Does Eric Cantor’s Loss Doom Any Chance at Progress in US House?

U.S. Majority Leader Congressman Eric Cantor (R - Virginia)

The least productive Congress in the past two decades is likely to get much less productive in the next few months. Not only is an election on the horizon — a period of time in which incumbents scurry away for months at a time to campaign in their states and districts — the primary loss of Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Tuesday will likely cause Republicans to dig their heels in even more.

One example is immigration reform, which already had few if any paths at passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Conservatives in the lower chamber have forcefully opposed any measure that would grant a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Cantor’s historic primary loss on Tuesday night was likely the death-knell for any chance at passing a comprehensive bill during President Obama’s final years in office.

It may also have repercussions on other policy issues. Cantor is resigning his post in July, so while he would have had freedom to act his conscious until his term expired, he will have virtually no influence as a regular member. Even worse, his replacement’s lesson will almost assuredly be to not cross the party’s base, no matter the expense for the country as a whole.

As the second most powerful man in the House of Representative, behind only Speaker of the House John Boehner, Cantor wielded significant clout. Cantor not only lost in in a race where he was expected to be a runaway winner, he lost in historic fashion — the first sitting Majority Leader in modern history to go down to defeat in a primary. Federal Election Commission results show that Cantor had raised nearly $5 million in campaign contributions and had $1.5 million cash on hand at the end of May 2014. Cantor’s Tea Party challenger, David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, raised just over $200,000 and spent a little under $125,000. Despite being vastly outspent, Brat garnered 56 percent of the vote.

A major theme of the intra-party fight was immigration. Cantor, who has said that he would prefer to see a piece-meal approach rather than one comprehensive bill that addressed border security and enforcement, work visas and naturalization, was forced to send out campaign fliers boasting that he had stopped the Senate’s bill “to give illegal aliens amnesty.” While no exit polling is available to tell us the motivation of voters, Cantor’s immigration stance was a major part of Brat’s message that the incumbent was out-of-step with the party’s base.

The bottom line is that passing any bills deemed as a “compromise” with the president or Democrats just went from being really difficult to impossible. The country’s political paralysis is likely to continue as Republicans pander further and further to the right-wing fringes of their party’s base and ignore concerns about general elections, which pose little threat to most incumbents from heavily gerrymandered districts.

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Posted In: Election 2014,Politics


Is America Becoming More Liberal?

Democratic strategist Steve Rosenthal argued in a Washington Post column today that America is becoming more liberal. But how do you determine if a country is to the right or to the left on the political spectrum? Based on the party holding the White House? Based on who controls Congress? Party identification of voters?

Political scientists have long argued about political eras in the United States. Conservative politics dominated post-WWI until the Great Depression when the country turned to government to solve massive unemployment, income inequality and other issues of the day. There is a general consensus that liberalism dominated the period roughly from 1932 until sometime in the 1970s with the book ends being FDR (at the start) and LBJ (or perhaps as late as Carter) at the other end.

The political pendulum swings back and forth, although not entirely consistent in its timing. Margaret Thatcher’s ascension presaged the Reagan Revolution in the United States, which could still be felt to this day on fiscal matters with the Republican Party’s fixation on tax cuts and sequestration. De-regulation and privatization were two other tenets of Reagan economics that live on, although financial, healthcare and environmental regulation have made a comeback since the election of President Obama in 2008. One could argue that the 2010 midterm election was a last gasp of the Reagan era, quickly receding as turnout surged (as it always does in presidential elections) with a solid 4 point re-election of Obama in 2012, despite tepid job growth.

The evidence points to a shifting balance of power back to liberalism as left-leaning groups grow (Latinos, Asians, young voters) and right-leaning groups shrink (white and rural voters). The demographic death spiral of the Republican Party has been written about extensively, and I won’t spend much time re-treading old water, but it is worth pointing out that unless the Republican Party adapts to the quickly shifting policy preferences of Americans, they are not going to be relevant on the national stage.

Early polling for 2016 suggests that only the relatively moderate Chris Christie stands much of a chance against a potential Hillary Clinton candidacy, and that was before his bridge scandal put a black eye on his prospects. Conservative Paul Ryan could make a credible case but probably only if Hillary were to decide against a run. His lack of gravitas and politically far-right positions such as privatizing Medicare are liabilities. Backbenchers like Rick Santorum, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have little chance of ever making it to the White House, unless there is an unprecedented tidal shift in the makeup of the electorate.

Which gets us back to the original question: how do you determine if a country is to the right or to the left? Party labels can be useful but they don’t tell us the whole story. Richard Nixon, for instance, signed an executive order that created the EPA. He also signed the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. He even proposed a national health care law that had similarities to both Romney’s Massachusetts plan and Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Nixon was arguably more liberal than Democrat Bill Clinton, at least on some issues, but was also a product of his time — an era where politics and policy outcomes favored government intervention.

Another metric that can be used outside of just party identification of a president or Congress are the attitudes of voters themselves. Rosenthal’s piece brings attention to the fact that the country has dramatically shifted to the left on a number of critical issues. A majority of Americans now favor legalizing same-sex marriage and marijuana. Fifteen years ago, barely a third of voters supported either. Voters favor providing a pathway to citizenship for the country’s undocumented immigrant population, another reversal from past years. And support for gun control measures, such as universal background checks, wins the support of over 90 percent of voters. The shift in public opinion is a sharp contrast from the Republican Party’s position in Congress and in state houses across the country.

While most of the issues that he cited were social issues, economically liberal policies poll well with the public as well. According to a Gallup poll from March 2013, over 70 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage. Every group of voters polled support raising the minimum wage, including a slight majority of Republicans (although this group was within the margin of error and thus statistically insignificant). Similarly, 57 percent of Americans accurately perceive the widening wealth gap between rich and poor, and want the government to address it.

What do these numbers tell us? Voters, at least on these issues, favor a liberal approach to a conservative one. It means that not only Republican politicians, but also Democrats, will have to respond to the increasingly liberal desires of voters. Just as Democrats shifted on marriage equality, so to will the GOP. A similar shift should be expected on a range of other issues as the demographic evolution of the country shifts power from an older and whiter generation to a more diverse generation. Ignoring the shift would be political suicide.

2008 seems to have been a transformational election. Whether you prefer to use public polling to gauge voter attitudes, policy outcomes or strictly election results, it seems fairly clear that the country is entering a new post-Reagan era. It may not be a return to the golden days of progressive politics that ushered in Social Security and Medicare but the demographic changes, combined with the other metrics mentioned, point to a more progressive America than we’ve had in a long time.

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Healthcare Spending Slows Dramatically Under ACA

Hospital Roberto Santos recebe novos médicos residentes

After a couple months of nothing but negative news stories, the Affordable Care Act has seen a reprieve of good news in recent weeks. Nearly one million people signed up through the now-fixed website, which had suffered under intense server load in October and early November. Nearly 10 million Americans have so far taken advantage of the ACA through the healthcare exchanges (both federal and state-run websites), people under the age of 26 who can stay on their parents’ insurance policies, and people who newly qualify for Medicaid. Despite the early glitches, the law is having a real and positive impact on the lives of millions.

An important component of the law that would benefit everyone was a projected reduction in healthcare costs. As it turns out, three years after the Affordable Care Act was passed into law (also known as Obamacare), healthcare spending saw a seasonally-adjusted decline for the first time in four decades. The importance of this cannot be understated as healthcare spending is projected to be the largest single issue in terms of the national deficit in the decades to come. Reducing the cost of healthcare will reduce the deficit.

Another new report just released today shows that healthcare spending between 2010 and 2012 was slower than the growth of GDP. Keeping in mind that GDP growth has not been especially robust since the Great Recession started in 2007, it is even more impressive that healthcare spending has contracted at such a fast rate. The White House credits the ACA, at least in part, since the changes to Medicare are shielded from the affects of unemployment. The Office of the Actuary found that the Medicaid expansion built into the law would only have a minimal negative affect on health spending.

The benefits are not isolated to healthcare costs or to the previously uninsured gaining coverage. People with existing policies are protected from insurance industry abuses that allowed companies to kick customers off of policies for getting sick and denying coverage to people with “pre-existing conditions”. The law also eliminates lifetime spending caps. Essentially, the ACA ensures that anyone with private insurance today has a policy that they can rely on when they are most vulnerable. After all, everyone will get sick at some point in their lifetime, no matter how healthy of a lifestyle one lives. The cost savings are just an extra bonus on top of the life-saving benefits of the ACA.

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60 Minutes Report Shows Congress Profiting from Campaign Cash

60 Minutes had an excellent piece last night on a little reported loophole that allows members of Congress to use campaign cash as a personal piggybank. It’s illegal to do under a normal campaign account but leadership PACs are exempt and most members have them these days even if they are not party leaders.

Some of the more egregious examples of abuse: Ron Paul used his leadership PAC to pay six family members over $300,000. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano lent money to her campaign and then charged exorbitant interest. The real kicker: she didn’t even have a credible opponent, winning her race with 65% of the vote.

Watch the full report below:

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It’s Time to Kill the Filibuster

Weeks after staving off a rules change in the Senate that would have eliminated the use of filibusters to obstruct executive branch nominees in the Senate, Republicans have turned their obstruction to the judicial branch. As TPM reports:

Senate Republicans are standing firm by their threat to block every one of President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, insisting on eliminating all three vacant seats on the country’s second most powerful court…

The first of Obama’s three picks, Patricia Millett, was narrowly approved Thursday by the Judiciary Committee on a party line vote of 10-8. Every Republican voted against her, although they didn’t criticize her or take issue with her qualifications. They merely argued that the court is under-worked and that nobody ought to fill those seats.

“I have nothing against her but we should not be adding to that bench,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a senior Republican on the committee, told TPM on Thursday afternoon.

Senate Republicans blocked nominations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board simply because they did not agree with the missions of those agencies. A leaderless CFPB and NLRB meant that those entities lacked the authority to move forward on policy initiatives. Similarly, refusing to vote on any nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals guarantees that Republican appointees on the bench will constitute a majority — a majority that is threatened by the three vacancies.

“Filibuster” was never uttered at Independence Hall in 1787.

The Constitution requires the president to nominate judges and the Senate to offer its “advise and consent”. That means debating and voting on nominations. Confirmation requires only a majority threshold, something that the filibuster expressly denies. The Constitution does not grant the power to block lawfully nominated judges for seats on the federal bench with a minority of votes. Republicans in the Senate have re-interpreted the Constitution to suit their political desires.

I’m not much interested in the political aspects of this issue. The filibuster hurts the majority party, which is currently the Democrats, but the majority changes over time. Ending the filibuster will hurt Senate Democrats in the future when Republicans take control of the body. There is no doubt about that.

The country was founded on the principle of majority rule. Indeed, the Vice President’s sole role other than acting as a replacement to the president in the case of death, resignation or removal, is to cast a tie-breaking vote in an evenly divided Senate. The Founders expected the Senate to be a majority body and nothing else except in the specific circumstances as outlined in the Constitution (i.e. ratifying Treaties and Constitutional amendments, as well as impeachment).

The second point is that the filibuster has a false reputation for guarding against bad legislation. In recent years, the filibuster did nothing to guard against acts and laws viewed as anathema to Democrats. The Iraq War, Patriot Act and Wall Street bailouts were all passed with a greater than 60 vote threshold. Filibusters also did not stop the Bush tax cuts, which were passed through a majority vote parliamentary gimmick known as reconciliation. Meanwhile, the filibuster effectively killed legislation to combat climate change, pass the DREAM Act, create a public option in the Affordable Care Act, and require background checks for all gun purchases, just to name a few.

From a policy perspective, the filibuster is absolutely noxious. It’s nearly impossible these days to get a 60 vote consensus on basic governance, let alone major issues. The minority party can use this power, which is not found in the constitution, to stifle any semblance of progress. Indeed, they can grind all governance to a complete halt. This is not the way to govern a country. The filibuster must die.

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Why Would Hillary Clinton Not Run for President?

Politico published a piece a few weeks asking the question “what if Hillary doesn’t run?” Like most Politico stories, it doesn’t really make any news and is heavy on gossip with unnamed Democrats (most likely already aligned with the Clinton camp) crying that the party would be doomed without her. Here are just a couple examples:

“We would be at sea in a lifeboat with no food, no water, and no land in sight.” -anonymous

“There’s Hillary, and then there’s, like, Plan K. There is no B or C or G or whatever.” -anonymous

Hillary Clinton 1

If you thought that you heard similar musings in 2008, well, you did. Hillary was the inevitable nominee of the mainstream media and party officials. She was the only candidate that could beat a Republican. Neither were true then and it’s still not today.

There is no question that while she is not the inevitable Democratic nominee (that’s why we have elections), she is the prohibitive front-runner. Likewise, in a general election against a Republican, she would also be the odds on favorite. Hillary’s current polling numbers put her comfortably ahead, by ten points or more, against her most likely (and credible) Republican opponents with the exception of Chris Christie, who is keeping her within the margin of error.

Even accepting the knowledge that anything can happen in politics, and that her numbers are likely to return to Earth after staying largely out of politics for the past five years, she still has the clearest path to the White House. In fact, any White House aspirant would be envious of the position that she is in.

The better question is: why wouldn’t she run?

There are only a few good reasons why someone, particularly with Hillary’s ambition, would pass on the world’s most powerful position. She clearly would love to see a female president in her lifetime. It seems like an obvious choice but there are a few possible reasons why she would opt out.

The first and most obvious one is health. Hillary will be sixty-nine by the time that Election Day and a possible Inauguration roll around in 2016/17. She would not only be the first female president but the second oldest president as well. Republicans all too eager to use her age against her should be reminded that would make her younger than Reagan, who was only a few days away from 70. Biden would also be older than Hillary should he choose to run.

Old age does not necessarily guarantee bad health. There are plenty of members of Congress in their late 60s, 70s and even 80s. The average age of members of the House in 2011 was 57. The Senate was slightly older at 62. Recently deceased Senator Frank Lautenberg passed away at the age of 89. By all accounts, he was healthy and boisterous throughout his Senate career.

The good news is that there are currently no accounts of health problems for the former Secretary of State — and let’s hope that that continues — but it is not uncommon for presidents to conceal these facts. FDR’s polio was hidden from the public; JFK had back problems despite his young age; and it’s been speculated that Reagan suffered from the onset of Alzheimer’s in his later years in the White House.

Still, even if she gets a clean bill of health from her doctors, what else might motivate her to pass? Her husband, the former president, has had serious health problems including a quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery in 2004. There’s no indication that he has had any problems since, but at age 66, things can happen. It’s doubtful that Hillary would undertake a run if her husband has serious health complications between now and the early stages of 2016.

There are a host of other reasons not to run, all of them varying in degrees of seriousness. Her daughter Chelsea was recently married and will possibly have a child in the next few years. Chelsea was the target of some horrendous attacks by right-wing critics in the 1990s, namely from the reliably slimy Rush Limbaugh. Shielding her grandchild from the vile nature of politics is a consideration but still unlikely to stop a run without some other mitigating factors.

Which leads to another reason: politics is blood sport. Running for president is a grueling multi-year process that requires huge sums of special interest dollars to be raised (to the tune of $1 billion these days), non-stop traveling and pandering to increasingly partisan party bases. It’s really no wonder why politics attracts some of the sleaziest dirt bags around: any person in their right mind would want to avoid this kind of insane process like the plague.

However, we could endlessly speculate “what if” scenarios but in the end of the day, 2016 is three years away and news outlets are already treating it as if it is next year. The bottom line: Hillary will make her decision when she’s ready to commit. In the meantime, let’s actually get something done with our current elected government. I know, tough chance with this do-nothing Congress.

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Media Misses Bigger Picture on Gun Violence in Wake of Zimmerman Verdict

Tonight’s news that the jury in Florida found George Zimmerman “not guilty” on all counts was a bitter disappointment for many. No matter which way you cut it, Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman was the man to pull the trigger. The fact that an unarmed teenager was gunned down in his neighborhood, carrying nothing but some iced tea and Skittles, is proof that racial profiling and false assumptions can have deadly consequences.


Since I wasn’t on the jury and did not watch the full trial, I’ll leave the commentary at that. However, there is one observation that I can’t help but noticing: every night teenagers are gunned down in the streets of America. Sometimes multiple teens are killed in one city. Over 72 people were shot in Chicago over the 4th of July weekend. And so far 2013 has been significantly better than 2012 for murder in the Windy City.

Squarely to blame is gang violence that is fueled by a “war on drugs” that puts innocent civilians in the crossfire. This failed “war” has forced a deadly underground drug trade for mostly harmless substances like marijuana. Also to blame are gun laws that permit extremely powerful weapons to be readily purchased without any meaningful regulation. Changes to these laws would not have saved Trayvon Martin but they certainly would save thousands of lives each year. The current Congress, in its utter ineptitude and callous pandering to the gun lobby, has not passed a simple background check law!

So while many will post about Trayvon Martin alone, tonight my thoughts are with *all* families who are victims of gun violence. There will be no media coverage for the 30,000+ people who die each year in the United States at the barrel of a gun. These senseless, completely preventable deaths must end in our society — and people of good will must speak up to make it possible.

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The Cognitive Dissonance of Christian Climate Change Deniers

Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina

Most of the climate change deniers that I encounter are Christian. Not all but most. Many of them are devout followers. Yet when I bring up the environmental toll that humanity is taking on the planet — at the detriment to not just natural ecosystems but our species as well — they seem to let it roll off their back, taking no ownership of the issue.

What sort of cognitive dissonance must one undergo in order to believe that A) God created the Earth; B) humanity is responsible as a steward of the planet; and C) it is okay to ignore the severe environmental impacts that man has wrought through the exploitation of fossil foils? It’s hard to understand.

Tar sands extraction in northern Alberta
Canadian tar sands

Even more difficult to comprehend is the lack of logic that they exhibit. Let me get this straight: I should accept as literal truth several thousand year old text translated from multiple languages, heavily redacted by a patriarchal Church obsessed with maintaining its hierarchical political structure, re-translated by a church founded for the sole purpose that its king could divorce and re-marry five times (you know, “traditional marriage”), contains multiple inconsistencies and illogical assertions, yet I should not accept peer-reviewed climate science supported by 97% of experts in the field?

This is not an attack on Christianity but on blind followers who ignore science. Surely if Jesus were around he would be just as troubled by the overwhelming body of evidence presented but he would undoubtedly be more concerned with the human impact. Doing nothing — or making matters worse by going down a path of self-destruction with plans such as tar sands extraction — will result in countless deaths over time. It’s already estimated that 150,000 deaths occur each year as a result of climate change, a statistic that is likely to get much worse as severe weather events multiply throughout the century.

If we accept the science as true, do we not have a moral obligation to do something? Or is our denial just a convenient way to wipe our hands clean of what has the potential to be the largest man-made disaster in our history?

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Extremists Steal the Show at NRA Convention

It’s almost always a bad idea to compare your political opponents to Nazis. Not only does it show an utter lack of suitable historical reference, it’s also often wildly off the mark. So when Glenn Beck — the keynote speaker at the NRA’s recently completed convention — compared New York City’s mayor to Hitler, it was more than an eyebrow raiser. (For those interested in historical context, it’s ironic that a Jew, whose most infamous “authoritarian” transgression for the right was a ban on excessively sized pop, would be pilloried as the second coming of the Third Reich, but I digress.)

The audience reaction of laughter and applause confirmed that this once bipartisan group of hunters and reasonable gun owners has devolved into a cesspool of far right-wing craziness. Also speaking before the convention were a slew of discredited figures: former half-term governor Sarah Palin; failed presidential candidate and noted homophobe Rick Santorum; and rocker Ted Nugent, who last year predicted, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” It goes without saying that Nugent is neither in jail nor dead.

Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president who cited the Boston bombing as a reason to own a gun, told the irrational faithful that “there is nothing the president will not do to get something, anything, through Congress to advance his agenda to destroy the Second Amendment. Nothing.” Certainly his language can rile up a crowd but it has no basis in reality.

This is the same man who blamed the video game industry in the wake of twenty dead kindergarteners at Newtown. “There exists in this country a callous, corrupt, and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” he said in December.

Getting back to Glenn Beck, though, illustrates the paranoid schizophrenia of the NRA. In his speech, he claimed that it was not just the president that was out to get people’s guns; it was a mass conspiracy on virtually every level of society:

“Charlton Heston’s words were meant to wake people up. He needed to shock us into realizing who our opponent really was: an out of control growing government under Jimmy Carter.

Today we are in a different place than we were in 1976. The problem is worse today. It wasn’t just Jimmy Carter, just as it isn’t just this president. It’s not just the Democrats either. It’s the Republicans, too.

The problem is everywhere.

It’s in our media, churches, educational systems, in our own homes. It is the Progressive ideology, which is antithetical to our Constitutional Republic. They want to fundamentally transform the country.”

Beck, of course, was referring to Heston’s famous line, “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!” which the now-deceased actor repeatedly employed to push back any measures to regulate guns. Beck goes on to use more alarmist rhetoric, saying that, “Our Constitution, our rights, our way of life is at stake. The freedom of all mankind is at stake. And because of that, so are our souls.”

Got that? Glenn Beck and the NRA faithful see themselves as revolutionaries in a fight against an oppressive government under Barack Obama — and they haven’t ruled out using force. The gun owners of America — not its peaceful citizens — are the last vanguard of freedom. Anyone familiar with this country’s violent history of political assassinations (four presidents have been murdered at the barrel of a gun) would recognize that this type of fiery rhetoric is dangerous.

(As an aside, if you don’t share the same trembling fear of philanthropic former president Jimmy Carter, you’re not alone. The Carter Center has literally facilitated the near eradication of the guinea worm parasite that once afflicted millions. In the United States, he’s built homes with Habitat for Humanity every year since 1984. President Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for his Center’s efforts “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” His recent political criticisms have been against the use of torture and the invasion of Iraq, hardly controversial.)

The majority of Americans disagree with Beck — as do the courts who are the arbiters of our system of government. Not only are measures to curb gun violence popular, they’re perfectly constitutional. The Supreme Court has upheld gun control measures short of a blanket ban on all guns. Just as no one claims there is an absolute right to free speech (i.e. you cannot threaten people, slenderize, or even hold demonstrations without a permit), there is not an absolute right to gun ownership.

Except for NRA fanatics.

They believe that gun ownership is a fundamental right that cannot be infringed under any conditions. Even the most modest measures to prevent guns from being purchased by criminals, the mentally ill or terrorists are rejected by the NRA. “Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” they said in a statement.

Their logic, if you want to call it that, is baffling. Unless you prevent all violent gun crimes, a law is not worth passing. What if we applied this to any other crime? For instance, speed limits. People speed all the time but I think generally everyone would agree that they are in place as a deterrent AND are justified. To take the NRA’s position to its logical end, why even have any laws since none of them will ever prevent all crime?

Of course we could apply any number of logical tests to their positions but none of them would stand up to scrutiny. More important than discrediting their ridiculous positions is discrediting their organization in the minds of not only politicians who write laws in Washington and state houses across the country, but also amongst the general public.

The NRA does a good job of this on their own, especially when they select a new president who has called the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”. The company that they keep amongst some of the most ill-reputed people in and outside of Washington — and the organization’s leadership that releases outrageous statements on serious policy matters — is more than enough to soil their credibility. Respectable individuals who care about their reputation would be crazy to associate themselves with the NRA.

The Republican Party can either allow the NRA to continue to attach itself like a parasite, voting in lockstep with an organization that is wildly outside of mainstream American politics, or they can burn it off before it sucks them dry of what little credibility they have left with the voting public. It’s one of multiple elements that they will need to jettison in order to be competitive in future elections. Thankfully for them, many of those far right voters overlap and can be severed without doing long-term damage to the party. The long-term damage would come from continuing a relationship with an organization as toxic as the NRA. And as for gun owners, if they want to actually protect their right, they shouldn’t support such an extremist leadership. The NRA is an organization that has come to burn bridges rather than build them.

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A Progressive America Would Look Like This

Maryland is a progressive model for the nation. Their unemployment rate is nearly a full point lower than the national average, they increased spending on infrastructure and mass transit, lowered the penalties for marijuana possession while legalizing medicinal use, eliminated the death penalty, kept down the cost of college tuition, passed a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, funded an offshore wind farm and did it all while balancing their state budget. This is what progress looks like.

Maryland Statehouse

Meanwhile the federal government spends money on the military as if we’re in the middle of World War III. “Defense” spending has increased by 81 percent over the past ten years to the point that today we spend nearly a trillion dollars a year on it — a third of the federal budget. This includes spending dedicated to war, expensive weapons systems and necessary expenditures to veterans who were injured fighting for our country. Our veterans deserve good care and we should fund it fully but our continued presence in Afghanistan only guarantees that more Americans will die and get badly injured. It exacerbates the ballooning military debt while doing nothing to enhance American interests.

Instead of investing in the future with funding for education, infrastructure, and science (i.e. energy and medical research, as well as space exploration), we put all of our eggs in aggressive military policies that do not reflect the threats that we face. Combating terrorism does not involve armies of hundreds of thousands of troops. It’s as much about building relationships with foreign countries as it is using a military option. Likewise, the threats that we face from actual nations are fairly limited. North Korea can barely get missiles off the ground without them failing and Iran’s economy is completely tied to exporting oil. Any conflict with them would immediately result in a crippling of their economy.

At the end of the day, Americans have a choice to make. We can make the necessary investments in the future or we can be beholden to the military industrial complex that has strangled the U.S. Treasury to the point that we have annual deficits that are near or in excess of a trillion dollars. It’s not a coincidence that the budget deficit is about the same amount that we spend on the military.

Personally, I’m tired of the headlines that say we don’t have the money to make the investments that are so badly needed to build a 21st century economy. States like Maryland have given us a blueprint for building a thriving economy. We need politicians who will stand up to defense lobbyists or else our economy is looking at falling permanently behind our foreign competition. The money is there to wisely invest in the future. We just spend it on the wrong priorities. It’s time that we change that.

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