Why We Should Keep Talking About Phil Robertson

A lot of people want to stop talking about this Duck Dynasty stuff. They want it to go away and don’t want to hear about it anymore. Enough already! they say. Well, not so fast.

We shouldn’t be so quick to forget what Phil Robertson represents in 21st-century America. We should force ourselves to come to terms with the fact that a lot of Americans are under the spell of, or hiding their bigotry behind, bigoted Christian fundamentalism. It is similar (but not identical) to the kind of fundamentalism we all—conservative Christians included—have little trouble condemning when the zealot’s name is not Phil but Mahmoud, when the place is not Louisiana but Kandahar, when the religion is not Christianity but Islam.

A commenter wrote in regarding my last piece on Duck Dynasty (“Muck Dynasty”) and told me how much his liberal wife “LIKES the show.” He said his wife “thinks it is funny.” That she,

sees a family that “came out of a swamp” and has joined society in a productive manner, promoting many “good values” based on faith, “iron age theology” as Duane calls it.

Here is my response to the commenter:

First, let me start with what you said at the end:

Based on listening to an intelligent woman, a liberal woman, a kind and caring woman that “likes the Ducks”, I sense there is far more to that family than presented above in another rant from Duane against people of faith.

It’s fine with me that your wife likes Duck Dynasty. Heck, reportedly President Obama likes it, too, a fact that may send the show’s ratings into the toilet when producers at Fox “News” find out Obama is a fan and begin producing segments about how A&E and Obama conspired to create Duck Dynasty in order to embarrass evangelical Christians, rid the country of Christmas, and usher in an Islamic caliphate.

But what I really want to address is that last thing you said, about me ranting “against people of faith.” Nonsense. I know that people who don’t track (or read) carefully all of my writings about fundamentalist religion (including both Christianity and Islam, by the way), think that I am at war with people of faith.  I am not. I would defy you, or anyone else, to find anything I’ve written that disparages people of faith for simply being people of faith. I don’t disparage such people. As far as you know, I may be one of them myself, even though I gave up evangelical fanaticism long ago. And for the record, there are plenty of liberal Democrats who call themselves people of faith. Some even call themselves evangelicals.

What I do disparage, and disparage very loudly, is the adoption of the I-am-certain-because-God-said-so bigotry and ignorance of ancient tribes of religious zealots (and their literal and spiritual descendants), or the use of I-am-certain-because-God-said-so religious zealotry as a cover for the bigotry and ignorance that certain people hold independently of their faith. In short, I am not opposed to religious faith, I am opposed to the kind of religious faith that embraces or protects, as a badge of honor, bigotry and ignorance.Behind the Scenes Photo

As for your defense of the Robertson patriarch and his family—you said that you sensed “there is far more to that family” than was presented in my piece—I’m afraid you didn’t quite get what I was getting at. The focus of my piece was not the moral status of the white-trash patriarch (again, he described himself that way; why?) or his family (described on their website as “redneck royalty”; again, why?). Neither you nor I know what kind of people they are in real life (that show is not their real life, by the way; in our real lives we don’t have TV cameras following us around like flies; at least I don’t). You said the patriarch “does not hate gays or blacks.” Who said he did? I certainly didn’t. What I did say was this:

I’m worried about this country. I’m worried about it not because Phil Robertson is a dangerous man. He isn’t. He’s just someone to be pitied, in terms of his social IQ. I’m worried about the country because it is still pregnant with the kind of bigotry and ignorance that Phil Robertson represents.

You see? The point was not his personal morality, one way or the other, but his embrace and promotion of bigotry and ignorance. You asked in another comment why I used the term “social IQ” and what I meant when I said the man should be pitied because of his. Let me explain. Like the great Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist of great renown, I believe there is such a thing as “interpersonal intelligence.” Here is a handy definition:

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them.

The kind of falsely-certain religious fundamentalism that Phil Robertson represents and celebrates, the kind that allows him to compare gay sex to bestiality, the kind that blinds him to the realities of African-American life in the Jim Crow South, is the dangerous thing, not Phil Robertson himself. Religious fundamentalism, whether it be Jewish, Christian, or Muslim (and there are additional examples) retards people’s ability to understand others and what motivates them. It makes it very hard to make any social progress, in terms of getting past “gays are sinners”—who are headed for hell—and past “blacks were happier”—before all that “welfare” stuff came around. Religious fundamentalism is an impediment to increasing one’s social IQ, an enemy of one’s ability to understand and thus to “work cooperatively” with others. It is an enemy, therefore, of social progress.

In a country with more than 317 million folks, in a world with more than 7 billion people, with gays, straights, and everything in between, with blacks, whites, and every shade in between, the last thing we can afford to do is embrace notions that make it not only more difficult to understand people who don’t act or look like us, but to make such folks pay a legal price for not acting or looking like us.

Because of such notions, we once kept black people as slaves. Because of such notions, we still regard homosexuals as second-class citizens (or worse) in so many ways. These ideas, and the fundamentalist nonsense that may spawn them or give them social cover, aren’t just silly notions in the head of one man who got rich making duck calls and who now entertains people with the not-so-real exploits of his Duck Commander family. These ideas represent something we need to address as a society, something that needs more discussion not less, something that ultimately needs to disappear, if we want to continue to advance as an inclusive and equitable civilization.

Muck Dynasty

It’s no surprise that white trash patriarch Phil Robertson (he calls himself white trash, people; don’t blame me), of A&E’s popular (reportedly 14 million bleeping people watch the show each week) Duck Dynasty family, has revealed himself to be breathtakingly ignorant about gays and about black history. After all, it’s not all that uncommon for religious zealots to hate the gay and to think blacks were as happy as larks picking cotton for The Man, uh, The White Man.

And it’s not a bit surprising that so many conservatives, like the cartoonish Sarah Palin, have openly rushed to his side to offer their support of his bigotry and ignorance. In fact, that kind of bigotry and ignorance thrives in the GOP. Bigotry and ignorance is the life blood of the party these days.

But I was surprised that someone I know (locally) to be a staunch Democrat rushed to the defense of the white trash patriarch (again, don’t blame me for phrasing it that way; I’m just honoring his own description). Why, you might ask, would a fiercely partisan Democrat be so eager to endorse the bigotry and ignorance of Mr. Robertson? Why would he be so eager to post this picture on Facebook:

I’ll let him tell you:

I love the way the man speaks openly about his love for Jesus.

Yep. It turns out that loving Jesus, or more accurately, saying publicly you love Jesus, covers a multitude of sins, including, presumably, the sin of bigotry and, in the case of Phil Robertson, the sin of ignorance—the man has a Master’s degree in (I’m gasping for air here) education, for Allah’s sake. There is no way you can go through that much schooling and not know at least a little science about sexuality and a little history about Jim Crow and the oppression of black people. And as many have pointed out, the man is old enough to have lived through some of the horrendous events in the South, when blacks were suffering and dying at the hands of white racists, but who, according to Phil Robertson, were “singing and happy” the whole time.

But forget Phil Robertson. Forget the forgettable Duck Dynasty. We have a real problem in this country when prominent members of a major political party essentially endorse bigotry and ignorance—yes, I’ve used those terms a lot and I ain’t finished—like they were endorsing apple pie and Chevrolet. And there is an even bigger problem when just because a man says publicly that he loves Jesus, all is forgiven, or, worse, accepted. We have, thankfully, got past the point where white Jesus-lovers can publicly persecute black Jesus-lovers in America. But we have a long way to go before Jesus-lovers of every color will stop persecuting Jesus-loving and non-Jesus-loving  gay people. And that is where I want to part ways with a person I think is one of the smartest guys, one of the most astute liberals, on television, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.

On his Thursday show, discussing Phil Robertson’s bigotry and ignorance, Chris Hayes condemned Robertson’s remarks but said he agreed with those, like Sarah Palin, who object to A&E suspending the bigot from his popular cable TV show. Because Robertson represents a large segment of the population, the argument goes, he should be able to spout his nonsense with impunity because such nonsense is not considered nonsense among people who find the Robertsons’ entertaining and—yikes!—inspiring.

Bulldook. A&E certainly has the right to keep employing Mr. Robertson and his Republican-loving family and to keep producing their unreal reality show. No one disputes that. But apparently A&E believes it has at least some civic responsibility not to promote extremism, particularly extremism based on such atomic bigotry and ignorance. And the network is right not to do so. The A&E executives ought to be applauded, especially by liberals, for their action instead of condemned for it. There is no First Amendment case here. No one has an unfettered right to speak, whether it be foolishness or non-foolishness, on a TV network.

Imagine if Phil Robertson, thought, and said so out loud, that during WWII, as far as he knew, Jews were really happy and never sang the blues. “Holocuast? I never saw no stinkin’ Holocaust!”  Imagine if one of the Duck Dynasty cast members thought, and said so out loud, that homosexuality will lead to human beings banging beasts! Wait! We don’t have to imagine it. Ol’ Phil actually said it:

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.

I’m worried about this country. I’m worried about it not because Phil Robertson is a dangerous man. He isn’t. He’s just someone to be pitied, in terms of his social IQ. I’m worried about the country because it is still pregnant with the kind of bigotry and ignorance that Phil Robertson represents. And as we get deeper into the 21st-century, we can’t afford to indulge, or entertain ourselves with, such nonsense. Religion is one thing. Bigotry and ignorance (last time) is another. And it is about time people learn the difference, even if it means there may be no more Duck Dynasty.

It’s Official: American Conservatives Have Fallen In Love With A Russian Thug

Giving the finger to the homophobic president of Russia, President Obama is sending a couple of openly gay delegates to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow will be among those who will greet Vladimir Putin, who signed laws this past summer that prohibit gay couples from adopting Russian-born kids and that prohibit “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors.” In other words, the Russians, whose past leaders have killed millions upon millions of their own countrymen, think gay people represent considerable danger to the kiddies.

But the public homophobia of Putin and Russian legislators is positively mild compared to what The Hollywood Reporter discovered:

Popular Russian actor Ivan Okhlobystin, known for his intention to run for president two years ago, made scathing homophobic statements at a “spiritual talk” that he gave in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

Addressing the audience, he said that homosexuals should be burned alive, the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.
I would put all the gays alive into an oven,” Okhlobystin, formerly an Orthodox priest, was quoted as saying. “This is Sodom and Gomorrah! As a religious person, I cannot be indifferent about it because it is a real threat to my children!”

He also compared homosexuality with fascism and added obscenities to his comments.

“I would put all the gays alive into an oven,” the former priest and current “religious person” said. Wow. How awful. At least we Americans have evolved on the issue of homosexuality, right? Well, not quite.

If you want to know what white conservative Christians in America are thinking about almost any subject, all you need to do is go see Pat Buchanan. He is the whitest, the most conservative, the most Christian Christian we have. Yesterday, in a column that can only be described as mind-blowing, he actually embraced Vladimir Putin as a “paleoconservative” in the mold of, well, Pat Buchanan. “In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?” Buchanan asks his readers about Putin. Yes, he did. He actually asked that question. And he answered it, too. He wants American conservatives to identify themselves with the thuggish, homophobic, anti-democratic, authoritarian president of Russia, a former officer in the KGB.

But Buchanan doesn’t like Putin in spite of his homophobia, or in spite of his authoritarian impulses. He likes him because of those attributes. Buchanan, like many conservatives these days, admires the unyielding absolutists and dogmatists among us, especially if they are willing to impose their unassailable dogmatism on everyone else. Buchanan writes:

With America clearly in mind, Putin declared, “In many countries today, moral and ethical norms are being reconsidered.”

“They’re now requiring not only the proper acknowledgment of freedom of conscience, political views and private life, but also the mandatory acknowledgment of the equality of good and evil.”

Translation: While privacy and freedom of thought, religion and speech are cherished rights, to equate traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is to equate good with evil.

No moral confusion here, this is moral clarity, agree or disagree.

Well, David Frum, a conservative without a dominant reptilian brain, disagrees. Frum commented on Buchanan’s insane column:

Putin is a killer, a despot, and a thief on a world-historical scale, but the important thing is that he hates gays!

Yes, Putin hates gays and therefore represents everything that the right, as we know it today, loves. From Sean Hannity to Matt Drudge and now to Pat Buchanan, the right seems to have fallen in love with someone they can respect, as opposed to their own president, who happens to represent everything they fear: a pigmented Democrat whose complexion represents the future, a man with a scandal-less personal life who believes that women ought to decide for themselves when to bring children into the world, who doesn’t love war, and who doesn’t hate homosexuals.

And speaking of President Obama, without a doubt the most reprehensible part of Buchanan’s mega-reprehensible column is this:

President Reagan once called the old Soviet Empire “the focus of evil in the modern world.” President Putin is implying that Barack Obama’s America may deserve the title in the 21st century.

Nor is he without an argument when we reflect on America’s embrace of abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values.

Here we have Pat Buchanan, speaking for an old-time conservatism that the Tea Party has embraced, essentially endorsing the claim that our country is “the focus of evil in the modern world.” It is beyond outrageous. It is sick. The man is sick in his theologically and ideologically poisoned mind. This is more than the usual “decadent west” column that conservatives like Buchanan feel they have to write now and then in order to remind their followers that this ain’t your white granddaddy’s America anymore (he says: “Our grandparents would not recognize the America in which we live,” without mentioning that African-American grandparents wouldn’t recognize a Jim Crow-less America either.) This is a call for Christian America (“We are two countries now,” Buchanan says) to embrace a Russian thug because that Russian thug embraces the Culture War that white conservative Christians have been fighting, and losing, at least since Bill Buckley squirmed out of his mother’s belly.

But as a former fanatical follower of Bill Buckley, I just can’t imagine that if he were still among the living he would side with Buchanan in his absolute loathing of “Barack Obama’s America” or endorse his weird attraction to a former Russian KGB Lieutenant Colonel. But he might. We live in unbelievably strange times. Conservatism has rotted from the inside because of the ancient hate it refuses to relinquish. It has fallen so far that some conservatives even hate their own country and are erect with pride as they jump into bed with a sleazy Russian reactionary, who happens to hate many of the same things they have always hated.

In an odd way, Pat Buchanan has done us a favor by writing his Putin-loving column. He has shown us that the heart of 21st-century American conservatism is very cold, unquestionably dark, and, sadly, unpatriotic.

The Inflation Monster Is A Pussycat…Now, How About A Jobs Strategy?

The Wall Street Journal published a short article that should be read by every policy maker in the country. In fact, a simple glance at the accompanying graph should be enough to settle any debate about what it is that policy makers in the federal government and in the various state governments should be focusing on in 2014: jobs, jobs, jobs. Just look:

inflation graphAs you can see, inflation has been trending downward and there has been very little of it this year. Thus, the loose monetary policies of the Federal Reserve, which have helped keep the economy afloat, have not done what conservatives, for many years now, have warned us they would do: create crippling inflation. (Exactly how many times can right-wingers be wrong before media types stop paying attention to them?) Without those loose monetary policies I’d hate to think what shape this economy would be in. But obviously what the Federal Reserve has been doing isn’t enough, even though it should keep doing it. Without the fear of inflation (oh, I know there are those who fear it no matter what the actual numbers say) the Fed should continue stimulating the economy by keeping interest rates low (they’re essentially at zero right now) and by continuing to purchase bonds (known as “quantitative easing”).

But more important is what the fiscal policy makers in Washington should be doing, you know, those legislators who are supposed to be doing things that help job growth, not hurt it. It is past time for them to get off the laps of their donors and get to work at getting more Americans back to work. It is past time for Democrats to express public outrage—real disgust and outrage—at the refusal of Republicans to do anything that might contribute to reducing the amount of unemployment in the country.

And the expression of that public outrage should begin with President Obama.

Edward Snowden Is Cold

It’s official. Edward Snowden, holed up in an authoritarian Russian paradise, is happy that an American federal judge has ruled against phone surveillance programs operated by the NSA. Yippee. I can sleep much better now knowing that the man who is spilling the nation’s secrets, or in some cases trying to trade them for a better place to live, has a legal victory under his potentially treacherous belt.

Through his sometimes shady representative in the civilized world, Glenn Greenwald, Mr. Snowden sent this message to Americans:

I acted on my belief that the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.

Well, it may or may not be the first of many, but we do know that for all his talk of how “the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts,” what Snowden doesn’t want to talk about is why he won’t give those same courts a chance to determine whether or not he has committed high crimes against what used to be his country, a country that was paying him and thus expecting him to keep our secrets from our enemies.

I’ve discussed this before, but what bothers me most of all about the Snowden fiasco is how eager liberals have been to get in bed with him and, in this most recent federal judge’s ruling, also side with the man who brought the so-far successful lawsuit against the NSA. That man, Larry Klayman, is a Tea Party nut job. Just two months ago The Huffington Post reported on a rally in Washington that sort of made him famous:

Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group, said the country is “ruled by a president who bows down to Allah,” and “is not a president of ‘we the people.’”

“I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come up with his hands out,” he said.

That, my friends, is the man who many, if not most, liberals are in a rhetorical and legal foxhole with, at least in terms of the latest war against the NSA. There has been an ongoing fight against government surveillance programs for years, but Klayman, as he now characterizes it, “hit the mother lode” with a victory in his latest case.  And he hit that mother lode because of Edward Snowden, who apparently finds Russian winters too damn cold and is trying to trade away what’s left of his dignity for warmer climes:

NSA leaker Edward Snowden, now several weeks into the Moscow winter, has published an open letter to “the people of Brazil” offering to help the country resist U.S. spying efforts in exchange for political asylum. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been highly critical of NSA operations in her country; Brazil also just happens to be where Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who is Snowden’s closest ally, is based.

By now it ought to be clear to all that Snowden isn’t some kind of “global champion of libertarian ideals and a hero of the struggle for personal freedom against U.S. abuses of power.” If he were, he would come back home and make his case and bring even more attention to it, instead of having people like Larry Klayman do the work for him. Yes, he would be risking jail time. Yes, he might be risking a lot of jail time.snowden But the kind of heroes I studied in history didn’t worry about themselves as much as they worried about the cause they were fighting for or the tyranny they were fighting against. Right now, Snowden seems to be worried about getting warm in Brazil and continuing to do damage to the country he is supposedly trying to save. That’s some champion. That’s some hero.

Well, we’ve seen that kind of behavior before. We’ve seen that kind of blow-up-America-in-order-to-save-it nonsense many times lately. We’ve seen it in the Larry Klaymans and the Ted Cruzes and all the wingnuts on the right who shutdown the government and who are even now plotting on how to use the debt ceiling once again as a way to extract concessions from Democrats, who are trying to keep enough fiscal gas in the nation’s car to keep it running so people can get to work, or at least get to the grocery store to spend their unemployment checks or their tiny ration of food stamps.

I will say this openly to my liberal friends: Yes, there needs to be greater oversight on what the NSA and other national security-related agencies are doing. Yes, there has been some overreach by those agencies. Yes, we can do better in terms of protecting the privacy of Americans. And, yes, let’s run the NSA’s “mass surveillance” practices through the constitutional wringer and see if they come out clean. But I implore all of you not to make Edward Snowden a hero. As Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney—one of our guys, by the way—reminded us yesterday about Snowden:

He has been charged and accused of leaking classified information.  He faces felony charges here.  He ought to be returned to the United States — again, where he will face full due process and protection under our system of justice that we hope he will avail himself of…

That’s what a real American hero, if he turns out to be a hero, would do. Not go to the Chinese and the Russians and now, after finding out that Moscow is not Rio de Janeiro, try to deal his way to a better place. So, if we must fight to find out whether the NSA is doing the country more harm than good, let us at least fight knowing that Edward Snowden does not now deserve our praise or our admiration, at least until he faces American justice for what he has done and proves he deserves our thanks, as opposed to our condemnation.

False Symmetry, Again

An excited conservative commenter called my attention to a column published in my local paper. The column was written by two long-time Washington insiders, Cokie and Steve Roberts.

Cokie, currently an analyst and commentator for, respectively, NPR and ABC News (and lately appearing now and then on MSNBC), is the daughter of a Democratic congressman (who was once Majority Leader in the House and who died in a 1972 plane crash) and of a Democratic congresswoman (who was elected to replace her husband and who served from 1973 to 1991). Both of Cokie’s parents served the good folks who live in and around New Orleans. Steve Roberts, a magna cum laude Harvard graduate, has worked as a journalist for The New York Times and The Washington Post and for U.S. News and World Report. He also plays the analyst and commentator role on both radio and television.

You get it by now. These two are the very definition of “Beltway insiders.”

The column that so excited my conservative commenter, titled in most papers as ‘The rise of liberal self-delusion,” began this way:

The civil war ripping through the Republican Party is familiar by now. But a similar battle inside the Democratic Party is just starting to emerge. Orthodox liberals are trying to mimic the tea party and impose political correctness on moderate apostates.

Ahh, I thought to myself.  It was only a matter of time. It was only a matter of time before some prominent Democratic commentators joined the anti-liberal Third Way crowd by comparing what recently energized  liberals are doing to what Tea Party nuts like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have been doing for some time now. There apparently is a law of symmetry in the physics of polite political punditry that occasionally requires the obligatory “both sides are guilty” column or TV rant, and the Roberts duo did not disappoint.

They unbelievably and absurdly compared the nomination of Tea Party freaks like Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donell and Sharron “Second Amendment remedies” Angle and Todd “legitimate rape” Akin to Elizabeth Warren and New York’s Bill de Blasio. They took the hopeful, if unrealistic, words of a very liberal and very excitable guy, Adam Green (who co-founded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that dares to help liberals run political campaigns as liberals and, much to the chagrin of Wall Streeters, sometimes win as liberals), and turned those words into “nonsense” and “self delusion.” It’s as if the anti-liberals of the Third Way, that group of mostly wealthy quasi-Democrats who work and play in Manhattan’s Financial District, had dictated this column from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

It’s not that there isn’t a point to be made about ideological “purists” who think that their brand of politics is a perfect fit in every nook and cranny of the country.  Of course it is ridiculous, at this point in time, for liberals and progressives to think that a bona fide left-winger could win in a bona fide backwater state like Arkansas (the example the two pundits used was former Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln, who was challenged in the 2010 primary in Arkansas by “a left-wing primary opponent”). I have criticized some liberal Democrats myself (including Adam Green) for not recognizing the sobering reality that in places like where I live, here in Petticoat Joplin, running on in-your-face orthodox liberalism is not a winning strategy for knocking Republican Ozark Billy Long off his taxpayer-subsidized D.C. bar stool. So, it’s not bad advice to warn Democrats that ideological purity can be harmful to the overall cause.

But for two prominent Democratic columnists to say that well-meaning liberal Democrats “want to impose their orthodoxies on everyone else”—just like what they call the ‘Ted Cruz Wing” of the Republican Party wants to do—is beyond absurd. The extremism of Ted Cruz and other teapartiers is real extremism, representing reactionary, roll-back-the-clock danger to the country. Does Cokie and Steve Roberts think that trans-vaginal probes are the moral and political equivalent of, say, tougher banking laws? Huh? Liberals are not authoritarians seeking to force Americans to bow their knees to Iron Age biblical morality or to the politics derived from selective readings, or from convenient interpretations, of the Old and New Testaments. They are mostly people who think that the wealthiest country in the history of the world ought not to have so many working class folks struggling to survive in the midst of all that wealth, and that an appeal to common sense and decency should be sufficient to make the point.

The Roberts’ column, as an apparent tribute to Beltway blindness, puts Elizabeth Warren, as sober and sane a thinker as you will find in politics, in the category of “the loony left.” As if economic populism is on a par with kill-the-New-Deal conservatism. As if fighting for reproductive and gay and voting rights is equally as extreme as shutting down Planned Parenthood and promoting Bible-inspired homophobia and making it harder for minorities to vote. As if believing in science is the same as, well, not believing in science.

“This is a moderate, pragmatic country. Any party that ignores that truth is doomed to defeat,” the D.C. pundit power couple say with Third Party conviction. Yeah, well, moderation and pragmatism are not the same things. Political moderation is a product of compromise between competing visions, even if the competing visions themselves are often fierce and intense and far from moderate. Pragmatism in politics is the idea that compromise is sometimes necessary to solve problems. In other words, pragmatism leads to compromise, which leads to moderation. The salient point is that one can be a left- or right-winger, committed to one’s principles, committed to fighting for them, but still be a pragmatist who settles for some middle-of-the-road compromise to get things done, if that is truly the only way to get things done.

And when you see it that way, when you see it in the sense of getting things done, of making the government work, you can clearly see that there is no comparison between enthusiastic but ultimately pragmatic liberals and authoritarian Tea Party conservatives, folks who won’t compromise with anyone and who would shut the entire government down or ruin our national credit worthiness, hurting millions of people and costing billions of dollars, merely to make an ultimately fleeting political point.

Sadly, Cokie and Steve Roberts, guardians of the mythical “center” in American politics, can’t, or won’t, see the difference.

Budget Deal: Norquist’s Nuts, And Other Core Principles Of Conservatism

The budget deal (deftly summarized here by Ezra Klein) announced on Tuesday by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray represents just how much of the playing field, in terms of fiscal policy, now belongs to drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub conservatives.

Oh, I understand that given the political realities of a divided Congress, given the economic need to restore at least some governing stability, that the deal is better than nothing. But so much of this un-grand bargain is tailored to sell to non- or semi-Tea Party Republicans in the House and Senate (the hard-core teapartiers will nevva evva buy into it, of course).

Take, for instance, the fact that the long-term unemployed are essentially told to go to hell, or to the soup line, whichever seems more appealing.  In just a few weeks, the benefits provided by the federal government to 1.3 million former workers will expire. These unfortunate folks are mostly the victims of the Great Bush Recession, an economic calamity so Great that now, more than four years after the thing supposedly ended, people are still suffering.

But helping to alleviate the suffering of these and other folks in need is not one of what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan called the “core principles” of conservatives. That’s right, during the announcement of the deal on Tuesday, Ryan went out of his way to assure right-wingers that those principles have been preserved:

I expect we’re going to have a healthy vote in the House Republican Caucus. We are keeping our principles. The key here is nobody had to sacrifice their core principles. Our principles are don’t raise taxes, reduce the deficit.

Now, think about that for a minute. Paul Ryan could have said that “jobs” was a core principle of conservatives. He could have said “health care” was a core principle. He could have said “national defense.” Hell, he could have told the truth and said that “keeping Grover Norquist’s nuts warm” was a core principle. But he didn’t. The first thing that popped into his pickled pumpkin was, “Our principles are don’t raise taxes, reduce the deficit.” That’s it. Now that Barack Obama is president, that’s all that matters to these guys. Long-term unemployed? F’em!

Meanwhile, our side, because the economy is still limping along in so many ways, because we believe in governing, felt we had to make a pact that included abandoning those who, for a variety of reasons, can’t find a decent job. But is this the best deal possible? Could Democrats have insisted on continuing long-term unemployment benefits and called the implied Republican bluff to once again shut down the government?

Of course they could have. But it’s just not in the nature of those who value government to risk wrecking it again and injuring even more people. Our side could have told Paul Ryan that unless he included an extension of unemployment benefits, there would be no deal. And, given the dynamics involved, Ryan would have, eventually, had to take it. Why? Because there is no way in hell that Republicans, basking in the media-aided glow of the failure of the ObamaCare roll out, want to shift journalists’ attention away from all the “I got screwed” ObamaCare news stories to “Republicans did it again” stories about the harmful effects of yet another closure of government.

Thus there is one important reason why Republicans would have given up more than they did in this deal and why they would not have shut down the government again: They believe with all their hearts that keeping the focus on ObamaCare is their path to power. They believe, as Jim DeMint famously said before the Affordable Care Act was even passed, that “this health care issue is D-Day for freedom in America,” and,

If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.

And, you see, breaking Obama, breaking his black and Democratic back, is what this is mostly about, what it has always been mostly about. They despise this man. They hate what they deliberately misapprehend as his radical politics. They’ve never wanted him to succeed, domestically or diplomatically. If Obama wants a health reform law inspired by Republicans, they want to break him and call him a socialist. If Obama wants a jobs bill, they demand a deficit-reduction bill. If Obama suggests war, they want peace.If Obama wants peace, they suggest war. It’s been that way from the beginning of his presidency.

Alas, this deal will pass. It will become reality. And Democrats say that they will try to pursue extending long-term jobless benefits via separate legislation. Good for them. But it is hard to see how that will happen, now that the pressure is off, now that Republicans don’t have to worry about the backlash of a government shut down, now that they can go, full pelt, into an all-out assault on ObamaCare in their quest to break the law’s champion.

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl of politics continues to be played on the right side of the field. Meanwhile, the peopleless principles of the Republican Party—no new revenues and slashing government—continue to dominate the game.

Meanwhile, many of the victims of the Great Bush Recession are on their own.

[photo: J. Scott Applewhite]

Claire McCaskill’s “Third Way” Chair And What She Should Do With It

“Well, Senator McCaskill, which side are you on? People who rely on Social Security to get by, or Wall Street movers and shakers?”

—Michael Bersin, Show Me Progress

My only useful United States Senator is, of course, Claire McCaskill. As a liberal, I have defended her many, many times, despite the fact that she does not subscribe to all of my liberal views. And I have defended her despite the fact that she would never, not in a thousand light years, refer to herself as a liberal. But I respect the political reality here in mixed-up Missouri. This isn’t New Jersey. Wait a minute. New Jersey isn’t New Jersey anymore.

In any case, Senator McCaskill, who often—too often for my tastes—brags about being a centrist, is an honorary co-chair of a public policy group called “Third Way,” a group that is causing third way logoquite a negative stir among activist Democrats.

I want to direct you to the group’s own definition of what it is about, which begins this way:

Third Way represents Americans in the “vital center” — those who believe in pragmatic solutions and principled compromise, but who too often are ignored in Washington.

That is, in fact, who Claire McCaskill says she is. She has many times talked about her pragmatism and her middle-of-the-road credentials. She even campaigned on them in 2012. And while I agree that compromise is often part of a healthy political process, some folks who fashion themselves as moderates think the compromise should happen at the beginning of the process, not at the end. This is an incredibly important point. Moderation in politics ought to be defined as what is left over after a vigorous fight between visions, not the vision itself. Here’s more from the group’s website:

Our mission is to advance moderate policy and political ideas.

What? No one can “advance” a moderate policy or political ideas. Why? Because if that is where you start, if you start in the middle, the compromise will always be toward the reactionaries because change has a tendency to scare people. These Third Way guys have to know that. As with similar efforts in the past, “moderate” means allowing conservatives to frame the economic issues in terms of debt and deficits, and not in terms of people and empowerment. Thus, the apparent purpose of Third Way (which has been around since 2005) is to shoot the liberal lions in the Democratic Party, or, to put it more kindly, to capture them and put them in zoos so they can do no harm to the interests of those, mostly moneyed Wall Streeters, who fund so-called centrist groups like Third Way.

As you have no doubt heard by now, last week a couple of Third Wayers, the group-think tank’s president and its senior vice president for policy, published a piece (Economic Populism Is a Dead End for Democrats”) in, yep, The Wall Street Journal. The piece might be considered the loudest shot so far heard in what the self-described centrists apparently want to be an all-out war for the soul of the Democratic Party.

The authors, sounding like any right-wing talk radio host you know, attacked Bill de Blasio, an unashamed liberal who will soon become the next mayor of New York, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has become a hero among liberals and progressives and anyone who can see the difference between people and corporations. The reason for the attack on these two liberals was because of what the authors called their “populist political and economic fantasy.” When you get away from the Limbaugh-like description, what the shoot-the-lions, Wall Street-friendly folks at Third Way are attacking is the idea, advanced by Senator Warren and others, that we should increase Social Security benefits, not look for ways to slash them.

She told Mother Jones, in response to the Third Way article attacking her, that,

We should stop having a conversation about cutting Social Security a little bit or a lot.

Yes. Democrats, including President Obama, should stop agreeing with Republicans about cutting the most effective government social program in history. And Senator McCaskill should relinquish her “honorary” chair title at Third Way. Why? Because McCaskill, running against teapartier Todd Akin in 2012, essentially ran as something of an economic populist herself.

Six weeks before the election, the St Louis Beacon reported on McCaskill’s criticism of Mitt Romney’s nutty remarks “disparaging Americans who don’t pay income taxes”:

“Congressman Akin has made similar type statements,” McCaskill said, “talking about the ‘velvet chains’ of government dependency…”

Such comments by Akin and Romney, she continued, “just show they are out of touch with so many Missourians who have worked hard all their lives, who have retired, and who believed that Social Security would be there for them, and believe that Medicare would be there for them.”

McCaskill’s point during the conference call was to paint Akin as an “extremist” on such issues, citing his campaign statements criticizing both programs.

“He wants to privatize, voucherize” Medicare, she said, and also privatize Social Security.

McCaskill said that the financial problem facing Social Security could be fixed simply by increasing the cap. Now, any income over roughly $110,000 is not subject to the Social Security tax.

“Simply changing the cap,” she said, “secures (Social Security) for 75 years.”

As for Medicare, a program that the Third Way moneyed elites ostensibly want to save by making a “grand bargain” with Republicans, McCaskill also played the economic populist card:

Jim Hagan, a retired teacher and coach in his 70s from Springfield, Mo., recounted the numerous health problems that he and his wife recently have encountered. “We’d be totally bankrupt if we had to pay” for all the surgeries and medical bills, he said. Medicare, said Hagan, “saves lives, including mine.”

McCaskill contends that the GOP approach, as proposed by now-Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, is to allocate a certain annual amount to the elderly and then tell them “now it’s your problem” to find insurance coverage.

Hagan said that most elderly, including himself, wouldn’t be able to obtain insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

McCaskill’s campaign has focused heavily on Medicare, Social Security and government-backed student loans.

Now, if that isn’t the same kind of economic populism that Third Way honchos attacked in The Wall Street Journal, please tell me what it is. And tell me why Claire McCaskill would continue to be an “honorary” co-chair—co-chair!—of a group so adamantly opposed to what she ran on just a year ago?

Not only that, as The Nation reported, in order to raise funds, Third Way hired one of the top corporate lobbying firms in Washington—a firm whose “largest client is the US Chamber of Commerce.” The same Chamber of Commerce that hammered Claire McCaskill in 2012! Something is wrong with that picture.

The Nation also noted how “several Third Way trustees gave campaign money to Mitt Romney.” Huh? Remember the gist of that Romney campaign? Most of us are moochers and President Obama was some kind of left-winger who was going to turn the country into a European socialist state quotefull of even more moochers. How can Senator McCaskill co-chair a group that has as trustees people who invested in Mittens?

Now we have HuffPo reporting that one of the writers of the Third Way piece in last week’s WSJ admits that Elizabeth Warren’s liberalism was beginning to gain traction and the money-men had to move fast. Jim Kessler, Third Way’s senior vice president for policy who co-authored the infamous op-ed, said:

The impetus was really — we saw after the most recently, this push that okay, it’s time to really move the national Democratic Party to a much more liberal agenda, in this case, Senator Warren was the standard bearer — she’s on the cover of a lot of magazines. We were a bit alarmed by that…

That Social Security plan was the final moment for us. That Social Security plan had been out there but really languishing — because Senator Warren has such a powerful compelling voice, she started talking about it, and it suddenly it became much more talked about and viable alternative.

As I said, the “Social Security plan” that scared the Democrat out of those wealthy “Democrats” at Third Way is very closely related, if not identical, to what Senator McCaskill told Missourians she supported, when she was seeking our votes in 2012. And if Senator McCaskill meant what she said about Social Security last year, if she truly meant it, then she should not only give Third Way its honorary chair back, she should give it back by publicly pounding its pooh-bahs over the heads with it.

senator mccaskill and third way

Nelson Mandela, R.I.P.

What’s it like to be on the wrong side of history? Ask me. I know.

By now, if you care anything about history and how it is made, you have seen or read plenty of stirring tributes to the incredible man known to us as Nelson Mandela, son of a Xhosa chief, who was baptized a Methodist, given his familiar English first name, then began his long journey to destroy the fascism of apartheid, what President Obama called “one of history’s foulest evils,” and what President Reagan labeled “a malevolent and archaic system totally alien to our ideals.” By doing so, by radically changing South Africa, this amazing freedom fighter, who remained on young mandelaour government’s terrorist watch list until 2008, did indeed, as President Clinton said, make the entire world a better place.

When I was in college in 1986, there was quite a debate raging about what our policy should be toward South Africa, toward apartheid. President Reagan and many conservatives opposed strong sanctions against the white fascist government, Reagan calling those sanctions “economic warfare.” I was among those conservatives who opposed tough sanctions, who opposed what became the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. As I have written elsewhere, in the fall of 1986 I debated a college teacher over the issue of sanctions. I defended what was then called “constructive engagement,” an incremental approach that sought not to isolate and punish the white government in South Africa, but to softly encourage it to end the apartheid regime. In my debate, I even borrowed the term “economic warfare” to describe the sanctions proposed by mostly Democrats.

Like other conservatives, I was less concerned about the evil of apartheid than I was about South Africa falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. The Cold War was a useful excuse for right-wingers like me to essentially ignore the awful and ongoing brutality of state-sponsored terrorism, executed by white fascists in Pretoria against the country’s pigmented majority. I criticized “Western moralizing” and tried to make the case that South Africa was valuable to our national security interests because it held large reserves of strategic minerals. I quoted a retired Chief of Air Force Intelligence who warned,

within the next five years, it will be necessary for the United States to place several divisions into South Africa to recapture access to and to prevent Soviet-Marxist control of, the strategic materials that now come from that country. We’re going to have to secure and take by force of arms. That’s how serious the South Africa matter is.

I also said during that debate that,

even if blacks should prevail and come to power, it would be because of Soviet-supplied weaponry; and it is a good bet that a Soviet-backed, Marxist government would be established, leaving the United States in the unenviable position of having to deal with our enemies to obtain vital strategic materials…

It turned out that the emergence of a Soviet-backed, Marxist government was not a good bet. It turned out the bet should have been on Nelson Mandela. And thus it turned out that I, and so many conservatives, were on the wrong side of history, even if some of them, like Dick Cheney, have had a hard time admitting it. Ronald Reagan vetoed that sanctions law in 1986 and his veto was promptly, and historically, overridden. By then, enough congressional Republicans could see that history would not be kind to those who ostensibly sided with the oppressors.

And it should be noted here that the push for sanctions, the push from the outside against the fascism of apartheid, was largely a push made by those on the left, both here and abroad, those whose vision was not darkened by images of potential Soviet aggression or clouded by pleas to go slow until the fascists came to their senses.

The left was right about sanctions. The left was right to aggressively oppose what was going on in South Africa both before and during Nelson Mandela’s 27 years of imprisonment. But I don’t believe anyone could have anticipated the greatness inside the man so honored today, a man who had once endorsed violence against the fascists but, after he became the first democratically-elected president in the country’s history, turned to peace and reconciliation and thus avoided the civil war that so many had predicted.

Finally, I will leave you with a lengthy excerpt from a book I read in 2003, after I had left conservatism and while I was still struggling with leaving evangelical Christianity. The book, Rumors of Another World, was written by the famous evangelical author, Philip Yancey. No matter what your religious beliefs are, no matter if like me you have consciously left the confines of a confining evangelicalism, I would ask you to read the following as a way of paying your respects to Nelson Mandela, whose strong Christian faith no doubt greatly shaped his amazing life, a life that we both mourn and celebrate today:

Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust, and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance. “Amazing Grace,” a rare hymn that in recent times climbed the charts of popular music, holds out the promise that God judges people not for what they have been but what they could be, not by their past but by their future. John Newton, a gruff and bawdy slave trader, “a wretch like me,” wrote that hymn after being transformed by the power of amazing grace.

When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent. Nelson Mandela taught the world a lesson in grace when, after emerging from prison after twenty-seven years and being elected president of South Africa, he asked his jailer to join him on the inauguration platform. He then appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head an official government panel with a daunting name, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandela sought to defuse the natural pattern of revenge that he had seen in so many countries where one oppressed race or tribe took control from another.

For the next two-and-a-half years, South Africans listened to reports of atrocities coming out of the TRC hearings. The rules were simple: if a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted that the country needed healing even more than it needed justice.

At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and burned the body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbecue meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement.

Then she added a further request. “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn. He had fainted, overwhelmed.

Justice was not done in South Africa that day, nor in the entire country during months of agonizing procedures by the TRC. Something beyond justice took place. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” said Paul. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu understood that when evil is done, one response alone can overcome the evil. Revenge perpetuates the evil. Justice punishes it. Evil is overcome by good only if the injured party absorbs it, refusing to allow it to go any further. And that is the pattern of otherworldly grace that Jesus showed in his life and death.


A Tribute To The Splendor Of Government

David Brooks, the famous columnist for The New York Times, is one of my favorite conservatives. He is one of my favorite conservatives because, among his other virtues, he is not a Tea Party nut. These days you get bonus points for being both a conservative and politically sane.

Normally I find Brooks to be a thoughtful man of the right, even if I frequently find myself scratching my head and wondering, given all that the right has become in the age of Rush Limbaugh and Fox “News,” why such a bright man remains a man of the right. Then, every now and then, Brooks gives us a hint as to why he continues to fight on the same side that people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul fight.

A few days ago, the Times published his latest column (“The Stem and the Flower“), his first “in three months” he told us, and if you read the piece closely, you can see why he persists in addressing us as a conservative.

He begins by asking this question:

How much emotional and psychic space should politics take up in a normal healthy brain?

He ends by answering:

I figure that unless you are in the business of politics, covering it or columnizing about it, politics should take up maybe a tenth corner of a good citizen’s mind. The rest should be philosophy, friendship, romance, family, culture and fun.

Hmm. How nice of Mr. Brooks to quantify for us how much of our mental resources should be devoted to politics. He may or may not have the number right. It might be a little more or it might be a little less. Or much more or much less. I confess I don’t have the slightest idea what a healthy dose of politics might be. I suppose it depends on where you stand, or maybe where you have fallen.

But what I do know is that rich people, especially in post-Citizens United America, can devote themselves to politics all day—every day—because their politically dedicated money never sleeps, even when they do. It never stops working for the political interests of its donors, even if those donors choose to spend time reading Nietzsche or, more likely, Nozick. While the rest of us, if we ever had the fleeting luxury of not worrying about our jobs or our health care or our children’s education, might be thinking about philosophy or about culture or about having fun, all the political money that wealthy people invest in politics and political advocacy would just keep right on working to make sure it accomplishes the mission it was sent out to do.

And Mr. Brooks, a very smart man, never bothers to mention that. He doesn’t bother to mention that our politics is distorted by the influence of moneyed interests. He ignores the fact that the policies our politics produces are often carved into puzzle-like shapes, pieces that when put together happen to nicely complete a picture of a society in which, increasingly, the rich get richer while most everyone else struggles for stagnation.

Yes, it would be nice if all of us had enough free time to enjoy philosophy, culture, and, for sure, having lots and lots of fun. But the truth is that most people have to work hard and hope that their job doesn’t get shipped overseas and that their health holds up long enough for them to enjoy, in their retirement years, the freedom to ignore politics.

As sad as it is that Brooks neglected to mention the primacy of money in our political system, that’s not really the most revealing idea in his column, in terms of why the non-Tea Party writer and thinker continues to call plays for the Republican Party offense. He writes:

We should start by acknowledging that except for a few rare occasions — the Civil War, the Depression — government is a slow trudge, oriented around essential but mundane tasks.

Imagine you are going to a picnic. Government is properly in charge of maintaining the essential background order: making sure there is a park, that it is reasonably clean and safe, arranging public transportation so as many people as possible can get to it. But if you remember the picnic afterward, these things won’t be what you remember. You’ll remember the creative food, the interesting conversations and the fun activities.

That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? He is right that people who go to the park for a picnic usually don’t remember the government’s role in maintaining it, or remember its role in creating and maintaining the roads or rails that got them there. That’s certainly true. But it’s also true that if the park were run down and dirty, if there were weeds everywhere and the roads were filled with potholes, or there were no public transportation available that enabled people to get to the park, then people would certainly remember that, wouldn’t they? They would remember government’s failures, if only because a willing gaggle of journalists would be eager to point out those failures, even to those who have never picnicked in a park or who would never want to.

What Brooks is saying is that if government does its job well, if it provides a public space that is readily usable, if it provides the infrastructure that makes public spaces and picnics in the park possible, then people will focus on the food and the fun. He’s right about that. But then he continues:

Government is the hard work of creating a background order, but it is not the main substance of life. As Samuel Johnson famously put it, “How small, of all that human hearts endure,/That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.” Government can set the stage, but it can’t be the play.

You can see how much sense that seems to make. Who among us thinks that government is “the main substance of life”? Or who would go to the theater just to see the sets on the stage? But when you think about it, when you think about picnics or plays, you can’t ignore how initially vital it is that there are such things as parks and theaters, park workers and stage hands, those resources that make “the main substance of life” possible. But Brooks strangely concludes:

So one’s attitude toward politics should be a passionate devotion to a mundane and limited thing.

No! An emphatic and comprehensive no! There is nothing mundane or limited about government. It is the greatest invention of mankind. Or, if you want, it is the greatest gift given to us by a God of Love. However we got it, government is an absolutely extraordinary thing that does deserve our passionate devotion. A thing so singularly marvelous, so thunderously important, that to call it mundane and limited is to call the civilization it supports mundane and limited. To call it mundane and limited is to exalt the wooden cart at the expense of the flesh-and-blood horse that pulls it.

To borrow Brooks’ reference, public parks, those green manifestations of the civilization that government makes possible, aren’t dull and ordinary places. And there’s nothing limited about them. They are themselves theaters in which Americans can write their own unpublishable scripts and act out their own unfathomable plays. They are places where children run and play, where kites are flown, where lovers meet, where books are read as people lounge on blankets tossed on soft, government-cut grass. Parks are open-air cathedrals where balls are thrown, songs are sung, sometimes in solitude, and Frisbee-chasing dogs make us laugh. They are common only in the sense that they are the commons, belonging to us all, and yet to none of us.

This particular government of ours, the one that provides us parks and peace, is a we-the-people government. Because of that fact alone it won’t do to call it mundane or limited. Given the history of humanity, our collective effort to govern ourselves is not ordinary. And we are limited only by the kind of vision of government that Brooks endorses, a vision that reduces government’s role to one that merely maintains “the essential background order.”

As I said, I like David Brooks. He represents the best of what conservatism has to offer. But I will leave you with a contradiction in his piece, a contradiction born of his need, as a man of the right, to push government into the background. Here is the penultimate paragraph:

So one’s attitude toward politics should be a passionate devotion to a mundane and limited thing. Government is essential, but, to switch metaphors ridiculously, it’s the stem of the flower, not the bloom. The best government is boring, gradual and orderly. It’s steady reform, not exciting transformation. It’s keeping the peace and promoting justice and creating a background setting for mobility, but it doesn’t deliver meaning.

It is here that we can see that Brooks’ Burkean view of government necessarily misses capturing the glory of the thing he is describing. He says that government is “the stem of the flower, not the bloom.” And he finishes by saying that government “doesn’t deliver meaning.” Yet, as his flower metaphor demonstrates, there would be no bloom without the stem. The blossom is not held up by some sort of ethereal scaffolding. It is held up by the stem, a real and splendid piece of essential architecture. The sturdy and stupendous stem does in fact deliver the bloom, and government, because it is the foundation of civilization, does therefore “deliver meaning.”

Government delivers meaning in the same way that a government-sponsored postal service delivers a letter from a loved one, in the same way a government-invented Internet delivers an email from a friend, in the same way a government-maintained park delivers Brooks’ “creative food, the interesting conversations and the fun activities.” Government, to be sure, doesn’t create meaning; it doesn’t write our letters or emails or cook up our food or conversations during a picnic of fun. But in a civilized world, in a world make possible by government, it makes all those things and, yes, even meaning possible.

Government is, indeed, a stem. It supports the many fruits of civilization. Without it, without that stem, this would indeed be a most barren existence. Without it, there would be no flowers. And maybe the biggest difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals aim to cultivate the blooms of civilization by making sure the stem is healthy and strong, by unapologetically championing and nourishing the human ingenuity that supports, or the miracle that sustains, that thing we call government.

Hurricane Francis

Conservative Christians sometimes tell us that when bad things happen, like the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s, it is God’s way of telling us we have lost our way, become too permissive and sinful. The Almighty is trying to straighten us out by sending us plagues, storms, or earthquakes. Or else he is just, as C. S. Lewis once described him, the Cosmic Sadist and enjoys the miseries he creates.

Either way, God, at least the version that Catholics worship, is creating plenty of misery for the Republican Party in the form of a hurricane of a Pope: Francis. It has been several days now since Hurricane Francis issued what is called in the theological trade an “apostolic exhortation,” which is less authoritative than a papal encyclical, but carries more clout than a tweet. Or something like that.

In any case, this instantly famous exhortation is known in God’s tongue as Evangelii Gaudium, or in the tongue of mortals, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

It turns out, as far as God’s representative on Earth sees it, that the “joy” in the Gospel is not the ability to send your greenbacks to the Cayman Islands with a bottle of Banana Boat sunscreen and a command to relax and take it easy for a while. No, no, no. That’s not even close to the kind of joy this Pope is talking about. The fierce winds of Hurricane Francis threaten to blow away, or at least severely damage, all that the current iteration of the Republican Party represents.Pope Francis

“The Joy of the Gospel,” is, of course, primarily an exhortation for Christians, including the Church hierarchy, to renew their “personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” to never “tire of seeking his mercy,” to “start anew” and “enter into this great stream of joy.” There is also plenty of praise for the “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

But the gusts of prose that have done, and hopefully will continue to do, real damage to the Republican brand are found in Francis’ “guidelines” as to how the Church’s “new phase of evangelization” should be accomplished. He writes (his emphasis):

All of them help give shape to a definite style of evangelization which I ask you to adopt in every activity which you undertake.

Uh-oh. You mean, every activity? Even government activity? Yes. Even that one.

The Pope says that while there have been many advances made “to improve people’s welfare,” there are some rather large gaps:

…we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries.

Francis also said something that has largely been overlooked in the popular press:

We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.

We see such anonymity at work here in the United States, as wealthy political donors are able to hide behind virtually unregulated front groups, many of whom promote the kinds of economics that the Pope next condemns:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

That may be as concise and devastating a critique of laissez-faire economics as you will ever read: “an economy of exclusion and inequality” doesn’t just injure people, it kills them. And just as there ought to be laws designed to deter murderous people, there also ought to be laws designed to deter murderous economies. That parallelism is quite clear. And it most definitely stands against everything that the Republican Party currently stands for.

The Hurricane continues with an equally devastating critique of the news business:

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?

And how can it not be a news item when tens of millions of Americans go without health insurance every year, many of them sick and some of them dying, but it is news when John Boehner, falsely it turns out, claimed he had trouble enrolling on the ObamaCare website? Something is very wrong, as the Pope recognizes.

But he wasn’t done with his attack—there is no other word for it—on Tea Party economics:

Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. [...]

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

It is this analysis, this tree-snapping, roof-ripping analysis, that has people like Rush Limbaugh scrambling for the rhetorical basement:

This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.

A slightly more sober right-wing commentator, Charles Krauthammer, gave Francis, “a man who lived it in his own life,” credit for “incredible authenticity,” and then said:

I think it’s going to have a lot of influence, and I think it will unfortunately set back the movement in the Church at least recognizing how capitalism and the free market allows for the flourishing of individuals in a way that socialism and of course communism never did.

Notwithstanding Krauthammer’s suggestion, Pope Francis is not championing socialism or communism. He’s not a Marxist. He is attacking an economic system that has too little regulation, one without an enforceable code of what the Pope sees as Gospel-inspired ethics, which “would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order.” And it is here where I will emphasize something he said that deserves much more attention:

A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

pope francisKeep in mind that Francis is saying this to “political leaders.” And he is placing it all in the context of the Gospel, in the context of the evangelization of the world. No matter what you think of the Pope’s motives, no matter what you think of the source, this quite radical message represents all that is good about Christianity and all that our New Deal social policies inherited from it.

What Francis is saying is a galaxy away from attempts by Republicans—almost all of them Christians—to sabotage the new health care law and to keep millions from entering into the joy of its benefits. What he is saying is a universe away from fights over food stamps and unemployment benefits, from attempts to cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.

Yes, what this refreshingly strange and cyclonic man of God is saying is far away from all that, but it is near to the heart of the best of our holy books. And, dare anyone to believe it, perhaps his words really are near to the heart of God.

[Photo: AFP]

Do Corporations Speak In Tongues?

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

—The Book of Acts, 2:4

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”                                                

—Paul the Apostle

I used to attend, quite faithfully, a Pentecostal-Charismatic church in which folks there spoke in tongues. Yes, they did. They stood up, usually during prayer time, and spoke in what sounded like a foreign language, a language many of them considered a heavenly language, such as an angel might speak, if there were angels. Many times after someone would speak to the congregation in tongues, someone else with an “interpretation” of the tongues would share it with the folks, this time in English. It was quite a phenomenon.

Now, I say all that in the context of what two corporations are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to do in terms of an alleged constitutional controversy involving the Affordable Care Act and religious freedom. Here is how the great SCOTUSblog reported it yesterday:

The Court granted review of a government case (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores) and a private business case (Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius).  Taking the Conestoga plea brought before the Court the claim that both religious owners of a business and the business itself have religious freedom rights, based on both the First Amendment and RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act].   The Hobby Lobby case was keyed to rights under RFRA.

Noting that these particular cases don’t involve asking the court to “strike down the requirement that employers provide a full range of pregnancy-related health care under their employees’ health insurance plans,” SCOTUSblog says,

This time, the Court will be focusing only on whether the pregnancy-related care coverage can be enforced against profit-making companies — or their individual owners, when that is a very small group — when the coverage contradicts privately held religious beliefs.

It is already clear, of course, that individuals — whether they own businesses or not — do have religious beliefs that the government may not try to regulate.  But it is not yet clear, and these cases will test the issue, whether they have a right — constitutional or based on a 1993 federal law — to rely upon those beliefs in refusing to provide a kind of health care coverage that they say violates the tenets of their faith.

On the other hand, it is not clear that a business that is formed as a corporation, and engages in a strictly commercial kind of activity, can have religious beliefs and can actually base its commercial actions upon such faith principles (separate from the religious beliefs of its owners).  The Court has never ruled on that issue, but that is one of the core issues it has now agreed to consider.

Okay. So, it pretty much boils down to this: Do corporations speak in tongues? Do corporations do the kinds of things that I saw done at my old church? Can corporations stand in the midst of the congregation and speak in the tongues of angels? Or even the tongues of men?

The answer, obviously, is no they can’t. You know why they can’t? Because corporations don’t have real tongues with which they can speak in ethereal tongues. Because corporations, despite what the Supreme Court has previously said, aren’t people. They don’t have tongues to confess or brains to embrace religious beliefs, even if they happen to have human spokesmen who insist the law bend to the corporate owners’ theological dogmatism. And I believe a majority of the Court will see that corporations do not speak in tongues and are not people in that important, if possibly misguided, sense.

But it occurred to me that if the Supreme Court does decide that corporations have religious rights under the Constitution or under the law, then corporations will have truly become full persons entitled to all the benefits people have under our Constitution. Thus, if they are full, constitutionally-protected persons, they cannot therefore be “owned” by any other person, since the Thirteenth Amendment outlaws slavery. Here is what the text of that amendment says:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

So, the owners of Hobby Lobby Stores and of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation and all the other owners of corporations suing the government over the Affordable Care Act’s pregnancy-related health care mandates, should, upon winning their religious freedom case, set their corporations free.

Then all the corporations in America can say together in the tongues of men or angels: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last!”

“A Murderer Is Less To Fear” Or How Barack Obama Is Driving Right-Wingers Crazy

We’ve all seen it since 2008. They hate this man. They hate the President of the United States. And there is no sign that the hate will abate. In fact, it may be getting worse.

I received today an email from a group called TheTeaParty.net. The subject line shouted:

You are going to WANT to listen to this!

“This” was an interview of Rep. Pete Olson from, where else, Texas. He is lately famous for introducing “articles of impeachment against Attorney General Eric Holder for high crimes and misdemeanors,” as his official government website proudly boasts. Texas Pete’s resolution has 22 co-sponsors, including Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert. So, you sort of get the idea. These Obama-haters can’t yet impeach President Obama, so they are trying to impeach his pigmented friend at the Justice Department.

I visited the website of TheTeaParty.net, which brags about having “well over 3 million members and a huge national social media presence.” Yeah, well, I don’t know about all that, but I did find this tweet, which was posted just yesterday:

obama the traitor

Sure, we’ve seen this stuff before. Obama is a traitor, blah, blah, blah. But this one seems particularly vicious. “He rots the soul of a nation and works secretly to undermine the pillars of the city…” Really? Just whose soul is rotting here? And just who is working, not so secretly, to undermine the pillars of our civilization? Huh? In any case, you know what is left out of that Cicero quote? This:

A murderer is less to fear.

That’s right. The next line in that Cicero citation is “A murderer is less to fear.” Why did they leave that line out? Is it even too much for these Tea Party folks to say the President of the United States is worse than a murderer? Well, let’s see.

If you go to TheTeaParty.net website, you will find the usual nutjob fare: a “DEFUND Obamacare NOW” petition, a “Demand Full Benghazi Investigation” petition, and, yes, an “Impeach Obama & Remove Him From Office” petition (“President Obama is the most corrupt president in U.S. history”). These things are all designed to entice the haters among us and, more important, to separate the haters from their money. Conveniently you can donate to the cause.

But there was one petition that is more disturbing than the rest, even by the pitifully low standards of Tea Party groups out to make a buck. It’s called:

Show President Obama That He Is Not A King!

Now, again, we’ve all seen this sort of thing before. It’s the everyday kind of stuff on, say, the Rush Limbaugh Show. But this one goes a little deeper. While the Obama-is-a-traitor tweet left out the “A murderer is less to fear” line, this petition begins:

Untouchable. That is what President Obama believes that he is. If you’ve seen the movie “The Untouchables” that chronicles the days of Al Capone in Obama’s hometown of Chicago, then you will totally get this. Capone broke every law in the book, yet still viewed himself as untouchable. After all, he had law enforcement agents, attorneys, even judges bought and paid for. They towed the line and Capone beat the rap over and over again for crime after crime. Until, that is, a certain tax agent named Elliot Ness entered the picture. He was relentless in his pursuit of Capone and, when one of his men was murdered, the killer scrawled the word “Touchable” in blood on the wall.

Forget for a moment the fact that it was not Al Capone who was considered “untouchable.” It was the small group of feds trying to bring him down who were called the Untouchables. How could these Tea Party nuts muck that up? And forget for a moment the irony of having an anti-big-government Tea Party group extol the virtues of “a certain tax agent named Elliot [sic] Ness.” Ness wasn’t just a tax agent, he was first an agent for the Bureau of Prohibition, and if there ever was an intrusive government agency, it was that one. Besides that, the hero of this Tea Party story never did get Al Capone. It was really the IRS that brought him down. And Eliot Ness, according to one source, had a heart attack at age 54 and died “depressed, disillusioned and deeply in debt.” Oh, yeah, Al Capone allegedly found Jesus in prison. Yikes.

Anyway, forget all that. Look at the Tea Party image created so far: President Obama is a gangster who will not only kill his enemies, but taunt them with blood-scrawled writing on the wall. To these Tea Party-crazed people, “a murderer is less to fear” than our president.

Here’s a little detail from the petition:

The self perceived ‘untouchable’ Obama Regime has blood on their hands. They have the blood of the four men, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, on their hands since they sat back and did nothing while the torturous massacre at Benghazi occurred. They have the blood of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the hundreds of Mexican citizens killed by individuals wielding guns from the botched gun running Operation Fast and Furious on their hands. They have the blood of all those who were killed during the shooting initiated by the Muslim serviceman Nidal Malik Hasan who is still not prosecuted under Eric Holder’s Department of (In) Justice. The fact that the Obama Regime refuses to answer questions surrounding these avoidable, tragic situations is an insult to the American people and those victims who died in these incidents…

Add in his thuggish threatening of journalists Bob Woodward, Lanny Davis, and a reporter with the National Journal and we have a presidency ripe for the investigation of a special prosecutor!

You can see now why Attorney General Eric Holder is under attack by at least 23 Republicans in the House and, if the impeachment resolution ever came to a vote, likely many more. If you read the press release introducing the articles of impeachment drawn up by Texas congressman Pete Olson, you will find some of the same references as in the Obama-is-Capone petition:

During his tenure, Mr. Holder refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious and the resulting death of a Border Patrol agent, refused to prosecute IRS officials who unlawfully disclosed private tax records to third party groups, and misled Congress about his involvement in the investigation of a journalist…

At least Rep. Olson had the decency to leave out not only the “A murderer is less to fear” quote, but also the Al Capone reference. I guess these days that’s saying something. But there is no mistaking one thing. These teapartiers are full of hate for this president and most everyone around him. Congressman Olson and his House friends, Michele Bachmann and Louis Gohmert and the others who co-sponsored that Eric Holder impeachment resolution, may have dressed it up in slightly kinder legislative language, but at its base it is still “Show President Obama That He Is Not A King!”

And do it all in the name of Cicero and, uh, Elliot [sic] Ness.

To My Mom, On This Sad Anniversary

I have been to Dealey Plaza in Dallas three times. Most recently I was there one year ago, and while I was there I saw pro-Palestinian protesters rallying to condemn Israel for violence against the people of Gaza, as well as to express outrage at how American foreign policy supports such violence.Protest on Grassy Knoll in Dallas

Given that the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy was murdered at that place 50 years ago, I can’t help but marvel at how amazing it is that Dealey Plaza is sometimes used to rehearse, peacefully, the disagreements among us, among We The People.

That is one thing I think about when I think about the assassination of John Kennedy.

But I also think about my mom. In the days leading up to this day, this anniversary of a horrific crime, I have found myself thinking about what the Kennedys, particularly John and Jackie, meant to her.

I was only five years old when Lee Harvey Oswald fired those shots. I have no direct memory of the event. But I most certainly have memories, created a few years later, of thumbing through books and magazines on the Kennedys that my mom had purchased to memorialize her hero. She was a Democrat and, as far as I know, she was a life-long Democrat. And to her the Kennedy family was, as they were to so many, an American royal family.

Several of the photographs we have seen on television the past few days were burned into my memory a long time ago. Those Kennedy books and magazines my mom had in our house likely kindled the interest in politics and politicians that burns in me still. mom dad and meI did not understand at the time what Kennedy’s death meant to the country or to history, but I think I understood what his death meant to my mom.

And that is why for me today brings back memories of a little boy flipping through pages filled with mostly black-and-white photographs of a young president and his family and the savage who killed a man my mom had never met or would never meet, but loved so much.

The Exorcists

For political junkies, what happened in the U.S. Senate on Thursday was something that only comes along every generation or so. Most of us don’t get to see many extraordinary and far-reaching changes take place in politics like the big change we saw from filibuster obstructionism to democracy, at least as far as that change relates to judicial and executive branch nominees selected by President Obama.

To paraphrase what Churchill supposedly said but no one can actually document: You can always count on Democrats to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.

And after some number of failed “gentlemen’s agreements,” Democrats finally had the guts to pull the trigger, although it wasn’t exactly a nuclear trigger, since Republicans can continue to pretend democracy is a four-letter word as far as any future Supreme Court nominees and as far as any and all legislation is concerned.

But it is a victory for the good guys. The chickens of Republican obstructionism finally came home to roost. And if he is legacy-smart, President Obama will cook those chickens faster than Colonel Sanders on a Sunday after church. Even if O’s last three-plus years are filled with legislative nothingness, the President’s imprint on the federal judiciary, and his administration’s ability to publish regulations that will get a fair hearing before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, will have long-lasting effects. Assuming, that is, he appoints liberalish judges and authorizes people-friendly regulations, actions not quite as certain as I would wish they were.

In any case, the Republican response was predictable, and I admit quite enjoyable. The boyz threaten retaliation should Americans be foolish enough to put them in the Senate majority in 2014 and beyond. Senator Rand Paul, lying, said that the Majority Leader, Harry Reid, “is a bully, dictating to the Senate.” David Vitter, the hooker-loving Christian from Louisiana, tweeted:

This isn’t just a shame for the Senate it’s scary and dictatorial for our country.

Dictatorial? You mean allowing the majority to have its way on most presidential nominations is now a dictatorship? Only with the nurturing of Tea Party logic can such a conclusion hatch in the brain, motivate fear-mongering fingers, and make its way through the Twitterverse without fatally tripping over reality.

How come it is that these Republicans don’t consider Speaker John Boehner’s actions in the House to be dictatorial? He recently shut down the government, is now single-handedly holding up immigration reform, ENDA, and other legislation passed by the Senate, and has done those things without a critical peep or tweet from Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and David Vitter.

This has been a long time coming. Republicans, in their present Tea Party state of mind, wouldn’t have waited so long to make the same move, if they were in the majority in the Senate. They would have before now nailed the nads of a negative mitch getting exorcisedminority of Democrats to the walls of the Senate chamber and invited Fox “News” in for a photo shoot. No one who has been paying attention these last few years doubts that.

But finally 52 priestly Democrats in the Senate have figured out that for democracy to mean anything in an age when an anti-Obama demon has possessed the Republican Party, a demon that cannot be exorcised by chanting mumbo jumbo from the Rituale Romanum, they have to bring back a much more American demon-chasing ritual: majority rule.


Limbaugh-Size Hypocrisy, Part 2

“I do believe in faith, forgiveness, and redemption,” said cocaine-consuming congressman Trey Radel on Wednesday night during a press conference. The Florida Tea Party Republican admitted his addiction was a “disease” and that he was “owning up to his actions.” He said he wants to be held “accountable” and “rebuild the trust” of his constituents. He is taking a leave of absence while he seeks treatment. He wants to do all this for his “family and for his wife.” He talked about his “little guy,” his two-year-old son. He talked about his mom who “struggled with alcoholism” and how hard that was.

Until the end, when the congressman exited the news conference stage right, not one reporter in Cape Coral, Florida, ask him about his vote to force food stamp recipients to take drug tests in order to continue receiving help. Finally, as he left the room, someone asked about his vote on drug testing. He was, by then, gone. He disappeared without answering.

trey drug chargeThus, we have a man who wisely admitted he has a sickness, a problem that he can’t deal with on his own. He needs professional help, he said. But I don’t know if addiction professionals can help him admit that as part of his recovery, as part of his rehabilitation and redemption, he needs to emphatically and publicly admit that he was absolutely wrong to vote with his Republican colleagues on legislation that would force those who find themselves in need of government food assistance to submit to government-mandated drug testing in order to prove their fealty to drug laws and to receive benefits.

I wish him all the best in his difficult battle against addiction, but Trey Radel can never claim rehabilitation victory until he admits that he and his fellow Republicans, in their mean-spirited attempt to slander those who need public assistance to help ward off hunger, were wrong in tying food stamps to drug testing.

Let’s hope he comes back a new man in more ways than one.

Limbaugh-Size Hypocrisy

What can you say about such breathtaking, Rush Limbaugh-size hypocrisy?

A Tea Party-supported congressman representing some of the most conservative folks in Florida, born Henry Jude Radel III but known as “Trey,” was, in the words of USA Today,

caught buying drugs as part of a federal investigation into a Washington, D.C., drug ring last month and is being charged with cocaine possession, according to a senior Drug Enforcement Administration official.

Now, presumably because Radel is a white guy holding a once-respected office in our national government, he was not arrested at the time he was caught buying drugs. He was “detained” later at his apartment by FBI agents, who, the USA Today report made clear, “never handcuffed Radel or took him to jail.” Of course not. Why would law enforcement want to treat him like a regular dope-buyer on the streets of D.C.?

In any case, Radel’s biggest sin, one this Catholic congressman may have to explain to the Lord someday, is not the cocaine purchase. No, that’s not his main crime. Just a few months ago this phony bastard voted to force food stamp recipients to piss in cups to prove they’re not lawbreakers like him. Where do you find words to describe such blatant dishonesty?

Not that making hungry people who receive government help prove they’re not drug abusers isn’t a colossally sinful Republican policy in itself, but for that policy to receive the support of some pharisaical Tea Party congressman, who has an affection for nose candy, is a sin that Satan himself would envy.

Last summer, when Republicans were debating their welfare drug-testing policy, Democratic congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts proposed testing phonies like Representative Henry Jude Radel III:

Why don’t we drug test all the members of Congress here? Force everybody to go urinate in a cup or see whether or not anybody is on drugs? Maybe that will explain why some of these amendments are coming up or why some of the votes are turning out the way they are.

Yes, that might explain it. But what explains the hypocrisy?

Radel, a former talk show host like Limbaugh, has admitted he has a problem. Good for him. That’s the first step towards recovery. He said,

I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice.

I hope he sees his “irresponsible choice” as not just buying blow from a dealer working with the feds, but also cruelly voting to drug-test people on food stamps. That would be his second step towards recovery.

Liz Misérables

A lot has been said about the family feud between the Cheney sisters, but few pundits have framed the dynamic involved more conciselythan commentator Joy Reid did on MSNBC yesterday, which I will get to shortly.

The Cheney feud features the ferocious heterosexual Liz, who is trying to get into the U.S. Senate by slandering a fellow conservative in Wyoming, and her non-heterosexual sister Mary. Being a darling of the rabid Tea Party right, and obviously wanting to become a national political figure, Liz finds it necessary to make sure every zealot in the country, especially in the Wyoming electorate, knows that just because her sister Mary is happily married to a woman, ol’ Liz won’t bless the matrimony with her public approval. “I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage,” she told the Republican Party News Channel, where she often appears as a political commentator.Liz Cheney formed Keep America Safe with William Kristol and Debra Burlingame.

Of course Liz is playing to the zealots here. We all know that. But why? Why would she feel the need to do that, when the country is obviously evolving on the gay marriage issue? That’s where Joy Reid got it right on MSNBC. Her simple remark was that Liz Cheney and other Tea Party Republicans “cannot afford to let go of the religious right because their base is shrinking so quickly.”  That’s it. The base of the party is shrinking, and Republicans believe they have to hold on to the one loyal group who will not abandon them, so long as they remain true to so-called biblical values.

Remember that most (about 90%) of Mitt Romney’s votes came from white folks and that white evangelicals represented about 23% of the 2012 electorate, giving Romney 79% of their vote. And remember that about 40% of the GOP base comprises white evangelicals. Thus, conservative Bible thumpers are the last refuge of Republican candidates.  They feel they have to go there in order to win. They don’t think they can afford to irk them. They believe they have to cozy up, at least rhetorically, to those with Iron Age sensibilities or else they will never again win another national election. (I am ignoring the fact that many, many Republican candidates are genuine Bible-thumpers themselves and mean every word they say in condemnation of homosexuality.)

Consider what Ron Brownstein wrote recently:

In 2012, President Obama lost white voters by a larger margin than any winning presidential candidate in U.S. history. In his reelection, Obama lost ground from 2008 with almost every conceivable segment of the white electorate. With several key groups of whites, he recorded the weakest national performance for any Democratic nominee since the Republican landslides of the 1980s.

In 2012, Obama won a smaller share of white Catholics than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1980; lost groups ranging from white seniors to white women to white married and blue-collar men by the widest margin of any Democrat since Ronald Reagan routed Walter Mondale in 1984; and even lost among Democratic-leaning college-educated women by the widest margin since Michael Dukakis in 1988, according to the latest National Journal analysis of the trends that shape the allegiances of American voters.

Yet, Obama won the election. He got a mere 39% of the white vote and he won. And, as Brownstein put it, he “won fairly comfortably.” We all know, of course, the biggest reason why Obama won. He trounced Romney among minority voters, getting the nod from 93% of blacks, 71% of Hispanics, and 73% of Asians. And we all know that the browning of America, which fills white conservatives with a disturbing angst, is inexorably proceeding—“Census: More minority U.S. births than white now”—and we all know that the Tea Party message has not and will not appeal all that much to non-whites. But there are some conservatives out there, as Brownstein points out, who,

insist that Republicans, by improving both turnout and already-gaping margins among whites, can recapture the White House in 2016 without reformulating their agenda to attract more minority voters…

Yes, believe it or not, serious number-crunchers writing for conservative websites believe that if only more white folks would show up and vote, the Republicans wouldn’t have to change a damn thing! Thus, there are a lot of Republican candidates who believe they cannot afford to turn off a single white evangelical and that is why we have Liz Cheney publicly dissing her gay sister’s marriage.

Now, there is a lot wrong with Liz Cheney (as her appearance on Fox News Sunday demonstrated), but I am sure she loves her sister. She cares about her. And presumably she knows that her sister Mary and her wife are not really sinners condemned by God. But she dare not say so in front of conservative evangelicals, one of the legs that holds up a teetering Republican Party. She dare not say it to people who believe that homosexuality is not only a sin, but a sin that will send you straight to hell without passing go or collecting money from the Koch brothers.

The dilemma for Republicans going forward is that appealing to the sensibilities of Bible extremists turns off a goodly number of voters. And Republicans might want to consider this graphic from Brownstein’s article:

religious whites affiliation trend

Yikes. That’s a pretty big jump. As the Pew Research Center also found out about those unaffiliated voters:

unaffiliated ideology

Yikes, again. The trend is toward more religiously unaffiliated voters and those voters are almost twice as likely to be liberals as conservatives.

Maybe Liz ought to apologize to her sister.

Because Being Poor And Unemployed Is Just One Big Vacation

With all the moaning and groaning over ObamaCare in the mainstream press—including those godawful comparisons to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War—and with all the ridiculous coverage of that crazy, crack-smoking mayor in Canada, many people have forgotten about the unemployed in this country.

But Chad Stone, the Chief Economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, isn’t one of those people who have forgotten. Last week U.S. News and World Report published a piece he wrote, “The Unemployment Insurance Cliff.” It begins:

Unless the president and Congress act before the end of the year, more than a million Americans will have the plug pulled on their jobless benefits the week after Christmas, and many others who’ve recently become unemployed or will become unemployed next year will see them sharply curtailed.  That would increase hardship for those workers and their families, and it would be bad for the economy.

What he is talking about is the expiration of a program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), which was created when George W. Bush was still president in June of 2008. The program, Stone says, “increased the number of weeks of federal emergency benefits as the Great Recession worsened in late 2008 and 2009.” And although it has been extended “several times” in order “to mount  a strong enough recovery to restore the labor market to normal health,” Republicans “want to kill the program.”

That’s a big surprise, isn’t it? Republicans want to kick folks off unemployment benefits? Who could have guessed that?

In any case, Stone posted this amazing graph:

As you can see, the Great Recession really was the Great Recession. And Stone reminds us that not only was that recession “so much worse” than previous recessions, but if it weren’t for unemployment insurance, the damn thing “would have been deeper and the recovery even slower.” Because, you see, unemployment insurance puts money in the pockets of folks who otherwise wouldn’t have it. And where does that money end up? Yes, it ends up going into the economy, which helps everyone, even rich everyones who own superstores like Walmart.

But Republicans have a theory about what that money really does, especially when it gets extended through programs like EUC. You know what their theory is called? The Great Vacation theory. Yes. That’s what economist Chad Stone calls it:

The “Great Vacation” narrative holds that unemployment insurance (UI) benefits — in particular, the added weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed that Congress has funded in the past few years — have dissuaded millions of unemployed workers from taking a job.  If, then, jobless workers would get off their duff (or if we would give them a good swift kick there), unemployment would plummet.

The Great Vacation Theory of unemployment insurance has a cousin. It’s called the Hammock Theory, as in “the social safety net has become a hammock.” That has always been one of Rush Limbaugh’s favorite little digs at poor people. And perhaps you remember when Republican Paul Ryan, introducing his infamous budget-slashing plan to America in 2011, compared his plan to the so-called successful welfare reforms under Bill Clinton:

This budget extends those successes . . . to ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.

Yep, all those hungry kids that get food and health benefits from the government are living a life of leisure and, by God, Republicans are eager to help make them productive citizens by cutting the help going to their families.

Yep, all those elderly and disabled folks who get government help are endangering the country with their sloth.

Yep, those working poor who get such benefits as Ryan sought to cut don’t know they are lounging around in a hammock of “complacency and dependency” and it is up to Jesus-loving GOP lawmakers to push them out of their comfortable hammock and into…what?

Did you know, according to the Department of Agriculture, that in 2011:

Seventy-six percent of SNAP [the old "food stamp" program] households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person, and these households received 83 percent of all benefits.

Did you know that? And did you know this:

Nearly half (49 percent) of all SNAP households with children had earned income; 40 percent of single-adult households with children and 64 percent of married-head households with children had earned income. Four percent of all households with children had both TANF [the old AFDC program that provides a little cash to poor families with kids] and earned income.

That’s a helluva a hammock those folks are swinging in. I don’t know how they have time for all that “complacency and dependency” when they’re out there earning income, do you?

snap announcementIn any case, the Democrats stimulus plan passed in 2009 (remember the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?) temporarily increased SNAP benefits to those hammock-loving kids and old folks and the disabled. But that temporary increase ended on November 1 and SNAP households have seen their meager benefits cut. And there ain’t no way on God’s GOP-governed earth that SNAP benefits will go up again. As CBPP put it:

Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014. 

That’ll teach those slackers!

And now, according to Chad Stone, we have Republicans wanting to kill emergency unemployment insurance because they believe it “has created a ‘Great Vacation’ in which workers prefer unemployment benefits to a job.”

Meanwhile, most of what you hear on TV news these days is either stories about a crack-crazed Canadian mayor, or how Democrats didn’t adequately foresee every possible problem with making our healthcare system a little more humane for millions upon millions of Americans.

And that, my friends, is how Republicans can do their dirty work and get away with it.

House Republicans, And Some Fraidy Cat Democrats, Vote To Allow Insurance Companies To Keep Selling Crappy Insurance Forever And Ever. Yippee!

From the AP:

The Republican-controlled House has passed legislation letting insurance companies sell individual coverage to all comers, even if it falls short of standards set in “Obamacare.”

Next up for this group of lawmakers: Allowing companies to sell contaminated food to Americans who—because they are Americans, dammit!—might want it.

Sadly, 39 Democrats joined with 222 Republicans to make this reactionary mania somewhat bipartisan. Wow. Fortunately, the bill will never become law, as President Obama has said he will veto it.

Obama, Gog, Magog, And The Curse Of God

The Raw Story published an account of Louie Gohmert’s recent address to that teensy-weensy part of the nation who watches the “General Speeches” in the House of Representatives on C-SPAN. Gohmert, typically an earnest spokesman for GOP Jesus, was talking about the Obama administration’s latest moves in the Middle East when he said:

There are many who have been aware of Scripture, and it has often been a guide in our relations with Israel.

Now, before you are tempted to laugh at that statement, before you smirk at the idea that an Iron Age book is America’s go-to manual for 21st-century international relations, be aware that there is more than a little truth in it. Consider the following, from The Guardian:

Bush, Gog and Magog

Just when you thought it couldn’t get crazier, a well-sourced story claims Bush invaded Iraq because of Bible prophecies

Apparently, George W. Bush (who lately has a Jews for Jesus problem), in order to get support from French President Jacques Chirac for the neo-conservatives’ arbitrary war against Saddam Hussein, told Chirac that “Gog and Magog” were busy doing in the Middle East, well, the things that God and Magog are supposed to be doing. What they were (and now are) supposed to be doing, according to many Bible-believing evangelicals and fundamentalists, has something to do with the End of the World.

When I was an evangelical Christian, I heard a lot about Gog and Magog, even though I didn’t really understand how anyone could derive such fanciful notions about them from a few obscure passages in the Bible. I like the way Wikipedia describes the prophetic duo:

They are sometimes individuals, sometimes peoples, and sometimes geographic regions. 

Hmm. That’s quite an elastic description, no?

In any case, it is more than scary that people in our government, people in high places, have taken such things seriously, but they have. And many, like Louis Gohmert, still do. He wasn’t finished with his C-SPAN speech:

Some of us believe that the Bible is accurate. Certainly, so many prophesies have been fulfilled, and if that is true, this administration, unless they can find a verse that accurately says that those who betray Israel will be blessed, then this country is being dug in a deeper hole by this administration and its betrayals of Israel’s trust and Israel’s friendship.

As a former member of the evangelical community, let me translate that for you:

If Barack Obama doesn’t start paying attention to the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments, then our country will be cursed by God.

Now, what form that curse will take is, like most things in the Bible, open to interpretation. Here are the options I spontaneously see:

†♥ God will send droughts to starve us to death.

†♥ God will send floods to drown us—uh, no, he tried that and promised not to do it again. My bad.

†♥ God will send a horrible plague our way, like the Tea Party.

†♥ God will force us to watch Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly have sex—with each other.

Okay, okay. That last one is a little too much. I admit it. But it beats the curses for disobedience you will actually find in Deuteronomy 28, among them:

†♥ The LORD will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly…YIKES!

†♥ The LORD will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with severe burning fever, with the sword, with scorching, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. YIKES!

†♥ Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away. YIKES!

†♥ The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with tumors, with the scab, and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed. YIKES!

†♥ The LORD will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of heart. YIKES!

†♥ Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, and your eyes shall look and fail with longing for them all day long…YIKES!

†♥ The LORD will strike you in the knees and on the legs with severe boils which cannot be healed, and from the sole of your foot to the top of your head…YIKES!

†♥ You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you…YIKES!

Now, admit it, compared to all the real punishments God says he has in store for the disobedient, being forced to watch Limbaugh, Hannity, and O’Reilly do the nasty isn’t all that bad is it?

“We’ve got to move forward on this,” Says The President

Yesterday Speaker John Boehner said the health care law needed to be fixed. Today he said it can’t be fixed. Tomorrow, who knows what he will say. But what we do know is that beneath all the hysterical media coverage of the number of people who have so far signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act—106,000 brave or desperate souls—lies one simple fact: Republicans have exactly no interest in making the law work, in helping people who can’t get or can’t afford insurance, some 41 million Americans.

In a better world, that is, in a world where there really is a liberal mainstream press, the reporting on what is happening relative to ObamaCare would be much different. It would start by noting that the disappointing numbers of insurance buyers is not just the result of the troubled federal website, or the normal wait-till-the-last-minute propensity we all have, but the reporting would also point out that the other side has been trying to destroy the law or, failing that, scare people into avoiding it.

Reporters would tell the people that despite the Republican conspiracy to sabotage the law, despite the concerted efforts by the right-wing to encourage people not to sign up, a rather large number of folks—at least at this stage of the process—have nevertheless found their way into the marketplaces and signed up for coverage. Reporters, in my ideal world, might lead their coverage with the fact that almost 400,000 people, some who likely never had insurance in their lives, have signed up for Medicaid.

As I said, that kind of news coverage would be in a better world, not the one we live in.

In any case, President Obama came forward in a news conference today and announced some tweaks to the law. He was responding to media pressure and to pressure from fraidy-cat Democrats,President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about his signature health care law, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Bowing to pressure, President Barack Obama intends to permit continued sale of individual insurance plans that have been canceled because they failed to meet coverage standards under the health care law, officials said Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) as well as to the genuine concerns some Americans have about the cancellation of their policies.

The President also took all of the blame for the problems associated with the law (“we fumbled the ball” and “I feel deeply responsible”), especially his promise that people could keep their insurance, even if a lot of it is crappy insurance. He absolved congressional Democrats, some who are shaking in their political boots, of any responsibility for that so-called broken promise. Now those Democrats can go home and tell the folks it was all Obama’s fault. Happy now, Dems?

The President announced today that he is trying to make it possible, as I said, for people to keep their mostly crappy insurance policies because the grandfather provision in the law was insufficiently protective of such sub-standard plans:

What we wanted to be able to do is to say to these folks, “You know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan.”

We all know, and the President acknowledged it, that any of the normal disruptions or problems (like rising premiums) in the health insurance market are going to be blamed on the ACA. And if insurance companies don’t take advantage of the fix the President announced today (and how that fix will be implemented is not clear), he will still get slammed on Fox “News” and, sadly, in much of the mainstream press. That’s just the way it is these days. As I write, Andrea Mitchell is reporting that the insurance industry is complaining that what the President proposed won’t work and that the blame is squarely on him. Blah, blah, blah.

Democrats, as is their tendency, usually jump ship when their boat has a leak in it. Some of them in the House were threatening to vote on a Republican-sponsored “fix” to the law that would essentially, as it was really designed to do, undermine it. But President Obama is not jumping ship. “I’m up to the challenge,” he said. He noted, rather importantly:

We’ve got to move forward on this. It took a hundred years for us to even get to the point that we could even start talking about and implementing a law to make sure everybody got health insurance. My pledge to the American people is that we’re going to solve the problems that are there, we’re going to get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people.

Will the President’s press conference shut down all the criticism? Of course not. Fox “News” will go on doing segment after segment about disgruntled people who had their policies cancelled while it ignores the millions upon millions who stand to be helped by the law, particularly if Republicans will stop sabotaging it; Fox will go on showing graphics of a non-working website, long after it has been repaired. And the mainstream press will treat all of this like it is a political game, rather than a long-awaited attempt to do something good for Americans, even if doing this particular good is enormously complicated and necessarily problematic.

Finally, I want to make a comment about what Alex Wagner, a reliable progressive on MSNBC, said after the President spoke. She said he “seemed a wounded man today.” No, he didn’t. He seemed like a disappointed but determined man who is trying to do all he can do to guide the ACA through a rather difficult storm, a storm that, unfortunately, is a rather perfect one for Republicans, for those who never before gave a damn about those millions of people who will, hopefully and when all is said and done, get health insurance through ObamaCare.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Sometimes Liberals Overreact Too, And Miss The Real Problem

So, I tune in to HuffPo today and on its famously sensationalistic front page I find this:

richard cohen headerWow! I thought. Who the heck did that at The Washington Post? So, I clicked on the link and found this headline:

Richard Cohen Writes Yet Another Racist Column

Dammit, Richard! Can’t you behave? Didn’t you learn anything the last time, and the time before that? Liberals are very sensitive about such things and you should know better.

Because I don’t often read Cohen’s columns, I thought I would at least pay him the courtesy of reading his “racist column,” before I pronounced him a racist. That’s fair, isn’t it? I mean, even though the mothership of left-leaning news and opinion aggregators has pronounced him a bad guy, I want to be fair and see why that is. I’m funny that way.

It took me only one sentence to find out how HuffPo missed the boat on Cohen’s column. The most offensive thing in the piece had to be the parenthetical in the opening sentence:

The day after Chris Christie, the cuddly moderate conservative, won a landslide reelection as the Republican governor of Democratic New Jersey, I took the Internet Express out to Iowa, surveying its various newspapers, blogs and such to see how he might do in the GOP caucuses, won last time by Rick Santorum, neither cuddly nor moderate.

Chris Christie is a “cuddly moderate conservative”? Are you kidding me? Can you see how awesomely awful that description is? There’s not really much of anything cuddly or moderate about Christie’s ideology, as we have previously discussed on this blog, but compared to a non-cuddly and non-moderate nut like Rick Santorum, he looks that way to some observers. I sort of understand the reason for that spasm of false relativity among straight news reporters—they like the guy a lot—but for left-leaning columnists, calling Christie a moderate conservative represents an unacceptably distorted view of the landscape.

Just because the right-wing of the Republican Party is moving further and further into both absurdity and obscurity, doesn’t mean that rigid conservatives like Chris Christie get to be called “moderate.” I’ve also recently heard people refer to Ronald Reagan as a moderate conservative, a description that is also false. Trust The Erstwhile Conservative on this one, richard cohenbut as one of the Gipper’s biggest fans in the old days, I didn’t cheer him on because he was a moderate. Just the opposite. Even though he had to, of necessity, make deals with Democrats, he remained a die-hard conservative at heart. So, it’s just plain wrong to put the word moderate in the same sentence as either Reagan or Christie. And the editors of HuffPo, if they wanted to go after Cohen, should have criticized that gaffe.

But nope, the focus of the sensational headlines was Cohen’s alleged racism. Well, let’s take a look at the offending passage, cited in the HuffPo story (and, by now, widely excerpted and criticized all over the leftish sites):

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

These comments were labeled “incendiary” by HuffPo. Huh? Incendiary? Hardly. The worst thing about this paragraph, when it is read in the context of the entire column, is that he definitively, without any qualification, says, “Today’s GOP is not racist.” We know for a fact that some fraction of the GOP is racist, although no one thinks the entire party is. But that’s not the point. Some liberals, as far as I can tell, are calling Cohen a racist mostly because of his use of the phrase, “People with conventional views,” which, they say, is wrong because conventional views on interracial marriage have changed. The HuffPo piece cites a Gallup poll showing 87 percent approval for such marriages (30 years ago it was at 43 percent; 50 years ago it was less than 10 percent).

Now, I don’t see how misusing the term “conventional” makes one a racist, and even a cursory reading of the column should have made it clear to anyone that Cohen is attacking the Tea Party and its anachronistic views: “If this is the future of the GOP, then it’s in the past.” And Cohen ends his piece with some advice to Chris Christie about not becoming a Tea Party guy who could win the rabidly conservative Iowa caucuses because then the “Joisey” governor would become “anathema to the rest of us.”

There wasn’t a damn thing racist about Cohen’s column. Essentially he is discussing what I have often labeled “white cultural angst,” the feeling among conservative Christian palefaces that they are losing their traditional stranglehold on the country. When Cohen says these folks don’t much recognize the country these days, he’s right about that and he’s not a racist for saying so.

But even though there was no racism in the column, there was something very offensive about it, at least for anyone who has looked at Christie’s conservatism objectively, without comparing it to the worst elements of his party. The offense is in assuming that a President Christie would hold policy positions that would be all that different from your average teapartier. Besides Christie’s record, as evidence for my claim I submit to you the following famous quote uttered in 2011 at that annual gathering of wingnuts known as the Conservative Political Action Conference:

If we don’t run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we’ll lose.

That wasn’t some milquetoast moderate who said that. It was the female version of Rush Limbaugh, the mean-spirited, liberal-hating Ann Coulter. She later told Fox, her home away from home, “I don’t care if [Chris Christie] wants to run, his country needs him, it appears.”

That was in 2011. Now, I admit that it is hard to take Ann Coulter seriously as a pundit, but many right-wingers love her, which is why they have made her wealthy by buying her books, and why Fox frequently books her as a guest on TV and radio. Thus, she makes noise in the right’s echo chamber that some hear as music, even if it’s mostly chin music. In any case, Coulter’s love for Christie wasn’t just a whim in 2011. In May of this year—this year, after the 2012 Christie-Obama love fest that pissed off nearly every teapartier in the country—she had this exchange with Sean Hannity on the radio:

COULTER: I’ve told you before: I have eyes only for Chris Christie.

HANNITY: Your buddy Chris Christie is out there sucking up to Obama this week. Don’t defend him.

COULTER: There seems to be a concerted movement by both liberals and conservatives to lie about Christie and make him seem more liberal than he really is.

Ann Coulter may be a lot of things, a lot of unseemly things, but she knows that Chris Christie, should he get elected president, would favor the kind of conservatism that Ted Cruz would love, especially if Christie governed with a Republican House and Senate. Oh, I know that lately she has fallen out of love with the New Jersey governor (she tweeted in June, “@GovChristie’s dead to me”) and withdrawn her support, but to further prove my point, look who she supports now:

coulter on cruz

Case closed. If Ted Cruz and Chris Christie are both suitable candidates for a liberal-hater like Ann Coulter, then obviously there are no significant ideological differences between them. And if Richard Cohen deserves any criticism from the left for his recent column, it is for assuming Chris Christie is some kind of moderate conservative we can all live with.

Because a lot of folks would find it very hard to live under President Christie and a Tea Party-dominated House and Senate.

The Triangulation Has Begun

“I hate to keep repeating myself, but to have the kind of relief the country needs, I think we change the government. Change the Senate, change the presidency.”

—Mitch McConnell, November 7, 2013

I recently wrote a piece on what I said will be the Republican establishment’s strategy to win general elections against Democrats: triangulation. They will try to make voters believe that they occupy the middle ground between those crazy teapartiers, who want to deconstruct the present government, and those nutty left-wingers, who want to construct an even bigger government.

Well, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the first arrow out of his triangulation quiver today, via Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column:

“The most important election yesterday wasn’t the governor of New Jersey and it wasn’t the governor of Virginia, it was the special election for Congress in South Alabama, where a candidate who said the shutdown was a great idea, the president was born in Kenya, and that he opposed Speaker Boehner came in second.” The victory of a more electable Republican, is significant, Mr. McConnell says. To govern, parties must win. To win, parties must “run candidates that don’t scare the general public, [and] convey the impression that we could actually be responsible for governing, you can trust us—we’re adults here, we’re grown-ups.”

McConnell, who is up for reelection in 2014, confidently says he is “gonna be the Republican nominee next year” in a race that would pit him against Kentucky’s Democratic secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has been raising a lot of dough for the battle. In Noonan’s column, McConnell shrewdly went after the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former senator and unrepentant teapartier Jim DeMint, for spending a lot of money attacking Republicans like him and for doing so “in obvious coordination with Harry Reid’s super PAC.”

And McConnell has obviously figured that his primary campaign opponent, bidnessman Matt Bevin, who is supported by Tea Party groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, is best dealt with by painting him and his supporters as irresponsible people who can’t win a general election because the public doesn’t trust them to be grown-ups and govern.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also stepped up the rhetoric against extremist groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and the consulting firms that work with them. The New York Times recently reported:

“We’re not going to do business with people who profit off of attacking Republicans,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the committee. “Purity for profit is a disease that threatens the Republican Party.”

Feeling that threat from the anti-establishment extremists, the establishment extremists—who want all of the same things that their zealous Republican brothers want—are now fully arming themselves in an attempt to convince Americans that they are the middle-ground answer to the problem posed by people who don’t want to govern at all and people who want to govern too much.

My point in all this is that Democrats should not just sit back and enjoy the Republican Civil War, delightfully tempting as that is. We have to keep reminding people that even though Mitch McConnell and some other Republicans seem to have learned their lesson about courting and coddling the zealots in the Tea Party, the only difference between the establishment and the zealots is that the zealots are at least honest about what they want to do.

[Photo:Getty Images]

60 Minutes Leaves Fox “News” In The Lurch

You have heard by now that the famed CBS News program 60 Minutes is doing a my bad! on its recent report on Benghazi, a report that many right-wingers, especially the Obama-haters on Fox “News,” have been using to justify their own misreporting on the tragedy that occurred there.

Here is the way HuffPo began its story:

In a humiliating retreat from a piece she had staunchly defended, “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan admitted on Friday morning that she and the news magazine had made a “mistake” in their reporting of a controversial story about the Benghazi attacks.

You can read the details for yourself, but the important thing to know here is that because Fox journalism is always seeking validation from mainstream journalists (who are much too eager to give it to them), it quickly latched onto the 60 Minutes story. Via Media Matters, here is how an alleged straight news reporter (he’s not) on Fox, Brett Baier,opened a segment on Fox’s flagship news program Special Report the day after the Lara Logan piece ran:

BAIER: Answers are still hard to come by in the investigation into last fall’s Benghazi terror assault. Last night, one of journalism’s heavy hitters reaffirmed what we knew and had reported on.

“What we knew and had reported on” turns out to be, well, “what we wish we knew but reported on as if we knew it.”  Fox, and many Republican politicians and pundits, have been pushing the idea that somehow President Obama or someone in his administration (by the time its all over future presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be to blame) withheld military help from those under attack in Benghazi, and that the whole thing was a grotesque scandal that the “lamestream media” was covering up. Foxers were so damn happy that finally someone had legitimated their coverage they could hardly contain themselves.

Again, on the day after the 60 Minutes report aired, Media Matters chronicled another Fox response, this time from another anchor pretending to be a straight journalist, Martha MacCallum:

Now 60 Minutes, the venerable news program, Sunday night news program, is putting a lot of focus on this story … Here at Fox News we’ve been covering this story for a very long time. At times we’ve been criticized for continuing to cover this story…

It remains to be seen whether 60 Minutes will remain a “venerable news program” in the eyes of Fox on-air talent, but what we do know is that right-wingers will not give up their quest to taint the President or, as will eventually happen as the 2016 draws closer, taint Hillary Clinton over the horrific events in Benghazi.

Finally, the indispensable Media Matters.org also kept track of other right-wingers’ expressed glee over the now-flawed 60 Minutes report: from Pat Robertson’s pronouncement that “it’s all over” for Obama to Breitbart’s declaration that “It was a reversal for CBS News, which played a key role in the Benghazi cover-up in 2012,” to the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg’s tweet:

jonah goldberg tweet

Yikes! It turns out that the original 60 Minutes piece—centrally flawed—does corroborate “pretty much everything” Fox has been reporting.


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