Archive

January 18th, 2016

What are 'New York values' exactly?

    I am a New Yorker in both of the senses of the descriptor. I was born in Rochester, on Lake Ontario in Western New York -- a Snow Belt city second only to Buffalo. (When I lived in California, I used to actually miss the stuff.) I now live in New York City as I have for nearly a decade -- the New York of New York, the town so nice they named it twice, all that. I've seen more minor league baseball games in cities like Utica, Auburn, and Watertown than I have Mets or Yankees games, but now I take the subway to Citi Field. I've lived or worked in Chinatown, Little Italy, the Garment District, the Upper East Side, Midtown, and the Upper West Side.

    Ted Cruz is not a New Yorker. He was born in Canada, as we have been reminded regularly for the past week or so. He lived there while a young child, moving to Texas before attending college at Princeton and Harvard. Then, he worked in Washington for a few years before moving back to Texas and beginning his political career. The closest Cruz got to living in New York was probably when he was attending Princeton, which is in New Jersey. Maybe he traveled to New York on occasion from Cambridge when he was at Harvard, but he never lived here.

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Trump digs up the Clintons' family baggage

    Hillary Clinton romped through the first three Democratic presidential debates: a clear front- runner with the wind at her back. The going could get a lot rougher in the fourth forum on Sunday, the last before primary voting actually begins. She's taken a lot of incoming recently and not just from Enemy No. 1, Donald Trump, but from inside her tent, too.

    For starters, Vice President Joseph Biden gave Bernie Sanders, Clinton's only real rival among Democrats, a big Biden shoulder rub.

    In a CNN interview on Monday, he said Sanders was doing a "heck of a job," particularly on the Democrats' signature issue of income inequality, which was "relatively new for Hillary to talk about."

    Biden laid it on thick: "Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real. And he has credibility on it," he added. "Hillary's focus has been other things up to now."

    He later tried to clarify by saying her focus was, of course, on "foreign policy" as secretary of state, but still, that hurts.

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Trump adopts Nixon's winning strategy in Virginia

    Trumpism arrives at Liberty University on January 18, when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers the first convocation of the New Year to the student body. The GOP frontrunner's main rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, used the same forum last year to formally enter the Republican contest.

    The students need to be prepared. Why? Trump's appearance will underscore the reason he could be the Republicans' next Richard Nixon.

    In 1967, Democrats were certain Richard Nixon would not win the GOP nomination, much less the presidency. But sure-loser Nixon did both by building a coalition he called the "silent majority."

    For eight years, a Democratic president reigned as the nation underwent the greatest changes to its electorate since the Civil War. Voters grew unhappy with a war strategy deemed hesitant and hopelessly unable to defeat our North Vietnamese enemy.

    Nixon's campaign proved long on exploiting doubts, short on solutions. But voters were hungry for change.

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The politics that we deserve

    President Obama billed his final State of the Union address as a departure from the norm - a broad look at the future, not the usual legislative to-do list. In a subtle but significant way, however, it resembled his previous addresses: Yet again, Obama argued that someone or other "deserved" something good from Washington.

    This time around, "our kids and our grandkids" deserve "the jobs we'll create, the money we'll save, the planet we'll preserve" by supporting clean energy. Last year, the "American people" deserved criminal justice reform. In 2014, "the Syrian people" deserved "a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear."

    Republicans deploy "deserve" too. Announcing his candidacy for president, Jeb Bush said "America deserves better" than another Democrat. In Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's 2014 State of the State speech, "every child" deserved "a chance to have a great education."

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Republicans debate who will play the alpha

    The most primal scene in American politics is a debate stage, where candidates wrestle in rhetorical mud for dominance. Of course, when the candidates are auditioning for the presidency, their aggression is sublimated, their rapiers metaphorical. (When political attacks merge with the physical kind, the combatants are no longer in a democratic republic as Americans understand the term.)

    Among the innovations Donald Trump has brought to the Republican Party -- along with an infusion of reality TV culture, a cult of personality and a refurbished authoritarianism -- is a cruder brand of machismo than presidential-level politics has generally been willing to indulge.

    Not that machismo in the service of personal or partisan advantage is anything new. William McKinley's 1896 campaign literature described him as "one of the best examples of courageous, persevering, vigorous manhood that the nation has ever produced."

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Move over, digital: Analog's back from the future

    Forget hoverboards, fridges that talk to the Internet, and self-driving cars. Three of the most popular items at this month's annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas -- a cine camera, a record turntable and a new Polaroid snapper -- suggest there's a back-from-the-future movement gaining ground that reflects a growing fatigue with the virtual world of digital products, and a renewed enthusiasm for the old-fashioned analog experience.

    It's a debate that rages in my house. My partner sniffs books as she opens them; she says it conjures up memories of childhood library visits that promised to make all of the world's knowledge and literary entertainment available. For her, the latest adventures of Bridget Jones in paperback, have all of the evocative power of Proust's madeleine cakes. Me, I've owned a Kindle since they first became available almost a decade ago; I can't remember the last time I bought an actual physical book.

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How Cruz supporters differ from Trump fans

    Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are way ahead in the race to win the Iowa caucuses, perhaps to capture the Republican nomination too. Both appeal to alienated conservative voters who say they've had it with the Republican establishment.

    Yet their supporters are different. In Iowa, which holds the first Presidential contest on Feb. 1, Trump, the New York businessman and reality-TV star, is more popular with those who say they're most concerned about economics or guns. Texas Sen. Cruz does better with voters who are religious conservatives and say they care most about values. These distinctions are worth watching.

    According to Ann Selzer's latest Iowa Poll -- done for Bloomberg Politics and the Des Moines Register -- there is considerable crossover appeal among Cruz and Trump voters. The Texan has a small overall lead in Iowa over the billionaire mogul. Trump's support is a bit more solid while Cruz appears to have a better chance to grow his base before caucus day.

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David Brooks' choice words on Cruz - 'satanic', 'pagan' - draw fire and a little brimstone

    Is it appropriate for one of the most respected newspaper columnists in America to describe a major presidential contender as "satanic" in his tone? For better or worse, that is the phrase David Brooks of The New York Times used to describe Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas -- and the brash declaration from the typically unflappable author, an apostle of civility in politics, has kicked up an unholy ruckus Beezlebub might appreciate. So has his latest column on Cruz, "The Brutalism of Ted Cruz."

    His words on TV jarred the sensibility of "PBS Newshour's" gentle Judy Woodruff. On the right, one less gentle conservative critic is calling Brooks "unglued" by Cruz.

    Brooks' poisoned arrows have flown at Cruz from the pages of the Gray Lady and from his perch as a moderate Republican television commentator. At first, his message, like Brooks himself, was relatively restrained.

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Count on a hair-trigger response

    Want to see how warped the gun debate is? How knee-jerk and partisan this game has become?

    Check out what's going on in Virginia.

    Last month, the state's attorney general, Mark R. Herring (D), told a bunch of out-of-state gun carriers that they can't walk the streets of Virginia packing heat anymore because where they come from, concealed-carry gun permits are handed out like candy at a carnival, and that's just a little too loosey-goosey for Virginia.

    In the Old Dominion, residents can legally carry a concealed weapon as long as they aren't stalkers, convicted abusers, mental-health patients and so forth.

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Ambassador Is a Dangerous Job

    When Thomas E. McNamara arrived in Colombia as U.S. ambassador in 1988, he encountered a hit list issued by narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar. "I was No. 1," he recalls. "Ambassadors tend to get that kind of attention."

    On a different mission to confer with Lebanese government officials, McNamara was greeted with "a welcome-to-Beirut mortar and artillery barrage," which landed in the parking lot outside the building. "We picked up papers and went to the basement, where there was a secure bunker," McNamara, later named ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, told me.

    No, being a professional foreign service officer is not all about cocktails in Paris, London and Rome. In fact, little of it is. Most members of the U.S. foreign service serve in harsh parts of the world. And much of their job centers on going into dangerous countryside where they're exposed to some who would do them harm.

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