chances of winning the nomination.” Silver adds: “I think it is quite arrogant to say that the man leading in the polls two months before Iowa has no chance.”
If Cain really could be the Republican nominee, it’s time to interrogate his bizarre and vague platform. Here are some questions reporters with the opportunity should ask him.
§ You are fond of boasting about how you lived the American Dream by rising from a poor family to make a lot of money. You also call for brutally cracking down on illegal immigration from Mexico, most notably by saying that you would put an electrified fence topped with barbed wire on the border and possibly send armed troops to guard it. Why do you think that Mexicans who come here to work low-paying jobs are different than your parents, seeking a better life for themselves and their children?
§ The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says your “9-9-9” tax reform proposal will raise taxes on 84 percent of Americans. It will raise taxes on lower- and middle-income Americans, by taxing sales and eliminating the standard deduction, while cutting taxes on the wealthy by lower income tax rates and eliminating taxes on inheritance and capital gains. The TPC found that your plan would raise taxes on everyone making less than $100,000 and raise taxes by more than 10 percent on everyone making less than $40,000. It would cut taxes on people making more than $100,000 and provide a huge tax cut of over 30 percent to people making more than $1 million per year. Why do you think this is fair? Do you think if your parents had to pay higher taxes it would have aided your social mobility?
§ Under 9-9-9 payroll taxes would be eliminated. How would you determine a person’s Social Security benefits? How would protect Social Security and Medicare funding from being raided when there is no separate revenue stream for them?
§ You’ve called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Do you think the 50 million Americans without health insurance deserve to get health insurance? If so, how exactly would you provide it for them? How would fix the unsustainable upwards trajectory of healthcare spending, which has exceeded economic growth in every recent decade? Please note that tort reform and selling insurance across state lines is not an acceptable answer. Neither of those proposals would guarantee that insurance will be sold to people with prior conditions or modest means, nor does the cost of doctors’ malpractice insurance account for anywhere near the majority of the increase in healthcare spending.
§ You say 9-9-9 will be revenue neutral. If so, how exactly do you propose to close our budget deficit? Inevitably, any method of balancing the budget without increased revenues will require cuts to domestic programs that benefit the poor. Why do you think poor people should pay more in taxes while getting less in services from the government?
§ You say 9-9-9’s virtue is its simplicity. But you’ve already introduced two exceptions to it: an exemption from the sales tax for goods manufactured domestically, and an exemption for low-income communities. How will you compensate for the lost revenue? How do you respond to the logical inference that your plan would become just as riddled with loopholes over time?
§ Like Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, you’ve called for eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency. Like both of them, you’ve also neglected to explain who would enforce laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act in the EPA’s absence. So, who would do it? Or do you not think we need clean air and water?
§ You’ve refused to take a position on American troop levels in Afghanistan and ridiculed the notion that you should know the name of the President of “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.” Why don’t you think that the US president should know the name of Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, especially since Karimov is a brutal dictator in the strategically important region of Central Asia? Why don’t you think the American people should know where a candidate for president stands on our foreign war in Afghanistan?