Sunday, November 15, 2015

Horror In the City of Lights & Republican Relevancy in 2016

People in Times Square watching news of the Paris attacks
As news reports of the terrorist attacks in Paris trickled in Friday afternoon, it ripped me from the normalcy of a day-off from work spent taking care of bills and running routine errands to the dry cleaners, bank, laundry, gym, grocery store, gas station and pet store.

My initial plan had been to come home and spend Friday afternoon catching up on emails and doing some writing.

But instead I ended up in front of the TV for hours like the two people seen in this photo sitting in Times Square watching snippets of information scrolling across the screen - trying to wrap my head around what had happened in the City of Lights.  

I lived in Manhattan on September 11, 2001 and I'm still trying to wrap my head around that day.

One of the obvious things lost in much of the initial nonstop news coverage over the first 24 hours is the fact that that the attacks took place on Friday the 13th. 

True to form, ISIS decided to execute yet another mass slaughter of innocent people on a date they hope will be "branded" into the minds of the billions of people around the world forced to bear witness to a depraved act of barbarity that killed at least 129 people and injured 352.

EMT personnel evacuate survivors in Paris Friday night
Not only that, they scheduled the attacks to take place on a Friday night when the streets of Paris were packed and the global media news cycle would have no choice but to spend the weekend focusing on these despicable acts.

As the media continues to examine the "how and why", and people around the world begin to try and come to grips with the scale of this unfolding human tragedy, I think it's important to look at how this terrorist event is going to impact our own presidential elections. 

We're less than 12 months out from electing a new president, and the Paris attacks suddenly put even more of an emphasis on which candidates are going to be best suited to take the reins of a highly complex foreign policy apparatus while serving as Commander in Chief of the largest military in the world.

It shifted the question and topic emphasis for Saturday night's Democratic presidential debate; and probably puts Hillary Clinton in a much more appealing light.

Frankly, if I was a Republican strategist right now I'd be concerned with over 50% of registered Republican primary voters supporting Donald Trump and Ben Carson; two ideological extremists who've never been elected to public office, lack experience operating the levers of government, and have zero foreign policy experience between them.

According to an AP report released earlier today, at the Florida Republican Party's Sunshine Summit, Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina has already blamed President Obama and Hillary Clinton for the attacks in Paris "mostly because Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't do enough to stop the growth of the Islamic State group."

Leave it to a GOP presidential candidate who's never held public office and has no foreign policy experience to blame a senseless attack by ISIS in Paris on the same U.S. president who approved the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the drone strike that killed ISIS butcher "Jihadi John" just last week. 

Fiorina's delusional comments reflect not just her low standing in the polls, but a much broader political issue for the Republican party. 

David Brooks
On Friday morning, syndicated New York Times columnist and author David Brooks published a really insightful op-ed piece entitled, The G.O.P at an Immigration Crossroads, that used the division within the Republican party on immigration to frame some serious questions the GOP needs to answer - and fast.

But the piece was also clearly intended as an open letter to the GOP presidential candidates and the Republican party as a whole.

The gist of his article is a question millions of Americans have been asking since the late 90's - what kind of political party does the GOP want to be in a nation that is increasingly made up of ethnic and racial minorities and people who have immigrated to this country from other nations?

Moving forward, can the party be relevant in it's current form?

As Brooks observes in his article, "Some Republican leaders simply lack the ability or willingness to acknowledge reality."

Who was he taking about? He mentioned Cruz and Jindal by name but there are other GOP candidates (including Mike Huckabee) who have some serious reality issues.

In his op-ed yesterday, it's worthy to note that Brooks didn't even bother mentioning NJ Governor Chris Christie by name.

As someone who reads Brook's column regularly and has listened to his political analysis and decidedly pro-conservative commentary on The PBS Newshour for years, my sense is that his unstated message is that "Christie is not the guy for 2016."  

Just consider two of the headlines Christie made last week alone.

On Monday he vetoed a domestic violence gun bill that had overwhelming support from both Republican and Democratic members of the New Jersey legislature that would have required judges to order any domestic abuser who is either convicted or the recipient of a restraining order, to turn in any guns they own to police within 24 hours and provide proof to a court within 48 hours. 

That sounds pretty reasonable right? Both sides of the NJ legislature backed it.

Members of law enforcement (whom Christie claims to support when he trashes the Black Lives Matter movement) backed it and the public backed it - but Christie vetoed it.

This despite poll results published by showing that 63% of registered American voters fear guns and gun violence; so whose interests are being served by Christie using his authority as governor to veto legislation intended to make sure convicted domestic abusers don't have access to firearms?

Then on Wednesday during a town hall meeting at Mickey's Country Cafe in Bettendorf, Iowa when an audience member who claimed to be the mother of two police officers asked Christie how he would support law enforcement, he told her that he would refuse to meet with members of the protest movement Black Lives Matter. "I want the Black Lives Matter people to understand, don't call me for a meeting. You're not getting one."

He then went on to again repeat the lie that Black Lives Matter has called for the murder of police officers - which he's been doing for weeks despite being confronted by statements from BLM itself and members of the media over the fact that the group has never called for the murder of anyone.

There's nothing presidential about intentionally mischaracterizing a grass roots activist group and lying about it in order to pander to a conservative segment of society and please right-wing dark money groups back by the National Rifle Association.

You'd think "Mr. Tell It Like It Is" was threatened by them.

Or so eager to "out-conservative" other conservatives that he ends up making a fool of himself - like back during the 2012 presidential run when Mitt Romney assured Republican voters that he was "severely conservative" even though he pushed through universal health care as governor of Massachusetts.  

With the George Washington Bridge scandal back in the news and likely to surface again in ways that are going hurt his image nationally and scare off the big money donors, I don't think the issues related to his pretending to be more conservative than he is are going to matter for Christie much longer anyway - not while he's polling in the very low single digits and is relegated to the "kids table" at the GOP debates.

But Republicans struggling to operate within the framework of reality is not limited to the presidential candidates either.

Republican Michele Fiore's Twitter message last night
The outspoken Nevada Republican state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore was quick to use the Paris attacks as an opportunity to denounce gun control on social media. 

Fiore (pictured left) is a vocal advocate of concealed carry laws who made headlines back in February when she suggested in a NY Times interview that combating sexual assault on college campuses would be easier “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”

Last night the 45-year old controversial 2nd term politician posted an inflammatory Twitter message (pictured above) promoting a Website linked to the ultra right-wing John Birch Society and suggested that the strict gun control laws in France were to blame for the attacks committed by three separate highly-coordinated ISIS attackers on Friday night.

While I can certainly recognize that she was probably shocked and upset when she posted that Tweet at 8:17pm Friday night as news of the Paris attacks were unfolding, that's still a pretty simplistic and irresponsible message to post on social media when a comprehensive investigation has only just started.

She has absolutely no evidence that concealed carry laws allowing French citizens to carry weapons would have done anything to stop the carefully-coordinated attacks by ISIS last night.

While it's obviously horrific that 129 people were killed in the Paris attacks yesterday, I'm not sure Fiore understands that more than 11,485 people have been killed in gun-related incidents in the U.S. this year alone according to statistics posted by 11,485.

Contrast that number with France where a total of 1,856 people died from gun-related incidents in 2012.

The attacks in Paris are another horrific reminder of the global danger of a radicalized extremist terror movement guided by medieval principles that doesn't recognize borders, ethics, morals or laws.

If Republicans want to make some kind of constructive or insightful commentary on these acts that helps to build consensus on how to stop them, or reveals details about their own foreign policy objectives; so be it.

But if GOP politicians or candidates just want to use another nation's tragedy as a cheap political soundbite, then they might as well just keep their mouths shut - because by politicizing a terrorist attack, some Republicans are simply revealing how disconnected to reality they are.

And as David Brooks observed, whether the issue is abortion, immigration, terrorism or the art of governance, operating in an echo chamber that's detached from the mainstream isn't the way to win the White House; let alone stay relevant to an increasingly diverse American landscape.  

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