03/23/2014 10:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Would Mitt Have Done in Ukraine? And Ryan/Rangel/Rand on Race


By: Mark Green


In light of blustering jingoists, is Obama weak or wise on Russia-Crimea? Has he affirmed our interests without risking WWIII? Then: has DuBois's "color line" been crossed by Ryan, Rangel or Rand? will Dems lose it all in '14 but run the table in '16?

On the Ukraine. This week the President tried to project "a velvet glove in an iron fist" -- threatening severe sanctions without risking WWIII over non-vital interests. What would a President Romney have done differently or better?

Ron Christie, senior advisor to the Bush-Cheney White House, answers that "he would have projected strength and not bent to a thug and dictator." Not because of any language or policy but because "he wouldn't have boxed himself" by being weak elsewhere, like in Syria.

Gara LaMarche of the Democracy Alliance dismisses that analysis as both wrong and "US-centric." Obama's sliding scare of sanctions are about right and Putin didn't react to anything Obama did but to his opportunity to take the Crimea back after his favored Ukrainian leader fled the country. Both agree that the May 25 election will help determine whether the Ukraine can align with the EU economically and remain independent? Can it be a bridge between East and West and not a satellite of either?

Last, there's also consensus that it's a simplistic media meme to view developments as a "New Cold War" since there's no Communism v. Capitalism struggle and no nuclear missiles on a hair-trigger. That's easy, but false, framing.

Host: It's important in any negotiation or confrontation to put oneself in the other guy's shoes. Putin felt threatened by NATO advancing East saw the requisition of Crimea as a path to glory, at home and historically. But was this a pyrrhic victory -- gaining land but losing billions in investment, his stock market, the G-8? Like Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs in '62 and Carter after his failed Iranian rescue attempt in '79, Putin's short-term presidential poll numbers have jumped... what happens, however, when the longer-term economic consequences sink in?

On Race & Racism. From 3/5 of a man in our revered Constitution to the current fight over voter ID and early voting, we're now in our third century of grappling with what W.E.B. DuBois called "the color line". Did the separate comments of Paul Ryan, Charlie Rangel and Rand Paul cross over into fraught territory?

Rep. Ryan said on Bill Bennett's radio show that the "inner city culture" was significantly responsible for poverty and high unemployment. Is this true, unPC, even racist?

Christie notes, along with the WSJ, that Ryan's comments were not dissimilar from Obama's on this topic and that he never explicitly referred to African-Americans. Then the two panelists concur that the Congressman and 2012 VP nominee was not sending a "bird-whistle" but is genuinely concerned with a better GOP approach to poverty.

To provide a both-sides perspective... Context counts. The same joke told by Jackie Mason and Pat Buchanan can convey very different messages. Comparing Ryan & Obama is fatuous. One cites for support author Charles Murray -- who wrote that blacks are genetically inferior to whites -- and famously regards the safety net as a "hammock" for the 47 percent who are in effect lazy moochers.

The other is an African-American president seen as empathetic and supportive of policies that 95 percent of African-Americans vote for. One blames family and community breakdowns, period. The other also addresses discrimination in the workplace, law enforcement, health care... and doesn't look to Charles Murray or Ayn Rand as his intellectual mentors. (See Krugman, Blow.)

There ensues a robust debate on whether safety net programs have significantly reduced poverty or, despite trillions spent, failed. Ron says they've failed -- Gara says they worked until Reagan-Bush fiscal, tax and social policies sabotaged them.

In a tight, tough race for his 23rd term, Rep. Rangel said on NY1 that the tea party was "racist" because "many come from confederate states and still wave the confederate flag." Ron considers that pandering, outrageous, untrue... adding that the KKK was supported by many Democratic officials 100 and 50 years ago. While Gara considers Rangel's comment "overwrought," he adds that a) no doubt some in the Tea Party are and b) it says something when conservatives have to go back a century to argue that both sides do it. But the panelists agree that the word "racist" is a poisonous, unproveable conversation-stopper -- hence best avoided.

Last, Ron and the Host thought it bizarre and unwise that Senator Rand Paulsuddenly injected race into a speech on NSA surveillance:, saying: "I find it ironic that the first African-American president has without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the NSA... [since] J. Edgar Hoover spied on Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement." Then a beyond-left-and-right moment as Gara, noting that he and Ron had switched sides momentarily, says it's useful for anyone to accurately note that civil rights groups were targeted by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, "himself a racist."

On Voting Restrictions. The conversation about race moves from personalities to policy -- ok, do Voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting have a racial motive or impact?

Ron agues vigorously that ID laws are justified given the level of voter fraud and a 6-3 Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Stevens, saying such laws were constitutional. Gara counters that an infinitesimal number fraud cases out of millions of voters should not produce a process that disproportionately disenfranchises "Obama voters," such as the young and minorities who are less likely to have government ID.

There's a consensus, however, that there's no excuse for GOP governors in Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Kansas and elsewhere to try to restrict early voting which is a pro-democracy way to help working people with families find the time to vote.

Gara concludes that GOP efforts on Voter ID and early voting reflect their difficulty "in appealing to the rising electorate of the young and people of color so they try to maintain their electoral supremacy" by making it harder to vote.

As for the 2008 Supreme Court decision: since then there's been a lot of evidence, as the prominent conservative Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner has observed, that "these laws seem more about voter suppression than stopping voter fraud."

Quick Takes: MH370, Surgeon General, Scott Brown,

*The wall-to-wall, all-plane-all-the-time coverage of MH370, says Ron, is due to a news business seeking ratings and, adds the Host, to a public fascinated by who-dunnits from Amelia Earhart to Judge Crater.

*Gara thinks it ridiculous for the NRA to oppose Dr. Vivek Murthy, Obama's Surgeon General nominee, because he supports, as does the President and large majorities of Americans, proposals to reduce gun deaths. Ron opposes the nominee not because of his gun safety views that but because he's supposedly too inexperienced for the post.

*In trying to become only the third person ever to represent two different states in the U.S. Senate, Gara says that Scott Brown is "like our show, he's on both sides of the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border." Ron adds that he's a serious candidate who will "spread the playing field" and cost Democrats valuable, limited resources in their efforts to hold the Senate majority. Chance of Dems losing control? "Christie: "80 percent" LaMarche: "likely today...but we have six months until the election, thank god."

Careful what you wish for. While there are twice as many DemocraticSenate incumbents vulnerable in low-turnout 2014, there will be twice as many Republicans up in 2016. I'll take this bet: Rs may win both chambers in 2014 but lose one or both if an HRC wins by 55 percent or more. Who needs Nat Silver?

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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