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.

 

Obama’s DOJ Destroys all Semblance of Decency with Attack on Louisiana’s Voucher Program

The judicial assault by President Obama’s Justice Department on Louisiana’s school voucher initiative makes me shake with anger and sick with sadness at the Administration’s absurd contention that the program violates decades-old desegregation plans.

As Clint Bolick writes in his Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday, “The statewide program provides tuition vouchers to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty line whose children otherwise would attend public schools that the state has graded C, D or F. This year, roughly 8,000 children are using vouchers to attend private schools. Among those, 91% are minority and 86% would have attended public schools with D or F grades.”

Ninety-one percent are minority — that statistic bears repeating because by definition, the federal desegregation programs of the ’70s and ’80s were expressly designed to integrate minorities and whites in public schools. What possible difference could it make if the Louisiana program — or any other state’s program for that matter — accomplishes the same goal utilizing private, parochial, or charter schools?

Teachers unions and liberal lawmakers would say the answer is rooted in money. If public money leaves a public school, then teachers will have fewer resources and the schools will surely fail. Um, hello? The schools were already failing! That’s the very reason the voucher program was created.

Justice Department regulators say the answer is the resulting disproportionate ratio in those public schools as defined in the various desegregation decrees. What a bunch of malarkey.

The real answer is politics. Justice’s move isn’t based on any education goal or principle; instead the Department’s liberal lawyers are attempting to inject race into Louisiana’s program for the express purpose of scoring a political victory over a Republican governor who garnered bipartisan legislative support to take on the failing public school morass and provide opportunity for all of Louisiana’s children, regardless of their race or socio-economic status.

Let’s face it: Louisiana’s school-age children need any and all options available, given the deplorable condition of the state’s public education system. In 2012, 464 schools received a D or F grade by the Louisiana Department of Education. The children in those schools deserve the chance to attend better programs.

Ironically, as Mr. Bolick points out, desegregation and school choice should have the same goal. “Properly understood, desegregation and school choice share a common aim: educational opportunity. In its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court made that paramount goal clear, recognizing ‘it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.'”

Despite these words of wisdom from the high court, the verdict is clear — the liberals prefer racial ratios over educational opportunity for the very children they purport to champion.

#numbersoverknowledge
#decreesoverdiplomas
#lawyersoverlearning

Conservatives Eat Their Own for Profit

By Brian Walsh, Special to U.S. News & World Report
September 12, 2013

As chairman of  the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in 2010, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), led what has been cited as the “GOP’s greatest expansion in the House since the Eisenhower Administration.”

For more than two years, Sessions spent countless hours recruiting strong candidates and raising tens of millions of dollars that were pumped into Republican campaigns around the country. On November 2, 2010, House Republicans won a net gain of 63  seats and Nancy Pelosi’s days as speaker of the House were over.

And as a congressman representing the 32nd Congressional District of  Texas  for the last 16 years, Sessions has also been a staunch conservative.  Among other distinctions, he’s received an A+ rating from the National Rifle  Association, a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life and a 97 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. His conservative  credentials are second to none.

Yet this week, the Senate Conservatives Fund – a super PAC run out  of a Capitol Hill townhouse  by operatives of former U.S. Senator Jim  DeMint – called Sessions a “Texas  RINO” (that’s a  Republican-In-Name-Only for those unfamiliar with the term) and   threatened to “actively recruit and fund a primary challenger” against  him next  year.

In a  widely-distributed fundraising email that harkened memories of General Custer exhorting his troops before the Battle of Little Bighorn, SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins went so far as to write, “We can’t sit back and let wishy-washy Republicans like Pete Sessions destroy our freedoms.”

The career-threatening offense committed by this lifelong  conservative leader? As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions does not appear willing to help march Republicans off a political  cliff and risk the House majority by shutting down the government – cutting off checks to military families and seniors and putting at  great risk the recent spending cuts achieved through sequestration – over a fantastical fight to “defund” Obamacare.

Never-mind, of  course, that in 2011 even the Heritage Foundation,  which today has joined with SCF to attack Republicans over Obamacare,  called it a “dirty little  secret” that Obamacare can’t truly be defunded.

Never-mind, of course, that as a senator himself in 2011, now-president of the Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint voted for a  continuing resolution to keep the government, and hence, Obamacare, “funded,” which he and his allies equate today with supporting the law.

Never-mind that even staunchly conservative senators like Tom Coburn have correctly observed that Republicans, after failing to win control of the White House and Senate in 2012, flat-out do not have the votes currently to cut off Obamacare funding and, more importantly, to repeal-and-replace this terrible  law.

Never-mind that after funding disastrous Senate candidates like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, the Senate Conservatives Fund played a key role in the Republicans’ failure to win that Senate majority.

None of that  matters – this is about political cash, not political principle.

In fact, the Senate Conservatives  Fund and Heritage Action, the political arm of the once well-respected Heritage Foundation, have spent more money so far on attack ads this year against House  and  Senate Republicans than the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee,  Democratic  Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic National  Committee,  combined. All the while, virtually every Senate Democrat up  for  re-election in 2014 – all of whom were the deciding vote on Obamacare – has  been given a free pass by these groups.

You see, money begets TV ads which  begets even more money for these  groups’ personal coffers. Pointing fingers and attacking Republicans is  apparently a very profitable fundraising  business. It’s also a detriment to the future of the Republican party and the critical effort to defend the House and win back the Senate in 2014.

Fortunately, more and more conservative members of Congress are  standing up and joining with Coburn and telling these  groups, enough is enough. Roll Call yesterday quoted Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling saying recently:

The folks at Heritage Action and [the Club for  Growth] don’t have their pictures on my voting card or yours. And I’m tired of them elevating small tactical differences to a scorecard, and I’ve told them that.

While Georgia Republican Rep. Rob  Woodall said he thought Heritage Action and the Club for Growth were jeopardizing the sequester spending cuts:

“You risk losing on spending in the effort to win on Obamacare,” Woodall said. He said he thought the two groups were “overpromising” conservatives and that, even if conservatives achieve successes with spending and Obamacare, Republicans would be “underdelivering” in the minds of constituents.

And North Carolina Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers told the Washington Post last week:

“They’ve used bully tactics, and they’re going way beyond the scope of promoting conservative ideology,” she  said. “They are now trying to  influence members of Congress through what I  consider very threatening  actions.” Ellmers said she relied on Heritage  Foundation research when she was first elected in 2010 but no longer: “To me,  it is tainted.”

In the days ahead, the rest of  their Republican House colleagues have an important choice to make – to sheepishly follow groups that are currently existing solely to attack Republicans, while ignoring the  Democrats, or to focus on winning the long-term  war, and not a one day battle with a pre-determined outcome.

In our great democracy, you affect public policy by offering a vision, influencing a majority of public opinion and winning elections – not by burning down the House, attacking your allies, and falling on  your sword.

Republican Lawmakers Retaliate Against Heritage Foundation

Scalise, RSC Take a Big Stand
by Tim Alberta, National Journal

Since Republicans regained control of the House in 2011, conservative outside groups have executed a relentless pressure campaign aimed at pushing the House majority further toward the base, and impressing upon lawmakers the risks of voting against the recommendation of these right-wing rainmakers.

But after a summertime spat over agriculture policy, GOP lawmakers decided to push back.

According to several sources with direct knowledge of the situation, the Republican Study Committee—a group of 172 conservative House members—has barred Heritage Foundation employees from attending its weekly meeting in the Capitol. The conservative think tank has been a presence at RSC meetings for decades and enjoys a close working relationship with the committee and its members. But that relationship is now stretched thin, sources say, due to a series of policy disputes that culminated with a blowup over last month’s vote on the the farm bill.

RSC Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., told Heritage officials of his decision last month.

“The Heritage Foundation and the RSC have a longstanding relationship in developing and promoting conservative solutions to the problems facing our nation, and we are proud to continue that tradition to this day through regular joint events and briefings,” said Stephen Bell, spokesman for Scalise and the RSC.

Still, the move to effectively kick Heritage out of the weekly RSC meeting represents “a seismic shift” in the relationship between the two institutions, according to one high-ranking Capitol Hill aide.

The acrimony can be traced to a pair of summer showdowns over agriculture policy.

In June, as the House prepared to vote on an extension of the farm bill—an enormous legislative package that governs everything from crop subsidies to food-stamp policy—conservative lawmakers and outside groups rallied in opposition. Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the right-wing think tank, called for the bill to be split into two pieces—one dealing specifically with agriculture policy (called a “farm-only bill”) and another legislating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the food-stamp program known as SNAP.

Members of the RSC agreed. In fact, Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana sponsored an amendment that would accomplish exactly what Heritage Action and other outside groups were advocating: splitting the farm bill. Stutzman’s amendment failed, however, and Heritage Action issued a key vote alert warning lawmakers to vote “no” on the farm bill. (If they voted “yes,” members faced consequences, anything from a demerit on their Heritage Action “scorecard” to a 30-second radio ad launched back in their districts.)

The vast majority of GOP lawmakers, including many conservatives from rural districts, ignored the outcry from the right and voted for the bill. But in the end, 62 House Republicans sided with Heritage Action, enough to help Democrats defeat a bill that they denounced for its steep cuts to safety-net programs.

For Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who had publicly endorsed the farm bill, the defeat was a black eye. Within hours, members of his leadership team were conferring with leading RSC members who had opposed the legislation, and soliciting suggestions on how to pass a revised farm bill. Their response: Split the agriculture policy into a separate bill—just as the outside groups have been advocating—and we’ll vote yes.

Boehner and his team eventually agreed, and three weeks later a farm-only bill came to the House floor. Of the 62 Republicans who voted against the first farm bill, 48 supported this second iteration, which passed by a narrow margin. Leadership had its farm bill victory, and RSC members congratulated each other on achieving an ideological goal that had been discussed for decades: separating agriculture policy from food stamps.

But not all conservatives were celebrating. The new farm bill had passed over the objections of Heritage Action, which, to the astonishment of some RSC members, had issued another alert, telling conservatives to vote against the split bill—despite having spent years agitating for exactly that. In its warning, Heritage Action said the revised legislation “would make permanent farm policies—like the sugar program—that harm consumers and taxpayers alike.”

MOVING GOALPOSTS

To some conservative members, this was Heritage Action moving the goalposts, plain and simple. And they were furious about it. Members mumbled to each other about how it had become impossible to please these powerful outside groups, which are known to raise more money off Democratic victories than Republican ones. There was, as one Hill aide put it, “enormous discontent” among conservative members who were tired of feeling threatened by an outside group that existed as a parasite living off the Republican members of Congress.

That’s when Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., decided to do something about it. An ambitious conservative elected in the tea-party wave of 2010, Mulvaney was perfectly positioned to spearhead an offensive aimed at undermining the influence of these outside groups. At the beginning of the 113th Congress, Heritage Action named Mulvaney one of its “sentinels” for his ultraconservative voting record, which had earned him a 95 percent rating on the organization’s scorecard for the 112th Congress.

Now, some six months later, Mulvaney was determined to send a message to Heritage Action. “I wanted to take them to task for their inconsistency,” Mulvaney recalls. “I wanted to draw attention to the fact that Heritage was now scoring against Republicans for doing exactly what Heritage had been espousing only a month before.”

(Heritage Action communications director Dan Holler said Mulvaney was well aware that they would reject any farm bill that did not make substantial reforms to crop subsidies and other programs, and therefore should not have been surprised by their opposition.)

To do this, Mulvaney needed strength in numbers. A single conservative lawmaker rebuking a like-minded outside group wouldn’t mean much, he decided, but a posse of tea-party types criticizing the very organization that has been lauding their defense of liberty—now that would grab Washington’s attention.

Mulvaney’s idea was to pen a joint op-ed from conservative lawmakers, published in The Wall Street Journal, slapping the wrist of Heritage Action. Mulvaney began drafting a list of recruits that met specific criteria: They had voted against the first farm bill; they had voted for the second farm bill; and they had a strong scorecard rating with Heritage Action.

Mulvaney reached out to roughly two dozen colleagues who fit the bill. His star recruit, sources say, was Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, a freshman tea-party favorite who enjoys a 95 percent rating from Heritage Action—among the highest marks in the House. Bridenstine acknowledged that he agreed to join Mulvaney, but downplayed his displeasure with any outside group. “The only reason I was interested in the op-ed was to explain my votes—why I voted against the first farm bill and for the second farm bill,” Bridenstine said. “It was not about going on the offensive against Heritage Action, because I think that would be very counterproductive.”

BAD BLOOD

According to Mulvaney, “between six and 10” of the lawmakers he contacted agreed to join him. They began preparing their WSJ piece, and, according to sources, had reached an agreement with the newspaper on when to run it. As they were putting on the finishing touches, however, Mulvaney said he received an e-mail from one Heritage official. They knew what the members were up to, the official said, and asked them not to follow through. “We get the point,” the e-mail read.

After several days of deliberation, Mulvaney and his crew decided to stand down. “There was frustration there,” Bridenstine recalls, speaking of other members involved. “But ultimately we made a decision that creating any kind of daylight between them and us was not really in our best interest. So we decided not to do the op-ed.”

Days later, The Wall Street Journal published a story in its print edition—”Think Tank Becomes a Handful for GOP”—detailing the displeasure GOP lawmakers felt with Heritage Action. The first quote of the story belongs to Mulvaney. “We went into battle thinking they were on our side, and we find out they’re shooting at us,” he said of Heritage Action’s opposition to the revised farm bill, which he said “undermines the credibility of the organization.”

The story spawned a new wave of murmurings within the conservative community on Capitol Hill, where RSC members and their staffers had already begun hearing rumors of a coordinated reprimand of Heritage Action.

That’s when Scalise stepped in. The RSC chairman was among the members Mulvaney had recruited for the op-ed, but had not committed to joining. Now, with the WSJ story circulating and members growing more vocal in their displeasure with Heritage Action—one staffer described it as “an insurrection” brewing within the RSC—Scalise knew something had to be done.

After consulting with senior members of the RSC, Scalise reached a decision: Heritage employees would no longer be welcome to attend RSC meetings.

“Scalise was working on a way to quell the rebellion, to let members know he was handling it,” said one source, who is not affiliated with Scalise or the RSC. After the farm-bill incident, the source said, “There was a lot of mistrust in that RSC meeting room.”

One GOP lawmaker familiar with Scalise’s decision, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that the RSC chairman had long been considering the Heritage ouster, and insisted that the timing of Scalise’s decision was “entirely coincidental.” Other sources disputed that assertion, arguing that the farm bill episode was certainly the galvanizing incident that caused Heritage to be removed—regardless of how long Scalise had been entertaining the idea.

Whatever the cause, many conservative Hill aides say the move was long overdue, arguing that if the RSC really is a “member-driven organization” it should not allow outside forces to influence its internal deliberations. “These are closed meetings for a reason,” one aide said. “It’s one member, and one staffer allowed per member. No press. No guests. So why are they (Heritage) different?”

Heritage officials would not comment on their removal from RSC meetings. “Since its founding, the Heritage Foundation has maintained a strong relationship with the Republican Study Committee, one that continues to this day,” said Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communications for the Heritage Foundation.

As for the Action side, Holler said simply, “Heritage Action does not comment on member meetings.”

PRIVILEGED STATUS

Heritage was allowed unique access because of its historical bond with the RSC.

The two groups were formed in the same year by some of the same people, and worked side-by-side for decades focusing on policy research rather than political strategy. That changed in 2010, when Republicans won back the House and the Heritage Foundation spawned Heritage Action.

There were promises of legal separation between the two entities, of course, but Republicans had little doubt that the line would eventually blur between policy shop and political outfit. And in the 113th Congress, according to Hill aides, the “wall” that Heritage employees refer to—separating the Action side from the Foundation side—has come crashing down.

This time frame coincides with the arrival of former Sen. Jim DeMint, who in January resigned his seat to take over as president of the Heritage Foundation.

DeMint and his Senate Conservatives Fund had previously raised huge sums of money by picking on establishment Republicans, many of whom had conservative voting records. This relentless pursuit of ideological purity, financed by fat checks from conservative donors, alienated lawmakers from DeMint and his organization.

With DeMint now at the reins of Heritage, Republicans on Capitol Hill see that pattern repeating itself.

(Ironically, it was DeMint’s predecessor, Ed Feulner, who in 1973 was instrumental in establishing both the Heritage Foundation and the Republican Study Committee. A former House aide, Feulner was a founding father to both organizations. That shared ancestry was critical to maintaining the powerful coalition between Heritage and the RSC for the past 40 years. Now, mere months after Feulner relinquished power at Heritage, the organization has been dismissed from the RSC meetings it has attended for decades.)

If nothing else, the schism is symbolic, representing an emerging divide between some conservatives in Congress who argue for amassing small policy victories, and the conservative outside groups that will settle for nothing less than outright ideological purity.

As one conservative House aide put it, “We can’t score touchdowns on every play; our job is to put points on the board. But all they want us to do is throw Hail Marys.”

That sentiment echoes the frustration of some members, but not all of them. There were 12 Republicans who voted against both farm bills, and additionally, some members, such as Bridenstine, who say they still trust the Heritage brand—despite being on the opposing side of the farm-bill fight.

“I think they’re a great group; I think they help us as legislators make good decisions,” Bridenstine said. “I don’t have any problem with what Heritage Action is doing.”

It’s unclear whether this breach in relations will extend beyond Heritage’s removal from the RSC meetings. The two entities have long worked closely together on legislative research and event planning, and Heritage pays for a variety of junkets enjoyed by RSC members. (For example, the three-day RSC retreat back in February was financed entirely by Heritage.) Should a more lasting schism emerge between the two, the RSC could be forced to look elsewhere for financial support for some of its traditional endeavors.

So far there is no sign of escalation to that effect. In fact, according to paperwork filed with the House Ethics Committee, Heritage recently paid for RSC Executive Director Paul Teller to attend a one-day trip—along with dozens of other conservative House aides—to the historic battlefields of Gettysburg.

The Jedi Council’s Debt-Ceiling Plan

They got the sequencing they wanted; now we’ll see if they can get the budget reforms through.

By Jonathan Strong, National Review

Every week on Representative Steve Scalise’s calendar, there’s a meeting with an unusual name: “Jedi Council.” Scalise, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), is the newest member of a group of House Republicans who are helping to craft the GOP’s strategy on budget fights.

About two-and-a-half years ago, representatives Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling, Tom Price, and Jim Jordan began meeting once a week when Congress was in session, usually in Hensarling’s Capitol office — he was then No. 4 in the House leadership — and usually first thing in the morning. When Scalise was elected RSC chairman in November, they asked him to join the Jedi Council.

This was right after Obama’s reelection, and in the following weeks the GOP conference nearly collapsed entirely, as Democrats handed Republicans their hats in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Looking ahead to the debt-ceiling increase, the Jedi Council worried that taking on Obama at the apex of his political power could end in disaster.

“There was a feeling from the five of them that if they had a debt-limit fight in February, it was inevitable that they were going to lose,” says a prominent conservative with knowledge of their deliberations.

The group formed a plan to “re-sequence” the budget fights to give the GOP more leverage. The idea was to punt on the debt ceiling for a while, let the automatic sequester cuts go into effect, pass the GOP’s budget, and then gear up for a big debt-ceiling brawl in the summer.

On the morning of the last day of the GOP’s January retreat in Williamsburg, Va., the Jedi Council met with Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the House leadership and struck a deal. The agreement, which rank-and-file Republicans reverently describe as the “Williamsburg Accord,” began with re-sequencing: In exchange for allowing a short-term debt-ceiling increase, House Republicans would make the modest demand that the Senate pass a budget for the first time in four years.

But the accord also included a promise from leadership to pass a budget that would come into balance within ten years, and to make enacting the reforms in that budget a goal of the debt-ceiling fight — priorities that had just been laid out in an open letter 40 conservative leaders had sent to House leadership. What has not been understood is that the Williamsburg Accord was as much an agreement between the Jedi Council and Boehner as it was between the Jedi Council and the conservative movement.

On January 15, the day before the Williamsburg retreat, Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, and Chris Chocola, a former congressman and now president of the Club for Growth, attended the Jedi Council’s weekly meeting on behalf of outside conservative groups. (Needham was physically present; Chocola was listening on speakerphone.) Ryan did most of the talking, explaining how starting a debt-ceiling fight in February would be suicide. Needham and Chocola weren’t thrilled, but they were willing to trust him. They wanted a push to balance the budget in ten years. The Jedi Council agreed, and, with the blessing of the outside groups, took the proposal to Boehner.

According to Wookieepedia, an online encyclopedia of the mythology of the Star Wars films, the Jedi Council is “a group of twelve wise and powerful Jedi Masters who were elected to guide the Order” — the Order being, of course, the Jedi Order, an “ancient monastic peacekeeping organization unified by its belief [in] and observance of the Force.” If the fact that the five lawmakers named their group after a piece of Star Wars trivia doesn’t convince you they are nerds, you may be interested to learn that they once posed for a photograph wielding toy lightsabers. (The author’s efforts to obtain this image, which is in the possession of petrified Jordan aides, were unsuccessful — for now.)

The House’s Jedi Council is unusually secretive. No aides are permitted to attend their meetings. At their June 13 meeting, they decided not to give interviews about the group, amid concerns that doing so could interfere with delicate negotiations, after which they did not provide any assistance for this article. Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the topic at all. In its first two years, almost no one knew the group existed, and nobody could identify anything it had done. In the last Congress, both Hensarling and Price were part of the House leadership team, and Jordan was RSC chairman; their formal positions of power may have helped obscure any coordination among them.

This Congress, Price and Hensarling are out of the leadership team. Price lost a bid for conference chairman to Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who was backed by leadership, and Hensarling became chairman of the financial-services committee. At one point, Boehner offered Price a largely ceremonial spot at the leadership table if he would drop his candidacy and pledge not to publicly break with Boehner for two years. Price declined.

Price’s ambition in particular provokes a great deal of suspicion from Boehner and leadership. The two essentially have no relationship, sources close to both men say, and there are perceptions of a broader distrust between the speaker and the Council. Some leadership aides ask whether the Jedi Council is designing the next debt-ceiling fight to culminate in a challenge to Boehner’s speakership; one rank-and-file House member told me in March that the Jedi Council pitched re-sequencing to him as a way of giving Boehner the rope he needed to hang himself. A Jedi Council member told me — before the Council’s decision not to speak to National Review Online — that this isn’t their plan, and several knowledgeable sources agreed that a coup doesn’t sound like them. (For one thing, trying to take out Boehner in the middle of a Congress could have adverse effects on the 2014 elections.)

As for the other members of the Council, Ryan has forged a closer relationship with Boehner since being picked for the Romney presidential ticket. Scalise and Jordan retain good working relationships with the leadership, but Hensarling, out of leadership, has drifted away.

Each of the five members of the Jedi Council brings a different strength and reaches a different part of the GOP conference, supporters say. Ryan has star power and deep credibility on budget issues. Hensarling is the elder statesman of the RSC, a longstanding conservative House caucus. Price, a physician, has expertise on health care. Jordan enjoys friendships with some of the most stubborn conservative members of the GOP conference. Scalise, elected in 2008, is coming into his own and has relationships with some cliques that the others know less well.

In the view of some conservative groups, the Williamsburg Accord has been a mixed bag, and Ryan in particular is in danger of losing his sheen because of his role, even if few observers realize it. Some prominent conservatives were shocked, for example, to learn that the Ryan budget achieves balance in ten years in part because it assumes that tax revenues will remain at their current level, 19 percent of GDP, which includes the fiscal-cliff and Obamacare tax increases. Officially, this revenue level will be achieved by a reformed tax system with lower rates and the resultant economic growth. But the assumed tax revenues as a percentage of GDP are higher than their historic average, which the outside groups find problematic. Both Heritage Action and the Club for Growth have nonetheless stayed neutral on the proposal, avoiding a fight and giving Ryan more room to maneuver.

House conservatives are also concerned that the improving economy has made it possible to postpone the debt-ceiling fight again and again: As more tax revenue comes in, the Treasury Department can fund the government longer with its existing borrowing authority. Ryan said in a recent radio interview that debt-ceiling D-Day will now come in November, much later than the summer battle originally anticipated.

The building angst about the strategy is partly why Senate conservatives, led by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, began calling for using the upcoming continuing-resolution (CR) bill to defund Obamacare, a departure from the path laid out at Williamsburg. Cruz in particular has been quite successful at driving the debate in the media, even while the Jedi Council and other House Republicans have rejected his approach.

Boehner announced yesterday during a conference call with rank-and-file members that he will push for a short-term CR — a strong hint that a do-or-die Obamacare fight isn’t in the mix during the CR debate. Instead, leadership will follow the original plan to force a debt-ceiling brawl. That plan, however, prompts questions about the fine print of the Williamsburg Accord — what, that is, the brawl should be about. A source familiar with the deal recently told me, “The agreement was that it would include cuts or reforms that put us ‘on the path to balance’ in ten years. The bill wouldn’t necessarily have to achieve balance in ten years all by itself.”

What does putting the budget on a “path to balance” mean? “You can drive a truck through that loophole,” says one senior GOP aide. Scalise has talked about trading parts of the Ryan budget for increases in the debt ceiling — small tax and spending reforms for small debt-ceiling increases, and big reforms for bigger increases. Boehner would negotiate the details with President Obama, in theory producing some middle-ground deal.

How closely will House leaders stick to the Williamsburg Accord once tensions rise and the debt ceiling approaches? In public remarks, Boehner has said several different things, including promising a debt-ceiling increase only in return for the same amount in cuts and saying that “our goal here is to get this country on a path to balance the budget over ten years.” A spokesman clarified to NRO that no decisions have been made.

House majority leader Eric Cantor says he is on board with tying the debt-ceiling increase to reforms that balance the budget in ten years, calling such an approach “sensible.” He adds, underscoring his desire for urgent reform, “We have a demographic reality of 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, and a programmatic reality of Medicare being almost 50 percent underfunded.”

Although Boehner and Cantor will be making the final decisions about the debt-ceiling fight, it’s Ryan for whom the expectations are high. “I think the whole episode puts a lot of burden on Ryan — and the rest of the gang, but especially Paul, who got the exact sequencing he wanted to have,” Needham says.

It’s not quite fate of the universe, but when the debt-ceiling fight arrives this fall, much will be riding on the wisdom of Ryan and his allies.

A Possible Prescription for GOP: Lower Taxes, More Aid for Poor

Ohio Gov. John Kasich Promotes Blend of Conservative Orthodoxy Leavened With Liberal Policies
By Neil King Jr., Wall Street Journal

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Digging into a bowl of chicken soup at a Bob Evans restaurant, John Kasich does what comes naturally to governors: He boasts about his state’s financial outlook.

Job growth is up. The Republican governor just signed what he calls “the biggest tax cut in the country” after converting a looming $7.7 billion budget deficit into a $2.5 billion surplus. Such success, he says, “would probably get a global CEO a giant bonus.”

Then comes the part that sets Mr. Kasich apart.

All this is just prelude, he says, to a larger mission, one his Christian faith has called him to shoulder: “helping the poor, the beleaguered and the downtrodden, and trying to heal them and lift them up.”

More so than any other leading Republican, Gov. Kasich is using his perch to promote a blend of conservative orthodoxy leavened with liberal policies meant to help the poor, the mentally ill and the uninsured.

To hear him tell it, the 61-year-old onetime Lehman Brothers executive wants to rebrand the Republican Party by refashioning what it means to be a conservative in the 21st century.

On the one hand, he tamed a deficit by slashing funding to local governments and overhauling the state’s Medicaid rules, among things. He has eliminated the state’s estate tax and wants to phase out all state income taxes, a step aimed at stimulating growth. A budget he signed in June included a range of new abortion restrictions that drew sharp criticism from Democrats.

At the same time, Mr. Kasich has stirred strong opposition from tea-party leaders—and won surprised approval from liberals—by pushing to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 300,000 additional Ohioans, adopting a provision of the Obama health-care overhaul that he has taken to defending with an openly religious fervor.

The former congressional spending hawk has steered millions more dollars into local food banks, forced insurance companies to provide coverage for children with autism and signed legislation to make it easier for recently released felons to clear their names and find jobs.

Since the return of the death penalty in the 1970s after a moratorium, Mr. Kasich has commuted more death sentences—four—than any other Republican governor except George Ryan of Illinois, who granted a mass clemency a decade ago.

Mr. Kasich also has promised union leaders he will oppose efforts to turn Ohio into a “right to work” state that bars labor contracts requiring all workers to be union members or pay dues. He struck a populist chord with a proposal, later turned down by the GOP-controlled legislature, to raise taxes on out-of-state oil companies so he could cut Ohioans’ income-tax rates.

As his party continues to seek a new footing after its national election losses last year, Mr. Kasich is blunt about his own aims for the GOP as he eyes a re-election fight next year and—some speculate—a possible run for the White House in 2016. Asked about that, his office said he is focused on improving the state.

“I have a chance to shape what it means to be a Republican,” Mr. Kasich said in an interview wedged between a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new factory and a rally supporting an expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health-care program for the poor and disabled. “I have a chance to show what it means to be successful economically but also to have a compassionate side, a caring side, to help lift people up,” he said.

Mr. Kasich’s efforts, which his critics dismiss as an opportunistic bid to boost his once-abysmal poll numbers, come as many fellow Republican governors are pursuing sharply conservative agendas, empowered by GOP control of legislatures. Of the 30 Republican governors, just five so far have embraced and put in motion the Medicaid expansion envisioned by the health-care overhaul.

Nor are many Republicans in Congress taking Mr. Kasich’s cue to balance pro-growth economic policies with greater help for the poor. House Republicans have pushed this year to cut spending on Medicaid and on social programs such as food stamps.

Mr. Kasich isn’t alone in prodding his party to pay more attention to the disadvantaged. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan have made recent pitches to broaden the GOP’s message to the poor, as did the Republican National Committee in its postelection assessment early this year. Mr. Ryan held a “war on poverty” hearing at the budget committee last month.

But their differences in approach are large. Mr. Kasich sees government as a proper tool to aid and protect the poor, and spending on many social programs has grown during his tenure. Messrs. Cantor and Ryan talk about doing more with less and finding ways to rely more heavily on churches and civic groups.

If Mr. Kasich wins re-election next year, supporters say, he could provide his party with its most extensive model for a softer brand of conservatism. “John is showing, perhaps more visibly than anyone, that conservatives can care deeply about those who are overlooked and are at risk of being left behind,” said Ed Gillespie, a former national Republican Party chairman. “This is a very important thing for our party to demonstrate.”

There are risks: Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor, is among a string of Republicans who have suffered politically after straying from the party’s base. Outgunned in a 2010 GOP primary by now-Sen. Marco Rubio, Mr. Crist became an independent and later a Democrat.

Evidence so far shows Mr. Kasich benefiting from his strategy. A June Quinnipiac poll showed his approval notching a new high at 54%, versus 36% in the fall of 2011. A third of Ohio Democrats said they approved of his performance, nearly triple the share from 2011.

Mr. Kasich has lost little of the brusqueness that characterized his years as the U.S. House Budget Committee chairman in the late 1990s. When a conservative Ohio lawmaker questioned his quest to expand Medicaid, Mr. Kasich cut him off with a line he has used often since then.

When you die and go to heaven, Mr. Kasich said in recounting the conversation, St. Peter is “probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.”

Mr. Kasich created a stir at a closed-door conference in California hosted by the conservative Koch brothers when he told Republican donors and activists he wouldn’t apologize for his Medicaid policy.

“I know this is going to upset a lot of you guys, but we have to use government to reach out to people living in the shadows,” Mr. Kasich said, according to one participant, who noted that Mr. Kasich’s defense “sparked an audible rumbling of disapproval in the room.”

Asked about it, Mr. Kasich called the reaction to his remarks “unforgettable” but said: “I really shouldn’t speak about it, other than to say, ‘God bless people who go to those events.’ ”

At a packed Medicaid rally in the Ohio statehouse after the Bob Evans lunch, Mr. Kasich ripped into those who question the motivations of the poor.

“As Americans, we need to beat back this notion that when somebody’s poor, somehow they are lazy,” he said to loud applause from a heavily Democratic crowd. It is “unbelievable,” he said, “that we live in America and there are people who don’t have health insurance.”

When he ran for governor in 2010, after being out of politics for a decade, Mr. Kasich leaned heavily on the legions of new conservative activists who rose up to reject President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul and the surge of stimulus spending.

“I love the tea party!” he cried at a Cincinnati rally on the eve of his narrow win over the Democratic incumbent, Ted Strickland.

He began his governorship in early 2011 by supporting an existing bill to limit the collective-bargaining rights of public-sector unions. The move drew praise in conservative circles but also provoked a backlash, including from many working-class Republicans. A voter rebellion resoundingly overturned the law a few months later, and Mr. Kasich became one of the least-popular governors in the country.

Mr. Kasich says he has put the issue behind him. “We lost, and you have to listen to what people want,” he said.

Since then, he has worked to reach out to groups well beyond his conservative base.

He fought alongside Cleveland’s Democratic mayor for an overhaul of the city education system, supporting an increased local tax levy to pay for it. He worked with black pastors and legislators to revamp some of the state’s sentencing rules.

Some of his decisions have sent his onetime tea-party supporters into revolt.

“Kasich is so far off the reservation, it’s incredible,” said Tom Zawistowski, a prominent conservative leader from the Akron area who campaigned for Mr. Kasich in 2010 but promises “to work to un-elect him” next year.

Conservative critics, including many in the Ohio House, assail the governor for supporting a plank of the health-care law that will add billions to federal spending and eventually swell the state’s Medicaid costs.

This is the provision that would expand Medicaid—traditionally focused on children, pregnant women and the elderly and disabled—to all adults under a set income line. The Supreme Court ruled last year that states could decide whether to participate in this expansion. In Ohio, doing so would add 26,000 veterans and thousands of mentally ill people to the benefit rolls, according to the state’s own estimates.

Federal funds cover the expansion for three years but phase down to 90% by 2020, requiring Ohio to spend around $2.6 billion on the Medicaid expansion by 2022, state estimates show.

Republicans in the legislature refused to include the expansion in the state’s new budget. Mr. Kasich continues to fight for it.

Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges, a Kasich protégé, says he hears angst over the Medicaid issue among conservatives “pretty much everywhere I go in the state.”

Some conservatives have been particularly annoyed by Mr. Kasich’s use of religious arguments to defend his policies. “I don’t recall Jesus Christ taking money from one person’s pocket to give it to someone else,” said state Rep. John Becker, a Republican from Cincinnati.

Democrats are expressing effusive surprise over Mr. Kasich’s leftward swerve on several issues, particularly after his comeuppance on the public-union issue. “He is becoming the people’s governor,” said state Rep. Bill Patmon of Cleveland, who has worked with the governor on criminal-justice and education issues.

Rev. Tim Aherns, a liberal Columbus pastor who fought Mr. Kasich during the 2011 union battle, now calls the governor “a pre-eminently practical politician” who “sees it as his calling to help the poor.”

Mr. Kasich’s Republican allies say what voters are seeing is simply a compassionate streak that has been part of his personality all along. “People are finally waking up to what John Kasich is: a blunt, hard-nosed but very contemplative problem solver,” said Doug Preisse, GOP chairman for the county surrounding Columbus.

The son of a mailman, Mr. Kasich often cites his own upbringing in the industrial town of McKees Rocks, Pa., outside Pittsburgh. Raised Catholic, he says he drifted from the faith in adulthood. He became an evangelical Protestant in the years after a car crash caused by a drunken driver killed his parents in 1987, when he was 35.

Since then, Mr. Kasich said, “it has been 25-plus years of pretty hard work” to define his faith and put it into practice. For years he has met twice a month with a group of friends to discuss religion and dig into Bible passages. His mission now, he said, is to “be someone who can repair the part of the world that I am a part of.”

Driving back to Ohio last month from a Cape Cod vacation with his family, Mr. Kasich stopped to eat in Buffalo, N.Y. He asked a few people at random if they had ever met Jack Kemp, the late Buffalo Bills quarterback who became a congressman and 1996 vice-presidential nominee.

Mr. Kemp, who once described himself as a “bleeding-heart conservative,” built a reputation as a Republican who focused on urban minorities and the poor.

“It was Jack, over and over again, who talked about lifting people, about hopes and dreams,” Mr. Kasich said. “Jack had a profound impact on the conservative moment. Maybe I have a chance to do that, too.”