Ana Marie Cox

5 Things the U.S. Can Actually Do Instead of Complaining About the New Iraq War

American culture is stuck in perpetual rewind: the Clintons, Ninja Turtles, Buzzfeed. Now comes a much more serious affair – Iraq War 3: Revenge of the Jihadi. Like all horror-movie sequels, this one has a new cast but the same basic plot line, plus the threat of an even bloodier ending at the hands of a new masked enemy.

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Will the Green Goop in Toledo's Water Be the End of GOP Anti-Environmentalism?

It’s easy to doubt the effects of climate change – especially if you’re a Republican or a dedicated Fox News watcher. It’s an abstract concept easily “disproven” by the first cold day, and Republican-driven policies (or the lack thereof) to address it reflect just that. But it’s more difficult to deny the causes of smelly green goop washing up on a lakeshore or sticking to your toes.

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GOP Self-Destruction Complete: Millennials Officially Hate Conservatives

Conservatives are stuck in a perpetual outrage loop. The reappearance of Todd Akin, the horror-movie villain immortality of Sarah Palin, theunseemly celebration of the Hobby Lobby decision – these all speak to a chorus of "la-la-la-can't-hear-you" loud enough to drown out the voice of an entire generation. Late last week, the Reason Foundation released the results of a poll about that generation, the millennials; its signature finding was the confirmation of a mass abandonment of social conservatism and the GOP. This comes at a time when the conservative movement is increasingly synonymous with mean-spiritedprank-like and combativeactivism and self-important grand gestures. The millennial generation has repeatedly defined itself as the most socially tolerant of the modern era, but one thing it really can't stand is drama.

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The Real Reason Gun Control Is Failing

The Michael Bloomberg-funded Everytown for Gun Safety announced on Monday a new gambit for creating pressure on candidates to move, finally, in the direction of stricter gun laws: the group will offer them a survey. Everytown – one of several sane competitors playing the long game against the National Rifle Association’s stranglehold on violence in America – will make politicians put their positions on firearm restrictions, however convoluted, on the record. As the head of the organization, which has $50m in Bloomberg backing to the NRA’s untold millions, pronounced:“Now we’re going toe-to-toe with the gun lobby.”

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Congratulations, David Brat: Your Win over Eric Cantor is Totally Meaningless

David Brat ran against Eric Cantor as the epitome of everything that's wrong with Washington. It wasn't a bad synecdoche; like the city, Cantor exuded southern efficiency and northern charm. By the standards of the Tea Party, however, Cantor simply wasn't inefficient enough. They would like less done, please.

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The NRA Has Declared War on America

As the annual meeting of National Rifle Association members started here this weekend, the gentleman seated next to me said to settle in: "It's mostly administrative stuff. We vote on things." He paused for emphasis: "It's the law."

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The Pelosi Porn Strategy: Insane GOP Turns to "Outside" Artist to Demean Women

Republicans have finally found an edgy and provocative voice in an outsider artist who goes by the name Sabo. His art is also unrepentantly racist, misogynistic and homophobic. On Monday, the hugely influential smugly promoted Sabo's freelance advertising campaign for its site. It included, among other startling images, Nancy Pelosi in this explicitly pornographic pose of Miley Cyrus, complete with lascivious action and prominent ass:

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Prison Reform Is a Bipartisan Issue Now. Why Does the GOP Still Need to 'Win'?

The flaws of Obamacare continue to overwhelm the news, but it’s time to consider getting rid of another kind of death panel. We need to talk about the people our courts send away to die, and the way we treat every other prisoner as though his life didn’t matter. The United States is currently experiencing a quiet revolution in criminal justice reform – a bipartisan one. So what we need to talk about today is the part Republicans can play on the state and federal level, with or without the cost-cutting justifications that seem to come more easily to conservatives than an argument about human rights.

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Paul Ryan's 'Inner City' Comment Might Mean He's Racist, But He Sure is Classist

Poor Paul Ryan, in trouble again for saying something stupid about poverty. If only Paul Ryan knew more actual poor people.

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The GOP Doesn't Just Have a Woman Problem, it Doesn't Understand Women

Carly Fiorina, former California GOP senate challenger to Barbara Boxer, emerged at the Conservative Political Action Conference here as the speaker most willing to engage the Republicans' persistent problems with appealing to women. Well, after she spent the first half of her speech denying climate change. Priorities!

Fiorina didn't offer a solution, but she did offer some great slogans: "I am a proud pro-life woman. ... I believe science is proving us right everyday!" (Hey, don't knock junk science until you've tried it, right?) She also echoed a feminist line when she said, "All issues are women's issues."

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A Lot of Govt. Surveillance Is Just Copied from Online Marketing Techniques Designed to Predict Our Behavior

If civil libertarians who are disappointed with the proposals Obama outlined last week had to write a wish list for what kind of restraints they'd like to see on National Security Agency data-gathering, what might that include? Here's an educated guess:

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A Man Was Shot for Texting at a Movie -- This Isn't an Anomaly in America

The spontaneous shooting of a father over some texting and tossed popcorn had barely grabbed our attention when the headlines came about the even more horrific crime in New Mexico. Both were senseless, both all the more riveting for their quotidian settings. The antsy atmosphere of a pre-screening theater, the casual boredom of a student assembly – these are the universally-identifiable situations of standup comedy routines. To have them turned inside-out by unspeakable violence provokes primal outrage and fear.

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Why That West Virginia Chemical Spill Is Likely a Bigger Scandal Than Bridgegate

If we called West Virginia 4-methylcyclohexane-methanol leak "Watergate", do you think the political press would pay more attention?

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Marco Rubio's Laughable Speech on GOP Ideas to End Poverty

Senator Marco Rubio's office hyped his speech Wednesday as an "Address on the 50th Anniversary of the 'War on Poverty'", a rather grand billing given its familiar proposals. Rubio has slipped in and out of a few different presidential wrappers since he appeared in the US Capitol. He used to be "The Republicans' Obama". His proposals suggest that now he is the Latino Rick Santorum.

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Now He Wants 15-Year-Old Child Brides? How Phil Robertson Embodies What's Wrong with the Christian Right

Know what? If you had told me, a month ago, that the Christian Right would have a strong reaction to a bearded religious zealot in a headscarf urging men to take child brides, I'd have believed that. And I would have believed that the man's family would go on Fox News to defend him, but I would have assumed they were doing it from a bunker somewhere, with voice filters and behind a screen … not in the studio on New Year's Eve.

Yet this is how things are playing out in the aftermath of footage showingDuck Dynasty's Phil Robertson advising young men to "marry … girls when they are about 15 or 16", after, of course, "making sure she can cook a meal". "You need to eat some meals that she cooks. Check that out," he said to an audience at a Christian retreat in 2009. "Make sure she carries her Bible," he added. "That will save you trouble down the road."

I suppose it depends on how you define "trouble" – Robertson implies that it has to do with the little lady (or, better said, barely pubescent child) wanting some kind of monetary compensation for her labor ("you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that's going to take place is your pocket"). It also depends on which version of the Bible she has. Better hope she skips the part where it says, "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ!" Actually, there a bunch of sections you should edit out.

After his comments about homosexuality (it's a choice, and a sin) and race (no blacks were "singing the blues" when he was young!) in GQ magazine, Robertson was suspended by A&E (the network that carries Duck Dynasty) for a scant nine days – hardly a season in the wilderness. Given the network's apparent reluctance to do more than do a pious headshake over those statements, it seems unlikely that they will do more about – or even acknowledge – Robertson's charged take on the age of consent and gender roles.

Just for the record: the federal age of consent to have sex is 18; it's 17 in Robertson's home state of Louisiana. As in most states, sex with a minor is legal if the couple is married, but you can't just "check with mom and dad", as Robertson noted: they must sign their consent and be present at the marriage ceremony. If the bride is younger than 16 – which Robertson implies is ideal, I mean, you gotta lock that down – you have to get a court order to obtain a marriage license.

You'd think that Robertson would be on top of these things, as he married his wife when she was 16. But that was in 1966, and perhaps times were different then. You could marry a 16-year-old without much trouble, but not, say, someone of a different race. Or the same sex. As of five years ago, it was still pretty hard to marry someone of a different race: a justice of the peace who refused to marry a mixed race couple was forced to resign after a month of controversy; his parting wordshave an uncomfortable bearing on the Robertson situation: "It's kind of hard to apologize for something that you really and truly feel down in your heart you haven't done wrong." 

It is still illegal in Louisiana to marry someone of the same sex, which is, I guess, good news for that half of the under-16 population that can't be forced into the Robertson clan or its emulators.

If Robertson's views on female sexuality and servitude had been made public first, the Right could be more properly scandalized. The idea that a young woman is ripe for bedding before she can drive has connotations about that side of a romanticized rustic culture that, even for white people, is decidedly less appealing than the hearth-and-heart, God-and-guns milieu that the earlier Robertson defenders harkened to.

Also, they could blame Miley Cyrus. In a vacuum, conservatives could to spin the apparent marriageability of female children as yet another piece of evidence for the degradation of culture and validation of the right's embrace of permanent victim status – "Dammit, things didn't used to be this way!"

Roberts' initial interview resonated so deeply with conservatives because it fit with the narrative they mutter to themselves daily: "Things used to be better, and once we're all dead you'll see we were right all along." Gay sinners in the closet, darkies picking and grinning on the porch, America the way God (their very particular and peculiar God) meant it to be.

For the Right to reject Robertson now would mean acknowledging that his advocacy of cradle-robbing is of a piece with his comments about the blissful black workers of his youth and his anus-centered eschatology. The thing about marrying off women before they got old enough to know better? It used to be that way, as well. And it was justified with the same paternalistic logic and ruthless rejection of anything that dared to threaten the position of those in power.

For the professional Right – candidates, pundits and the like – this Duck Dynasty flap is a reminder of a different disturbing truth: the gap between what you want voters to believe you stand for and what it's OK to say out loud. There's a reason they call it a dog whistle and not a duck call.

Why Do Americans Care More About the Government Taking Our Guns Than Our Data?

Justice Richard Leon's feisty decision striking down the National Security Agency's mass collection of metadata from American citizens has given privacy advocates a much-needed boost in morale. Will that translate to a political tipping point?

The sad answer is no, don't count on it. Sure, the decision offers further grist for the slow accumulation of bipartisan discontent. It gives Republican Senator Rand Paul another applause line. But I doubt we can expect the debate over privacy to play much of a role in the electoral battles of the coming election cycles.

Though Obama critics can reliably add the NSA's overreach to their litany of complaints about the administration, it does not fit easily into the "angry socialist Muslim" narrative that winds through the other scandals they use to gin up support. You can't accuse him of turning a blind eye toward Benghazi and being too aggressive in the war on terrorism. Well, OK, you can, but you look like an idiot.

To be sure, there's something of a parallel between the fable of IRS's vindictiveness against Tea Party groups and NSA surveillance. Yet that comparison relies on voters regarding metadata snooping as a threat on par with an audit. It's probably safe to assume a lot more Americans cheat on their taxes than make phone calls to the Middle East.

The GOP cannot easily reverse course on their decades-long railing against "activist judges", either – though really, the principle that "it's only activism if you don't like it" has been fairly reliable cover before.

Democrats, while somewhat hamstrung by their necessary embrace of the administration, are probably more bound by their newfound foreign policy muscularity; their success at being as bloodthirsty as any Republican when it comes to "enemies" seems to have intoxicated former critics of executive abuses – a form of philosophical roid rage – the most significant of these defectors being Obama himself.

Americans themselves are hopelessly, perhaps helplessly, conflicted about the NSA program as it's been revealed thus far. A growing percentage (46% in the lastest poll) of Americans say that the government has "gone too far" in restricting "the average person's civil liberties" in order to protect the country. Even more say that the program constitutes "too much intrusion" (55% to 41% saying "not too much"). Almost the exact same number say it is "necessary" (50%) and that they "support" it. Looking at those numbers, no wonder politicians do not feel called to take a stand of any particular conviction, not when there are so many other issues where pandering can achieve a much greater effect.

Still, there is actually more support for a re-examination of our national security state than a desire to repeal Obamacare (just 38% of the country, a number unchanged despite the rocky roll-out of the exchanges, by the way). Only 12%of Americans think gun ownership laws should be made less strict (though that's exactly what's happened in past year – Newtown tragedy or no) yet I doubt we'll see many ads where politicians proudly brandish their Silent Circle app, or show footage of themselves surfing the web with Tor.

If only Americans were as concerned about their phone calls as they were about their guns.

The easy answer to the riddle of our elected official's inertia on privacy issues is that there's no money in civil rights. There's no National Rifle Association to reap the benefits and distribute the influence of a multi-billion dollar privacy industry. There's no conglomeration of wealthy business owners to complain that privacy will drive up their costs. There's no chin-stroking over the relative value of "privacy makers " over "privacy takers". There are no heartbreaking stories of families whose privacy was cancelled, or whose child will go hungry for lack of privacy.

More to the point, there will never be a 9/11 of privacy. There will never be a large-scale singular tragedy because the government knew too much. The slippery genius of "the war on terror" is that without frontlines and without tangible objectives, there's no need to guard against injuries sustained by friendly fire. The promise that extreme sacrifices will be justified by eventual victory is never tested. You can look at your causalities after a battle and decide if the loss of life was worth it. But the tragedies of eroded civil rights are excruciatingly small scale – just one person's liberty at a time … until those rights completely gone, of course.

Those in power rely on this fact. They use it to disguise a more fundamental one: that liberty is always, always more important, and more fundamental, than national security. It is the first right, it is the thing we have that we can be asked to sacrifice. The language of government invasion of privacy is that it's a "trade-off", that there is one party (the government) that approaches another (the people) with a deal – you give me this (your metadata), I'll give you that (your safety). This thinking only enshrines "government" as an entity, and makes it easier for those who work inside it to think of themselves as separate – and more powerful – than those outside it.

But this "trade" isn't a deal between two parties, it's a decision made by one group: all citizens. We are not trading with the government, we are giving orders to the servants we put there.

Well, that's the idea, anyway.

On 3D Guns, Congress Proves Yet Again How Scared It is of the Gun Lobby

On Monday, the Senate joined the House in passing the most significant piece of gun regulation legislation to happen in a decade: The Undetectable Firearms Act. Though the law has to do with weapons that are designed to slip past security systems, one would be forgiven for thinking that "undetectable" describes the legislation and not the guns themselves.

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Remember All Those Obamacare Horror Stories? Not Looking So Bad Now

Statisticians dismiss the practice of using personal stories to argue about an objective reality as "anecdata", but it might be more accurate to call the "Obamacare horror stories" that have taken over social media "urban legends". There are urban legends about a lot of things – from spiders in hairdos to red velvet cake. Some are funny, some feature asatisfying come-uppance, but folklorists agree that the stickiest of them, the ones that last for generations and resist debunking are the ones that live off ignorance and feed off fear. As one researcher put it:

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Hate -- A Cheney Family Value

I already believe that Dick Cheney is among the luckiest men to ever walk the face of the planet. He will never have to pay, in real terms, for the blood of untold thousands he has on his hands. He will live out his days not just a free man but also with another human being's heart beating relentlessly in his barrel chest. And, just this week, the eruption of a Cheney family schism over marriage equality falls fortuitously on the eve of the holiday season, just as so many of us face our own uncomfortable family gatherings.

Almost every family contains a divide of some sort, papered over for gatherings by politesse or booze. It could be a simmering long-term dispute about team loyalties or political affiliations; it could be a snap debate over what movie to watch. My family has almost come to blows over bridge games; my father and his brother will probably never settle whether property and casualty insurance presents a greater actuarial challenge than life insurance. For the Cheney family, it's that Liz Cheney doesn't think her sister, Mary, who is married to another woman, should be equal under the law. "I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage," Liz said on Fox News Sunday.

As family seating chart challenges go, that's a pretty big one. ("Liz, guess who's coming to dinner? No, really, guess, because Mary and her wife aren't.") But the timing of the controversy gave the elder Cheneys an especially good chance to exploit emotion I'm not sure they understand themselves: empathy. "This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public," Dick and Lynne said in a statement. "Compassion is called for."

Dick Cheney's record of callousness extends from his enthusiastic embrace of torture to his blithe disregard for the man he shot in the face, a deed for which –like most every other act of grievous harm he's committed – he has yet to apologize. His own endorsement of marriage equality in 2009 was typically detached and nonchalant almost to the point of dismissiveness: 

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Dick Cheney is a One-man Zombie Apocalypse

Rationally, I realize that the reappearance of Dick Cheney in the media landscape is tied to his promoting his new book, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey. And, with equal clear-mindedness, I know that his publisher no doubt timed the book's debut to capitalize on the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act – Cheney has gravely insisted in interviews that the ACA would limit the technological innovations that allow his own survival.

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Unless You're a Very Healthy Rich Person Who Lives in a Cave, the Government Shutdown Affects You

Human puff-adder Bill Kristol drolly noted on Morning Joe this week that the shutdown is not "the end of the world". The Huffington Post's Sam Stein snapped back, "For these people affected by these cuts, it is sort of comparable to the end of the world."

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Dear NRA, Are You Really Going to Tell Me 'Guns Don't Kill Children, Children Kill Children'?

The cover of the recent Children's Defense Fund report (pdf) on gun violence in the United States carries a single statistic:

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Grading Obama's New Higher Education Proposal: Incomplete

The past week has seen two victories for the cause of higher education. Last Thursday, the Obama administration took a broad position on increasing access to higher education for the "middle class". On Saturday, New York state has filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump and "Trump University", accusing the political stunt man and amateur genealogist of "persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct": apparently, the Trump institute of higher learning charged optimistic would-be moguls thousands of dollars for what amounted to standing next to a cardboard cut-out of Trump – which is probably the only way to avoid being embarrassed by his company, but still.

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Why Are Liberals Like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren So Quiet About Snowden's Astounding NSA Revelations?

Why hasn't the left been able to rally support around opposition to domestic spying?

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Wendy Davis Showed Texas' GOP Boys How to Respect Women

Sometime around midnight last night, a female state senator in Texasstood up under the capitol dome and asked a version of the single most important question that can be asked in a democracy: "At what point does a female senator need to raise her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?"

There are a lot of other versions of this question – "What do the oppressed have to do in order move the wheels of justice?" – but only one answer: Make some noise. Make a lot of noise. Noise draws scrutiny, and it is the enduring legacy of American democracy that injustice fully exposed does not stand. Yesterday's supreme court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act illustrated that civil rights progress must be jealously guarded, but it did not invalidate the century's worth of evidence that the arc of history bends toward justice.

Last night's eventual defeat of a draconically restrictive abortion law in Texas was another percentage degree of rotation in that "bending toward justice" curve. (Among other things, it would have closed all but five of the 42 clinics now open to women who want abortions in the state. Read details here

Noise, and lots of it, was the answer given after Senator Leticia Van De Putte asked the question, when protesters gathered to support a filibuster against that bill erupted in chants and applause that interrupted proceedings for a full 15 minutes. It was a sign of things to come.

Pro-choice activists had initially hoped to stall passage of the bill via a filibuster by another female Democratic senator, Wendy Davis. Davis had already held the floor for 10 hours when Van de Putte was forced to beg Senator Robert Duncan for the recognition he had just easily granted to the male Republican senator seated directly in front of her. (All of this is going to make a great ad for Democrats everywhere in November of 2014. Great rebranding, Republicans!)

Davis' feat of endurance will go down in the history books, to be sure. She is the first female Texas senator to put on such a performance. And then there's the astounding turnout of supporters (see some mind-blowing images here). Let's not forget the head-thumpingly ignorant statements the bill's proponents had made: one Republican used the notion of masturbating fetuses to justify its restrictions, another appeared to argue that hospital "rape kits" are a form of abortion. I don't think it's sexist to notice, further, that Davis is a camera-ready spokesperson with an uncanny resemblance to "Mrs Coach" of the Texas-set "Friday Night Lights" TV series – whose personal back-story is itself the stuff of Hollywood: once a teenage single mother, she worked her way through college to eventually graduate with honors from Harvard Law. Oh, and she became the most visible state legislator in the country last night after surviving a redistricting challenge in 2011 that was only beat back by her use of a suit under the Voting Rights Act.

And no drama is complete without a villain! Duncan slides into that role, as well as Lt Governor David Dewhurst, who oversaw most of the session. Texas Republicans' niggling over the picayune filibuster rules would give the plot some comic relief, too: they gave one of the "three strikes" allowed under the rules for accepting help in adjusting the back brace she wore to aid her during her marathon speechifying (senators are not allowed to lean on anything during their time). They challenged her two other times for not being on topic, because talking about ultrasounds or funding for reproductive health are not "germane" to abortion, apparently.

All of that made what happened last night gripping television – or, er, livestreaming, as no cable new network aired the session (#fail) – but none of those things dramatized the power of direct democracy more than the spontaneous "people's filibuster" that finally broke the back of the GOP's power play. As Duncan steamrolled Democratic senators to call a vote on the bill, hundreds of protesters – mostly women – watching from the gallery and up in the rotunda simply would not shut up. They chanted. They screamed. They yelled. They applauded. They voted with their voices and their bodies until finally the chaos in the chamber made it impossible for the Republicans to finish their roll-call vote before the midnight deadline. It's perfectly fitting that women would use direct, physical action to keep conservatives from having a say on what to do with their bodies.

Republican senators did try a little electronic slight of hand – someone changed the timestamp of the vote as seen on the legislature's website. But it's hard to commit vote fraud when over 100,000 people are watching. In the end, Republican lawmakers had to admit defeat:

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GOP Belief in Fox News Fantasies Could Make the Party Irrelevant

Republicans' belief in the feel-good Fox News fantasies of what "real America" wanted and believed helped them lose the election. Would Romney have lost if his base didn't stubbornly insist that polls were rigged, that almost half the country was looking for a handout (and the other half was angry about it), and that government exists only to coddle or sabotage (not so much the "Nanny state" as Mommie Dearest)? The "conservative entertainment complex", as columnist David Frum put it, promulgated a view of the American electorate that wasn't just objectively false, in terms of polled support, but to which they objected. That is, they didn't just get wrong how much support Romney had; they told a story about American voters that Americans themselves didn't believe.

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Hail the Hipublicans

It's a slow news season. The election is seven months away, summer has yet to bestow its blockbusters and the possibility that John Kerry will do something as exciting as have an affair with an intern are as slim as the chances he'll name John McCain his running-mate. It is at times like these that a feature writer's thoughts turn to a time-honored trend story: The possibility that not all Republicans dress like Jehovah's Witnesses and sound like George Will.

Articles that purport to have discovered some strain of "cool" conservative -- or that proclaim that "conservatism is cool" -- appear all over the mainstream press, from the San Francisco Chronicle to Patrick Buchanan's magazine, The American Conservative. But The New York Times' word processing program must have some kind of macro for them -- in the past year alone, three front-page stories have informed readers of the Times that the conservative movement in America is not a Borg-like monolith made up of cloned Christian Coalition members. Last May, in a Times Magazine cover story on "Hipublicans," we learned that a college student who looked like she "could have stepped out of a 1970's campus sit-in," with "shoulder-length blond hair, faded jeans and rock T-shirt," also could be "one of the most combative and hard-core conservatives" on her campus.

This astonishing proposition -- that a young person's appearance was not necessarily indicative of political ideology -- apparently merited further investigation, for September 2003 brought another shocking expose, this on the front page of the Times' Sunday Styles section: The editors of New York's Vice magazine, which "nails hipster culture on the head," also supported the invasion of Iraq and adore George W. Bush. What? Didn't these hipsters get their voting instructions when they picked up their trucker hats? Conservative young people who dress cool? The cognitive dissonance is making my head hurt!

The latest entry in the Times' attempt to grapple with post-adolescents who refuse to conform to a Boomer stereotype also appeared on the front page of Sunday Styles on Mar. 21. The story's thesis was laid out in the first paragraph:

With his mohawk, ratty fatigues, assorted chains and his menagerie of tattoos -- swallows on each shoulder, a nautical star on his back and the logo of the Bouncing Souls, a New York City punk band, on his right leg -- 22-year-old Nick Rizzuto is the very picture of counterculture alienation. But -- Mr. Rizzuto is adamantly in favor of lowering taxes and for school vouchers, and against campaign finance laws; his favorite Supreme Court justice is Clarence Thomas; he plans to vote for President Bush in November; and he's hard-core into capitalism.

Can you feel your mind being blown yet?

These articles betray the intractable Boomer sentimentality of many mainstream journalists, who clearly can't imagine a youth that isn't about not trusting people over 30.

Close examination shows there are really two threads of culture under the Times' blurry microscope. First, there are the young conservatives who are not total freaks: The Hipublicans. Or maybe they dress like freaks but also are conservative: The Repunklicans. Those folks over at Vice magazine, along with a certain strain of right-wing punkhood, namely, skinheads, actually represent the inverse of a conservatism somehow becoming "cool" -- these groups show how easily a hipster attitude can be exaggerated into conservatism.

What is "cool," after all? We're not talking about bohemianism or the avant-garde, but cool. The popular people in high school cool, the pages of the Times Sunday Style section cool. That sort of cool is about elitism, conformity, cliquishness and a dislike of those who are not like you. Hipster attitude can become right-wing jingoism by simply becoming more extreme. True, Vice magazine's editors probably think of skinheads as being passé, but Vice editor Gavin McInnes' ironic racism and in-your-face nationalism echo the sentiments of young white supremacists everywhere: "I love being white and I think it's something to be very proud of," he told the Times. "I don't want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life."

This is a disturbing sentiment, of course. But it is all the more disturbing for being a part of a story featured in the puffiest, fluffiest section of an already lifestyle-driven Sunday newspaper. Think about it: Racism is bad, but racism treated as a trend piece, next to features about hot new bistros and nifty trinkets? It suggests that this offensive worldview can be put on and cast off like last year's sneakers, or played for effect, like the most obscene new album.

This juxtaposition points to how all stories about "cool conservatives" -- no matter what thread they examine -- fail us: Honest political beliefs are the opposite of trends. They are sincere, thought-out and deeply held. And if they're wrong or offensive, they should be argued against, not simply declared out of style.

Ana Marie Cox is a columnist at In These Times.

The Liberal Media Strike Again

Until recently, I've secretly applauded the attempts of right-wing ideologues to document "liberal media bias." Tallying up how often Katie Couric lauds Democrats, keeping tabs on "anti-gun" themes in prime-time television -- I can think of no better way to spend Richard Mellon Scaife's easily inherited millions than to employ an army of interns with click counters and remote controls.

With media ownership rapidly being consolidated and increasingly driven by explicitly pro-business, if not actually "conservative," aims, hunting for liberal bias among Survivor clones and the razzle-dazzle soft news of cable networks seemed like a waste of time.

Clearly, I was mistaken.

It turns out that arguing about media bias is pretty much the only argument one can have about media today. Witness the sustained electronic howl that met Tom Daschle's and Al Gore's remarks about the power of particularly right-wing media entities. Daschle makes some not particularly well-thought-out comments connecting high-pitched rhetoric to personal threats, then Gore makes some slightly more coherent observations about the link between Fox News and the GOP, and a thousand op-eds are born.

Never mind that, on a purely factual basis, neither one's comments are very controversial. Daschle has been threatened, but pundits asking Daschle for examples of violent speech were off the mark about the real flaw in Daschle's complaint. The true civil libertarian would be alarmed not by the implication that a journalists' commentary would incite violence, but by the implication that the journalist is responsible for that violence.

As for Gore's assertion that the Washington Times and Fox News hew to the marching orders of the White House's Mayberry Machiavellis (in the memorable phrasing of the very former Bush adviser John Dilulio) -- where is the debatable point in that? Tony Blankley, the Washington Times' opinion editor, has made much of his ties to Republican activists on the Hill, even used them as sources in editorials. And need we remind anyone that John "Let Me Call Florida" Ellis, the head of Fox's election coverage in 2000, is Dubya's cousin?

Even more troubling, if equally apparent, than the White House calling the shots at Fox, is Fox calling the shots at the White House, a matter raised almost tangentially in the Bob Woodward play-by-play, "Bush at War." Woodward reports that in the days after 9/11, Fox chairman Roger Ailes -- who had worked as a media adviser for the president's father -- wrote Bush a note on how to proceed. "The American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible," Woodward writes, describing Ailes' memo. "Support would dissipate if the public did not see Bush acting harshly."

But facts never get in the way of a good bias debate. And a really good bias debate can obscure the facts. Carping on left-right tilt, for instance, somehow has become the focus of the Federal Communications Commission in their review of media ownership restrictions. The FCC -- after pressure was put on them by various public interest groups -- recently released the studies that will inform their decision on whether to loosen media consolidation guidelines.

One study takes as its mission to examine the "hypothesis" that fewer owners mean less diversity of opinions. Their examination consisted of looking at the stories produced during the last 15 days of the 2000 presidential campaign of different media outlets (television stations and newspapers) owned by the same corporations. These stories were then coded either "pro-Bush" or "pro-Gore" and totaled and averaged to give what the study's authors called a "slant coefficient." In finding that these different outlets did not produce the exact same ratio of pro-Bush and pro-Gore stories, the authors concluded that "common ownership of a newspaper and a television station in a community does not result in a predictable patter of news coverage and commentary."

Well, it's nice to know that with billions of dollars and an entire free press at stake, the federal government will be basing their opinion on one two-week study of dubious authority. The logical errors contained in the study would keep battalions of Scaife interns busy, were they to turn their attention away from Phil Donahue. That it equated "anti-Bush" and "pro-Gore," as well as "anti-Gore" and "pro-Bush" (which it did) is nothing compared to their de facto equating of Bush and Gore to a real contest or real choice. And there's no room at all on their scorecard for anyone who's not Bush or Gore.

This is the kind of thinking that pervades the FCC. Chairman Michael Powell recently told the New York Times: "Common ownership can lead to more diversity. What does the owner get for having duplicative products? I don't know why you'd want to have two newspapers that say the same thing. I would say, 'Let's make one Democratic, let's make one Republican.' "

That this in itself represents a narrowing of options doesn't seem to have occurred to him.

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