Bird’s Eye View of Congress

by Charlie Cook for National Journal

One of the few political topics on which there is virtually universal agreement—both inside and outside the Beltway—is that Congress is broken.

The longer one has been in Washington, the more one is convinced that something has gone terribly wrong. But once the subject turns to who is to blame, opinions tend to diverge. Funny thing: People who are Democrats and liberal overwhelmingly blame Republicans and conservatives, while those who are Republican and conservative are equally adamant that Democrats and liberals are at fault. Go figure. Try to think of anyone you know who blames his or her own team for a substantial share of the problem. As pollsters would say, it’s a small cell.

To me, the people worth listening to are those who have been in the trenches of political warfare in Washington and have observed the changes over a long period of time—but are no longer combatants. That perspective carries a lot more weight than those of spectators in the upper deck or operatives who simply want to point fingers at the opposing side. With The Partisan Divide: Congress in Crisis, Tom Davis and Martin Frost, along with Richard Cohen, have written a terrific and insightful book that desperately needed to be written—and that, arguably, no other three people are better qualified to write.

YN4WOM3PDavis, a Republican, served for 14 years in the House, representing the Northern Virginia suburbs. For 26 years, Frost, a Democrat, represented parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. Each chaired his party’s House campaign committee for four years. Davis went on to chair the Government Reform Committee, and Frost led the Democratic Caucus. I can count on one hand the number of people who have chaired the Democratic or Republican campaign committees over the past 40 years who had both in-depth, granular savvy and a broader, 40,000-foot understanding of politics as it is played in states and districts across the country, and up and down the hallways of the House and Senate office buildings. The third member of the trio is Cohen, who started out as a young Senate staffer and then switched sides to build a distinguished career in journalism. Cohen covered Congress for more than 37 years for National Journal, and he coauthored the Almanac of American Politics for 10 years. No living journalist knows and understands Capitol Hill as intimately as Cohen. It was a treat and an education to work for many years just steps away from him.

Both Frost and Davis are moderates who watched their parties shift. Democrats moved far to Martin’s left; Republicans moved just as far to Tom’s right. This widening gap left each of them more apt than extreme partisans to admit the imperfections and mistakes of his party and the mounting toll on the principle of compromise and the art of governing. Frost’s Texas has become almost a no-fly zone for Democrats statewide. Davis’s Virginia now sports two Democratic senators as well as a Democratic governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general—and no Republican statewide-elected officials.

Davis’s chapter “Divided Government: the New Normal,” walks through the current population and voting patterns that have made the House all but a lock for Republicans these days. He notes that in roughly 80 percent of House districts, Democratic and Republican incumbents’ principal political concern is winning their primaries. Their vulnerability is from the left for Democrats and from the right for Republicans, making legislative compromises across the aisle increasingly difficult to secure.

Both Frost and Davis spend a chapter taking on the very difficult subject of race in American politics. Frost tells of his tenure at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, when pollsters would stop by and talk enthusiastically about how well Democrats were doing among seniors and women. That’s when he would ask for the breakdown of numbers among white seniors and white women. Invariably, these numbers were not nearly so encouraging. But Frost makes the point that Republicans’ dismal performance with minority voters keeps raising the bar for the GOP to attract more and more white voters—in some cases, a bar that’s unreachably high.

Davis provides an interesting history of the evolution of racial voting in this country, with polls showing almost imperceptible differences in the public’s impressions of the two parties on racial issues before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Frost spends a chapter examining the role of redistricting and, with Cohen, contributes a “Moneyball” chapter on the role of campaign finance. Davis takes a close look at the “all politics is local” angle, up to and including then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking primary upset earlier this year. Davis also focuses on the role of independents and the collapse of the middle in politics, while Frost laments both parties’ dangerous obsession with their own base voters and at social media’s role in the growing polarization. Both look at the uniqueness of House and Senate races, which are, as Davis puts it, different animals of the same species. They move on to suggest changes in the operation of Congress and some political reforms that might help fix what is broken on Capitol Hill.

If you are going to read one book this year on what has happened to Congress and why, The Partisan Divide is the one.

This isn’t going to be a “Fire Les Miles” post…

les 1by Scott McKay, courtesy of the Hayride

…because I don’t think that firing Miles, who has won more for longer as LSU’s coach than anyone in the modern history of the program, will make things better.

But after watching Miles’ offense hit absolute rock bottom tonight in getting shut out by an Arkansas team which had lost 17 straight games in SEC play before laying a 17-0 whipping on his toothless Tigers, there are things which ought to be said about LSU’s head coach.

The fact of the matter is that Miles might well be the most clueless coach in college or pro football when it comes to evaluation and use of quarterbacks.

That’s not a rash statement, nor is it an emotional one made after suffering through Anthony Jennings’ latest failure to generate more than 150 yards in the air – a streak which has now reached five games; six if you count the Auburn game Brandon Harris started.

It’s a statement made after watching Miles for 10 years.

The first three years of those 10, Miles had Jamarcus Russell and Matt Flynn at quarterback. He inherited Russell and Flynn from Nick Saban, along with Saban’s offensive coordinator and QB’s coach Jimbo Fisher. Russell ended up the first pick in the NFL draft, and Flynn is still in the league as one of its more reliable backup quarterbacks.

But since taking over the LSU program, Les Miles has not recruited and developed a single high school quarterback into an above average SEC player at the position. In fact, Miles’ record of quarterback recruiting and development has been quite possibly the worst in the SEC over the time period he’s been on the job in Baton Rouge.

Miles’ first quarterback recruit was Ryan Perrilloux. Perrilloux was an NFL talent; he managed to stick around for a couple of years as a backup in the league. Of course, he was a colossal character problem who ultimately made himself such a liability that Miles had to jettison him before the 2008 season. The resulting quarterback play that year was so terrible – seven interceptions run back for touchdowns – that the trauma of it has permanently scarred Miles as a coach ever since.

leeAfter Perrilloux Miles recruited Jarrett Lee, who was the quarterback who threw those seven pick-sixes in 2008 as a redshirt freshman. Lee never recovered from that season and spent his final three years on the bench as a backup save for a stint as an interim starter for the first part of his last year. But by his senior year, Lee had actually developed into a serviceable passer in a conservative, run-oriented offense who could keep the chains moving on a team headed for the national championship game.

Lee didn’t finish his senior year as the starter, because Miles’ next quarterback recruit took over midway through the 2011 season. Jordan Jefferson was handed Lee’s job after he hurt an ankle in the Ole Miss game in 2008, but his play never merited a firm hold on the job. Jefferson showed signs of becoming a serviceable quarterback as a sophomore, regressed horribly as a junior and in fact LSU needed Lee to come off the bench in a number of games to bail out the offense, and promptly got himself suspended before the beginning of his senior year for engaging in a bar fight and getting himself arrested. Most people will tell you that LSU’s offense regressed pretty badly once Lee gave way to Jefferson eight games into the season in 2011; the shutout loss to Alabama in the national title game that year, which was the last shutout loss LSU suffered until tonight’s debacle, put a pretty solid exclamation point on that theory.

Lee didn’t play in that national title game, likely for reasons that don’t all that closely involve football. Miles will never tell us why Jefferson wasn’t pulled out of the game despite having a meltdown on college football’s grandest stage.

When Jefferson was recruited in 2008, Miles actually had Derron Thomas committed at one point. Thomas ended up as the starter at Oregon, put up amazing numbers in a high-powered offense and played in the 2010 national championship game. Among the other quarterbacks LSU recruited that year but didn’t ultimately offer scholarships were Baylor’s Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and Ryan Griffin, who ended up at Tulane and is now on the New Orleans Saints’ roster.

In 2009, Miles signed two quarterbacks, Russell Shepard, who ended up as a wide receiver when it was determined he lacked a college arm, and Chris Garrett, who ate himself out of the position, transferred to Northwestern State where he couldn’t get off the field and ultimately gave up football.

Miles was supposed to have a savior at quarterback in Texas gunslinger Zack Lee, a truly impressive athlete with a cannon for an arm and, from his high school film, the makeup of an NFL quarterback. Unfortunately, Lee also had the makeup of a major league pitcher, and when he got a $5 million bonus offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers and signed a contract rather than playing behind center for LSU an opportunity to have a quarterback of the quality of Flynn or Russell went by the boards.

mettThat left LSU with a major hole at quarterback, because at the time Lee and Jefferson were about to graduate and there was nobody in the pipeline to replace them. It was then that Miles was able to recruit the one quality quarterback he’s landed to date; Zack Mettenberger, who was in exile at Butler County Community College in Kansas after getting kicked off the team at Georgia. Mettenberger came to LSU as a redshirt sophomore out of junior college and sat on the bench as a third-stringer behind Lee and Jefferson in 2011, then was mediocre as a junior starter in 2012 before breaking out and having the only first-rate season a Miles-recruited quarterback has had at LSU last year.

Mettenberger was more of a free agent signing than a recruit. He was looking for the best program at which he could play, and while he was very highly-rated he was also considered something of a character risk after the incident at Georgia which got him kicked off the team.

Nevertheless, he is currently starting for the Tennessee Titans. Mettenberger is the only Les Miles quarterback recruit at LSU to start an NFL game. At every other position on the field save (I think) kicker, Miles has had a player he recruited at LSU start in the NFL, and at most positions he’s had multiple recruits become NFL starters. But at quarterback, the only one to start was a player he recruited out of a junior college.

Since Mettenberger’s signing, quarterback recruiting has been so dismal as to make one question what LSU is doing as a nationally-respected program – particularly in an age of college football in which dependence on quality quarterback play has never been more complete. You simply can’t have better-than-average success in major college football without better-than-average quarterback play, and LSU hasn’t recruited an SEC-level quarterback since 2011.

Miles took Steven Rivers instead of Dak Prescott in 2011, which at the time didn’t seem like a terrible decision. Rivers, after all was Philip Rivers’ brother, and he was 6-7. But the younger Rivers spent three years failing to get off the bench at LSU even as a backup, and this year he transferred to Vanderbilt and proved it wasn’t a mistake not to play him.

Also that year Miles signed Jerald Randall, a spread option quarterback out of Florida who was supposed to add a dimension to the offense. Randall added nothing and was gone to a junior college after a year.

In 2012, Miles took Rob Bolden as a transfer from Penn State. Bolden couldn’t get off the bench and was moved to wide receiver, before he followed Rivers’ lead and transferred to Eastern Michigan – where he has played in six games and completed just 43 percent of his passes.

Miles was supposed to have signed a difference-maker in 2012, as highly-touted Indiana high school quarterback Gunner Kiel committed to Miles’ program. But Kiel, who was supposed to enroll early and join the program for that season (potentially as Mettenberger’s backup for two years and then as the likely starter now), bailed out at the last minute and went to Notre Dame instead, prompting Miles to question whether he had the “chest” to play at LSU. Kiel only stayed at Notre Dame for a year, which would seem to have proved Miles’ critique of his fortitude correct, but he’s now at Cincinnati and posting a sensational season (60 percent completion, 276 yards passing per game, a 24-10 TD-interception ratio and a QB rating of 156.3).

That’s not counting Miles’ signing of Jeremy Liggins in 2012. Liggins, a 275-pound novelty of a quarterback out of Mississippi, couldn’t meet the academic requirements to get into school and ended up in a junior college. He’s now at Ole Miss playing tight end and occasionally getting snaps as the jumbo quarterback who runs sneak plays on third-and-one.

Last year, Miles signed two more quarterbacks who were supposed to fix the problem of Mettenberger’s succession. One of them was a Californian named Hayden Rettig, the other was Jennings. Rettig transferred this summer after falling to third on the depth chart in spring – which made him the fourth quarterback departing LSU’s 2013 roster, the third to leave with eligibility remaining.

Jennings is the starter, and he’s completing less than 50 percent of his passes. He’s having the worst season of a starting quarterback at LSU since Lee in 2008, and frankly that’s arguable; it might be necessary to go back to Jamie Howard in 1994 to find a more unsuccessful starting quarterback in purple and gold.

harrisBut Miles signed Brandon Harris this year, and the Shreveport product is supposedly a future savior of the program. In what limited action he’s had he clearly has a live arm and some talent as a runner. It’s not out of the question that he could be a solid quarterback before he’s done, and perhaps emerge to join Mettenberger as an above-average LSU quarterback Miles recruited. Except if Harris is really that good, why is it he can’t get meaningful action on the field? Jennings has not thrown for more than 200 yards since the season opener against Wisconsin, and tonight’s 12-for-22 performance was the first time he’d completed more than half his passes since an 11-for-18 effort against UL-Monroe. Despite playing nearly every snap since the Florida game Jennings hasn’t completed more than tonight’s 12 passes in a game, nor has he had a game in that stretch in which he’s completed multiple touchdown passes. Jennings hasn’t directed LSU’s offense to more than one touchdown in a game since the win over Kentucky.

And Harris has barely left the bench.

You can chalk that up to Miles’ stubbornness. One senses the problem is worse than that. While Miles has clearly shown himself to be absolutely beyond help in recognizing which quarterbacks can help him win and which can’t, LSU is paying his offensive coordinator Cam Cameron well more than a million dollars a year since hiring him away from an NFL career. If Harris was clearly better than Jennings one would imagine Cameron would be screaming to get him on the field.

But Harris stayed on the bench while Jennings utterly failed to move the football against a team which had lost 17 straight conference games, and this tells you that whatever great potential the freshman might have, he is clearly not inspiring confidence among LSU’s coaches. If they insist on using Jennings and not Harris, they must not think Harris has significantly progressed beyond the disastrous performance he showed at Auburn.

les 3In other respects Les Miles is an exemplary college football coach. He’s won an amazing number of games, he’s filled the NFL with his players, his program is as reputable as any on the major-college scene in terms of academics and discipline and he annually recruits excellent classes. After all, just a week ago Miles’ team outplayed Alabama and would have won the game but for a series of highly questionable officials’ calls all going the other way.

But when Arkansas lays a shutout on you and all but puts your season down the tubes, it’s time to take a hard look at where you are. And right now, Miles’ team is up a creek without a paddle where it comes to the most important position on a football field. His incompetence at filling that position with capable players has come home to roost, and it’s going to ruin his tenure as LSU’s coach unless he can find a fast solution.

Maybe Harris’ light will come on, and that will fix the problem. Frankly, Miles ought to turn the job over to Harris against Texas A&M in the Thanksgiving Night finale and hope for the best. After tonight’s disaster it’s hard to see how the offense could possibly have any confidence in Jennings. If Harris stinks up the joint like he did against Auburn, so be it – you have nothing to lose, and you’ll at least know you don’t have a quarterback capable of playing winning football. That would mean you need to immediately pursue two options; one, another junior-college player like Mettenberger, in hopes one could be found who might stabilize the position next year and fill in the interim until Harris is ready to take it over, or perhaps a senior transfer – he’d better be a lot more like Russell Wilson than Rivers or Bolden, but the right one-and-done senior could be an absolute godsend for the offense and the program overall.

But regardless of what happens in the near future, and we are certainly hoping for the best, the evidence is in. Miles is one of the worst coaches imaginable at finding, keeping and playing quarterbacks. He’s so bad at it that he creates the impression of having a Neanderthal offense, which he doesn’t. LSU’s offense was anything but Neanderthal when Russell and Flynn were the starting quarterbacks, and it wasn’t Neanderthal last year when Mettenberger was a finished product. When Miles doesn’t have a good quarterback, which is every year but last year since Russell and Flynn left, he runs an offense designed to keep his lousy quarterback from costing him games.

Tonight, there was no way for him to do that, indicating the problem might be worse than ever.

And maybe that’s a sign Miles is on the downslope of his coaching career at LSU, finally done in by the inability to produce a capable signal-caller.

les 2Once again, though, we don’t see getting rid of Miles as the solution. It isn’t. We say this, because if you get rid of Miles you’re putting your faith in Joe Alleva, LSU’s athletic director, to find a coach better than he is. Alleva’s major hires at LSU so far were Trent Johnson, the worst men’s basketball coaching hire in the modern history of the program, Nikki Caldwell, the grossly-overpaid and underachieving women’s basketball coach who this weekend saw her team blown out by Arkansas-Little Rock at home while the top player in Louisiana just signed with Baylor (LSU hasn’t signed a recruit so far in the early signing period), and current men’s hoops coach Johnny Jones, who might well end up as a good hire (the jury is definitely out on that question) but was given a $400,000 raise by Alleva after a 39-26 record, 18-18 in the SEC and no trips to the NCAA tournament.

Alleva, with that record of coaching decisions in major sports, can’t be allowed to hire a football coach given the financial stakes involved. He has to be gone before the idea of replacing Miles can be seriously entertained.

And that means Miles had better fix his quarterback problems. Fast.

The Loneliest President Since Nixon

by Peggy Noonan for the Wall Street Journal

Seven years ago I was talking to a longtime Democratic operative on Capitol Hill about a politician who was in trouble. The pol was likely finished, he said. I was surprised. Can’t he change things and dig himself out? No. “People do what they know how to do.” Politicians don’t have a vast repertoire. When they get in a jam they just do what they’ve always done, even if it’s not working anymore.

barry-150x150[1]This came to mind when contemplating President Obama. After a devastating election, he is presenting himself as if he won. The people were not saying no to his policies, he explained, they would in fact like it if Republicans do what he tells them.

You don’t begin a new relationship with a threat, but that is what he gave Congress: Get me an immigration bill I like or I’ll change U.S. immigration law on my own.

Mr. Obama is doing what he knows how to do—stare them down and face them off. But his circumstances have changed. He used to be a conquering hero, now he’s not. On the other hand he used to have to worry about public support. Now, with no more elections before him, he has the special power of the man who doesn’t care.

I have never seen a president in exactly the position Mr. Obama is, which is essentially alone. He’s got no one with him now. The Republicans don’t like him, for reasons both usual and particular: They have had no good experiences with him. The Democrats don’t like him, for their own reasons plus the election loss. Before his post-election lunch with congressional leaders, he told the press that he will judiciously consider any legislation, whoever sends it to him, Republicans or Democrats. His words implied that in this he was less partisan and more public-spirited than the hacks arrayed around him. It is for these grace notes that he is loved. No one at the table looked at him with colder, beadier eyes than outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , who clearly doesn’t like him at all.

The press doesn’t especially like the president; in conversation they evince no residual warmth. This week at the Beijing summit there was no sign the leaders of the world had any particular regard for him. They can read election returns. They respect power and see it leaking out of him. If Mr. Obama had won the election they would have faked respect and affection.

Vladimir Putin delivered the unkindest cut, patting Mr. Obama’s shoulder reassuringly. Normally that’s Mr. Obama’s move, putting his hand on your back or shoulder as if to bestow gracious encouragement, needy little shrimp that you are. It’s a dominance move. He’s been doing it six years. This time it was Mr. Putin doing it to him. The president didn’t like it.

From Reuters: “‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’ Putin was overheard saying in English in Obama’s general direction, referring to the ornate conference room. ‘Yes,’ Obama replied, coldly, according to journalists who witnessed the scene.”

The last time we saw a president so alone it was Richard Nixon, at the end of his presidency, when the Democrats had turned on him, the press hated him, and the Republicans were fleeing. It was Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP’s standard-bearer in 1964, and House Minority Leader John Rhodes, also of Arizona, who went to the White House to tell Nixon his support in Congress had collapsed, they would vote to impeach. Years later Goldwater called Nixon “The world’s biggest liar.”

But Nixon had one advantage Obama does not: the high regard of the world’s leaders, who found his downfall tragic (such ruin over such a trifling matter) and befuddling (he didn’t keep political prisoners chained up in dungeons, as they did. Why such a fuss?).

Nixon’s isolation didn’t end well.

Last Sunday Mr. Obama, in an interview with CBS ’s Bob Schieffer, spoke of his motivation, how he’s always for the little guy. “I love just being with the American people. . . . You know how passionate I am about trying to help them.” He said what is important is “a guy who’s lost his job or lost his home or . . . is trying to send a kid to college.” When he talks like that, as he does a lot, you get the impression his romantic vision of himself is Tom Joad in the movie version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” “I’ll be all around . . . wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.”

I mentioned last week that the president has taken to filibustering, to long, rambling answers in planned sit-down settings—no questions on the fly walking from here to there, as other presidents have always faced. The press generally allows him to ramble on, rarely fighting back as they did with Nixon. But I have noticed Mr. Obama uses a lot of words as padding. He always has, but now he does it more. There’s a sense of indirection and obfuscation. You can say, “I love you,” or you can say, “You know, feelings will develop, that happens among humans and it’s good it happens, and I have always said, and I said it again just last week, that you are a good friend, I care about you, and it’s fair to say in terms of emotional responses that mine has escalated or increased somewhat, and ‘love’ would not be a wholly inappropriate word to use to describe where I’m coming from.”

When politicians do this they’re trying to mush words up so nothing breaks through. They’re leaving you dazed and trying to make it harder for you to understand what’s truly being said.

It is possible the president is responding to changed circumstances with a certain rigidity because no one ever stood in his way before. Most of his adult life has been a smooth glide. He had family challenges and an unusual childhood, but as an adult and a professional he never faced fierce, concentrated resistance. He was always magic. Life never came in and gave it to him hard on the jaw. So he really doesn’t know how to get up from the mat. He doesn’t know how to struggle to his feet and regain his balance. He only knows how to throw punches. But you can’t punch from the mat.

He only knows how to do what he’s doing.

In the meantime he is killing his party. Gallup this week found that the Republicans for the first time in three years beat the Democrats on favorability, and also that respondents would rather have Congress lead the White House than the White House lead Congress.

A few weeks ago a conservative intellectual asked me: “How are we going to get through the next two years?” It was a rhetorical question; he was just sharing his anxiety. We have a president who actually can’t work with Congress, operating in a capital in which he is resented and disliked and a world increasingly unimpressed by him, and so increasingly predatory.

Anyway, for those who are young and not sure if what they are seeing is wholly unusual: Yes, it is wholly unusual.

Now We Can Get Congress Going

By John Boehner and Mitch McConnell
Wall Street Journal
Nov. 5, 2014 7:12 p.m. ET

Americans have entrusted Republicans with control of both the House and Senate. We are humbled by this opportunity to help struggling middle-class Americans who are clearly frustrated by an increasing lack of opportunity, the stagnation of wages, and a government that seems incapable of performing even basic tasks.

Looking ahead to the next Congress, we will honor the voters’ trust by focusing, first, on jobs and the economy. Among other things, that means a renewed effort to debate and vote on the many bills that passed the Republican-led House in recent years with bipartisan support, but were never even brought to a vote by the Democratic Senate majority. It also means renewing our commitment to repeal ObamaCare, which is hurting the job market along with Americans’ health care.

capitolFor years, the House did its job and produced a steady stream of bills that would remove barriers to job creation and lower energy costs for families. Many passed with bipartisan support—only to gather dust in a Democratic-controlled Senate that kept them from ever reaching the president’s desk. Senate Republicans also offered legislation that was denied consideration despite bipartisan support and benefits for American families and jobs.

These bills provide an obvious and potentially bipartisan starting point for the new Congress—and, for President Obama , a chance to begin the final years of his presidency by taking some steps toward a stronger economy.

These bills include measures authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which will mean lower energy costs for families and more jobs for American workers; the Hire More Heroes Act, legislation encouraging employers to hire more of our nation’s veterans; and a proposal to restore the traditional 40-hour definition of full-time employment, removing an arbitrary and destructive government barrier to more hours and better pay created by the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

We’ll also consider legislation to help protect and expand America’s emerging energy boom and to support innovative charter schools around the country.

Enacting such measures early in the new session will signal that the logjam in Washington has been broken, and help to establish a foundation of certainty and stability that both parties can build upon.

At a time of growing anxiety for the American people, with household incomes stubbornly flat and the nation facing rising threats on multiple fronts, this is vital work.

Will these bills single-handedly turn around the economy? No. But taking up bipartisan bills aimed at helping the economy that have already passed the House is a sensible and obvious first step.

More good ideas aimed at helping the American middle class will follow. And as we work to persuade others of their merit, we won’t repeat the mistakes made when a different majority ran Congress in the first years of Barack Obama’s presidency, attempting to reshape large chunks of the nation’s economy with massive bills that few Americans have read and fewer understand.

Instead, we will restore an era in which committees in both the House and Senate conduct meaningful oversight of federal agencies and develop and debate legislation; and where members of the minority party in both chambers are given the opportunity to participate in the process of governing.

We will oversee a legislature in which “bigger” isn’t automatically equated with “better” when it comes to writing and passing bills.

Our priorities in the 114th Congress will be your priorities. That means addressing head-on many of the most pressing challenges facing the country, including:

  • The insanely complex tax code that is driving American jobs overseas;
  • Health costs that continue to rise under a hopelessly flawed law that Americans have never supported;
  • A savage global terrorist threat that seeks to wage war on every American;
  • An education system that denies choice to parents and denies a good education to too many children;
  • Excessive regulations and frivolous lawsuits that are driving up costs for families and preventing the economy from growing;
  • An antiquated government bureaucracy ill-equipped to serve a citizenry facing 21st-century challenges, from disease control to caring for veterans;
  • A national debt that has Americans stealing from their children and grandchildren, robbing them of benefits that they will never see and leaving them with burdens that will be nearly impossible to repay.

January will bring the opportunity to begin anew. Republicans will return the focus to the issues at the top of your priority list. Your concerns will be our concerns. That’s our pledge.

The skeptics say nothing will be accomplished in the next two years. As elected servants of the people, we will make it our job to prove the skeptics wrong.

Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio), is the House speaker; Mr. McConnell (R., Ky.) is currently the Senate minority leader.

A Shellacking for Obama

How he can salvage his final two years after losing the Senate.
The Wall Street Journal

On the night of his 2012 re-election triumph, following his victory speech, President Obama walked off the stage and made separate phone calls to Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic campaign chairman Steve Israel . He told them he would spend the next two years helping Democrats retake the House in 2014, and he pledged to raise $50 million and devote his 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina to the task.

Two years later we know how that turned out. The Republicans on Tuesday defeated at least four incumbents to take control of the Senate and are adding to their majority in the House. Add the GOP sweep of most of the close races for Governor, including in states Mr. Obama won twice, and the vote is a major repudiation of the President’s governance.

That 2012 episode, reported at the time by the Washington Post, speaks volumes about the reason. Mr. Obama has consistently put liberal policy demands and partisanship above the goals of economic growth and compromise. Far from cementing a Democratic majority, his political posture has helped the GOP make a comeback. The question now is whether he will change enough to salvage his last two years as President.

Liberals are busy discounting Tuesday’s results as meaningless, a “Seinfeld” election about nothing, and it’s true that Republicans failed to offer much of a unified policy agenda. Yet the one issue that has been on the ballot everywhere this year is President Obama and his record.

The main common Republican theme has been linking incumbent Democrats to Mr. Obama and his 42% approval rating. In left-leaning Colorado they have moved the polls by charging that Mark Udall had voted with the President “99% of the time,” and in other states it was 96% or 98%. Mr. Udall lost.

Those Democrats in turn studiously avoided appearing with Mr. Obama, much less having him campaign for them, and the Senate challenger in Kentucky famously wouldn’t even say if she’d voted for him. Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn identified herself explicitly with George H.W. Bush. Mr. Obama was consigned to campaigning in heavily Democratic states, like Maryland.

Democratic incumbents claimed their votes for the President’s agenda were mostly “procedural,” but the problem is that all of them were with the White House on every vote that mattered. Each of them provided the last “aye” to get ObamaCare through the Senate. Most Democrats barely defended ObamaCare while promising vaguely to fix it, and GOP Senate candidates ran more ads against ObamaCare in October than on any other issue, according to Kantar Media/CMAG.

The GOP’s Senate sweep is especially impressive when you consider that they held all of their current seats, and they picked up Democratic seats in two states, Colorado and Iowa, that Mr. Obama carried twice. The last time the GOP defeated more than two Senate Democratic incumbents was in 1980. Majority Leader Harry Reid ’s strategy of shutting down the Senate stands repudiated.

The GOP also added to their House ranks, with a chance to have the largest Republican majority since the 1950s, and maybe the 1920s (if they hit 247 with a gain of 14 or more). That would be a cushion against potential losses in 2016 and give Speaker John Boehner more policy running room. After losing 63 seats in 2010, Mr. Obama appears to have lost more House seats for his party in midterm elections than any President since Eisenhower, who lost 66 in 1954 (18) and 1958 (48).

And flying below media radar, the GOP could add to its already large advantage in state legislatures—the building blocks of policy experimentation and future candidates for Congress. So much for Mr. Obama’s ambition to be the liberal Reagan.


The liberals who have cheered on Mr. Obama as he drove his party into this ditch are now advising that he should double down on partisanship. Veto everything. Rule by regulation, including a vast immigration diktat that would poison any chance of bipartisan and thus politically durable reform. Demonize Republicans at every opportunity to elect Hillary Clinton in 2016.

If we judge by Mr. Obama’s six-year record, that is what he will probably do. But there is a better way that would do more for the country and his own legacy. Start by recognizing that many Republicans want to do more than merely oppose him. They know their own political brand needs burnishing, and that even their most intense partisans want some results from electing Republicans.

Above all that should mean focusing on measures to lift the economy out of the 2% growth trap of the Obama years. We offered this same advice in 2012, pointing to the way rapid growth had helped Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan survive the traumas of their second terms.

Mr. Obama preferred the partisan satisfaction of forcing Republicans to swallow a tax increase, and he has insisted on $1 trillion more as his price for any entitlement reforms. He has preferred gridlock to ending automatic defense spending cuts. The result: Slow growth and falling incomes for all but the wealthy. This is not a legacy a liberal President wants to leave.

The way to avoid it is to work with Republicans in Congress on pro-growth policies. Several could be quick and easy victories. Repeal the medical-devices tax and fix ObamaCare’s bias against hiring full-time employees. Pass fast-track trade authority and the pan-Pacific trade pact. Liberate energy production and export. Trade more defense spending for more dollars for roads.

Immigration and tax reform would take more time, but both are also possible if Mr. Obama is willing to share credit and settle for less than everything he wants. The realist in us doesn’t expect he’ll take any of this advice, but it’s the only way he’ll revive his broken Presidency.

Landrieu, Mayo and Edwards Stand Little Chance in the Runoff

by Scott McKay via The Hayride

It may seem a victory of sorts for the Louisiana Democrat Party that in the three major races extant in this year’s election cycle they still have three candidates alive in a runoff this morning.

But the Democrats, and their candidates, shouldn’t take much joy in that fact. Mary Landrieu, Edwin Edwards and Jamie Mayo should all concede their races today and move on with their lives.

It’s the intelligent, and merciful, thing to do. Admit defeat and bow out gracefully.

For neither Landrieu, nor Edwards, nor Mayo are their races winnable. The margin of defeat awaiting them in December will be humbling. It will damage the Louisiana Democrat Party for years to come. Now is the time to set pride and vanity aside, and do what’s best for their families, their party and the people of Louisiana.

To all three of you, get out of your races.

Mayo was the sole Democrat running in Louisiana’s 5th District congressional race. The Democrats talked a big game about the get-out-the-vote operation they were going to support him with this year and how that 5th District race was going to be competitive, and even winnable, for them.

Mayo garnered a pitiful 28.22 percent. There was a Green Party candidate running in the race who managed 0.69 percent. The other 71 percent went to the seven Republicans and one Libertarian running in the race. There is no reason to believe Mayo will fare any better in the runoff than he did in the primary. With Ralph Abraham, who as of October 15 had managed to fuel his campaign with just under $500,000, now consolidating the Republican vote behind him a beating of gargantuan proportions is in the offing. Abraham is going to stomp Mayo by at least a two-to-one margin on Dec. 6.

There is no particular purpose in running a month-long campaign destined to be doubled-up by a better-funded opponent more in tune with the wishes of the electorate. Mayo has already run his race and been judged by the voters. In getting out he can spare the voters a month of TV and radio ads and political mailers. What’s more, he can get back to doing the job he already has, that being mayor of Monroe. His constituents would assumedly benefit from having a full-time, engaged chief executive rather than some political-hack Don Quixote perpetuating division among the public.

For Edwards, whom we already predicted would retire from the race, Tuesday night’s results had to be seen as a repudiation. Some 70 percent of the public took his measure as a candidate and found him wanting. That includes Democrats; two minor candidates with D’s next to their names combined for 4.39 percent of the vote to Edwards’ 30.12 percent. With 34.5 percent as the total Democrat vote Tuesday, which is a reasonable expectation as a ceiling for what he can do in a runoff, the electoral shellacking so long due the most venal and corrupt politician in Louisiana political history awaits him in 31 days.

Edwards has faced just such a wrath of the voters before. In 1987, after four years spent presiding over a disastrous state economy, a corrupt and dysfunctional state government and what could very well have been a conviction on public corruption charges Edwards faced very similar numbers to those he faces today. He got out of that race and let Buddy Roemer claim victory as the top vote-getter among four reform-minded gubernatorial candidates. Edwards did manage to re-inflict himself on the voters four years later and won the worst election in Louisiana (if not American) history, but his final term in office led to more managerial dysfunction, economic malaise and his own conviction on racketeering charges.

Such a squalid and dishonorable record as a putative public servant is the rightful source of shame and penitence. Not for Edwards, who before Anthony Weiner came along held the title of America’s most notorious political attention whore. Up until last night this vainglorious old man persisted in bragging he was a presidential pardon away from getting elected governor and that if he could run against Bobby Jindal he would win. Such is his hubris.

In Garret Graves, Edwin Edwards faces the nemesis to that hubris. Graves, who raised well over a million dollars in coming from bureaucratic obscurity to finish with 27 percent of the 65.5 percent non-Democrat share of the vote last night, might well match his primary fundraising figure by Friday. Raising campaign cash to banish Edwin Edwards into political oblivion might well become a national pastime by the end of this week; one can easily imagine Graves’ coffers overflowing with donations from Maine to Hawaii once the national public sees an attractive young Republican reformer and fighter for Louisiana’s coast matched against so embarrassing a figure.

And for the next month, Graves will delight in putting Edwards on trial before a 6th District public which has demonstrated itself to be a jury not of Edwards’ liking. The mailers and TV commercials and radio ads Graves’ campaign team can light off against him will set fire to whatever he thinks is left of his reputation. Graves himself has already offered up Edwards’ marriage to a 30-something trophy wife as an item of fun, referring to his wife Trina as one of his children, and when he does it he always gets a laugh out of the crowd. It’s only going to get worse, and Edwards, who at 86 years old no longer has the energy and drive of his younger years, has nothing left to offer to the voters, his party or his own ego.

And for Landrieu, Tuesday was an ignominious disaster. Her entire election strategy depended on stealing a march to 50 percent plus one last night. Not only didn’t she meet that goal, she wasn’t close. In fact, until the Orleans Parish vote came in toward the end of the vote-counting she was not only behind Bill Cassidy but under 40 percent. Only when the last 120 or so precincts in Orleans bore their usual Democrat fruit did Landrieu manage to barely inch ahead of Cassidy. She managed just 42 percent.

Where is the ceiling for Landrieu in what is sure to be a more Republican electorate in December? Add the other Democrat votes, those for Wayne Ables, Val Senegal and William Waymire, to her total and she’s just above 43 percent – of last night’s electorate.

Mary Landrieu spent (just as of October 15; certainly the true figure is considerably higher) some $13.6 million on this race. To finish with 10 percent less in November of 2014 than she earned in November of 2008.

Despite the ludicrous statements last night about how the runoff is “the race we always wanted” in what should have been her concession speech, Landrieu has no path to victory in 31 days. What she has in front of her is a trail of tears, and a repudiation by the voters which will destroy her family’s supposed electoral strength in this state.

Bill Cassidy nearly beat her outright last night. Cassidy fell just 16,000 votes shy of placing ahead of her. Meanwhile, Cassidy can count on the vast majority of the 202,000 votes Rob Maness amassed last night, and add to his figure the 27,000 votes fellow Republican Thomas Clements and Libertarian Brannon McMorris brought in. As of right now Landrieu is staring a 57-43 tsunami in the face – with the electorate as it was last night.

We know the electorate will not be what it was last night on Dec. 6. We know that it will be more Republican, and whiter. We know that Landrieu’s incomprehensibly irresponsible and stupid remarks about how Louisiana and the rest of the South are racist and sexist will live in infamy for the next 31 days, and that whiter electorate will offer her its wrath next month. And no, she won’t be saved by an influx of Democrat money and union shoe leather; the national Left isn’t riding to her aid. Not when it has been so thoroughly destroyed across the country. There is no rescue, there is no cavalry, there is no salvation.

There is only defeat, and ignominious defeat, at that.

It’s time for Landrieu, and Edwards and Mayo, to have the humility and the intelligence, and the dignity, to spare themselves and their voters the spectacle of the lost cause playing out to its denouement. It’s time for the three of them to concede their races so Louisiana can join the nation in moving on from this year’s election cycle.

Camille Paglia: A Feminist Defense of Masculine Virtues

Weekend interview with the Wall Street Journal

‘What you’re seeing is how a civilization commits suicide,” says Camille Paglia. This self-described “notorious Amazon feminist” isn’t telling anyone to Lean In or asking Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. No, her indictment may be as surprising as it is wide-ranging: The military is out of fashion, Americans undervalue manual labor, schools neuter male students, opinion makers deny the biological differences between men and women, and sexiness is dead. And that’s just 20 minutes of our three-hour conversation.

When Ms. Paglia, now 66, burst onto the national stage in 1990 with the publishing of “Sexual Personae,” she immediately established herself as a feminist who was the scourge of the movement’s establishment, a heretic to its orthodoxy. Pick up the 700-page tome, subtitled “Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, ” and it’s easy to see why. “If civilization had been left in female hands,” she wrote, “we would still be living in grass huts.”

The fact that the acclaimed book—the first of six; her latest, “Glittering Images,” is a survey of Western art—was rejected by seven publishers and five agents before being printed by Yale University Press only added to Ms. Paglia’s sense of herself as a provocateur in a class with Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. But unlike those radio jocks, Ms. Paglia has scholarly chops: Her dissertation adviser at Yale was Harold Bloom, and she is as likely to discuss Freud, Oscar Wilde or early Native American art as to talk about Miley Cyrus.

Ms. Paglia relishes her outsider persona, having previously described herself as an egomaniac and “abrasive, strident and obnoxious.” Talking to her is like a mental CrossFit workout. One moment she’s praising pop star Rihanna (“a true artist”), then blasting ObamaCare (“a monstrosity,” though she voted for the president), global warming (“a religious dogma”), and the idea that all gay people are born gay (“the biggest canard,” yet she herself is a lesbian).

But no subject gets her going more than when I ask if she really sees a connection between society’s attempts to paper over the biological distinction between men and women and the collapse of Western civilization.

She starts by pointing to the diminished status of military service. “The entire elite class now, in finance, in politics and so on, none of them have military service—hardly anyone, there are a few. But there is no prestige attached to it anymore. That is a recipe for disaster,” she says. “These people don’t think in military ways, so there’s this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we’re just nice and benevolent to everyone they’ll be nice too. They literally don’t have any sense of evil or criminality.”

The results, she says, can be seen in everything from the dysfunction in Washington (where politicians “lack practical skills of analysis and construction”) to what women wear. “So many women don’t realize how vulnerable they are by what they’re doing on the street,” she says, referring to women who wear sexy clothes.

When she has made this point in the past, Ms. Paglia—who dresses in androgynous jackets and slacks—has been told that she believes “women are at fault for their own victimization.” Nonsense, she says. “I believe that every person, male and female, needs to be in a protective mode at all times of alertness to potential danger. The world is full of potential attacks, potential disasters.” She calls it “street-smart feminism.”

Ms. Paglia argues that the softening of modern American society begins as early as kindergarten. “Primary-school education is a crock, basically. It’s oppressive to anyone with physical energy, especially guys,” she says, pointing to the most obvious example: the way many schools have cut recess. “They’re making a toxic environment for boys. Primary education does everything in its power to turn boys into neuters.”

She is not the first to make this argument, as Ms. Paglia readily notes. Fellow feminist Christina Hoff Sommers has written about the “war against boys” for more than a decade. The notion was once met with derision, but now data back it up: Almost one in five high-school-age boys has been diagnosed with ADHD, boys get worse grades than girls and are less likely to go to college.

Ms. Paglia observes this phenomenon up close with her 11-year-old son, Lucien, whom she is raising with her ex-partner, Alison Maddex, an artist and public-school teacher who lives 2 miles away. She sees the tacit elevation of “female values”—such as sensitivity, socialization and cooperation—as the main aim of teachers, rather than fostering creative energy and teaching hard geographical and historical facts.

By her lights, things only get worse in higher education. “This PC gender politics thing—the way gender is being taught in the universities—in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness.” The result: Upper-middle-class men who are “intimidated” and “can’t say anything. . . . They understand the agenda.” In other words: They avoid goring certain sacred cows by “never telling the truth to women” about sex, and by keeping “raunchy” thoughts and sexual fantasies to themselves and their laptops.

Politically correct, inadequate education, along with the decline of America’s brawny industrial base, leaves many men with “no models of manhood,” she says. “Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies. There’s nothing left. There’s no room for anything manly right now.” The only place you can hear what men really feel these days, she claims, is on sports radio. No surprise, she is an avid listener. The energy and enthusiasm “inspires me as a writer,” she says, adding: “If we had to go to war,” the callers “are the men that would save the nation.”

And men aren’t the only ones suffering from the decline of men. Women, particularly elite upper-middle-class women, have become “clones” condemned to “Pilates for the next 30 years,” Ms. Paglia says. “Our culture doesn’t allow women to know how to be womanly,” adding that online pornography is increasingly the only place where men and women in our sexless culture tap into “primal energy” in a way they can’t in real life.

A key part of the remedy, she believes, is a “revalorization” of traditional male trades—the ones that allow women’s studies professors to drive to work (roads), take the elevator to their office (construction), read in the library (electricity), and go to gender-neutral restrooms (plumbing).

“Michelle Obama’s going on: ‘Everybody must have college.’ Why? Why? What is the reason why everyone has to go to college? Especially when college is so utterly meaningless right now, it has no core curriculum” and “people end up saddled with huge debts,” says Ms. Paglia. What’s driving the push toward universal college is “social snobbery on the part of a lot of upper-middle-class families who want the sticker in the window.”

Ms. Paglia, who has been a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia since 1984, sees her own students as examples. “I have woodworking students who, even while they’re in class, are already earning money making furniture and so on,” she says. “My career has been in art schools cause I don’t get along with normal academics.”

To hear her tell it, getting along has never been Ms. Paglia’s strong suit. As a child, she felt stifled by the expectations of girlhood in the 1950s. She fantasized about being a knight, not a princess. Discovering pioneering female figures as a teenager, most notably Amelia Earhart, transformed Ms. Paglia’s understanding of what her future might hold.

These iconoclastic women of the 1930s, like Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, remain her ideal feminist role models: independent, brave, enterprising, capable of competing with men without bashing them. But since at least the late 1960s, she says, fellow feminists in the academy stopped sharing her vision of “equal-opportunity feminism” that demands a level playing field without demanding special quotas or protections for women.

She proudly recounts her battle, while a graduate student at Yale in the late 1960s and early ’70s, with the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band over the Rolling Stones: Ms. Paglia loved “Under My Thumb,” a song the others regarded as chauvinist. Then there was the time she “barely got through the dinner” with a group of women’s studies professors at Bennington College, where she had her first teaching job, who insisted that there is no hormonal difference between men and women. “I left before dessert.”

In her view, these ideological excesses bear much of the blame for the current cultural decline. She calls out activists like Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf and Susan Faludi for pushing a version of feminism that says gender is nothing more than a social construct, and groups like the National Organization for Women for making abortion the singular women’s issue.

By denying the role of nature in women’s lives, she argues, leading feminists created a “denatured, antiseptic” movement that “protected their bourgeois lifestyle” and falsely promised that women could “have it all.” And by impugning women who chose to forgo careers to stay at home with children, feminists turned off many who might have happily joined their ranks.

But Ms. Paglia’s criticism shouldn’t be mistaken for nostalgia for the socially prescribed roles for men and women before the 1960s. Quite the contrary. “I personally have disobeyed every single item of the gender code,” says Ms. Paglia. But men, and especially women, need to be honest about the role biology plays and clear-eyed about the choices they are making.

Sex education, she says, simply focuses on mechanics without conveying the real “facts of life,” especially for girls: “I want every 14-year-old girl . . . to be told: You better start thinking what do you want in life. If you just want a career and no children you don’t have much to worry about. If, however, you are thinking you’d like to have children some day you should start thinking about when do you want to have them. Early or late? To have them early means you are going to make a career sacrifice, but you’re going to have more energy and less risks. Both the pros and the cons should be presented.”

For all of Ms. Paglia’s barbs about the women’s movement, it seems clear that feminism—at least of the equal-opportunity variety—has triumphed in its basic goals. There is surely a lack of women in the C-Suite and Congress, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a man who would admit that he believes women are less capable. To save feminism as a political movement from irrelevance, Ms. Paglia says, the women’s movement should return to its roots. That means abandoning the “nanny state” mentality that led to politically correct speech codes and college disciplinary committees that have come to replace courts. The movement can win converts, she says, but it needs to become a big tent, one “open to stay-at-home moms” and “not just the career woman.”

More important, Ms. Paglia says, if the women’s movement wants to be taken seriously again, it should tackle serious matters, like rape in India and honor killings in the Muslim world, that are “more of an outrage than some woman going on a date on the Brown University campus.”

Conservatives’ Suicidal Impulses Are Slowing Cassidy Down

by Jeff Sadow via The Hayride

So Rep. Bill Cassidy a quarter-century ago expressed skepticism about the Strategic Defense Initiative and more defense spending in general. That these remarks of the then-Democrat, now leading Republican candidate for the Senate in Louisiana got reported at all underscores a phenomenon about the propensity for Democrats to make themselves into a ring and fire outwards at their political enemies, while Republicans do a 180 and fire at each other.

Since then, Cassidy has become considerably older and wiser, as his lifetime American Conservative Union voting record of nearly 87 attests, higher than the chamber’s GOP member average of around 84. Yet among some conservatives, he still remains suspect with all sorts of convoluted and unconvincing efforts to paint his as the same as the incumbent that he challenges Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, no doubt rooted on by the Landrieu campaign that hopes this results in discouraging enough of the conservative vote to fail to turn out to vote in Cassidy and/or has his campaign waste resources by feeling it must respond to the baseless charge that he is not conservative enough.

Only this past week another presumed answer for the small cabal calling Cassidy impure, state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, passed on a candidacy and then endorsed Cassidy, while new Louisiana resident Rob Maness picked up the first substantial endorsement from conservatives that Cassidy has not gotten, which gives him a chance to pull in third-party spending of about 10 percent of what Cassidy has on hand. And don’t be surprised if it wasn’t Landrieu opposition research that found the 1988 letter to the editor now being publicized.

If so, it’s because Landrieu instinctively understands what David Horowitz recently and brilliantly laid out as to why Democrats can win campaigns despite having a message contrary to the reality majorities perceive, precisely because lberalism is not built on reality but appeals to emotion. Horowitz, who began his political life as a committed Marxist, understands well that the political left is built on faith, not reason, with a true belief that it is on the side of history’s inevitable path, and that apostasy to that faith is a sign of immorality whose adherents must be crushed. This panting need to affiliate behind the use of government to bring this transformation provides exceptional unitary impetus.

By contrast, conservatives don’t see themselves as part of a transformational movement simply because they see government not as something to alter human nature (which is immutable and therefore this attempt brings tyranny), but as a necessary evil to temper the worst aspects of human nature. There’s no call to collective action rallying around faith that dislodges reason and unites as in the case of liberals, but instead engages in critical appraisal of government-as-Prometheus, precisely because when unbound it can produce collective action that threatens freedom. This rejection of sublimation of individuality to pursue the collective in favor of equipping individuals to fight sublimation by the collective makes it naturally harder for conservatives to pursue a unified agenda and arouses suspicions that real or imagined “backsliders” already have submitted to sublimation.

Thus, the left tries to exploit these divisions for its own gain, and some are more than willing to be the useful idiots being played. There’s nothing wrong when there is healthy debate and dissent within the right, because this is the strength of conservatism in America in that its ideas are tested and proven through this process, whereas the left hangs on to its bromides regardless of the facts and logic that expose their invalidity, with its preferred method of debate being to shout down opponents by indulging in name-calling, shifting to non sequiturs, and proclaiming inconvenient truths as illegitimate. But at the same time, among Republicans creation of false controversies (egged on by Democrats) and elevating trivial differences over issues into schismatic ruptures only plays into Democrats’ hands.

The Maness campaign is a classic example of this tendency, highlighting a few narrow differences between him and Cassidy, then using this as the basis to declare Cassidy and Landrieu as largely indistinguishable. No serious or studied observer would buy this. In this particular race, with credibility one can campaign on conservative credentials, ability to influence policy, electability, and candidate image, but there’s none with proclaiming Cassidy a RINO.

But the likes of Maness continue to peddle this, Landrieu operatives amplify it, and the media is more than happy to report on it to gain audiences and in the minds of many within it to facilitate liberalism. So do not expect the “challenger to the right of Cassidy” narrative to go away from months to come, because it serves the interests of both certain conservatives and liberals.

Tim Scott Could Have Been Ted Cruz. Here’s Why He Passed.

By Ben Terris via National Journal

“Y’all make me want to preach,” Sen. Tim Scott said, walking animatedly on the stage at the Values Voters Summit early this month. “I’ll tell ya what. I’m getting kinda excited over here. Can I get an amen?” The crowd of religious, conservative, and mostly older white voters hollered back. It may be the closest thing any of them ever get to a black church—and it was a dream come true.

“You gotta understand that my momma wanted a preacher and she got a politician, so let us pray,” Scott said, getting down on one knee and letting out a growl that would have made Howard Dean blush. Scott knows how to work a crowd and put himself at the center of attention. Swept into the House as part of the 2010 tea-party wave, the freshman from South Carolina earned himself a spot at the leadership table and seemed to draw strength from the scrum of journalists that followed him.

But what’s even more interesting is that ever since Scott was appointed to the Senate 10 months ago, he’s also made it clear he knows how to stay out of the limelight—which was not necessarily how it had to be. He sits in the old seat of former Sen. and tea-party godfather Jim DeMint and has been cited by Sen. Ted Cruz as part of the “new generation of great leaders” in the upper chamber. And although his ideological stances are in line with those of the junior senator from Texas, Scott still comes across as the anti-Cruz.

“Figuring out how to fix the system takes a different approach than just learning how to burn it down,” Scott said in an interview. “That may just get you a fire.”

Scott has walked a delicate line between the tea-party firebrand he was in the House and the unseen-and-unheard role that freshman senators have traditionally assumed. Yes, Scott would like to see Obamacare defunded, but you didn’t hear him saying so as part of Cruz’s 21-hour filibuster-like attack. He voted against the recent deal to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. But unlike some of his conservative colleagues, he also voted to at least move the measure to the Senate floor.

“I can get a lot of press by jumping on TV for issues that inflame the electorate, but I’m really looking at how we create the country for the 22nd century, not just for now,” he said. Scott is playing the long game: meeting with senators on both sides of the aisle on issues he’d like to tackle down the road and learning the process, knowing that both efforts will pay off when it comes time to write legislation. Cruz might be more famous, but it will probably be a while before anything he writes sees time on the Senate docket.

Like all Republicans in Congress, Scott says that reining in government spending is a top priority. But he also plans to make a name for himself on the education issue. Expect proposals to do away with such things as Common Core, the national initiative aimed at standardizing state curricula.

Scott, an African-American, is also taking the time to try to diversify the Republican Party, speaking at historically black schools. When Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tried to do a similar thing at Howard University earlier this year, he was basically laughed out of the building.

“He’s not going to let one specific issue or land mine get in his way,” said Katon Dawson, the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. “Maybe once he has 14 or 16 years of seniority, he’ll start throwing bombs.”

It probably won’t take that long, but the point still resonates, especially in South Carolina. Unlike Cruz, Scott has to face voters twice in the next four years (if he wins in 2014—which is widely expected—he will still have to run in 2016, when DeMint’s term would have been up). A recent poll of Republican voters conducted by Clemson University found that only 6 percent of them disapprove of the job Scott is doing. To put that in perspective, Scott’s embattled colleague, Lindsey Graham, had a 36 percent disapproval rating in that same survey. Nationally, Cruz has a 21 percent disapproval rating among GOP voters, according to a recent Pew poll.

Having so few people unhappy with you is an accomplishment given the current state of congressional politics, and it’s especially true in Scott’s home state. Being an amalgamation of evangelical and business interests keeps the Palmetto State solidly Republican, but it also makes it exceedingly difficult to please all of the people all of the time. In 2008, Buddy Witherspoon challenged Graham from the right and won 33 percent of the votes in the GOP primary. On the other hand, DeMint faced opposition from the center in 2002 when his opponent won 38 percent of the vote.

Graham has already drawn three primary opponents in 2014. Scott? Zero. Part of what makes Scott such a good politician is that he’s been at it for a deceptively long time. As part of that 2010 tea-party wave, Scott came into the House with a new class of citizen-legislators, neophytes whose last line on their résumés might read NFL lineman, auctioneer, radio personality, or funeral-home director. But Scott has been in some sort of elective office since he ran for the Charleston City Council in 1995. Which means he has the skills to win—and to keep his job.

“He knows not to pick fights that aren’t winnable,” Dawson said. “There’s nothing wrong with picking a fight, but Republicans would like to win one every once in a while.”

Is Holder Starting To Realize What A Mess The Voucher Suit Is?

By Scott McKay via The Hayride

Yesterday, an announcement by the Department of Justice appeared to signal “an end” to its lawsuit against the state of Louisiana over the desegregation implications of the latter’s school voucher program. This item appeared at the Washington Post’s site

Under the supervision of a federal court, Louisiana has agreed to supply the Justice Department with data about its controversial school voucher program and to analyze whether the vouchers are re-segregating schools that are under federal orders to achieve a balance between white and black students.

In a letter Tuesday to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik called the agreement a “significant breakthrough” in the standoff between Louisiana and the Justice Department over the voucher program.

Except the Jindal administration seized upon the DOJ’s media initiative and hammered it mercilessly…

Governor Bobby Jindal blasted the U.S. Department of Justice’s P.R. stunt today when the department sent a letter to U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner citing a legal motion that attempts to rebrand the Obama Administration’s legal challenge to the Louisiana Scholarship Program, but continues to seek to impede the scholarship program.

Governor Jindal said that despite the Obama Administration’s claims today that it is backing down from their opposition to the Louisiana Scholarship Program, the U.S. Department of Justice has not with withdrawn its request for an injunction prohibiting the Louisiana Scholarship Program from granting scholarships for next school year unless a federal court first approves parents’ decisions about where they want to send their children to school.

Governor Jindal said, “The Obama Administration’s latest maneuver is nothing more than a P.R. stunt. While attempting to rebrand its legal challenge as merely an attempt to seek information about implementation of the scholarship program, the administration’s real motive still stands – forcing parents to go to federal court to seek approval for where they want to send their children to school.

“The Obama Administration’s letter is disingenuous. The administration claims the state is suddenly providing information, when in reality, the information the federal government is seeking does not even exist yet. And they know it.

“The federal government is attempting to retreat in name only, but is not backing off its attack on Louisiana parents. The Obama Administration is doubling down on its belief that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. know better than Louisiana parents.

“The only real retreat is to drop the lawsuit entirely and move on from this backwards lawsuit that is trying to deny equal opportunity for Louisiana children.”

Jindal’s rhetoric was perhaps needlessly combative, but it’s clear that DOJ has gone from declaring the voucher program violative of desegregation orders and seeking an injunction stopping its implementation in 22 parishes for the next academic year to seeking…something else. Exactly what that is, at this point, isn’t clear.

The letter to Boehner came in response to a letter the Speaker had sent to Holder suggesting that he drop the suit. The Baton Rouge Advocate covers what was in DOJ’s response…

In its letter Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department reiterated it is not opposing the voucher program and is only trying to determine if desegregation orders apply to the program and whether the vouchers are harming desegregation efforts.

“To be clear, we are neither opposing Louisiana’s school voucher program nor seeking to revoke any vouchers from any students,” the letter stated. “When properly run, state and local voucher programs need not conflict with legal requirements to desegregate schools.”

The letter also added to Boehner and others that, “You should be aware that it is not clear that all of the new schools for which children are receiving vouchers in Louisiana provide opportunities that are better than or even equal to those in their old schools.”

The Justice letter specifically noted the case of New Living Word School in Lincoln Parish that initially had about 300 vouchers approved — ultimately receiving about 100 — and the school had no teachers or classrooms and only showed students educational videos.

The Justice Department said Louisiana has given vouchers this school year to students in at least 22 districts remaining under desegregation orders.

In court papers, the department said Louisiana distributed vouchers in 2012-13 to almost 600 public school students in districts that are still under such orders, and many of those vouchers impeded the desegregation process.

The department cited the example of an elementary school losing five white students because of the voucher program, reinforcing the racial identity of the school as a black school.

In another example, the lawsuit said a majority-white school in a majority-black district lost six black students because of vouchers, reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school.

What’s at stake here, clearly, is DOJ’s interest in desegregation orders which have no relevance in the 21st century in Louisiana. The fact is that most of the 22 parishes under desegregation orders are no less segregated now than they were when those orders were installed – not because of any racist motive by school boards or politicians, but because the desegregation orders have generally so impeded the proper function of those school systems that anyone who could escape the end product of those systems by fleeing to other systems or private schools, leaving the poor to wallow in what remains.

Which the voucher program seeks to address for those parents and children who want it.

It’s an absurd situation, and the optics of it – the DOJ is suing to keep mostly poor black kids trapped in failed public schools, in places where failed public schools are largely the product of desegregation orders the DOJ helped create, because DOJ thinks the desegregation orders are more important than the freedom to attend the school you think best for you and your child – couldn’t be worse.

To Jindal’s credit, he has worked the politics of the lawsuit to his and Louisiana’s advantage by going on every TV show and op-ed page he can in order to slam the Justice Department. John Maginnis notes, though with a too-dismissive take on the import of the voucher system, the benefit the governor has derived from the suit…

Gov. Bobby Jindal may call the lawsuit brought by President Barack Obama’s administration against the state’s voucher program “cynical, immoral, hypocritical and more,” but he’s got to love the big guy for it. Had the U.S. Justice Department not intervened, Jindal’s already-embattled scholarship program may have shriveled and faded in years to come, under funding pressure from the Legislature and legal challenges from school boards and teacher unions. Instead, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder snatched it from oblivion with the high-profile lawsuit that the governor is turning into a higher-profile political issue.

That Maginnis piece was written even before the DOJ’s strange pivot to an information-gathering posture. Now it looks obvious that, having created a firestorm on its own estate, Holder and his goons are seeking a way out.

They’ll never admit it, of course, but it’s hard to see the recent developments in the case any other way.

And the lesson for states like Louisiana who find themselves beset by thuggish legal actions from DOJ aimed at derailing policies the Obama administration doesn’t favor is to fight DOJ tooth and nail, and make the biggest political stink possible over the suits.

In Louisiana’s case, the fight could produce real benefits – namely, that there is a real chance the voucher suit could result in a lifting of some or all of the desegregation orders. Their effects at this point are as absurd as the DOJ’s suit to enforce them against voucher parents.