One of Those Days

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Obama Administration

Nothing is grabbing at me and yelling at me to write about it. We seem to be on a rerun loop. Today’s big items:

The Administration wants to put together an anti-ISIS coalition.

Paul Krugman complains that hardly anyone who influences economic policy is being influenced by competent economists.

Thomas Franks and some other leftie commenters appear to be having a pissing contest.

The crew that Breitbart left in charge of his empire when he died has a collective IQ in the negative numbers. Oh, and they’re being audited by the IRS

Schizophrenia is a genetic disorder. Eight different genetic disorders, actually.  Right now I think I may have about five of them. Just kidding.

Lindsey Graham must be the most terrified man in America.

Here’s the cheerful news: While Nate Silver still shows the Republicans are likely to take the Senate, the odds have changed. Today he’s saying the GOP has a 54.7 percent chance of taking the Senate; on September 9 the GOP had a 63.8 percent chance of taking the Senate, according to Nate. Sam Wang puts the Dems at 80 percent.

 

 

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Why Cruz Got Himself Booed

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Middle East

Last week Ted Cruz was invited to be the keynote speaker at a gala dinner for a group called In Defense of Christians, and he was booed off the stage. The group was made up mostly of Arab Christians, and the Christians they want defending were in the Middle East. Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East. Homes and churches are being destroyed. They are in serious trouble.

But instead of talking about the crisis Christians in the Middle East are facing, Cruz made the speech about supporting Israel.

On first glance, this looked like an unforced error on Cruz’s part. He could have stood up and given an anti-ISIS, rah rah Christians speech, and they would have loved him. But I have come to believe he deliberately antagonized the group; he wanted to be booed. Read on to find out why.

First, the boos. The real kicker was when he said “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” at which point a large part of the audience lost it.

Since then all manner of people have tried to understand why Cruz gave such an inappropriate speech. James Zogby:

It is generally known that Ted Cruz can be a demagogue, a quality that makes him immensely disliked by his colleagues. He is also considered to be quite bright and calculating. And so as I have attempted to understand why he did what he did, two distinct scenarios come to mind. It is possible that he went to the IDC conference to provoke a “Sister Souljah” moment — which he could then exploit with his supporters on the fundamentalist right as evidence of his political courage. It is more likely that he had no clue about the reaction his taunting remarks would receive and was, therefore, stunned by the audience reaction — and that it was only mid-stream that he decided that he could use the audience reaction to his political benefit.

In either case, Cruz displayed a shameful insensitivity to the concerns of Middle East Christians and a total lack of awareness of their history and current needs. Like too many of his colleagues, he can only see the Middle East through then lens of what is good for Israel. Because he comes out of the Christian fundamentalist world and now operates in the bubble of Washington politics, he simply had no understanding of his audience and no desire to listen to them and learn from them.

That’s what I thought, too, but I realize now I was wrong. At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher shed some light:

The politics of the Middle East are tangled and almost impossible to understand. Many Maronites despise the Palestinians, for example, blaming them for destroying Lebanon. Within Lebanon, there is no love lost between Maronites, who are Catholics, and the Orthodox. But many Maronites are fond, however grudgingly, of the Israelis, because they see them as the enemies of their enemies, the Palestinians. But not all Maronites feel that way. It’s complicated. Insanely complicated. And everybody suffers from the same conspiracy theorizing that is common currency in the Middle East.

You will appreciate, then, what a diplomatic feat it was to bring a group of top Christian leaders from the Middle East together in Washington for a summit to talk about the crisis of the persecution of Christians in the region. The Washington Free Beacon shamefully characterized the event as a pro-Hezbollah hootenanny, citing the anti-Israel politics of some conference participants as if that were the most important thing about this religious and human rights event. As if Israelis were the only people in the Middle East whose suffering matters.

Look at the Washington Free Beacon headline, which came out before Cruz gave his speech. Just look at it.

A light dawns. He had to get himself booed off the stage or risk becoming a pariah to the wingnut twits who are his base. It was deliberate.

In particular, the Free Beacon, Breitbart, and some other of the more irresponsible far-right propaganda tools named one of the conference attendees, Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, as a Hozbollah supporter. But in June The Blaze reported,

A Hezbollah member of Lebanon’s parliament is criticizing Lebanon’s top Christian cleric after the religious leader visited Israel last week where he traveled with Pope Francis, prayed with local Christians and met with fighters from the now defunct South Lebanese Army (SLA) who fled to Israel more than a decade ago.

Member of Parliament Ali Meqdad on Saturday addressed Maronite Catholic Cardinal Beshara Rai’s meeting with the former Lebanese fighters, saying, “We do not want agents among us.”

This isn’t my primary area of expertise, but after some digging I get the impression that the Lebanese Christians are in a very precarious position of trying to not get caught in cross-fire between Hezbollah and Israel, and of course Lebanon also shares a long border with Syria, so they’ve got a lot to worry about, and the Patriarch is not averse to talking to people who need placating, including Hezbollah. And in 2011 he issued a statement that said Hezbollah had a right to defend itself against Israel, which may have been an expedient thing to say if you’re a Lebanese Christian. But in the simple minds of the children who run the Free Beacon and Breitbart, this makes the Patriarch and some other conference attendees the enemy.

The Christian Broadcast Network covered the speech this way —

Well, Sen. Ted Cruz had an interesting night in Washington D.C. Wednesday and our Brody File camera crew was there to capture it all.

Middle Eastern Christians booed Cruz off the stage during his speech at a summit in Washington D.C. It was sponsored by a group called In Defense of Christians.

Cruz came to speak about Christian solidarity with Israel but some in the crowd were Palestinian Christian supporters of the Syrian government and even the terrorist group Hezbollah. Things got rowdy.

But the summit was not about Christian solidarity with Israel. At The American Conservative, Daniel Larison wrote,

Cruz’s behavior was unnecessary, it was insulting to his hosts, it was needlessly provocative to the audience, and it was an embarrassment to his voters. Because he has proven time after time to be a shameless demagogue, none of that will bother him.

An important point that has been lost in many of the reactions to this incident is that Cruz was completely out of line to set some kind of ideological litmus test for the attendees that requires them to endorse the “pro-Israel” views that Cruz happens to hold. Cruz is free to hold those views, and many of his voters agree with him, but it is obnoxious to demand that others, including many Arab Christian clergy in attendance, subscribe to those views in order to obtain Cruz’s sympathy for their plight. Not only is “standing with Israel” irrelevant to the reason for the summit, but as this incident has proven it is a completely unnecessary distraction from the work of the organization that sponsored the event.

Even Ross Douthat gets it

WHEN the long, grim history of Christianity’s disappearance from the Middle East is written, Ted Cruz’s performance last week at a conference organized to highlight the persecution of his co-religionists will merit at most a footnote. But sometimes a footnote can help illuminate a tragedy’s unhappy whole. …

… Many conservatives think Cruz acquitted himself admirably, and he’s earned admiring headlines around the right-wing web. There is a certain airless logic to this pro-Cruz take — that because Assad and Hezbollah are murderers and enemies of Israel, anyone who deals with them deserves to be confronted, and if that confrontation meets with boos, you’ve probably exposed anti-Semites who deserve to be attacked still more.

But this logic shows not a scintilla of sympathy for what it’s actually like to be an embattled religious minority, against whom genocide isn’t just being threatened but actually carried out.

And strictly speaking, Arabs are Semites, too, or at least the dictionary says so. But Cruz wasn’t just being stupid. He did what he had to do to help himself.

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Will Somebody Please Press Charges Against Zimmerman?

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Trayvon Martin

Ol’ George has struck again. (Via)

George Zimmerman threatened to kill a driver during a road rage incident in Lake Mary and later showed up at the man’s workplace, according to police.

The road rage incident happened Tuesday, Lake Mary police told Local 6, but the other driver declined to press charges, so Zimmerman was not arrested.

Police said the man, whose name was not released, called police after a truck pulled up next to him and the driver yelled, “Why are you pointing a finger at me?” …

…Police spokeswoman Bianca Gillett said the man recognized the truck driver as Zimmerman. The man said Zimmerman, who was carrying a gun, asked, “Do you know who I am?” before saying, “I’ll (f***ing) kill you.”

Two days later, the man said he saw Zimmerman in his truck outside his workplace. He called police but declined to press charges.

It was almost exactly a year ago that GZ threatened to kill his then girlfriend, and she refused to press charges. Now this guy declines to press charges. You know this is going to continue until George kills somebody else. It’s just a matter of time.

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On the Middle East and Burning Hair

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Obama Administration

Judging by the blogs, America is more interested in the NFL-Ray Rice scandal than they are in Syria/Iraq and what the President might do about ISIS. But very basically, as I see it, in his speech last night the President attempted to simultaneously placate hawks and doves — thereby pissing off both — while pursuing an actual strategy that is limited and cautious and may or may not produce tangible results. It’s hard to say whether the President is being pushed more by politics or by actual security concerns.

I still think the primary focus should be on pushing Middle Eastern leaders to play the lead role in containing ISIS, since a bunch of violent religious whackjobs with plans for establishing themselves as leaders of a regional if not global theocracy are a more immediate threat to them than to us.

Back in 2000 and early 2001 the incoming Bush Administration brushed off the hair-on-fire intelligence they were given about a real threat of a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil by al Qaeda. And of course, they were wrong. Since 9/11, they’ve seen jihadists in every shadow, and they are still wrong. There’s no reason to think ISIS plans to leapfrog half the globe to strike in the U.S., in spite of the Right’s hair-on-fire claims they are doing exactly that already. In fact, for the most part intelligence experts — whose hair was on fire about al Qaeda in 2000 — are not that alarmed about ISIS being a threat to the U.S.

“As formidable as ISIL is as a group, it is not invincible,” Matthew G. Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said last week, using an alternate name for the group. “ISIL is not Al Qaeda pre-9/11” with cells operating in Europe, Southeast Asia and the United States. Mr. Olsen’s assessment stood in contrast to more pointed descriptions by other American officials like Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has said that ISIS poses an “imminent threat to every interest we have.”

The group has been vulnerable, for instance, to airstrikes coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces in northern Iraq in the past month, Mr. Olsen said, noting that as a result, “ISIL is losing arms, it’s losing equipment, and it’s losing territory.”

Despite the attention ISIS has received, when American counterterrorism officials review the threats to the United States each day, the terror group is not a top concern. Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain the most immediate focus. That is because ISIS has no ability to attack inside the United States, American and allied security officials say, and it is not clear to intelligence officials that the group even wants to.

Compare/contrast this with the ravings of Dick the Dick. The headline on his American Enterprise Institution speech reveals more than the speech — it’s “9/11 and the future of US foreign policy.” The speech itself basically dumps every enemy of America since World War II into the same filing cabinet and strongly implies that there is no choice but for America to destroy them all. Doing so would require obliterating about a third of the planet, and the potential repercussions of that don’t seem to have occurred to Dick, whom I strongly suspect is not all that bright. His chief talent is exuding gravitas, which has gotten him a long way, obviously.

It’s all about 9/11 for Dick, because he was horribly and massively wrong about al Qaeda before 9/11, and disaster ensued, and apparently that was something his ego couldn’t process, and he’s been acting out about it since. He seriously needs therapy. And he seriously needs to shut up.

Now he and Grandpa John and others have hair-on-fire alarm — assuming they had hair — about ISIS. And the Right in general appears to believe that the Real Enemy is Islam itself, which means we have 1.6 billion enemies, at least, who must be eliminated to assuage Dick the Dick’s personal existential crisis.

It has been 13 years since 9/11, and the U.S. Right is still dancing to the late Osama bin Laden’s tune.  The attacks are still causing us to self-destruct. BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA.

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Why We’re Screwed, Part MMLXXVI

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Obama Administration, Republican Party

Thomas B. Edsall:

We don’t know who the contributors are to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS because they can hide behind provisions in federal tax law designed to protect donors to “social welfare” charities, but we do know how much each gave, and we do know generally, from Crossroads’ annual 990 filings with the I.R.S., how the money was spent. In 2012, according to its own statement, Crossroads GPS spent $74.2 million not on commonly understood social welfare objectives but on direct political activities.

Crossroads raised the money for its 2012 tax-exempt activities from 291 unnamed men and women who wrote checks for a total of $179.7 million, an average contribution of $617,525 – nearly 12 times the 2012 median household income in the United States of $53,046, and 22 times the 2012 per capita income of $28,051.

We know now that in 2012 the 291 people who funded Crossroads got zip for their money. But somebody must still be donating, because Crossroads is still in business. They’re pouring a lot of money into the midterms and might actually turn the Senate over to the GOP, which IMO would be an unmitigated disaster for America. On the other hand, it’s possible their ads won’t make that much difference. For example, Crossroads is still running anti-Obamacare ads that even Glenn Kessler thinks are stuck in a time warp.

There’s no question that the “dark” money is giving a Reublicans a huge advantage, but even if dark money contributions were equal, an equal number of plutocrats on each side of the aisle does not create government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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Nate Silver vs. Sam Wang

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elections, Obama Administration

In 2012, as I remember, Silver and Wang’s election forecasts remained close to each other. But right now they are considerably apart. Silver says Republicans have a 63.8 percent chance of winning a majority. Wu says Dems have a 79 percent chance of keeping the Senate.

Where do they differ? Silver thinks Pat Roberts of Kansas will keep his Senate seat; Wu does not. The pair of prognosticators also split over North Carolina. They must disagree on some other races but I cannot tell which ones.

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Media: The Un-Meritocracy

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News Media

I knew there was no point watching the rebooted Meet the Press when I read last week that NBC had hired Joe  Scarborough as its senior political analyst and Luke Russert as a reporter and regular “roundtable” member. Seriously, how could it not be crap? And lo, the reviews of the first episode are in, and they are derisive. By most accounts Chuck Todd’s interview of President Obama remained true to his predecessor’s tradition of content-free banality. D.R. Trucker wrote,

Todd’s questions about ISIS and immigration showed precious little insight and imagination. At times, it seemed as though he was barely asking questions at all. Frankly, Todd came close to a Saturday Night Live parody of a Meet the Presshost. The entire interview reminded me of Gertrude Stein’s famous line about Oakland, California—“There is no there there.”

Of course, the Obama-haters are attacking Todd because he didn’t beat the president up enough. That wasn’t the main flaw with the interview. The main flaw with the interview is that the viewer gained nothing, learned nothing, felt nothing.

Not that David Gregory was any prize…but they got rid of him for this?

Charles Johnson provides a specific example:

Obama mentioned Syria specifically four times before Chuck Todd blurted out, “You’ve not said the word, ‘Syria,’ so far in our conversation.”

Arrgh.

On the other hand, Todd’s debut is getting warm reviews from Politico and the Washington Post. No surprise.

I dimly remember there was a time, years ago, I wanted to watch the politics talk shows, even though they were mostly infuriating. As far as the old Meet the Press goes I thought Tim Russert was overrated as an interviewer; his basic shtick was to slide around big issues, find a relatively small point to bore into and then grill his subject relentlessly on that. But at least he grilled them on something, and you got the sense he was actually listening to what the subject said and responding to it, and not reading interview questions off a teleprompter.

The real problem isn’t so much the hosts, I don’t think. The real problem seems to be that, pretty much across the board, Washington news media are run by people who got their jobs through insider connections and not competence. And “insiderism” is all they know. That’s the only explanation, I say. Simon Maloy writes,

The problem facing “Meet the Press” isn’t the person in the moderator’s chair, it’s the culture that all the Sunday shows operate in. They all provide slightly different versions of the same thing: mostly white, mostly male pundits, politicians and Beltway “insiders” arguing with each other about who’s “winning” and who’s “losing” in politics that week. And this isn’t going to change any time soon because everyone involved is far too sure of their own indispensable relevance.

Consider this exchange on Fox News yesterday morning between Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” and Howard Kurtz as they discussed why Sunday shows still matter:

WALLACE: We probably get 4 to 5 million people that are tuning in on Sunday to watch our interviews. We either finish first or second almost every week in terms of total audience, and that’s a lot of people. And it’s a self-selecting audience. I mean, it’s an audience of opinion makers, opinion shapers, people who are deeply interested in the news—

KURTZ: And that’s why the shows are important and have relevance. Because of the rather elite audience.

WALLACE: Exactly. And, you know, you look at the Monday morning paper – not to say that that is our goal, I don’t think it is. But it does really indicate the degree to which the Sunday shows can still set the agenda for the coming week.

It’s hard to think of a more elitist description of your own relevance – I’m important because people I think are important think I’m important. That’s the Sunday show mentality, and it will persist regardless of who sits in the moderator’s chair.

When the “insiders” setting the agendas only talk to themselves, where does that leave the rest of us?

You may have heard that CNN’s Crossfire is back, sort of. Apparently it airs sporadically and has been on hiatus since mid-July. Perhaps they couldn’t think of anything insider-y to talk about, what with all those messy news stories coming out of Saint Louis and Iraq and all.  

As the show’s been off-air, S.E. Cupp — the show’s conservative co-host who hasn’t run for president — has been in demand, appearing on “The View” in what may well be quasi-auditions for a new right-leaning panelist, and writing for the New York Daily News, most recently about how Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities ought not to have taken nude pictures of themselves if they didn’t want them leaked.

This is why no one misses “Crossfire” when it’s not on — because its hosts have nothing to say. A show in which hosts debate the issues of the day from differing perspectives could, if done well, be a hugely valuable asset to a news channel especially in a political landscape wracked by contentious issues (Ferguson, ISIS). That presumes, though, that its hosts would be able to keep their eye on the ball and avoid small-bore polemics, things that Cupp, as evidenced by her Daily News writing, is unable to do.

And it’s something “Crossfire” has proven itself uninterested in doing; at times when serious policy discussion is more needed than ever, the debate show indulged the same prattle as every other talk show. Before “Crossfire” left the air in July, segments included Bill Richardson disclaiming on whether Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren would win in a hypothetical 2016 Democratic primary. Cupp delivered a monologue over cable system customer service. This is neither offensively off-tone in a way that might spark some insight, nor is it — heaven forbid — providing any news value or public service. It’s just trending topics presented flatly.

Ultimately the fault for this incompetence is with the executives who make hiring and programming decisions which tells me the executives in charge of news have absolutely no idea what they are doing. One wonders how they stumbled into the MSNBC evening lineup, particularly Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow, who actually present,  you know,  content. It must have been an oversight.

A postscript — a little over a year ago NBC hired a British journalist, Deborah Turness, to be president of NBC News. She was recently quoted as saying,

“People in the organization from top to bottom recognized that NBC News hadn’t kept up with the times in all sorts of ways, for maybe 15 years. I think the organization had gone to sleep.”

Apparently the NBC News organization from top to bottom was outraged by these remarks.  So I guess they hadn’t recognized it. But on the whole I think she’s right, although it isn’t just NBC. But this episode suggests to me that Turness is being kept on a leash by somebody else, and she’s not being allowed to mess with the status quo.

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Les Misérables, à l’américaine

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Obama Administration

Recently Thomas Edsall published a op ed at the New York Times called “The Expanding World of Poverty Capitalism” that’s worth a read. In brief, Edsall explains how municipalities around the country are balancing budgets by privatizing essential services to companies that prey on the poor.

Add to that Radley Balko’s piece in WaPo focusing on Saint Louis County, “How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty.” In particular Balko focuses on one woman whose life was torn apart by The System after she failed to pay for a speeding ticket because she lacked the money. We’re in Les Misérables territory here.

Add to that Reihan Salam’s “How the Suburb Got Poor.” Salam’s articles leaves a lot of big stuff out, such as the role of the financial system in screwing home buyers, but it’s a piece of the puzzle. Salam makes a case that around the country suburban “bedroom communities” are turning into enclaves of poverty. Very simply, the suburban model that worked after the post World War II years, when most white men could not only earn a living wage but also support a family on it, is not working for today’s working class.  The suburbs catering to the very rich are doing fine, of course. Otherwise, the most successful communities are those that combine single-family homes, apartment buildings, and retail shops in the same neighborhoods, not those that are nothing but single-family homes, block after block. I remember well that Saint Louis County has a lot of the latter.

I know a lot of us are focused on national politics, but the rot is at the local level also. Too many state legislatures are owned by ALEC. Too many local governments are run by incompetents who can’s see beyond their own petty interests. For a grand example of the latter, see Nelson Johnson, “Atlantic City’s Next Gamble.”

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Win / Win / Win / Maybe Win

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Obama Administration

Remember the ruling by a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit Court that some state’s Obamacare subsidies were unconstitutional? Well, it’s dead, Jim.

In July, two Republican judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handed down a decision defunding much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This effort to implement Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) top policy priority from the bench was withdrawn on Thursday by the DC Circuit, and the case will be reheard by the full court — a panel that will most likely include 13 judges. In practical terms, this means that July’s judgment cutting off subsidies to consumers who buy insurance plans in federally-operated health exchanges is no more. It has ceased to be. It is, in fact, an ex-judgment.

There appears to be a broad consensus that there’s little chance the anti-subsidy ruling will be heard from again. In other court news, an appeals court killed gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana, and another federal court restored early voting in Ohio.

Former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were found guilty today of a whole bunch of corruption. I don’t think they’ve been sentenced yet.

Big fun in Kansas — the Democrat Chad Taylor, who was campaigning to take Pat Roberts’s Senate seat, dropped out of the race. Oh noes! But this was a tactical decision. There’s an independent also running for the seat and raising more money, and this guy, Greg Orman, is expected to caucus with Democrats if he wins. Orman and Taylor were running on nearly identical platforms. The pair had been expected to spit the not stupid vote, and Roberts hadn’t even been campaigning. By several accounts the GOP is genuinely panicked it could lose a seat in the Senate.

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Rand Paul Versus the World

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Republican Party

I don’t pay that much attention to Rand, frankly, but it’s significant that today it appears the entire Right has risen up against him and called him crazy.

The story thus far: Not long ago Rand wrote an op ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing (I’m told; it’s behind a firewall) that the U.S. should stay out of Iraq and not take sides between ISIS and the Iraqi government. I can see that a reasonable argument could be made along those lines, so I’ll assume Rand made it.

But now calls for ignoring ISIS are not politically tenable, so a couple of days ago Rand published an article in Time magazine denying that he is an isolationist and blaming President Obama for not doing enough to stop ISIS and for allowing Syria to become a “jihadist wonderland.” Unfortunately for Rand, the ideas expressed in Time still were far too moderate to pass muster on the Right, so he’s being fired upon from many rightie positions, from the Hoover Institute to NRO to Hit & Run.

Steve Benen notes a recent speech by Rand that took another position from those first two. Like Chickenman, he’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!

On Wednesday, Paul said he had no use for “interventionists” and the “hawkish members” of his own party who are calling for using force in the Middle East. But just 48 hours later, Paul supports U.S. military intervention abroad to destroy ISIS?

Also keep in mind, less than a month ago, Paul was asked about U.S. airstrikes targeting ISIS targets in Iraq. The senator said he had “mixed feelings” about the offensive. Apparently, those feelings are no longer mixed and Paul is now eager to “destroy ISIS militarily” – says the senator who complained last week about Hillary Clinton being a “war hawk.”

At what point do Rand Paul’s loyal followers start to reconsider whether Rand Paul actually agrees with them?

Sarah Smith recently noted that the Kentucky senator has changed his mind about federal aid to Israel, use of domestic drones, immigration, elements of the Civil Rights Act, Guantanamo Bay, and even accepting donations from lawmakers who voted for TARP.

Now, even the basic elements of his approach to using military force are up for grabs.

Oooo, politics is hard.

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