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Mike Pence Dodges Criticism By Calling Critics 'Intolerant.' That Dog Won't Hunt.

Jason Linkins   |   March 31, 2015    7:36 AM ET

This weekend, on ABC News' "This Week," host George Stephanopoulos rather conscientiously attempted to elicit a "yes" or "no" answer from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who was invited to clarify the unique language of his state's recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

That "yes" or "no" question, "Can a florist in Indiana refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment," was dodged by Pence, as were additional iterations, ranging from whether the law's general intent was to enshrine the right of private business owners to deny service to customers for religious reasons, to whether Pence personally believed that such discrimination was lawful.

Stephanopoulos insisted that the question was relevant, because one of the law's supporters, Eric Miller of Advance America, specifically cited the ability of private business owners to refuse service to members of the LGBT community as one of the Indiana law's major, and particular, selling points. Stephanopoulos offered Pence multiple chances to either correct Miller's contention, or to publicly confirm that it was true.

Pence never answered one way or the other. Instead, showing an Ed Milliband-like flair for repeating one's talking points, Pence largely stuck to his script, insisting that the Indiana law was in no relevant way distinct from similar laws -- including the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed decades ago and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. (This is not, in fact, true.) At a point, though, you can see the patience drain from Pence's face, as he offered one intriguing deviation from his flash cards:

PENCE: George, look, the issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two-way street or not? I mean, you know, there’s a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today having to do with people on the left. And a -- but here Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith and families of faith in our state and this avalanche of intolerance that’s been poured on our state is just outrageous.

Here, Pence is retreating to a rhetorical fortress of sofa pillows that some conservatives often crawl behind when the sentiments of the vox populi bend in the direction of calling them out for bigotry. You liberals want everyone to be tolerant! But you're not tolerant of us! Gotcha!

There is so much confusion tied up in that defense, it might seem senseless to even try to untangle it. In terms of the ever-growing national support for LGBT rights, especially, the argument sounds like the death rattle of an old way of thinking that's quickly going extinct. But given how often people like Pence deploy this argument, it's worth giving disentangling it a shot. Let's start at a basic level: To be tolerant does not mean that one must be tolerant of intolerance. Okay? If you tolerate intolerance, you have, well ... promulgated intolerance. That would seem a self-affirming point, but it clearly is not obvious to the Pences of the world, so let's peel it back further.

When a person says, "Hey, let's please be tolerant of others, even if they are of a different race or gender or creed or religion or sexual orientation," what is typically meant is that such people should be treated equally by society. They should have the same legal rights and opportunities as everybody else. The same fair shot at carving out a decent life. That's what most people mean when they talk about being tolerant. Critically, what is not being demanded is universal agreement, or even universal acceptance. Indeed, the ability to countenance our occasional disagreements and allow for criticism in a tolerant manner is something that makes our society stronger.

What Pence is doing, unfortunately, is confusing criticism for intolerance. Right now, the wide world is learning about Indiana's law, discovering that it is in many meaningful ways different from previous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, and reacting with a collective "Duh fuh?" This reaction, as much as Pence would prefer to believe otherwise, is a thing that's well beyond the coordination and control of a monolithic "Left." But even if it were, the simple fact of the matter is that criticism of the law is absolutely legitimate. There's nothing distinctly unfair or intolerant in debating or critiquing the actions of lawmakers or the laws they pass. That's just the price of doing business in politics.

And speaking of, there is a price of doing business in business as well. A law that forbids discriminating against customers based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or et cetera -- that, my friends, is the real two-way street. What is a "two-way street" after all, if not a promise to everyone traveling upon it that bright yellow lines, illegal to cross, run right down the center? What Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its unique statutory language has done is remove those sensible yellow lines. Gone is a world in which people walking into private businesses can be assured they won't be discriminated against. Now, in this new Indiana, business owners face the undue burden of having to publicly proclaim themselves to be practicing fair and equal customer service. What was once automatically assumed -- the neighborly, amicable relationship between business and customer -- has become something that everyone now has to double-check and newly ensure.

Part of what Pence describes as an "avalanche of intolerance" is the reaction from those recognizing that a line has been crossed, who are now resolved to withhold their custom from the state of Indiana until such time as the previous, two-way street regime is restored. Pence is incorrect to describe this as "intolerance." What Pence needs to understand is that this reaction is simply the natural consequence of the actions he took as governor.

The assurance of fair, non-discriminatory business practices is, as it turns out, pretty essential in a competitive marketplace. And when you take away that assurance, you imperil your ability to compete. Just as an openly discriminatory florist opens itself up to the risk that not enough people will want to continue doing business with it to maintain that business, so too does an openly discriminatory state endanger its ability to maintain itself economically.

Those are the consequences. And consequences have nothing to do with tolerance. All the states that Indiana competes with for economic benefactors will happily tolerate Indiana's law all the way to the bank. Anyone who tells you that "tolerance" is supposed to provide everyone with the means of living a consequence-free existence has badly lost the thread.

If there's something meaningful to be learned here, however, it's that talking about tolerance is much easier than building and maintaining a tolerant society. It should be acknowledged that this Indiana law exists because of a tension between differing communities of people, and different schools of thought. Resolving this tension will take hard work. But it's precisely hard and conscientious work that everyone deserves. To be tolerant is to acknowledge this, and to seek reasonable reconciliations and accommodations in instances like this. Were Pence a more conscientious governor, he'd recognize that the solution that's been crafted is neither sufficiently reasonable, nor sufficiently accommodating, and he'd resolve to work harder at achieving something that is.

His protestations of intolerance aside, Pence is fully entitled to believe that gay people are icky, or Godless, or whatever he wants. He just can't -- without criticism -- enshrine the right to discriminate into the law. No one is stopping anyone from having these opinions, coming on television to express that opinion, or even holding office while possessing these views. You just can't have a whites-only lunch counter, or a straights-only bakery. Or, perhaps in Indiana, you can, but if you do, then people who are being discriminated against have a right to encourage people to take their business elsewhere and criticize those business practices. And those on the receiving end of that reaction will, unfortunately, have to tolerate that.

Ted Cruz Signs Up For Obamacare Is Your Short-Sighted Media Fixation Of The Week

Jason Linkins   |   March 29, 2015    7:30 AM ET

Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall convene every Sunday and attempt to decode and defang in a way that will hopefully leave you feeling unharmed and less confused. We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

***
ted cruz act

As you may have heard, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) this week officially joined the 2016 GOP primary scrum (or, if you've a yen for parsing narrow legal definitions, leaped past that scrum), in a fancy to-do at Liberty University -- a fitting venue for Cruz to lay down the foundation of his pitch to the conservative base, in which he adopts the persona of Jesus H. Reagan. Or, if you prefer, Ronald H. Christ -- it's essentially the same concept, and I am not a picky man.

But what Cruz did next was very puzzling: He signed up for Obamacare. A loud chorus of "Duh fuh?" ensued.

It couldn't go unnoticed that Congress' leading antagonist of the Affordable Care Act had gone out and voluntarily enmeshed himself and his family in Obamacare's loving graces. And don't worry -- it didn't. The political press got right to work, etching the narrative -- the tale of a man who'd gone out and faffed something up, produced a wincing gaffe in the hours after his much-hyped announcement.

The headlines tell the tale. ABC News went with "Ted Cruz Will Sign Up For Obamacare, the Law He Hates." Politico made sure to mention that Cruz was "one of the Affordable Care Act's harshest critics" in a report headlined, "Ted Cruz says he's going on Obamacare." The Washington Post's James Downie penned a piece titled, "Yes, Ted Cruz is a hypocrite for going on Obamacare." Slate's Jamelle Bouie disagreed, writing, "Cruz slipping on a political banana peel doesn’t make him a hypocrite," in a piece titled, "It’s Hilarious That Ted Cruz Is Signing Up for Obamacare." Vox took Cruz on a shopping trip for an Affordable Care Act plan. Life was full of laughs. (Or, if you prefer, laffs.)

Though the gaffe-chorale was loud, there was little thought to what Ted Cruz might do next. One of those things being: maybe not signing up for Obamacare after all. Or, decline to take a subsidy. That is, an additional subsidy -- as a sitting member of the Senate, it's subsidized anyway, which is something that Cruz himself alluded to at the time:

"We'll be getting new health insurance and we'll presumably do it through my job with the Senate, and so we'll be on the federal exchange with millions of others on the federal exchange," Cruz said.

Asked whether he would accept the government contribution available to lawmakers and congressional staffers for their health care coverage through the ACA, Cruz said he will "follow the text of the law."

But as ThinkProgress' Igor Volsky pointed out, even though Cruz "framed the decision" to join Obamacare "as one of inevitability," this wasn't actually the case:

The Affordable Care Act does not compel members of Congress to enroll in DC’s health care exchange; it simply cuts off the government contribution to their insurance plans if they buy their policies elsewhere. “The final rule extends a Government contribution towards health benefits plans for Members of Congress and designated congressional staff so long as the health benefits plans are purchased via the appropriate SHOP as determined by the Director,” a summary of the final rule says. “Nothing in the final rule or the law prevents a Member of Congress or designated congressional staff from declining a Government contribution for him or herself by choosing a different option for their health insurance coverage.”

In other words, Cruz “could purchase coverage in the outside market but would get no subsidy from the FEHBP program,” Tim Jost clarified for ThinkProgress, referring to the acronym for the federal health care program. “It seems like the primary other option he would have is to take advantage of COBRA through his wife, though he’d be forgoing the employer contribution. He could also buy non-group coverage,” Larry Levitt, Senior Vice President at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said. Cruz could also potentially purchased insurance through his presidential campaign’s presumptive health care insurance. In those instances, however, he would have had to give up his employer’s contribution and likely pay more for insurance than he is now being charged under Obamacare.

So, why then, would a guy with options that he could easily afford -- and that weren't the hated Obamacare: a) not take those options, and b) open himself to this dose of ridicule? Is Cruz unwittingly setting himself up for some Saul-like conversion, if the Affordable Care Act ends up working to his benefit? No, readers, banish that thought. I would submit to you that, far from a gaffe, this is actually a fairly shrewd gambit from Cruz. The part where Cruz likens himself to the "millions of others on the federal exchange," is a key tell. Cruz, having firmly established himself as Obamacare's most ardent philosophical opponent, will now have the chance to oppose the law as a participant.

There are some fundamentals involved that Cruz is no doubt intelligent enough to understand. One of those fundamentals is a structural conundrum that the Affordable Care Act has always faced: The universe of people participating in the law is several orders of magnitude smaller than the universe of people who have opinions about the law. This has bedeviled the law's supporters since its conception -- as poll after poll shows the public does not care for the law. However, it's also proved to be a problem for the law's opponents, whose fishing expeditions for Obamacare horror stories have tended not to yield the desired result. But Cruz will be able to present himself, rhetorically at least (you know: "optics"), as the living embodiment of the thing that squares that circle.

It also assists him in his mission to cut a contrast with other members of the GOP's 2016 field -- like, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who had a direct hand in preventing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion from coming to his state, while Cruz was leading unsuccessful efforts to destroy the law in Congress. Cruz will now be able to say, "I'm in this system, I hate it, and this is why I was leading the way in Congress so that Scott Walker wouldn't have to worry about it." That's what our blinkered Beltway touts refer to as "leadership," in their pundit coloring-books.

And as Dave Weigel points out, Cruz is borrowing a strategy that's already proven successful:

Cruz is deftly using the oddly-enough angle of this news -- Obamacare-hating senator forced into Obamacare -- for a populist cause. He's not the first Republican to do so. In his successful 2014 campaign for Senate, Colorado Representative Cory Gardner repeatedly talked about the family plan he'd held onto until it was scrapped for not meeting the ACA's standards.

"I got a letter saying that my family's plan was canceled," said Gardner in a TV spot. "Three hundred and thirty-five thousand Coloradans had their plans canceled, too."

"At personal cost," Weigel writes, "[Gardner] took a decision that made him more relatable and vulnerable to the insurance market. And now Cruz has done the same." That's likely Cruz's gambit here. Going "on Obamacare" will allow him to deepen his relationship with the people who hate the law out of suspicion, while simultaneously allowing him to claim himself as one of those aforementioned, non-elite Americans "on the federal exchange." That's no mean feat, considering that the only reason he's forced to make a choice in health insurance at all is because his wife is taking a leave of absence from her job at Goldman Sachs.

So Cruz, with the added enhancements of insider credibility and common-folk fealty, will go on excoriating Obamacare with his typical fervor. Naturally, I don't expect any of these criticisms to be non-disingenuous, but remember, this is a "political campaign," not a "be relentlessly honest and have perfect grasp of the facts contest."

_____________________________

Meme of the week.

What's one thing that unites many of the high-profile characters running for president, from top-tier contenders like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, to dark horses like Ben Carson and Martin O'Malley? As Daily Intelligencer's Jaime Fuller points out, it's a lack of expertise. And that's not a criticism or an opinion of the field -- that's the self-professed accounting of the candidates themselves. Per Fuller:

Jeb Bush is not an expert. Last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former Florida governor even confessed that he wasn't an expert in Washington politics -- though he sure seems eager to take part in them.

Bush is not alone in not being an expert. As you can see below, other 2016 presidential possibilities have invoked this necessary caveat when seeking to comment on things they have no business talking about -- or when trying to avoid subjects they'd rather not comment on.

It might be fun if some reporter asked the candidates, "Is there any field of human endeavor or study that you can, in fact, plausibly claim to be an expert?" Give credit to Carson: He can at least say "neurosurgery," which is an actual thing.

"Draft Warren" winds brow increasingly stale

run warren run

For as long as mankind has known of Elizabeth Warren, a sizable portion has wanted Warren to seek a political office. So, she did. And nearly as soon as she arrived in the Senate, many of those same people have wanted Warren to run for president. Warren has deftly resisted the siren song emanating from those who would unwittingly have her embark on a life-ruining career path, but it is nevertheless a flame that always burns, a desire that remains unquenched, a boundless amount of energy that really could be put to more productive purposes.

Last Sunday, The Boston Globe ran the latest entreaty from Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, whose members launched "Run Warren Run, a major effort to highlight the immense grass-roots support that exists for Senator Warren's vision," and who must, in all honesty, be deemed successful in demonstrating the truth of this claim. But when I heard about this, I immediately thought of so many thus far unsuccessful attempts to convince Warren to run, and I wondered: Is there anything original that can be said at this point that might tip the balance?

The answer is: "LOL, no." Let's take a look.

GALLARD: "Senator Elizabeth Warren has established herself as the country’s leading advocate for working and middle-class families. The Democrat has proven equally adept behind the scenes and in the media spotlight, and has stood up to Wall Street banks and other powerful interests to win changes that are improving millions of Americans’ lives."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Bill Lipton, of New York's Working Familes Party: “We know a champion for working families when we see one ... The only thing better than watching Elizabeth Warren take Wall Street to task from the Senate would be helping her bring our issues to the center of the national debate.”

GALLARD: "Put simply, this moment was made for Elizabeth Warren. With income inequality at its highest level on record, and corporations and lobbyists wielding enormous power in Washington and state capitals around the country, we need a president who is firmly grounded in making government work for regular people."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Gallard's first paragraph.

GALLARD: "And Senator Warren hasn’t just studied the struggles of America’s working families -- she has lived them, having been born and raised in a family she describes as being 'on the ragged edge of the middle class.'”

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Uhm, Warren herself? Who is Gallard trying to convince here?

GALLARD: "Regardless of which candidate they favor, most Americans agree that it’s important to have a vigorous contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The New York Times’s David Leonhardt recently wrote that without a slate of strong candidates, Democrats 'may conduct one of the least competitive nominating contests in modern political history.'”

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: The New York Times' David Leonhardt.

GALLARD: "It would be unprecedented for a candidate -- Hillary Clinton -- to march to the nomination largely unopposed, as many observers predict could happen if Warren doesn’t run. Such a scenario would be bad for both the party and for our country. A strong competitive primary campaign gives candidates a running start in the general election by giving them experience in articulating a clear vision and responding to crucial issues. Winning a competitive primary prepares the eventual nominee to face a battle-tested Republican candidate."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Literally tens of political pundits and reporters who have questioned whether Hillary running unopposed would be a bad thing for Hillary Clinton. (Also, are we drafting Warren to win this race, or are we drafting Warren to enter the race and make Hillary Clinton doubleplusawesome?)

GALLARD: "Poll after poll has shown that her message of economic justice and standing up to Wall Street resonates not just with liberal Democrats, but across the spectrum of potential voters. In fact, large majorities of likely voters who identify as independent and Republican in battleground states support Warren’s agenda, according to a recent poll commissioned by Run Warren Run."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: That time people reported on that poll.

GALLARD: "Some continue to argue that Senator Warren would be more effective in the Senate than in the Oval Office. That’s just not true ... And those calling for her to stay in the Senate would do well to remember that she doesn’t have to make the choice between running for president and being a senator — she can run for higher office while remaining in the Senate ... If Senator Warren does run, she’ll either become President Warren or continue being Massachusetts’ senior senator. It’s a win-win."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Never mind that. Pick an argument. How is it a "win-win" if Warren loses and remains in the Senate, from which position she would be less effective, as you argue? It sounds more like a "win-consolation prize," except that Warren returns to the Senate having damaged her brand and with scads of campaign debt.

"To be clear," Gallard writes, "Senator Warren has said she's not running for president, and we take her for her word. But we also believe she's open to persuasion." That is, indeed, plausible. But you're not going to persuade her with the same arguments that have, thus far, proven themselves to be stupendously unpersuasive.

All I ask, at this point, is that somebody who wants this to happen to come up with even one new argument, for funsies. Please, please.

The Week In Predictions

Jeb Bush: Bush is going to fail in Florida. And also in South Carolina. Or neither of those things. But he will have a talk-radio problem. But that's okay, Cruz's entry into the race will be a good thing for him.

Ted Cruz: Cruz is going to be a long shot. Unless he isn't. He could siphon support from Bush. Unless he doesn't.

Joe Biden: Biden will be "waiting in the wings" to swoop into the race if Hillary Clinton "falters." It's all part of his "long game."

Bobby Jindal: Jindal will wait until June to make his own announcement for president, because of "the state of his state." Per Charlie Cook: "“I think he could make a judgment that he needs to tend some fences back home ... It sure wouldn’t look good to jump in a race when your job-approval rating back home is 27 or 28 percent.” Sure! By June, I'm sure all of that will be fixed.

Lindsey Graham: Graham "may be the only politician who can stop global warming," so ... sorry about that, Planet Earth!

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

Rand Paul advises Hillary Clinton to return the money Saudi Arabia gave to the Clinton Foundation, because Saudi Arabia has reprehensible policies toward women. Which is true! But surely that makes the case for taking the money, not giving it back, to fund more anti-woman stuff. Hillary Clinton should also get a "
sparring partner
" in the form of a competitive primary.

Mike Huckabee should stop giving Hillary Clinton a hard time about that whole email thing. Chris Christie should be more like Bill Clinton. Rick Perry should get way, way into looking at "data."

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker "should stop comparing themselves to Reagan: it makes them look like a bunch of kids." (Bush, Rubio, Perry, and Huckabee, on the other hand, are in the clear!)

And Bobby Jindal has some advice of his own: The GOP should nominate, you know, a conservative governor, probably. Just spitballing!

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

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'Rise Of Super PACs' Set To Ruin The RNC's Plan To Avoid A Brutal Primary Season

Jason Linkins   |   March 27, 2015    1:47 PM ET

As I've had the opportunity to write about before, the Republican National Committee emerged from the 2012 election bent on making a series of dramatic changes in the hopes of achieving better results. One major area that the RNC examined was the length of the 2012 primary season itself, which to their mind had become a debate-happy horrorshow that ended up playing a role in imperiling their chances. As The Washington Post's Aaron Blake noted in the wake of the RNC voting to "significantly compress its presidential nominating calendar," the big takeaway from the 2012 contest was that it had become "a long, sometimes nasty primary process that Republicans think hurt their chances of winning the presidency."

So, how are things looking, now that they've made major reforms to the primary calendar and limited the number of debates? Take it away, Patrick O'Connor of The Wall Street Journal!

The race for the Republican presidential nomination is shaping up to be one of the most drawn-out in a generation.

The candidate field looks unusually crowded, with more than a dozen contenders appealing to different slices of the GOP. The rise of super PACs allows candidates to stay in the race longer than before. And nominating rules meant to compress the process may complicate a front-runner’s ability to amass the delegates necessary to win.

The result, some GOP strategists say, is that next year’s contest has the ingredients to be the longest since then-President Gerald Ford prevailed over Ronald Reagan at the 1976 convention.

The most eye-catching thing about this? That whole part about "the rise of super PACs," which threaten to artificially keep primary bids aloft long past their sell-by date. Republican pollster Bill McInturff shows up in O'Connor's report, emphasizing this:

This cycle, because of all these structural rules changes and the advent of super PACs, people are not going to drop out,” predicted Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who advised Arizona Sen. John McCain in both of his presidential bids.

Candidates abandon their bids and unify behind the front-runner when either they run out of money or a rival has gathered a majority of delegates, conditions that won’t materialize quickly this time around, he said. “Republicans have created a system where, because of super PACs, it is hard to project someone winning until late May or early June.”

So, it's our wonderfully new and corrupt system of financing elections that's going to ruin it for everyone? I have to say, that's as deliciously ironic as it was predictable.

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Pity The Poor Multi-Millionaires And Their Waning Political Influence

Jason Linkins   |   March 27, 2015    1:00 PM ET

It probably will come as no surprise to any of you to hear the news that most of you are not making it in America. And one way in which the semi-permanent nature of our not-making-it status has deftly revealed itself is the clear alteration to our political system: It no longer really resembles a citizen-driven democracy, but rather a weird oligarchy in which the would-be leaders of the free world have to schlep around, kissing the rings of dotty billionaires, in the hopes that their favor will propel them forward in their political careers.

Of course, for most Americans, clawing their way down the eroding path of middle-class respectability, there isn't a whole lot of time to pause and stage an aria of self-pitying lamentation. But there is one class of people that apparently do have the luxury of having the time to whine: the not-quite super-rich.

Yes, apparently the political fortunes of the merely astonishingly affluent have taken a nose dive of late, drawing the bottom nine-tenths of the top 1 percent into Thomas Piketty's "r > g" argybargy along with the rest of us. That is, at least from their perspective. They are deeply sad about their diminished political influence, and they are granting interviews to the commoners. Take for example, Terry Neese, a one-time pretty-big-wheel down on the Bush family Ranger ranch, who now tells The Washington Post that she's feeling as if her wealth, no longer able to quite stagger the imagination, doesn't count for much anymore:

At this point in the 2012 presidential race, Terry Neese was in hot demand.

“Gosh, I was hearing from everyone and meeting with everyone,” said Neese, an Oklahoma City entrepreneur and former “Ranger” for President George W. Bush who raised more than $1 million for his reelection.

This year, no potential White House contender has called -- not even Bush’s brother, Jeb. As of early Wednesday, the only contacts she had received were e-mails from staffers for two other likely candidates; both went to her spam folder.

Yes, the indignity of downmarket candidates reaching out through staffers, it is not to be endured. Neese, like many former in-demand toffs, has now become the poor, soot-stained matchgirl, face pressed to the window, looking on as the party to which she was once an invitee now gaily spins without her. And that is not hyperbole. As The Washington Post's Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger explain, at the recent RNC retreat in Boca Raton, would-be presidential candidates passed on flattering the merely very wealthy gathered in attendance, making for the event's version of the VIP room instead:

A number of White House contenders in attendance -- including former Texas governor Rick Perry and Govs. Scott Walker (Wis.), Chris Christie (N.J.) and Bobby Jindal (La.) -- devoted much of their time to private meetings with high rollers, according to people familiar with their schedules. Bush came to Boca Raton after an afternoon super-PAC fundraiser in Miami.

Then on Sunday, the governors made a pilgrimage to Palm Beach for a private Republican Governors Association fundraiser hosted by billionaire industrialist David Koch at his 30,000-square-foot beachfront mansion.

Welcome to class envy, you guys! Don't say you weren't warned. As Annie Lowrey noted in The New York Times last September, recent studies had indicated that while the "total income of the top 1 percent surged nearly 20 percent" in 2012 (as compared to the 1 percent growth experienced by the bottom 99 percent), the incomes of "the very richest, the 0.01 percent, shot up more than 32 percent." And over at Demos, Joseph Hines elaborated further:

That’s just 16,000 Americans that make over ten million dollars a year. And their dominance is strengthening: the share of income controlled by that tiny group of people jumped over a percentage point from 3.7 percent in 2011 to 4.8 percent in 2012. This is the donor class, the same group of people that donate to political campaigns and determine the structure of the market they have so clearly mastered.

As this new, super-exclusive donor class deepens their connection to the policy-making apparatus, their capacity to consolidate their wealth and influence will no doubt continue, in a pattern of rent-seeking and favor-trading designed to ensure high returns on their capital without having to take any of those knotty "risks" that we used to consider a vital ingredient to productive capitalism.

And as this progresses, more and more of the new over/underclass will start to feel like the heroine of this Washington Post story: “Most of the people I talk to are kind of rolling their eyes and saying, ‘You know, we just don’t count anymore,’” says the once influential Neese.

In other news, a number of people in the East Village of Manhattan, paying rents that are prohibitively high for working-class New Yorkers, had their homes explode yesterday.

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This Senator Is Sick Of Europeans And Their Stupid Coins

Zach Carter   |   March 25, 2015    5:59 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The European continent has gifted some of history's greatest cultural icons to the world. The Louvre. The Colosseum. The Cologne Cathedral. Plato, Dante, Gibbon. The Clash.

But Europe has also committed great crimes. In particular, Europeans go around paying for things with coins valued in whole units of currency. Fussy Europeans use 1-euro coins and 2-euro coins, as if a paper note would not suffice. This abomination shall never be replicated in the United States, if Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has his way. Because Charlemagne was overrated, and you know what? Fuck Pericles.

This week, Vitter filed an amendment with the Senate Budget Committee that would "strike out a provision that makes it easier for Washington elites to force Americans to give up their dollar bills and use dollar coins, like Europeans." Go ahead, read the whole amendment. It's only a page long, and it actually says that.

Like any blue-blooded American, Vitter knows that God intended coins to be used only for fractions of a single unit of currency. This is why coins are known as "cents" or "change" in These United States. For whole units -- one dollar, five dollars, what have you -- paper notes have long been recognized as the chosen medium.

But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has blasphemed against the paper. His latest budget proposal includes a provision (see Section 414), that would require any proposal that contemplates shifting from a paper dollar bill to a dollar coin to note the budgetary impact of such a proposal.

Enzi is really into dollar coins. And according to the Government Accountability Office, moving from dollar bills to dollar coins would create about $5.5 billion in budgetary savings over the course of 30 years, making the bill-to-coin move a way for his committee to open up other avenues for spending.

The GAO has been recommending this switch for years, noting that many of those pesky European nations (and Canada, which, let’s face it, is sort of the same as Europe, conceptually speaking) managed to "obtain a financial benefit."

But the GAO also acknowledged that these gains were kind of fake. Yes, dollar coins last longer than paper money, but this extended durability doesn't actually outweigh the higher upfront costs. The GAO said the budget gains it projected were due solely to "seigniorage" profits: money the government makes by printing new money.

The difference between what a government pays to create its currency and what it can buy with the face value of that currency is seigniorage. If it costs 30 cents to make a $1 coin, the government can make 70 cents in seigniorage off of that coin.

Now, each $1 coin costs more to produce than each $1 bill. But if the U.S. were to replace a lot of its bills with coins, it would need to mint a lot of new coins. And production of this new currency would create the savings (in seigniorage for each coin) that Enzi lauds.

So it's kind of fake. But who cares? Money, after all, is pretty much fake. Even hard-money Ron Paul acolytes are just fetishizing shiny stuff. But it turns out that carrying around coins instead of bills can actually be a burden on the overall economy. It's more sluggish and more expensive, according to a December 2013 Federal Reserve analysis, which means increased costs for the private sector.

The trouble is, neither the Fed nor the GAO considered just how European this whole thing is, which is far more important. Byzantium, shmyzantium.

Important Fact-Check: 108,000,000,000 ÷ 12,000,000 = 9,000

Jason Linkins   |   March 25, 2015    2:03 PM ET

The Washington Post's resident fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, has a pretty important corrective to mete out to an unsuspecting congressman today. Specifically this: 108 billion divided by 12 million equals 9,000, and not -- as some believe -- 5 million. Can't stress this enough. All of which raises an important question: Where was Kessler when I desperately needed a trigonometry tutor?

The backstory on this stems from a statement made by Rep. Pete Session (R-Texas) on March 24 on the floor of the House. Sessions, who was at the time apparently sleepwalking his way through another rote attack on Obamacare, said the following:

If you just do simple multiplication, 12 million [insured individuals] into $108 billion, we are talking literally every single [Obamacare] recipient would be costing this government more than $5 million per person for their insurance. It's staggering ... $108 billion for 12 million people is immoral. It's unconscionable.

It certainly would be unconscionable if numbers worked like that -- and maybe they do in an upside-down world where you describe a plain act of long division as "simple multiplication." But as Kessler points out, Sessions' math gets weirder still:

None of Sessions' numbers make much sense, however. The Congressional Budget Office, in a March report, said that the cost of coverage in fiscal 2016 for Obamacare (in the exchanges and Medicaid expansion) would be $95 billion, after penalty payments and other revenue. But the reduction in the number of uninsured Americans would be 23 million people.

So if you do the math correctly, that's a cost of $4,130 per uninsured individual in 2016. So that's less than half the figure that would have resulted from properly dividing Sessions' numbers.

It's always nice to find a journalist who's not afraid to be servicey. But I'd take issue with one part of Kessler's work here -- where he places the blame for this incident. "Sometimes a lawmaker will wander on the floor of the House or Senate and begin speaking without any notes," Kessler writes, adding, "That's a big mistake."

Perhaps. But I don't think that the failure to bring notes to the floor of the House is at issue here. When Kessler contacted Sessions' office, he was told that the representative "had gotten his numbers mixed up" and what Sessions had wanted to convey was that the Affordable Care Act "had cost $1.2 trillion over the past three years, and yet had only covered 20 million people." Therefore, the "unconscionable" number at which Sessions had intended to arrive was $50,000. Mixing up 50,000 with 5 million is still a bit of a howler, but in a narrow sense, the "should have brought some notes" advice seems solid.

However, Kessler surmised that this contention had the faint aroma of a nonsensical story that originated in the Daily Mail, which had already been fatally perforated by fact-checkers for its amateurish level of innumeracy. Per Kessler: "The problem with the Daily Mail calculation is that the newspaper took a ten-year budget number and divided by the number of insured individuals in a single year. No serious budget or health expert would use that kind of calculation."

But what if you are Pete Sessions, wholly unmoored from any requirement to be "serious"? You just say whatever you like, without concern that the source you're citing is a newspaper that routinely plays fast and loose with the facts. So this is not a problem that any number of notecards would have solved. Maybe there was a brief, mad moment as Sessions began to form the words "5 million" when he thought, "Wait a minute, that doesn't sound right." But he went for it, and he's not sorry, and this Kessler column represents the totality of the political consequences that Sessions will have to face. Next time, 10 million? Sure, ok, this isn't rocket science.

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'Testing The Waters': The Unseen Significance Of A Candidate Cliche

Jason Linkins   |   March 24, 2015    2:12 PM ET

A few weeks ago, I had the occasion to write about the myriad steps that a human being takes along the way to becoming a presidential candidate -- from the period in which supporters "draft" a candidate to that person's "active explorations" to "laying the groundwork" for a run to the run for office itself. The process is humorous, in that we have this tortured and convoluted way of talking about people that are obviously running for office well in advance of their formal declaration. But there's a deadly serious side to it as well: Up until a person formally becomes a candidate, they are legally allowed to coordinate with super PACs. Hell, they can even found their own super PAC!

So much of this weird and serpentine path that would-be office-seekers take as they flower into full-fledged candidates blessed by the Federal Election Commission is an elaborate means to navigate, and in some cases circumvent, what remains of our campaign finance regulatory regime. For that reason, I regret not including an important step in every candidate's journey -- the moment they start "testing the waters." As it turns out, this silly little phrase -- a well-worn election cycle cliche -- is freighted with significance, especially if you are a fan of robust reforms to our broken campaign finance system

Now on the face of it, of course, this sounds silly. Just about everyone we consider to be a de facto contender for the nation's highest office has obviously had a toe in those briny waters for some time. But for the Campaign Legal Center's Paul S. Ryan, it's a critical distinction. So critical, in fact, that Ryan authored a whole report, "'Testing the Waters' and the Big Lie: How Prospective Presidential Candidates Evade Candidate Contribution Limits While the FEC Looks the Other Way."

With the 2014 midterm elections behind us, public attention has shifted to the 2016 presidential election. News stories appear daily about prospective 2016 presidential candidates' repeated trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, extensive fundraising and campaign machine building. Yet none of the early frontrunners -- former Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Scott Walker and more than a dozen other politicians -- will even admit that they are "testing the waters" of a presidential campaign. Why is this? And how can it be?

The "why" part is easy to explain. Federal law requires an individual who is "testing the waters" of a federal candidacy to pay for those activities with funds raised in compliance with the federal candidate contribution restrictions -- no individual contributions above $2,700, no corporate or labor union funds. "Testing the waters" means activity "undertaken to determine whether the individual should become a candidate," including, for example, travel to see if there is sufficient support for one's candidacy. Prospective presidential candidates deny that they are "testing the waters" in order to evade the candidate contribution limits.

Ryan goes on to explain that at the moment, "only Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Jim Webb appear to be complying with the federal campaign finance law requirement that 'testing the waters' activities be paid for with candidate-permissible funds." The rest, says Ryan, are playing fast and loose with their super PACs and PACs, raising money in amounts that far exceed $2,700 for any number of things that look a hell of a lot like wading in the metaphoric waters.

Ryan expands on his paper in Politico on Tuesday, arguing that the media is "ignoring a major story" and suggesting a way they can correct this:

Every reporter on the campaign trail should be sticking a microphone or a pocket recorder in the face of prospective candidates and asking them, point blank, whether they are "testing the waters" of a presidential run -- i.e., whether they are spending any money in the process of determining whether to run. If they deny that they are "testing the waters" of candidacy, that absurdity alone warrants reporting. And if they acknowledge that they are "testing the waters," they should be asked about their fundraising above the $2,700 candidate limit and whether they are complying with federal campaign finance laws.

This is a pretty good example of how rampant government corruption can manifest itself as a thousand, seemingly boring, "paper cut" offenses, where no single instance looks like it threatens to exsanguinate our democracy. But without some attention, this abuse will continue. And sadly, our media's attention to corruption is quite limited in its scope.

READ THE WHOLE THING:
'Testing the Waters' and the Big Lie: How Prospective Presidential Candidates Evade Candidate Contribution Limits While the FEC Looks the Other Way (PDF) Campaign Legal Center

How 2016ers Are Breaking the Law and Getting Away With It Politico

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Hillary Clinton Moved Her Head, According To Crack Campaign Reporters

Jason Linkins   |   March 24, 2015    1:05 PM ET

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was a featured guest Monday at the Center for American Progress' "Expanding Opportunity in America's Urban Areas" conference in Washington. According to the liberal think tank's website, the event "[brought] together a small group of public, private, philanthropic, and nonprofit leaders to discuss challenges that our metropolitan regions face, as well as emerging solutions, laying the foundation for a vision of a thriving urban America that supports national prosperity."

Clinton's participation in the event offers a hint as to what her own economic policy priorities might be, and to whom she might turn for help in crafting a presidential platform. As Bloomberg's Melinda Henneberger put it: "For the many progressives who wonder where exactly Clinton stands on a number of issues, including trade, Wall Street reform and how she'd address income inequality, inspiring the feeling that they are being heard as she's still sketching out the policy particulars of her expected presidential run is no small thing."

Except it was a small thing, at least to Henneberger, who used the better part of her word count to inform readers that Clinton successfully made gestures and said some things, including fairly uncontroversial remarks about how the middle class is good and kids should be able to go to school and stuff. Per Henneberger, Clinton "nodded vigorously" and "took copious notes" and did so "with great enthusiasm." And like, you also had to listen to the notes she wasn't playing: "In a way, the message [Clinton's] body language sent was perfect: I'm here. I'm listening more than I'm talking. And I am even willing to go to school."

Yes, in a way. In another way, there was this whole policy conversation going on about how to improve urban economies. Henneberger caught snatches of this conversation and arranged them in a pastiche. Here's a taste:

When [Clinton] did speak on Monday, she talked about investing in infrastructure, including human infrastructure. Among the most pressing questions, she said, are, "What do we do to better equip our people to be able to take the jobs? And how do we keep middle-class families in cities where they want to stay? They don't want to leave, but they're being priced out."

Several unconnected instances of Clinton dialogue follow. In a way, the message that Henneberg's report sends is perfect: "I was here. I listened more than I talked. And I did the bare minimum to prove that to my credulous editor."

Clinton's remarks accounted for just a few minutes of the hourlong session, in which multiple politicians, advocates and policymakers offered their thoughts on how to address the (very important, and very daunting!) problems that face American cities. One of the more interesting points, and one that came up again and again, was that many of the assembled experts see urban economic renewal as something that begins at the local level -- something conceived among community stakeholders, municipal and regional governments, and private or philanthropic investors. In other words, Monday's roundtable was no festival of top-down, let-the-federal-government-take-the-lead policy ideas. So one might wonder: How, exactly, would Hillary Clinton, or any other president, facilitate this sort of change from the Oval Office?

I mean, when I say "one" might wonder, it's shorthand for "one substantively invested in a presidential election." But probably what most people want out of their political coverage is an Instagram video of Hillary Clinton nodding her head. Good news, then, because that's what The New York Times' official Hillary Clinton chronicler, Amy Chozick, got out of the session.

If you're into the whole "policy ideas that could affect people's lives" side of this story, the Center for American Progress has listed a bunch here, along with links to other reports they've written that deal more specifically with things like lessening the burden of people with criminal records as they move back into the productive economy, facilitating the establishment of "anchor institutions" in underserved communities, clearing out some of the regulatory impediments to infrastructure construction and expanding access to credit among distressed consumers.

But, if you prefer, here once again is that crackerjack video of Clinton nodding, because with 21st-century political coverage, you are there.

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New Hampshire Fourth-Graders Learn Vital Lesson In Cynicism From State Legislature

Jason Linkins   |   March 19, 2015    2:43 PM ET

Most people agree that it's vital for the youth of America to learn about civic participation and the ins and outs of our representative democracy. Some even believe that getting a civic education can be fun! Last week, a group of New Hampshire grade school students got to learn the most important lesson of all -- that sometimes, government is where hopes, dreams, kindness, charity, and good taste are brutally murdered right in front of you.

As NH1's Shari Smalls reported Thursday, a group of fourth-graders from Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, recently undertook a fun, hands-on exercise in how to turn a bill into a law. They had drafted legislation to make the red-tailed hawk the official "state raptor" of the Granite State. Unfortunately for these well-meaning, bright-eyed kids, standing in their way was the New Hampshire state House of Representatives, which is -- respectfully -- one of the most loop-de-doody legislative bodies in the world.

As I've had the privilege of explaining before, the New Hampshire state House has 400 members. Think about that for a second. The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 voting members. The population of New Hampshire is about 1.3 million, which means that every member of the New Hampshire House represents about 3,000 people. If the U.S. House represented the United States by the same proportion, it would be a 99,000-member body, and the resulting interplay between legislators would make most Thunderdomes look like a model of decorum.

Compounding this problem is the fact that most New Hampshire representatives are paid next to nothing, and so the chamber can be a haven for also-rans, never-weres, never-will-bes and nothing-better-to-dos, as well as cranky weirdos who believe in fun theories like how the Boston Marathon bombing was an inside job.

So while our heroic fourth-grade protagonists did manage to get their bill out of the House's Environment and Agriculture Committee, it's hardly surprising what happened next. As Smalls reports:

Rep. Warren Groen, a Republican from Rochester, said, "[The red-tailed hawk] grasps [its prey] with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood."

Ugh, Rep. Groen, can you not?

Another lawmaker, Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown), complained that "bottom line, if we keep bringing more of these bills, and bills, and bills forward that really I think we shouldn't have in front of us, we'll be picking a state hot dog next." But there's no need to pick a state hot dog, since it's clear that New Hampshire's official state sausage is rendered from the House's own deliberations and wrapped in a casing of tactlessness.

The fourth-graders' bill went down 133-160, and I suppose the silver lining is that there were a hundred or so other legislators too busy doing God-knows-what to join in the destruction of these kids' modest ambitions.

For their next trick, the kids should make things slightly harder for these legislators by proposing the bald eagle as the state's raptor. This will lead to some vital lessons about pandering, posturing and cheap theatrics.

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It's Sad That The Best The Media Can Do To Fight Government Corruption Is Scalp Aaron Schock

Jason Linkins   |   March 18, 2015    4:50 PM ET

This week, noted ab-haver Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) announced that he will be resigning his seat March 31 under the weight of multiple examples of shady, scandalous behavior. "The constant questions over the last six weeks," said Schock in a statement, "have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself." Given the circumstances, Schock's reference to "high standards" itself managed to set a high standard for lack of self-awareness.

Schock's rapid and farcical fall from grace began with a chance encounter between Washington Post reporter Ben Terris and an interior designer named Annie Brahler, whom Schock hired to make over his Capitol Hill office in the ostentatious fashion of the show "Downton Abbey." Terris took a bunch of photos of Schock's chandeliers and feathers, and Schock's communication director attempted to deter Terris from publishing those photos, apparently not knowing or caring how the Streisand Effect works. The result was that more reporters started getting curious about how Schock had been spending his time and money.

Eventually, it became clear that Schock was a serial chiseler, a profligate spender of taxpayer money and apparently a veteran filer of fraudulent reimbursement claims. The coup de grace came in the form of Politico reporters asking after a discrepancy in a mileage reimbursement claim -- Schock had "billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car from January 2010 through July 2014," but it turned out that when Schock sold the car, the odometer told the story of a vehicle that had not been driven half as many miles.

Evidently, soon after receiving an inquiry from Politico's reporters, Schock decided that the jig was up, and announced that he was bailing. This was treated as a big deal in the media! But a day later, one unasked question seems to loom: So what?

I sort of hate to prick the balloon of hype and self-congratulation over the scalping of Aaron Schock, but the truth is that the guy's misdeeds really do not amount to a hill of beans, or even a lesser quantity of beans. Like the man himself, Schock's crimes are trivial, and the fact that he ended up getting snared really only underscores how much corruption goes on elsewhere without anyone ever being held accountable for it.

Let's take a brief spin around some recent news, shall we? First stop: the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which is set to be adjudicated by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This bill is often framed as the result of a collaboration between Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.). But as Hearst's David McCumber reports, at least one lobbying organization for America's polluters -- the American Chemistry Council -- got a crack at the bill, clumsily leaving their digital fingerprints all over it. Jennifer Talhelm, Udall's communications director, responded to this revelation by saying that the bill was "shared with a number of stakeholders" for the purpose of "writing the best possible bill." In this case, that's sort of like asking the foxes for input on henhouse access points.

This week, The Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal reported on the payday lending industry's massive effort to influence legislation that might regulate their predatory practices and protect consumers from financial harm. The effort was fueled by influence peddlers and dark money, a sector that's been weaponized by the "Supreme Court's 2010 ruling [that] led to the creation of super PACs and nonprofit groups so closely tied to congressional leaders that they regularly receive large contributions from those seeking a foot in the door." (In this particular case, a path was beaten straight to the top of House leadership.)

As Blumenthal reported in a separate article, the 2016 presidential race is essentially happening in an environment where no one is even pretending that campaign finance rules have any teeth at all:

More than a year and a half before Election Day, the 2016 campaign is already showcasing the complete breakdown of a federal campaign finance system rooted in strict limits on donations. Thus far, the unlimited money chase has made the invisible primary -- the period before the actual primary elections when candidates seek to consolidate support among influential party leaders and big-money donors -- rather visible...

At some point before the actual vote-counting starts, the non-candidates will have to reveal their true form and move on from pretending to not be a candidate to pretending to care about campaign finance rules. Then they will, in the eyes of the law, separate themselves from their super PACs and nonprofits.

(As a reminder, the official Eat The Press editorial position on candidates and super PACs is that we refuse to participate in the fiction that there is a separation of any kind between candidates, official campaigns and the super PACs that support them.)

Anyway! These are just this week's stories of institutional corruption for which no one is being shamed, scorched or hounded into resignation.

The fact is that because of the degradation of campaign finance laws, lobbying restrictions and the remnants of any firewall between influence peddlers and the legislators who spend most of their week on the phone with influence peddlers, we've now got a kind of idiot-proof system of corruption-enabling. So if you find yourself at the center of a career-killing media frenzy, it means you are actually dumber than an idiot. You have to be a showy, inept bum like Schock or former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), leaving a paper trail of penny-ante crimes in your wake. Or you have to be caught in some basic example of a quid-pro-quo bribe, where hard currency is left stuffed in a freezer, like former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.).

Schock's real crime, honestly, was that he didn't play this system correctly and parlay several decades of favor-trading into a big cash-out at the end of his political career. By thinking short instead of thinking long, and feathering his nest with cheap gifts (as well as actual, literal feathers), he broke the unwritten rules of the game. So he's been bounced in disgrace, while, say, former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) -- one beneficiary of the aforementioned dark money payoffs from the payday lending industry -- gets to lay up in the cut, relaxing with his seven-figure investment bank salary, his reward for playing the game correctly.

The gradual deterioration of our bulwarks against institutional graft is something that former New York gubernatorial contender Zephyr Teachout laid out at length in her 2014 book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United. In January of this year, after New York Assembly Speaker and fraudster-extraordinaire Sheldon Silver (D) was finally brought low, Teachout accurately observed that "one high-profile indictment does not represent the dawn of a new democracy." Those are words worth remembering as the rest of Schock's saga plays out. As are these, per Teachout:

Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy.

Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one...

The structure of private campaign finance has essentially pre-corrupted our politicians, so that they can’t even recognize explicit bribery because it feels the same as what they do every day.

It's an easy, breezy environment in which to operate. And the media doesn't do much to make it harder. You can find no better illustration of this than when The New York Times' editors were faced with the challenge of rendering their endorsement for the 2014 New York gubernatorial race between Teachout and the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Here are the two infamous paragraphs of the Times' long-winded declaration of cowardice:

Mr. Cuomo became governor on that platform and recorded several impressive achievements, but he failed to perform Job 1. The state government remains as subservient to big money as ever, and Mr. Cuomo resisted and even shut down opportunities to fix it. Because he broke his most important promise, we have decided not to make an endorsement for the Democratic primary on Sept. 9.

His opponent in the primary is Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham Law School who is a national expert on political corruption and an advocate of precisely the kind of transparency and political reform that Albany needs. Her description of Mr. Cuomo as part of a broken system “where public servants just end up serving the wealthy” is exactly on point, but we decline to endorse her because she has not shown the breadth of interests and experience needed to govern a big and diverse state.

The Times declined to endorse Cuomo because of his self-evident corruption, but could not support Teachout because of her lack of "breadth of interests and experience." Of course, the most pertinent kind of "experience" that Cuomo had, and that Teachout lacked, was experience in manipulating a corrupt system to one's own ends. As Gawker's Tom Scocca put it: "It is true that Teachout is not an experienced politician. The experienced politicians in New York State are hacks and criminals. That is the situation that the New York Times editorial board would like you to believe it cares about."

So what, in the end, did Schock do wrong? Simply put, he failed to be corrupt in a way that could supersede the media's default position, in which "good government" types are taken less seriously than the veteran government hacks and crooks who succeed within a broken system, forever spinning through well-greased revolving doors, selling out and falling upward. Schock got laid low because, ultimately, he lacked ambition -- he was scrabbling after nickel-and-dime benefits instead of setting his sights on a bigger payout. He was, compared to those who've mastered the art of institutional corruption, a joke. But -- ha, ha! -- really, the joke's on you.

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Nope.

Jason Linkins   |   March 18, 2015    4:21 PM ET

There have been a lot of stories in the news in recent days about reality television's Donald Trump and his intentions to run for president in 2016. He will not be returning for another season of his NBC show, "The Apprentice," we hear. He is forming a "Presidential Exploratory Committee," we are told. He is even making key hires in early primary states, according to people who, I guess, treat the creation of any political campaign job from the ether as a "key hire" relative to no hires at all. All of which may lead you, the reader, to wonder how seriously the 2016 Speculatron is going to take a Trump campaign.

Let me assure you: We do not plan to take it even a little bit seriously.

We could, if we wanted to, go on at great length about the numerous reasons why nobody should take a Donald Trump campaign for president seriously. But you'd have to take it a little bit seriously to do so. We don't, so we won't.

We literally take the presidential prospects of any other human more seriously than we do Donald Trump's prospects. Robert Durst. Fred Durst. Any other alleged murderer or former member of Limp Bizkit. Anyone. We feel that the prospect of Congress changing the Constitution to allow newborn deer to be eligible to become president of the United States is an idea that is 1,000 times more worthy of serious, intellectual consideration than a Donald Trump candidacy.

Our position will not change at any time, for any reason. That's a guarantee.

Another guarantee: In the super-duper unlikely event Trump becomes president, we will find a way for all of you, if you'd like, to just "opt-out" of America. We'll declare it was a good run, but it's time to move on. And move on we shall.

However, if you examine the numerous things that would have to transpire for Trump to become president, it becomes abundantly clear that most of the planet's population would have to be dead, or unconscious, or raptured, or kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians. In other words, we'd all have much bigger problems anyway.

Trump running a presidential campaign is, in short, not a thing that you will need to expend even one scintilla of concern over, ever.

Okay, good talk, everybody.

Clinton Email Controversy Gives 2016 Race Its First Dose Of High Anxiety

Jason Linkins   |   March 15, 2015    7:30 AM ET

Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall convene every Sunday and attempt to decode and defang in a way that will hopefully leave you feeling unharmed and less confused. We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

Since the beginning of March, the singular story of our long-running pseudo-event known as the "2016 presidential race" has been former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her emails. This week, it became a matter which Clinton herself finally got around to addressing at a press conference, in which she explained that her decision to commingle State Department and non-State Department emails on a single email domain of her choosing was a decision borne from desired convenience, which has ended in no small amount of regret.

As I noted earlier this week, one of the most interesting things about Clinton's sudden email problem is that it probably can't be solved to anyone's satisfaction. The underlying assumption is that there is some email, somewhere, that has managed to escape proper oversight. No matter how many emails Clinton discloses, if this imagined missive fails to materialize, it will always be thought of something that's being hidden, as opposed to something that does not exist. The only solution is for none of this to have happened in the first place -- and it's not as if this required some super-genius amount of foresight to prevent.

Rather than solve the problem, it must simply be endured -- and not just by Clinton herself. Whatever you think of this email micro-event -- be it the intimation of a larger disorder, or one more shiny object of diminishing value -- the fact is that it has altered the "invisible primary" in some measurable way for Clinton's allies, her opponents, and the media tasked with covering the story. Today, we'll put everyone under the microscope -- and on the couch -- to see where this story is going, how it might end, and how everyone copes along the way. As with anything in American politics, everyone is unhappy in their own way.

Democrats: Seller's anxiety, mixed with frustration

As with any super-popular public figure, Hillary Clinton enjoys the affections of devotees for whom the mere notion that this story constitutes something scandalous is preposterous, and who are quick to point out that other current political figures (most notably GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker) have email sins of their own. Naturally, this is something of a contradictory position to take, but the underlying emotional rationale is one in which Clinton-philes feel that their candidate is uniquely persecuted.

As Harry Enten reported this week over at FiveThirtyEight, Democrats in general hold the opinion that the media reserves its sharpest elbows for the former first lady:

While Clinton was Secretary of State, from 2009 to early 2013, the view that the press was out to get her subsided. But since she left that office -- and its nonpartisan glow -- behind, the percentage of Democrats who see the press as being too harsh in covering Clinton has risen from 23 percent in 2013 to 54 percent in June 2014. Just 9 percent thought the media was easier on Clinton than on the average politician, according to that June poll. This 45 percentage point gap between “harder” and “easier” is similar to how Republicans felt about the press and Republican politicians, according to YouGov polls during the first half of 2014.

But trends do not prove monoliths, and if you examine the way party elites and activists have responded to the email flap, you don't see a blind "blame the press" strategy. Instead, you see a growing demand for Clinton to just get on with her campaign already. That marks a big change from the halcyon days of late January, when everyone seemed more or less resigned to the fact that Clinton was going to afford herself "the luxury of time" because, as one anonymous source put it, "She's better off as a non-candidate. Why not wait?"

But if Clinton wanted some sort of well-manicured campaign rollout, it's looking more like that won't be in the cards. As Politico's Gabriel DeBenedetti reported this week:

Democrats around the country had a clear and stern message for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday after she wrapped up her much-anticipated -- if hastily scheduled -- news conference on her use of a private email account as secretary of state: She shouldn’t expect this issue to go away in the coming months, and she’d better hurry up and announce her presidential campaign soon.

“The whole situation underscores the need for her to announce her candidacy, as an actual campaign would be the best way to deal with issues like this if they come up,” said Kathy Winter, chairwoman of Iowa’s Osceola County Democrats.

The value of jumping into the race with both feet just as the heat from this email flap is at its height is pretty simple: You get to change the subject. You get to outline and defend policy positions and priorities, and give the teeming masses in the political media something more esoteric to chew on for a while. In short, you start playing your game. As one anonymous Democratic strategist told DeBenedetti, “When she announces that she’s running, that’s when this will fade away.”

Or, so that person hopes. Let's face it, if it were a sure thing that this problem was so easily dissolved, that source would be known by name, instead of by "a national Democratic strategist familiar with the emerging campaign structure and plans."

Of course, there's a world of Democrats outside of the Clinton fan base, including a fairly significant number of people who have dedicated their lives to convincing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to ruin her life and run for president, presumably to Clinton's left. From that camp, we've seen a trickle of reactions to this email controversy that all basically amount to, "Why always Hillary?"

As H.A. Goodman writes in these pages, "However, there's an alternative to constantly defending Hillary Clinton from real or fabricated accusations and controversies. Her name is Senator Elizabeth Warren." The interesting thing to note is the way Goodman characterizes the act of righteously defending Clinton from "fabricated accusations and controversies" as something that's not worth the effort.

The only problem, of course, is that Warren is not running, and Democrats do not have a particularly deep bench. That's why the "crap or get off the pot" faction is likely to get their way, pushing Clinton into proper campaign mode by April. At which point, she'll welcome the delicate knives of her rivals in the GOP.

Republicans: Guarded optimism, but worried they'll blow it

Obviously, all of this attendant controversy has been good news for the GOP, because this story weaves well with many pre-existing media narratives (the Clintons are, by nature, secretive) and oppositional talking points (the Clintons will do anything to win). And with Clinton looming large as a near-untouchable primary contender, Republicans will take no small amount of satisfaction in the fact that she won't get through the pre-primary season unbuffeted.

Nevertheless, it would appear that some sort of natural anxiety has seeped in on the Republican side, as the mouth of this irresistible gift horse clamors for gaze. As GOP strategist Ed Rogers writes in The Washington Post, "Meanwhile, Republicans have reacted in a somewhat bipolar fashion. They’ve sloshed from, 'Oh no, Hillary Clinton is invincible' to 'Oh no, Hillary Clinton might not be the Democratic nominee in 2016.'”

Is it possible that after all of this, Republicans would rather run against Hillary Clinton than someone else? That would evince far more confidence in the Democrats' second string than even the Democrats have mustered at this point. And yet, you can find people sharing these sentiments. Over at American Thinker, J. Robert Smith says that the question, "Would our party nominee be better off with Hillary or another Democrat?" is "more than an arm-chair debate":

RINO election strategies failed in 2008 and 2012. What critical constituencies do the McConnell-Boehner led GOP congressional majorities persuade or excite? Where are congressional Republicans advancing better approaches to the nation’s challenges? Boehner and McConnell capitulations on critical issues don’t exactly motive base conservatives or make Republicans standout.

An establishment Republican nominee has dim chances of winning the White House in 2016 unless Hillary manages to gain the Democratic nomination. Hillary won’t be the Democratic nominee; the left is making sure of it.

Obviously, most of that is predicated on a broad critique of "establishment Republicans" and some ostentatious assumptions about "the left" being engaged in a process to ensure Hillary doesn't run, but there is a danger, at least in theory, in the "candidate to be named later." And with current opinion polls telling our media that the people are hot for change, there's something reassuring about fighting Hillary Clinton in a general election when you presume she won't be able to embody something "new" in fitting enough fashion.

Elsewhere, there is the notion that somehow, the GOP will blow this. Clinton's "foes," writes Time magazine's David Von Drehle, "almost always overplay their hand":

Though members of Congress are calling for her to turn over the email server for forensic examination, they would be wise to proceed cautiously. A key page in the Clinton rule book is the one that reads: When in doubt, drive your enemies crazy -- then sit back and watch them implode.

The whole notion of the GOP always shooting themselves in the foot when they've got a clear sight at the target naturally comes in for some mockery in some circles. And yet, over in Politico Magazine, feisty GOP flack Rick Wilson makes it clear that this is one of his chief worries, urging Republicans to "stay out of the way of [Clinton's] email fiasco":

Let’s try something new: maintain message discipline, hold focus and keep an eye on a bigger objective than your daily press release, social media hits or email fundraising drops. This is about her, not us, so unless GOP elected and opinion leaders are smart and subtle, and execute with the right timing and tone, she wins. Try for once to play the long game and help Hillary Clinton take on water.

Of course, "never interrupt your opponent when they're making a mistake" is, in American politics, advice that is offered almost as often as it goes unheeded. But it goes to show that old GOP hands know this "overplay the hand" tendency well enough.

Of course, the main target of Wilson's piece may not be Republicans at all, but rather the media.

The Media: One nation under a backlash

"While the media’s passive 'attention span' excuse du jour is real," Wilson writes, "many in the press are possessed of a boundless ideological desire to change the subject right now."

There's scant evidence that this notion is true. The political press seems rather united on the notion that Clinton's press conference failed to end the story and continued to raise concerns. As of now, The Associated Press and Gawker have filed separate lawsuits against the State Department to gain access to Clinton's missing emails. Every indication is that this story shall persist for some time.

Still, it's a pretty nifty bit of "working the refs" from Wilson, and it neatly encapsulates the delicate position the press is in. If media outlets run at the story with the willy-nilly spirit of their typical foolishness, they could end up resembling the very creatures that Harry Enten's poll respondents imagine -- wild-eyed gaffe patrols eternally chasing after the shiny object. Give up on the story too soon, and they'll become another caricature: the in-the-tank liberal media. (And even though this story wouldn't exist without determined reporting, you can bet that if the flap ends up not hurting Clinton, the press will be accused of "burying the story.") Either way you turn, backlash looms.

Meanwhile, it's anybody's guess as to whether the people pursuing this story are doing so with any mind to what they should even be looking for, exactly. Time's Von Drehle pinpoints one area of interest, the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Per Von Drehle:

The risk that foreign governments and superrich foreign citizens might donate to the foundation as a way of currying favor with the Secretary of State worried both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Hillary Clinton was first named Obama’s top diplomat. And while the White House forced the foundation to sign a point-by-point agreement in 2008 about what it could and could not do while Hillary Clinton ran the State Department, there really is no separating the globe-trotting Clintons from the heady atmosphere of money and influence.

Still, it's not clear that everyone's wading into this story with a solid game plan. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza says that he's "stuck on" the number of emails deemed private, and indeed, he offers no indication as to whether he's considered the distinction between quality and quantity. CNN's Laura Koran made a game attempt to illustrate what a pending release of Clinton emails might "look like," but never really gets past what's likely to be excluded from such a release to reckon with what might be there.

And the answer, of course, is that there may be nothing extraordinary in those emails at all. Of course, there could also be any number of embarrassments -- intemperate remarks, unexpected criticism, blunt analysis -- that might be dredged from Clinton's emails, as might be dredged from our own. So the story could just as easily end up in "What about your gaffes?" territory as it might end up exposing some dodgy synergy between Clinton's State Department office and her family's foundation.

Of course, there's something to this whole story that does speak to the public interest. As Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel opinion columnist Ernst-Ulrich Franzen notes, there's a wider, better debate to be had:

The fact of the matter is that operating in secret is the preferred method of operation for too many elected officials on both aides of the aisle. The Obama administration has become notorious for its foot-dragging and reluctance to operate under public scrutiny. And while Walker has been better than many when it comes to openness and in responding to the media, the secret email system and his unwillingness in recent weeks to directly answer some questions, still leaves a bad taste. Just as Clinton's practice does.

So, come 2016, I really would like to see a debate on openness in government between whoever wins the nominations. I'd like to hear about their commitment to the concept and what they would do to achieve more openness. And why secret email systems hurt democracy.

Cheers to Franzen for making the effort to elevate the conversation. Also, please accept these commiserations when this substantive conversation fails to materialize.

Hillary Clinton: Is it all really worth it?

And what of Clinton herself? The events of the last two weeks have raised a slew of old questions. Frank Rich took to his regular New York Magazine Q&A column to lament, "But the more important question is why the Clintons, who more than anyone in American politics understand the high risks of perceived improprieties, have left Hillary’s campaign so vulnerable even before it is officially out of the gate."

These concerns were echoed by The Guardian's Megan Carpentier:

But the stupidest person in all of this whole mess is Hillary Clinton, who –- when she set up her private email address in 2009, just after leaving the Senate and just before heading into her confirmation hearing as Secretary of State -– had already weathered approximately 20 years and infinite variations on this exact stupidity about her supposedly letter-but-not spirit-of-the-law behavior and public transparency and yet set up a private email address and used it for work email anyway.

Meanwhile, Rich's New York Magazine colleague Jonathan Chait says that the "larger problem for Clinton, though, is not the likelihood that her emails will turn up incriminating evidence." Rather it is "what this episode reveals about her political judgment and managerial acumen."

All of which may be overcomplicating the problem. A more fitting question might be: "Does Hillary Clinton actually want to do this for the next year and a half?" Based upon how little she enjoyed her first tilt with a skeptical press, you have to think that going on for hundreds of days more will require a stouter resolve than most masochists are prepared to offer.

The pundit class, at the moment, is hung up on the public's desire for novelty and change, because it looks like there's a better-than-even chance that both parties' nominees might end up being dynastic throwbacks. But all of that may be a mere placeholder for public opinion, until the sparring begins and the public gains a firmer foothold into what the big ideas of the 2016 race might end up being.

Nevertheless, even if a lack of dynamic newness isn't a barrier to competing for the White House, a lack of optimism almost certainly is. And that's what's missing from Hillary Clinton's outward-facing campaign, such as it is at the moment: any sign of brightness or buoyancy, or the notion that there is something hopeful, energizing the Clinton candidacy with purpose. Inevitability -- that quality that Clinton is said to have in abundance -- doesn't mean much when it seems as if what's inevitable isn't any fun.

Somehow, some way, Hillary Clinton is going to have to find some way of proceeding on this path with something that resembles cheerfulness, and which presents a Clinton candidacy as an exuberant, positive thing in which to play a part. It can't look like a constant slog of pessimism and recriminations, otherwise the feeling expressed by H.A. Goodman, in which defending Clinton is a drudge even when the cause is right, will become widespread.

Clinton's been at this for a long while now, and while during that time, she's come to be thought of as having presidential timber, she's also managed to acquire a few decades of resentments, which she seems to keep too close at hand for her own good. Now, she's got to find a way to legitimately enjoy running for president. That probably means that she's got to somehow put these ancient grievances out of her mind, lest she be consumed by them. If only she could delete them as easily as an email.

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Hillary Clinton's Email Problem Is Unsolvable

Jason Linkins   |   March 10, 2015    8:48 PM ET

Tuesday afternoon, the first act of "Hillary Clinton Email Dämmerung" concluded, with the former secretary of state providing an eager mass of reporters with a brief press conference, in which she "Addressed The Controversy For The First Time" and, as you might expect, "Raised More Questions Than She Answered."

Behind her lectern in the United Nations' Turtle Bay redoubt, Clinton insisted that she went above and beyond the call of duty in terms of releasing her email, complied with all rules, and availed herself of every precautionary step to safeguard government work from the clutches of nefarious parties. She restated an already well-trafficked assurance, that the emails that pertained to State Department business went to other State Department email addresses, and thus are recoverable, archivable, and transparent.

She explained her decision to use a personal email account for State Department business as a matter of convenience -- the desire to carry a single device instead of multiple ones, all of which served as a searing indictment of Blackberries, I guess, since most of the rest of the world has discovered that a single smartphone can contain multitudes of email accounts. As to whether the public should be assured that all of her email transactions were handled with the requisite responsibility, Clinton's response was to offer her own self-assessment that it was, and to point to pending releases of further email that, to her mind, would be sufficient to bear that out.

Of all the decisions that led to these events, Clinton said, "Obviously, it hasn't worked out." Yes, well, I suppose not.

If we decide not to overthink things, we can all admit that there is something that's beyond dispute. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, is supposed to be subject to a certain level of oversight. While just about anyone sensible would admit that there are instances in which the head of our international diplomatic mission has to discuss matters that require secrecy, and that any top government official deserves some private space for frank criticism, private advice, and the opportunity to entertain controversial ideas, we are nevertheless entitled to the baseline assurance that what business can be conducted in the light of day is conducted in that matter, and that the actions of our elite officials will not be placed beyond scrutiny.

But it's hard to not overthink this, because a certain amount of overthinking was there from the start. Obviously, the simplest thing for Clinton to have done would have been to open and maintain some sort of "state.gov" email account and conduct State Department business in that domain. Had she done so, there wouldn't be an issue. In fact, had she done so and simultaneously had a personal email account on the side, this still wouldn't be an issue, because most people would find the notion that Hillary Clinton is not allowed to have a private email account to be insane. But by commingling the two -- government and personal -- Clinton opened the door to this criticism, because we can't be sure by what rules Clinton follows to guide her decisions to archive or delete emails. Does she follow State Department guidelines, or her own whims?

It is a thing that can't be known, and so, Hillary's email flap has become a problem that she can't solve, to anybody's satisfaction. This is true in the literal sense, because a lot of emails that were once in her "possession" have been deleted. But it's also true in a figurative sense. What is the ur-email she can provide, that once it is read, will assure everyone that full transparency has been achieved?

At this point, it's worth wondering what sort of missives members of the teeming press corps believe that they can or should be entitled to find in Clinton's private stash. I promise you, nobody in the wide world is interested in reading emails pertaining to Clinton's rote, day-to-day State Department work, and the number of political reporters in Washington who are genuinely concerned with State Department transparency is too small to be of statistical significance.

What people want to find is evidence of some buzzy internecine feud or conflict with the White House, some career-crippling statement of policy or opinion, some private message in which Clinton says something intemperate about a political opponent, or some tawdry act of State Department-Clinton Global Initiative synergy. (Of these, the last is the most vital to the American interest, but it would unfortunately end up in the hands of a media that lacks all interest in a substantial critique of how money and power now mesh to society's detriment, and it would be covered as a problem unique to Clinton rather than a pervasive problem in our political system.)

Failing that, evidence of some embarrassing family problem, health issue, or lifestyle choice would be what the press would seek to uncover in a Clinton email cache. (Assuming, of course, that there aren't simply hundreds of extant emails with the subject line "RE: BENGHAZI LOL.") But the salient point is this: Clinton's actions broadly suggest that she wanted to manage her emails in a way that guarded against a public humiliation, therefore nothing short of an email that publicly humiliates her will be sufficient to put this story to bed.

Compounding the insolubility of the email flap itself is the fact that this is precisely the sort of story that Clinton can ill afford because it "feeds an existing narrative" about her, and her campaign. Actually, it feeds two existing narratives. As New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt explained on Morning Joe, days after he broke the story on Clinton's private email account, “There’ve been questions about the Clintons over the years, about their transparency and secrecy, and this feeds into narrative.” Secondarily, as Jonathan Chait notes, "This revives the question of whether Clinton is capable of managing a competent campaign (and thus, in turn, a competent administration)."

Normally, it's best to keep yourself far from any story in which someone is "feeding" or "confirming" some sort of "narrative," if only because what the media calls a "narrative" is often miles and miles from the way normal human Americans actually think about politics. But in the Clintons' case, they keep adding their own ink to the story. Shortly after the email story broke, longtime Clinton adviser and anthropomorphic antithesis to the concept of congeniality Philippe Reines responded to a simple question from a Washington Free Beacon reporter by starting some sort of insane chain email with that reporter, a reporter from Gawker, Clinton's main spokesperson, and two media critics, on which he dyspeptically answered questions with more questions and generally displayed an aversion to grace and tact.

Who does this? Why did this have to happen? It boggles the mind. The simple, uncluttered choice would have been to simply answer the original reporter's inquiry with a "no comment" and move on, instead of inviting some sort of numbskull public sideshow. Just as the simple, uncluttered choice would have been to have a State Department email, on which to conduct State Department business.

It is, of course, an open question as to whether this will, in the end, mean anything at all. As New York Times' ace political scientist Brendan Nyhan notes:

The actual public response to the controversy is likely to be a combination of apathy and partisanship. Few Americans are paying attention to any aspect of the campaign at this point. Those who do notice will most likely divide largely along partisan lines, with Democrats interpreting her actions more charitably, especially once they see Republicans attacking Mrs. Clinton on the issue.

Any significant political costs are also likely to be fleeting because the revelations came so early in the campaign cycle. It is hard to believe that a lack of transparency in Mrs. Clinton’s use of email will have a significant effect on a general election that will be held some 20 months from now.

"All of this could change," Nyhan writes, "if a true bombshell emerges from [Clinton's] famous Blackberry." Indeed, the irony here is that if Clinton self-produces that bombshell, everyone will go home satisfied that she is being transparent. That's basically the only thing she can do at this point: torpedo her presidential campaign to save her reputation.

That's why there is no universe in which opting out of using a State Department email was a smart thing to do, sorry.

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ICYMI: Here's Everything That Happened During The Netanyahu News Dump

Jason Linkins   |   March 3, 2015    2:31 PM ET

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday morning, an event that was -- for many Beltway swells -- the hot ticket for the social event of the season. But all the media attention focused on Netanyahu's remarks has made for the perfect opportunity to do a rare Tuesday Morning News Roundup. Here's what everyone missed.

1. House Republicans cave on DHS funding.

So ends that winsome melodrama. Days after Congress extended the final act of the "Will They Defund the Department of Homeland Security" saga by one week, House Speaker John Boehner is calling for an anti-climax. As Elise Foley reports:

Senate Democrats have already shown that they will not vote for a funding bill that passed the House in January. That bill would tie funding to ending President Barack Obama's immigration actions, which could allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to temporarily stay in the country and work.

Now, the House is conceding defeat on getting immigration measures into the DHS bill. The vote could come as soon as Tuesday.

The center of this contretemps is a series of executive actions from Obama, implementing his policy preferences on immigration. At the moment, 26 states are suing the administration over those executive actions, a fact that Boehner cited in telling House Republicans there'd be a vote on a "clean" DHS funding bill. "The good news is that the president’s executive action has been stopped, for now," the speaker said. "This matter will continue to be litigated in the courts, where we have our best chance of winning this fight."

Shutting down Homeland Security is an option that Boehner on Tuesday deemed to be "untenable." Given his approval of the lawsuit lodged against the White House, it makes you wonder how a threatened shutdown made it even this far.

2. David Petraeus gets slapped on the wrist in a plea deal.

"The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal," said Netanyahu of the current negotiations over Iran's nuclear future, on which the Israeli prime minister would like to put the kibosh. As if to emphasize the secret existence of really great deals you had no right to expect, the U.S. Department of Justice reached an accord with wayward military guru and retired general David Petraeus, who scandalized himself after it came to light that he'd shared classified information with his inamorata and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

The New York Times' Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo have the story:

Mr. Petraeus will plead guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison. Mr. Petraeus has signed the agreement, said Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesman.

What's the over/under on "number of days Petraeus will spend in jail"? I'd advise you to go low -- this is, after all, an American Thought Leader. I'd sort of like to see some people at least apologize to MoveOn over this thing, as it seems only fair at this point. Speaking of:

3. Edward Snowden may be returning to the United States.

Russia -- don't know if you've heard -- is a really hectic place right now, and apparently Edward Snowden wants out. According to Reuters' Gennady Novik and Gabriela Baczynska, a Russian lawyer told reporters there is some sort of ongoing trilateral legal wrangling that could ultimately return Snowden to America:

Anatoly Kucherena, who has links to the Kremlin, was speaking at a news conference to present a book he has written about his client. Moscow granted Snowden asylum in 2013, straining already tense ties with Washington.

"I won't keep it secret that he ... wants to return back home. And we are doing everything possible now to solve this issue. There is a group of U.S. lawyers, there is also a group of German lawyers and I'm dealing with it on the Russian side."

There are, of course, opportunities for content synergy.

4. Russ Feingold will do some stuff.

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) is heading for the door at the State Department, where he's been serving as the special envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rumors are plentiful that his aim is to return to the Senate by defeating the man who defeated him (in a thoroughly ironic result), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). That is no easy task. As Roll Call's Nathan Gonzales points out, ousting the senator who ousted you is a political trick that "hasn't happened in nearly a century."

Feingold took to Facebook on Tuesday to offer the precise sort of vague intimations that make political reporters freak themselves:

After I leave the State Department this week, I will spend portions of 2015 teaching international relations and law at Stanford University. For most of the rest of this year, I will be living at my home in Middleton, Wisconsin, from where I will travel the state extensively. I will listen carefully to my fellow Wisconsinites talk about their concerns, especially those involving their economic well-being. I will also seek their counsel on how I can best further serve my country and the state I love.

Here's hoping he stuck to his government email account while at State.

Anyway, that's what you missed this morning if you were caught up in "Netanyahu speech" Twitter.

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