Condolences to the Biden Family

As Political Animal readers are no doubt already aware, Beau Biden has passed away after a series of struggles against brain cancer.

Beau was many things in his life: a soldier, an attorney general, a husband and a father, and a star fixture in Democratic politics. Before his cancer returned he was preparing to make a run for governor of Delaware in 2016, and he was widely viewed as a potential President sometime down the raod. Described by almost all who knew him as charming, charismatic and essentially decent, his untimely passing at the young age of 46 is just one more heartbreaking tragedy for the Biden family. But it’s also a deeply regrettable loss for the nation.

He was a man who committed himself to making the world a better place. He was taken from us too soon. The best way we can honor him is to not only remember him and give our best wishes to the Biden family–it is also continue his work, and help bring about the positive changes in the world that he sought to achieve. He will certainly be missed.

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Beau Biden, 1969-2015

Tragic news tonight–the passing of Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau.

Joseph R. Biden III, the former attorney general of Delaware and the eldest son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., has died after spending more than a week receiving an unspecified treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, his father announced on Saturday. The younger Mr. Biden was 46.

In 2010, Mr. Biden, known as Beau, had suffered what officials described as a mild stroke. Three years later, he was admitted to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after what White House officials described at the time as “an episode of disorientation and weakness.”

Officials said in 2013 that the doctors in Texas had removed a small lesion from his brain.

Mr. Biden’s death marks a second tragic loss for the vice president, whose first wife, Neilia, and 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident in 1972 when the station wagon they were driving in to go Christmas shopping was hit by a tractor-trailer. Beau Biden and his brother, Hunter, were also injured in the crash, but both survived.

A popular Democratic politician in his home state who was known to be very close to his father, Mr. Biden served two terms as Delaware’s top law enforcement official before announcing last year that he would not run for a third term so he could make a bid for governor in 2016.

We at the Washington Monthly extend our thoughts and prayers to the Biden family.

Below, Beau Biden at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions.

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Cuomo Passed the Bar Exam on His First Try

There have long been rumors that Cuomo didn’t pass the bar exam until his fourth attempt. Some have been repeated here. Casey Seller of the Albany Times-Union says it is a false rumor. She says the Governor passed on his first try.

I think many people believed the rumor because it seemed to explain why Cuomo is so hostile to teachers and wants to make their lives miserable.

So if the bar exam rumor is untrue, there must be another reason why the Governor doesn’t like teachers. Wonder why? Why is it he doesn’t like public schools? Why doesn’t he support separation of church and state? Why does he want to transfer money from public schools and give it to religious schools? Why does he want to give tax credits to the rich to subsidize private and religious schools?

What do you think? No rumors, please.

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O’Malley is “In.” What Does He Bring to the Table?

Martin O’Malley has done the expected and joined the 2016 Democratic presidential race. His weaknesses are obvious: lack of a national platform and persona, as well as a troubled legacy in Baltimore. There’s not necessarily a whole lot of room to maneuver between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton–but then again, in a race where the GOP is fielding a veritable clown car of nearly indistinguishable candidates, it’s not implausible for a largely successful governor to throw his hat into a ring that currently features only current and former Senators.

O’Malley’s chief claim to fame is basic technocratic competence. As Haley Edwards wrote here at Washington Monthly in 2013, O’Malley has much he can point to on that front:

The truth is, what makes O’Malley stand out is not his experience, his gravitas, nor his familiarity to voters (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden crush him in those regards). Nor is it exactly his policies or speeches (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, both rumored presidential aspirants, have cultivated similar CVs). Nor is it that he plays in a band. Nor is it even the Atlantic’s breathless claim last year that he has “the best abs” in politics. (Beneath a photo of the fit governor participating in the Maryland Special Olympics’ annual Polar Bear Plunge, the author gushed, “What are they putting in the water in Maryland?”) Instead, what makes O’Malley unique as a politician is precisely the skill that was on display in that windowless conference room in downtown Annapolis: he is arguably the best manager working in government today.

That may not seem like a very flashy title—at first blush, “Best Manager” sounds more like a booby prize than a claim a politician might ride to the White House. But in an era where the very idea of government is under assault, a politician’s capacity to deliver on his or her promises, to actually make the bureaucracy work, is an underappreciated skill.

O’Malley’s most famous competence trademark is a fondness for statistics-based governance–an inclination that fits well with big data currently in vogue in both big data and government. But that approach also carries major problems with it. O’Malley’s most consequential stats-based initiative was in Baltimore policing. It was an approach that appeared at first to drive down crime rates, but was ultimately counterproductive and led police departments to increase brutality and pointless arrests in order to juice the numbers. And in education “reform,” the impulse to fix education by applying a big-data standardized testing approach has been little more than a disaster.

Politically speaking, O’Malley has certainly been on the right side of hot-button issues like marriage equality and gun control. But Hillary Clinton already has that space covered. Where O’Malley can stand out from the field is by claiming the mantle of Warren/Sanders economic populism, but in a somewhat more electable package than Sanders offers. Would that work? Possibly, or possibly not.

But as Martin Longman notes, it certainly can’t hurt to have more than one candidate on Ms. Clinton’s economic left. It would only add to the weight of the argument and force the issue during debates. At worst, should Clinton win the White House and govern as an economic centrist, progressives would be able to point out that she’s no liberal compared to O’Malley’s example.

In any case, it’s up to O’Malley to determine the message he wants to bring to the race and prove himself a viable and interesting alternative.

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Bombastic Mr. Fox

Glad to see I wasn’t the only one who thought Politico’s Jack Shafer was a bit touchy in his response to conservative economist Bruce Bartlett’s terrific study regarding Fox’s pernicious effect on the Republican Party and American political culture. Blogger P. M. Carpenter notes that Shafer doesn’t seem to recognize this little thing called nuance:

Does Bartlett argue that “Fox alone pushed the GOP in the direction of radicalism”? Of course not. Yet Shafer suggests that Bartlett suggests such a thing, which constitutes both Shafer’s major assault on Bartlett and, if cornered on it, his escape hatch. Shafer enjoys demolishing an argument that Bartlett never made, while Shafer can only always deny that he explicitly fingers Bartlett for having made it. Pretty neat.

Indeed, in support of Shafer’s counterargument against Bartlett’s phantom argument, the latter himself writes that “In the George W. Bush years … [Fox] began objectively tilting well to the right of center…. Whether driven by politics and ideology or simply by ratings, the shift proved highly successful” (italics mine). Here, Bartlett is vividly open to the proposition that Fox reacted to the GOP’s further-rightward shift, rather than the other way around.

Elsewhere, Bartlett professes that Fox “functions basically as a propaganda arm of the Republican Party.” As I read that line, Bartlett is no more saying that Fox has shanghaied the GOP’s ideology than Ian Kershaw has ever said that Goebbels dictated Nazism’s tenets to the Führer (and no I’m not comparing the two parties).

I’ve often argued that the rise of right-wing talk radio in the late-1980s and early-1990s may have done far more damage to American political culture than Fox, only because the success of wingnut talk led directly to the emergence of Fox. In his study, Bartlett observes:

There are many reasons why conservative talk radio worked so well. One is that conservatives finally had a news source that fed their philosophy. Another is that conservatives viewed themselves as outsiders and were attracted not only to the philosophy of conservative talk radio, but its tone and articulation of outrage toward liberals that many listeners themselves had long felt.

In his early years, much of [Rush] Limbaugh’s program, which ran 3 hours a day, consisted of news that conservatives were unable to read in their local paper or hear on television. Conservatives in Congress, at think tanks and other activists saw there was now an outlet for their legislation and studies and eagerly provided them to Limbaugh, who gave them priceless publicity to a highly receptive audience.

As time went by, Limbaugh had many imitators, but no real competitors. For all his faults, he has a great voice and a genuine knack for radio broadcasting; his venture into television never worked. Limbaugh is also entertaining, a fact that even his critics acknowledge. Eventually, many local radio stations decided it was cheaper to buy Limbaugh’s syndicated show rather than pay a local talker. His broadcast reach broadened and his power grew.

Among Limbaugh’s friends and admirers was Roger Ailes, a Republican political consultant and producer who had long dreamed of a conservative television network. In 1970, he worked with the Nixon White House to bring such a network into being. The idea didn’t go anywhere, but Ailes continued to work on it, convincing beer baron Joseph Coors to bankroll a conservative news service called TVN in the mid-1970s. That effort failed as well, but Ailes learned a lot about how to make a conservative network succeed. Finally, in the mid-1990s, he convinced Australian newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch to let him build the news network Ailes had always dreamed of.

Interestingly enough, even Shafer, in his attack on Bartlett, is forced to acknowledge that Fox primarily appeals to the most extreme edge of the US population:

The Republican Party had been fielding “Foxy” presidential candidates for decades before the network’s 1996 launch, such as Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1968 (Ailes, by the way, was his media consultant), which suggests that the network isn’t leading the right-wing parade but has only positioned itself at the front of the procession. Another Foxy candidate on the 1968 general election ballot was George Wallace, who collected 13.5 percent of the presidential vote as a third-party candidate. Wallace traversed the sort of outre political frontiers that have become Fox territory.

By acknowledging that Fox is embracing the same cultural ethos that Wallace embraced, Shafer has, in essence, made Bartlett’s point for him. Fox has indeed continued the dark project wingnut radio started a quarter-century ago—the project of mainstreaming and sanitizing the image of the radical right. As noted earlier, there are signs that the wingnut radio empire is finally collapsing in the United States. When will the Fox empire collapse?

UPDATE: More from Bartlett and Crooks & Liars.

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Jeb Bush’s Shrinking “Chiefs for Change” Changes the Rules and Expands

Jeb Bush created an organization called “Chiefs for Change,” comprised of state superintendents who shared his views about vouchers, charters, high-stakes testing, accountability, VAM, and digital learning. Then, as members lost their elections and their jobs, the Chiefs shrank from nine to four. Not what you would call a show of force. To avoid meeting in a very small room, the Chiefs decided to open their ranks to include district superintendents. Its newest members are Chris Barbic, who runs the little all-charter Achievement School District in Tennessee, and Mike Miles, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. Dale Erquiaga, the new state chief in Nevada, also joined. Deborah Gist, a long-time member, will not have to give up her membership when she moves from being state superintendent of Rhode Island to superintendent in Tulsa.

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