As the 2016 presidential primary race moves on to Nevada and South Carolina, then to bigger states in March, let’s hope we’re leaving behind the tedious and divisive way both campaigns and their supporters talked to and about women.
Let’s especially hope we’re leaving behind two of the most annoying features of the campaign to date: the so-called Berniebros preying on female Hillary Clinton supporters with, at best, condescension and, at worst, sexist abuse, and the hellfire from Hillary Clinton backers—we’ll play on Madeleine Albright’s unhelpful quote about the “special place in hell for women who don’t support other women”—insisting that female Bernie supporters are failing their sister Hillary Clinton with their terrible taste in men.
What do both sets of attacks have in common? They’re both directed—critically, condescendingly, and annoyingly—at women. Of course.
To his credit, Sanders has denounced his abusive keyboard-warrior fans who troll women with sexist invective. “Anybody who is supporting me that is doing the sexist things—we don’t want them,” he recently told CNN, echoing comments he made earlier in the campaign. That meant a lot—especially when some of his high-profile male media defenders, trying to gaslight the women who’ve been targeted by obnoxious pro-Sanders sexists, have insisted that Berniebros don’t even exist. It’s also interesting to note that since the Sanders campaign spoke up, the incidence of online abuse has gone down (as far as I can tell). Apparently the keyboard warriors are listening to their leader.
I’m also bothered by the Clinton campaign’s response to the issue of younger women’s supporting her opponent. Again, it’s not coming from the candidate herself. Clinton has had a generous and pragmatic response to the phenomenon: “They may not be for me, but I am for them.”
But last weekend we saw the campaign’s messaging unravel thanks to three passionate supporters. Gloria Steinem, in a quote that’s been taken out of context, somewhat unfairly, lamentably claimed that “when you’re young you’re thinking, Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.” Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright spoke aloud, in the context of this campaign, the maxim so famous that it’s adorned Starbucks cups, seeming to condemn Sanders’ young female supporters not merely to the political margins but to hell. Finally, former president Clinton railed against the Berniebros and cited me by name, referencing the piece I wrote about the abuse I’ve taken from some of Sanders’ ugliest male supporters.
None of that helped Clinton; it may have hurt her. I hope that condescending approach to women who support Sanders is behind us—but it may not be, because when the Clinton campaign is feeling cornered, misunderstood, and down in the polls, as in was in 2008, its worst instincts come out. The campaign has to learn from that loss; defensiveness never works, and attacking her opponent only reinforces the stereotype that she plays dirty (never mind that both Obama and Sanders gave as good as they got; they were insulated from attacks because they weren’t seen as mere politicians; they were judged to have transcended politics to become movement leaders). Clinton began to rebound in 2008 when she shook off her angst about media bias and campaign sexism and became a fighter again. She needs to do that this time around.
In particular, Clinton has to look squarely at her dismal numbers with millennials to try to understand the desperation, and related distrust of politics, behind them. It’s absolutely accurate to say that Clinton’s negative numbers on honesty and trustworthiness have been driven by a 25-year “vast right-wing conspiracy”; but what’s done is done. Sanders is bringing in new voters who have little knowledge and no ingrained defensiveness about what Democrats have suffered at the hands of increasingly radical and politically vicious right-wing Republicans (and compliant media). Many have no loyalty to the Democratic Party in the first place. Democrats, starting with Clinton, must try to win their loyalty.
Young women in particular have to be a Clinton concern. Women are always more “liberal” than men, and more pro-government, because they have always been more vulnerable to the unfairness of the market. The gender gap has been at least as driven by economics as by concerns about reproductive rights and gender discrimination—poorly labeled “women’s issues”—if not more so. On one level, then, it makes sense that young women are open to Sanders’s radicalism, and his appeal to a vastly expanded welfare state, providing free college, and single-payer healthcare financed by higher taxes.
They may also feel more free of sexism than their mothers, aunts, and older sisters. They probably are more free of it. I’ve heard two messages coming from Clinton supporters, in response to that argument, in the last two weeks. One is: OK, you’re more free of sexism. That’s due to our hard work. And this is how you thank us? The other is to say: Life only seems fairer to millennial women; wait until they get older and face the condescension, contempt, and outright discrimination women meet in the workplace—especially as they age. It’s either “You’re an ingrate!” or “Life gets worse!”
As the mother of a millennial woman (albeit one who supports and works for Clinton), let me tell you, those are terrible messages. We have to drop them.
But what should Clinton say instead? She isn’t a radical, and she shouldn’t pretend to be one. She does not believe in the rapidly and vastly expanded welfare state, financed by vastly expanded taxes, that Sanders promises. But she must cast her own progressive vision in much bolder terms than she has to date. She has decent reasons to oppose “free college”; first of all, it would crowd out most of the other new and expanded government programs she has proposed. Still, Clinton must feel the desperation of a generation saddled with student debt for whom “free college” makes absolute sense. When she said flat-out in the last debate, “No, I don’t believe in free college,” I cringed. There’s a tough, candid, but sometimes flippant side to Clinton—”That’s what they offered me,” in response to concern about her Wall Street speaking fees—that I respect. To me it’s like Cautious Hillary finally doesn’t GAF, as the kids say. But she has to GAF, lots more of them, about these issues if she wants to win.
Clinton’s incrementalism is a tough sell to a younger generation unschooled by life’s limits and desperate for change. She needs to cast her own agenda boldly, as the answer to strangling student debt, stagnating wages, and a cruelly threadbare safety net for parents and children, especially compared to the rest of the developed world. Her pitch ought to be something like: “Free college may ultimately be a good idea, and maybe we’ll get there. But funding free college now would make it impossible to fund everything else on our agenda. We need universal preschool, for example, and more widely available childcare. We need to expand the Affordable Care Act until it’s truly universal. We need paid family leave. Yes, we need to make the rich pay their fair share of taxes, and we’re going to. But we are probably going to have to prioritize our most urgent issues first. So I’m starting with debt-free college, and universal preschool, and paid family leave. Until we get all of that done, I’m fine with Donald Trump’s grandkids—and my granddaughter, Charlotte—having to contribute something to their own education.”
While I’m giving free campaign advice, I’d also advise her staff to schedule a lightly moderated town hall at a South Carolina university—maybe at an historically black college. I saw her speak at Claflin University, an HBCU, in November, and she shined. But it was a small crowd, and only a minority of the audience were students. In New Hampshire last week, Clinton reportedly took questions from college-aged Sanders supporters, which was a good idea—but almost nobody saw it. There’s no guarantee we’ll see it this time, but it’s worth a try, and if she goes big and bold enough, media invested in the idea that she can’t do it might televise the spectacle.
What does Sanders have to do, on gender issues, besides keep the Berniebros reined in? I’d like his campaign to ponder its own gender gap, in which men overwhelmingly favor Sanders. Yes, the Vermont senator won women in New Hampshire, 55-45, a blow to Clinton. But he won men 66-32, an 11-point gender gap. Why did two-thirds of men reject Clinton for Sanders? It’s certainly not all sexism, but some of it is. That should give the Sanders team pause when it comes to messaging.
Sanders also heads into less-white states where the votes of African-American women, Asian women, and Latinas will matter much more. There is little polling on whether millennial voters of color, particularly women, are #Feelingthebern. He needs to work harder to make sure they do.
Finally—and this isn’t about Berniebros—he needs a dose of kindness and humility toward his opponent, and her supporters. As he takes on yet another woman—Vermont Governor Madeline Kunin has written about his tone-deaf but unsuccessful campaign against her—he ought to be a little more sensitive to the tens of millions of women who do support Clinton. (So do the media, which sometimes treat Clinton’s over-45 supporters as an albatross she should shake off rather than an advantage.) Sanders’ self-pitying victory speech Tuesday night cast him as a victim of a Democratic “establishment”—including, as he’s claimed in the past, feminist groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America—that he’ll very much need to become president. He can’t win by only being the candidate of white men and young white women. A little bit of generosity, a dose of share-the-political-warmth, from our first realistic socialist presidential contender could go a long way.
Donald Trump’s remarkable Thursday press conference, where he floridly swore a pledge of allegiance to the GOP – “and to the conservative principles for which it stands” – marks a crossroads for the party. Trump didn’t declare his fealty to Republicans; he exacted their fealty to him. It’s Donald Trump’s party now, and good luck getting anything but white votes anytime soon.
In signing the loyalty pledge, Trump is giving up nothing, while exacting a guarantee from the GOP that the party won’t sabotage his candidacy. As I wrote yesterday, a man with three wives and four bankruptcies behind him has a proven track record of finding an exit clause from his commitments. He could still pursue an independent run if he doesn’t get the nomination.
The truth is that his threat to challenge a GOP nominee who isn’t named Donald Trump was always questionable. It would be incredibly complicated and expensive; and by definition it would come after he lost the GOP nomination, which might brand him with the ultimate Trump insult: loser.
But Trump doesn’t think he’ll have to make good on that threat; his leads in national and state polls (and, crucially, his favorability numbers) are growing, not shrinking. Now he’s gotten the entire GOP field to promise to support him if he’s the nominee, no matter how noxious his campaign turns out to be.
And behind it all was poor Reince Priebus, who kicked off 2013 promising to make the GOP more “inclusive” and welcoming to voters who aren’t old and white. Priebus trooped to New York to kiss Trump’s…ring; he was also kissing goodbye the black and Latino vote for at least another generation. By the way, Priebus’s big loyalty pledge stunt serves to inoculate Trump against Jeb Bush’s favorite line of attack: that he’s a closet Democrat. Great work, Reince.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that Trump will unravel. On the night of his big GOP triumph, he had two scuffles that could hurt him down the road. He seriously botched a foreign policy interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, mixing up Iran’s Quds Force with the Kurds and confusing Hezbollah and Hamas. He criticized Hewitt for his “gotcha” questions, and told him he didn’t need to know the names of foreign leaders because “I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone.”
A little bit later, Hewitt ran the same questions by Carly Fiorina, who aced them by comparison. Hewitt isn’t a great enemy for Trump to have: he’ll be a panelist in the next debate co-sponsored by CNN and his employer, the right-wing Salem Communications.
Then came footage a Trump bodyguard cold-cocking a peaceful demonstrator outside Trump Tower and ripping away his protest signs. An angry Efrain Galicia said Trump’s security men were “just acting like their boss. This man thinks he can do whatever he wants in this country, and we’re going to stop him,” Galicia said, in Spanish.
But Trump has survived run-ins with Latino protesters and feuds with conservative media figures before. Scraps that would destroy other candidates leave him stronger. I’d like to think the Hewitt interview, at least, will leave a mark, but I’ve lost my capacity to trust the laws of political gravity when it comes to Donald Trump.
Donald Trump’s Southern Strategy: What His Alabama Pep Rally Revealed About the Right’s New Racial Politics
I got to watch Donald Trump’s Alabama pep rally from the distance of a brief vacation, and that made it at once more entertaining and more chilling. I could admire the spectacle: “Sweet Home Alabama,” that sea of adoring white faces, the proprietary American flags. Trump himself channeled Richard Nixon, claiming his Alabama backers represented a modern “silent majority” that would be silent no more.
Personally, I can’t decide whether Trump is playing Nixon or George Wallace. Of course, in polite journalistic company, we’re not supposed to say either. We’re still supposed to act like Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign represents the legitimate frustration of the white working class. The frustration is real, but the solution is Nixonian: Get those white voters focused on a menacing “other,” rather than plutocrats like Trump.
The Alabama spectacle gave Trump’s team the opportunity to showcase his Nixonian “Southern strategy.” Sure, he’s focused on Iowa and New Hampshire, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told the Washington Post, but he’s looking forward to Southern Super Tuesday, March 1. “Then comes the South. That’s the path to the nomination.”
Still, Lewandowski and other Trump backers aren’t quite sure how to deal with the racism they’re channeling. On CNN, the Trump campaign manager ducked a question about cries of “white power” heard in the Alabama crowd, though he did condemn the attacks on a homeless Latino man by Trump supporters in Boston last week. (Trump himself refused to condemn the attackers, then backtracked.)
“If that is what happened in Boston, that is not acceptable in any nature,” Lewandowski told Jim Acosta. Then he added an odd note: “We should not be ashamed to be Americans and we should be proud of our heritage, and proud to be American.”
It’s hard not to hear a dog whistle in that comment about “our heritage,” given the element of white nationalist support Trump is enjoying. The New Yorker has a great piece out Monday about Trump’s white nationalist fans. I wrote about this earlier in the month, but the controversy over the sexually charged slur “cuckservative” seemed to obscure the real news: There is a growing fissure in the Republican Party over how racially explicit the party’s appeals to white voters ought to be.
Dog whistles about crime and welfare may no longer be enough: the racist right wants party leaders who are committed to defending the country’s white “heritage.” And many think they’ve found their man in Donald Trump.
Trump is “refreshing,” white nationalist Richard Spencer told the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos. “Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” Though Spencer doesn’t think Trump himself is a white nationalist, he believes he channels “an unconscious vision that white people have—that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon. I think he is the one person who can tap into it.”
Jared Taylor of the white supremacist American Renaissance agrees. “I’m sure he would repudiate any association with people like me, but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit.”
So far Trump hasn’t repudiated admirers like Taylor and Spencer. Lewandowski had an opportunity when asked about the “white power” cries, but didn’t take it up. Over at Breitbart, which is itself becoming a white nationalist site, they’re angry that CNN “chose to “badger” Lewandowski about the “white power” issue. The Breitbots were also bothered by this Politico story that suggested “the ghost of George Wallace” animated Trump’s Alabama rally.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reporters David Weigel and Robert Costa are being attacked by Instapundit as ex-conservative lamestream media sellouts, because they accurately reported that the rally played “Sweet Home Alabama” and that the crowd featured a neo-Confederate. (To be fair, let’s also note that a black minister said a prayer and an African American choir performed at the event.)
But denying the racial subtext of Trump’s appeal denies who Trump is: He has long trafficked in racial stereotyping and white fear. Remember his ads urging the death penalty for the so-called “Central Park Five,” who were essentially framed for the rape of a white jogger in 1989. Trump called it a “disgrace” when the city paid the men a settlement for the wrongful conviction. “They should be very thankful I wasn’t mayor because they wouldn’t have gotten a dime,” he said just last week.
His birther crusade against President Obama likewise channeled white anger — at the outrage of having to tolerate a black president – by propagating the lie that the president was an illegitimate fraud. At the time, Trump advisor Roger Stone – Nixon’s man too – called it “brilliant,” adding, “It’s base building. It gives voice to a concern shared by many on the right.
That “base building” in the last election cycle is part of what’s made Trump the frontrunner this time around. Some of the same Republicans who courted Trump’s endorsement in 2012 now profess to be horrified by the nativism he’s channeling – but they only have themselves to blame. If they succeed in squelching Trump’s candidacy, they risk a Wallace-like insurrection, in which Trump peels away the white working class voters who’ve become the GOP base and dooms its hope of winning the White House.
But now restive Southerners and other white nationalists want more than dog whistles; they want explicit endorsement of a pro-white agenda.
“I think he’s, like, dog-whistling,” a white welder who likes Trump told the New Yorker. “He’s saying we should probably favor more European immigration, or maybe more of just a meritocracy sort of system, but he’s not coming out and saying it, because people will literally stamp him: ‘Oh, you just hate Mexicans.’ ” The welder would like to see Trump be honest: “Why not just say it?”
For now, at least, Trump is not quite saying it; he still insists his comments about Mexican “rapists” and criminals only refers to those who come here illegally, not all Mexicans. But the rising boldness of Trump’s white nationalist supporters raises the question: Can a party that rose to national power thanks to coded racism survive when noisy elements of its base demand explicit racism? We’re about to find out.
I’m running out of ways to describe the awfulness of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. If or when he fails, his jocular Thursday comment about the Iraq war — “Taking down Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal” – will be in every highlight reel.
Not only is Jeb! now fully embracing his brother’s disastrous, bloody war of choice. He’s talking about it in a glib salesman way, reminding us that the war was in fact “a pretty good deal” for his cronies: for Halliburton spinoff KBR, the entire defense industry, and a metastasizing web of private security contractors including disgraced giant Blackwater. The families of the dead and wounded in Iraq might disagree.
Things got worse in his speech Friday, where he volunteered that “Paul Wolfowitz is giving some advice.” Wolfowitz, the scowling face of the smug neocons.
I’ve asked this before: Does Bush even want to win?
Donald Trump claimed Bush had his “47 percent moment” – the comment that doomed Mitt Romney — when he suggested we’re spending too much on women’s health. But his dumb remark about toppling Saddam being “a pretty good deal” could rival that. Then again, there are so many contenders for the inconvenient, inadvertent truth-telling moment that could doom Bush: suggesting underpaid American workers “need to work more hours;” that “the federal government shouldn’t be doing this” when asked about the minimum wage; arguing that we should be “phasing out” Medicare.
Of course he walked all of those remarks back. Let’s see if he tries to do the same with this one.
All of these campaign flubs are occurring against the backdrop of the strangest presidential primary of our lifetimes, in which Donald Trump has taken the lead nationally, as well as in Iowa and New Hampshire, with 16 lackluster rivals trying to catch up. For a while Bush strategists were pretending the Trump candidacy benefited Bush, by depriving his rivals of the attention they need to gain traction, and predicting Bush would consolidate support as some of the bloated GOP field dropped out. I used to think that myself, to be honest. But now I’m not so sure.
Whose support does Jeb! think he will consolidate as the campaign goes on? Which of the non-Trump candidates is likely to throw him support? Sen. Ted Cruz and Ben Carson are surging after last week’s debate, and neither man’s supporters seem a likely match for Bush. Cruz is second so far in fundraising, so he isn’t going anywhere, and if Carson stumbles, his voters won’t flock to Bush. Among the current bottom-tier candidates, who might be expected to leave the race early — Governors Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal, plus Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum — all are to Bush’s right and seem unlikely to throw him their support (which is a collective 9.5 percent right now, anyway). Sen. Rand Paul is flailing: he’s averaging 4.5 percent in national polls and has fallen from third to ninth place in Iowa (once a stronghold, thanks to his dad) and from third to sixth in New Hampshire. But his supporters aren’t a natural for Bush, either.
Of the candidates who are closer to the Bush wing of the party – Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, Governors John Kasich, Chris Christie and Scott Walker, former Gov. George Pataki and perhaps Carly Fiorina – only Pataki, Christie and Graham seem like contenders who aren’t contending, and probably won’t. But by definition, that means none of them has much support he can turn over to Bush if he leaves the race, since they’re each polling between 0 and 3.8 percent.
For now, Fiorina and Kasich are rising, so they’re not going anywhere soon. Walker is sinking, but I have a hard time thinking that the ambitious Wisconsin governor and his moneyed backers will pull the plug quickly (although if Walker loses his neighboring state of Iowa, where he’s now dropped from a persistent 1st place to 3rd, the humiliation might drive him back to Madison). Rubio shares a natural constituency with Bush, and you can imagine a scenario in which he could be persuaded by mutual friends to step aside. But with Bush so weak, and with a decent war chest, he might think it should be Jeb who steps aside. And he might find others in the GOP establishment who agree.
Even if Trump fades, who fattens up on his voters? It’s probably not Bush. Trump fading or even dropping out would certainly shake up the race, and it’s certainly possible, if not likely, that will happen. Trump skeptics comfort themselves by saying his frontrunner status reflects his celebrity as well as the crowded field – and that the 20-25 percent support he’s getting in polls isn’t a commanding lead anyway.
But that’s where Mitt Romney rode out much of the 2012 campaign: from June 2011 to February 2012, according to Real Clear Politics, Romney hovered between 20 and 28 percent in the polls. For most of that time he was ahead of the pack, though he did surrender the polling lead to Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum, briefly. He only began to break away once he’d won some early primaries, and some rivals dropped out.
Romney benefited from candidates to his right splitting the Tea Party vote, while he chased out moderates like Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty early. Conceivably Bush could benefit from the same split on the right, especially if Trump stumbles. But Bush was supposed to chase away a lot of his rivals with his presumed electability and large war chest. With every gaffe and stumble, the myth of his electability dissipates. He’s still got that war chest, though, so we can’t count him out.
Those infamous Planned Parenthood “sting” videos, deceptively edited and perhaps illegally obtained, were the years-long project of some of the most extreme, even violent figures of the anti-abortion world. They were designed to “ACORN” Planned Parenthood – that is, take a long-demonized element of progressive Democratic politics out of the game for good.
But the hoax perpetrated by the Campaign for Medical Progress, to dishonestly claim Planned Parenthood “sells” fetal tissue after abortions, may have backfired on the right, judging from the anti-choice pyrotechnics that erupted on stage in Cleveland Thursday night. CMP intended to hurt Planned Parenthood and Democrats in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign. But they seem to have hurt the GOP, by tricking the 2016 candidates into believing there’s more revulsion at both abortion, and at the respected women’s healthcare provider long attacked by conservatives, than there actually is.
The anti-abortion one-upmanship at the debate showed how the candidates are misreading the political opportunities and turning themselves into Todd Akin, the Republican who challenged Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2012. Akin, you’ll recall, was disputing the need for a rape exception to an abortion ban when he told an interviewer that in cases of “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body magically has a way to “shut that whole thing down.” His idiocy helped not only McCaskill but President Obama that year. (Three quarters of Americans believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape, by the way.)
Nobody said anything quite that crude and stupid about women’s bodies Thursday night, but some of the answers were equally crazy. Debate “winner” Marco Rubio disavowed his own past support for abortion bans that included a rape and incest exception, and came out for personhood legislation. Gov. Scott Walker, who personally asked Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature to write a 20-week abortion ban without any exceptions, refused to squirm when Megyn Kelly asked “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?”
Mike Huckabee, who has refused to rule out using federal troops to stop abortion, insisted the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution actually mean abortion is illegal because “DNA schedules.” Or something.
Jeb Bush, squirming over a question about his association with a Michael Bloomberg charity that also funded Planned Parenthood, was forced to bring up his disgusting persecution of Michael Schiavo, the husband of braindead Florida woman Terri Schiavo, a decade ago – not a winning issue for Bush. He also bragged about defunding Planned Parenthood as Florida governor.
Donald Trump gave us a memorable Trumpism when asked why he changed his mind on abortion. Some friends “were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted,” Trump shared. “And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar.” The moderators didn’t follow up to find out whether, had the child turned out to be merely mediocre, Trump would have remained pro-choice.
Which brings up another way the Fox moderators tried to help the GOP Tuesday night: Not only did they go after Trump, so his rivals wouldn’t have to, they didn’t ask a question I expected would be on their agenda: Did the candidates support a move to shut down the government over their party’s failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood?
That would have made for some memorable debate, because the field is split on the issue. Trump, along with Sen. Ted Cruz, supports a government shutdown; Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Chris Christie, debate antagonists, actually stand together in opposing the idea, while Bush, Rubio, Huckabee and Walker have ducked the issue.
Savvy Republicans oppose such a move, of course, because once again, it would hurt the party. But that doesn’t mean it will go away. The Fox moderators decided to deprive Democrats of footage that would have shown how many of the 2016 candidates are trying to out-Akin Todd Akin this time around.
Meanwhile, the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Planned Parenthood remains the nation’s most trusted organization in the wake of the smear campaign against it — the NRA comes in second.
That’s part of why, in the days after the first videos were released, Hillary Clinton came out strong in support of Planned Parenthood. She then seemed to wobble a little, calling the videos “disturbing.” But the extent of Clinton’s wobble was a little exaggerated, since even Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards acknowledged that the videos were disturbing when she apologized for the “tone” with which one medical director discussed fetal tissue donation.
This week Clinton came out even more forcefully, with a video declaring her continued support for the organization. “If this feels like a full-on assault on women’s health, that’s because it is,” Clinton said in the video. “When politicians talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, they’re talking about blocking millions of women, men and young people from live-saving preventive care.” Clinton, and all Planned Parenthood supporters, know that defunding the group polls terribly among American voters.
Those CMP videos were intended to put Democrats on the defensive, but they’ve instead done that to Republicans. They’ve convinced the GOP field that there’s less support for legal abortion, and for Planned Parenthood, than there is. Thus Hillary Clinton may get to run against a slightly saner Todd Akin next year, and that won’t end well for the GOP.
The notion that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of Southern “heritage,” detached from slavery and Jim Crow, has always been a pernicious lie. It shouldn’t have taken the murder of the Emanuel Nine, by flag-waving white supremacist Dylann Roof, to make that the new national consensus. But it did.
Now the flag’s racist meaning is crystal clear, which is why it’s becoming an ever more beloved symbol for racist morons, even outside the old Confederacy. The ugly Confederate flag tableau that greeted President Obama in Oklahoma City Wednesday night illuminated this new reality. It follows a similar protest earlier this month, when the president visited Nashville, Tenn. Over in Durant, Okla., where the president was scheduled to speak, there was also a Confederate flag protest earlier in the day.
When I first saw reports that some jerks were planning to wave the flag along the president’s motorcade route on social media Wednesday, I admit I shrugged: Another day, another angry right-wing tantrum. It’s OK, they’re losing; let them scream and rant and wave their hate banner. But the sight of the bright flags illuminated against the dark sky, just outside of Obama’s hotel, was unexpectedly vivid and disturbing. Especially since Oklahoma was never part of the Confederacy.
It reminded me of the October 2013 rally attended by Sen. Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, to protest the closing of national monuments during the Cruz-triggered government shutdown. That protest culminated in an angry rump group heading over to the White House and waving a Confederate flag, outside the home of the black First Family. But hey, it’s “heritage, not hate.”
I’m not sure what to do with the fact that the Oklahoma City flag protest was reportedly led by a black wingnut, Andrew Duncomb, whose Facebook page features lots of smiling, flag-loving white people. (The rest of the folks insulting Obama with the flag were white, according to local news reports.) Duncomb, who calls himself “the black rebel,” is making a career out of claiming the flag really was about “heritage, not hate.” He led a pro-flag protest through the Oklahoma City metro areaon Monday, joined by 30 trucks waving the flag.
According to local news reports, Duncomb was arrested last year, with four white friends, on charges of shooting at a sheriff’s deputy. Using his Facebook identity to post in a comment thread, Duncomb suggested the news reports “stretched” the truth, but didn’t deny it. I found no reporting on what became of the case. “Look at these people, they all followed the black guy out here,” Duncomb told local media Wednesday night. “Do you think that any of them are racists?” It’s hard not to think of Dave Chappelle’s famous character Clayton Bigsby, the blind KKK member who doesn’t know that he’s black. They sure do love him over at Red Nation Rising.
The African Americans who showed up to support the president weren’t buying Duncomb’s claim that the flag is about “heritage, not hate,” or that it wasn’t meant as a racist insult to our first black president. A black woman wearing on Obama T-shirt broke into tears telling Politico: “He should’ve had a better welcome than he had.”
That flag is and always has been a symbol of white supremacy, a symbol of treason, and a repudiation of the multiracial democracy the Civil War helped establish. But I have to admit: the people who say the flag is about “heritage” are actually half right. It’s about heritage, all right – a heritage of hate. Increasingly it’s a symbol of our national racist heritage, which we must admit is shared by the north and the south.
But I confess I’m rattled as the flag becomes a common sight where Obama visits. What’s next: waving nooses?
Jeb Bush Steps in It Again: He’s Either a Stone-cold Plutocrat - Or Just a Terrible Pol Who Sounds Like One
Jeb Bush apparently has a plan to grow the economy. He’s telling American workers to work longer hours, without a federal minimum wage, until they’re at least 70. Oh, and don’t expect a shot at debt-free college from Jeb – that’s just “more free stuff.”
Unbelievably, in an economy in which workers have grown ever more productive over the last three decades, but productivity has not resulted in higher wages, Bush said Wednesday that they should work even longer hours.
“My aspiration for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see,” he told the New Hampshire Union-Leader in a conversation that was Periscoped. “Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, “through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”
The decoupling of productivity and rising income is no obscure economic fact (it can’t be, if I know it). It’s been the topic of endless discussion and debate. Throughout the post-war years, productivity and wages grew in tandem. Sometime in the late ’70s, that stopped. As productivity soared in the last 25 years, wages have stagnated. That’s one reason labor rates may be declining.
But it’s also true that employers have worked hard to get along with fewer workers. Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that 6.8 million Americans were involuntarily employed part time.
Bush tried to walk back his statement after social media went crazy late Wednesday, insisting he was mainly talking about those underemployed part time workers, and those who left the labor force out of discouragement. “Anyone who discounts 6.5 million people stuck in part-time work & seeking full-time jobs hasn’t listened to working Americans,” he said later.
OK, Jeb. But there was a much better way to talk about that: by putting the onus on employers who go out of their way to deny people full time work to avoid paying benefits and overtime. But Republicans don’t go around scolding employers, for Pete’s sake!
Back in March, of course, Bush came out against the federal minimum wage talking to a South Carolina group. “We need to leave it to the private sector,” he told the audience. “I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this.”
And he’s on record saying the Social Security retirement age needs to be raised to 70. “We need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in over an extended period of time going from 65 to 68 or 70,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” last month. “And that by itself will help sustain the retirement system for anybody under the age of 40.”
Finally, on the same day as his “work longer hours” comment, Bush dismissed the debt-free college plan unveiled by former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as an example of Democrats providing “more free stuff.”
Now, to be fair, some journalists are working overtime to help Bush clean up his gaffes. On Thursday morning ABC’s “The Note” had a long explainer about what Bushreally meant when he said to “work longer hours,” while last month Vox told us he didn’t really come out in favor of Social Security privatization in remarks where he praised his brother’s plan — because he didn’t use the word “privatization.”
Side note: It’s already astonishing how hard journalists will work to clean up the messes made by the Republican frontrunner, who is supposed to be the smart, serious one in the race. But they’re invested in him. They created the image of Jeb as the smart and serious Bush, so when he looks either dumb or politically tone-deaf, they look kinda dumb too. If Bush’s defenders are right, we’re going to have to paraphrase Ann Richards’ famous description of his father: “Poor Jeb, he can’t help it: he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
Seriously, here’s what we know: either Jeb Bush is a stone cold plutocrat who wants workers to labor for longer hours, with no federal minimum wage, and not retire until 70 — or later, if their privatized Social Security accounts go down in another stock market crash. Or else he’s a terrible politician who says those things but doesn’t mean them. We’ll see if the Bush approach brings in the white working class voters who were cool to Mitt Romney.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget troubles are cramping his plan to announce his 2016 presidential campaign. He’s already been forced to delay his official launch while he wrangles with angry legislators, including Republicans, to try to fill the holes his tax cuts have created.
Wisconsin law now says employers must pay a “living wage,” defined as pay that offers “minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.” Walker has long insisted the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage is the same as a “living wage”; workers have sued to challenge that definition. If the state strikes the language that defines living wage more broadly, that will cut the legs out from under such legal challenges.
One of the plaintiffs in that suit, fast food worker and activist Cornell White, talked to Think Progress about the sneaky move. “I am a hard working man. It’s disgusting that these Republicans would rather force me to feed my son with food stamps instead of standing up to their corporate lobbyist friends.”
White scoffs at Walker’s claim that $7.25 an hour is livable: “They clearly they don’t believe their own argument since they are trying to repeal the law before they even know the outcome of the case.”
But the living wage and open records moves weren’t the only shameful additions to the budget over the weekend. Unbelievably, legislators also used an omnibus motion to deregulate predatory payday lenders, make it harder for victims of police shootings to obtain information and to gut a requirement that workers be given at least one day off a week.
Oh Rand Paul. I sometimes want to take you seriously, if only to make clear Democrats don’t have a corner on black votes, and can’t take them for granted. But as long as you’re the chief advocate for African American outreach in the 2016 GOP presidential field, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic field won’t have to worry at all.
On Tuesday the junior senator from Kentucky tweeted:
You can be a minority because of the color of your skin or the shade of your ideology. #StandWithRand http://t.co/a4UZ1VM5tm— Rand Paul (@Rand Paul) 1435702821
The day before, Paul met with Cliven Bundy, the welfare rancher who became a hero to wingnuts everywhere last year, especially on Fox News, when he refused to pay $1 million in federal grazing fees. With the help of armed right-wing militia members like the Oath Keepers and the White Mountain Militia, Bundy got the Bureau of Land Management to back down. But the right’s Bundy worship went a little underground when the rancher, enjoying the limelight, introduced a racist diatribe by saying, “Let me tell you something about the Negro.”
Maybe Paul thought that when Bundy began that way, it made him an expert on black people. But Bundy’s “knowledge” consisted of explaining that the problems of black people began when slavery ended, and they were no longer taught to pick cotton.
We should give Paul credit for consistency: he used that silly line about downtrodden ideological “minorities” when speaking at a historically black college, Bowie State University, earlier this year.
“You can be a minority because of the shade of your skin, or you can be a minority because of the shade of your ideology. You can be a minority because you’re African American or Hispanic, but you can also be a minority because you’re an evangelical Christian,” Paul said told the crowd at Bowie State, which is the nation’s oldest historically black university.
Paul seems to be comparing facing political debate to enslavement, dispossession, lynching, segregation, employment discrimination and everything else racial minorities suffer.
Meanwhile, Paul wrapped up a visit to Nevada by meeting with Bundy. Paul aides escorted the welfare rancher into a back room, where he met with the 2016 candidate for almost an hour. “I don’t think he really understood how land rights really work in the western United States,” Bundy said. “I was happy to be able to sort of teach him.”
In their private meeting, Paul suggested one solution for welfare ranchers like Bundy was for private groups to buy back grazing lands and turn them over to the states, which would presumably provide free grazing rights to ranchers. “I disagree with that philosophy,” Bundy said he told Paul. “My stand is we are already a sovereign state. The federal government doesn’t need to turn this land back to us. It’s already state land. I don’t claim ownership. I claim rights.”
Bundy told the Associated Press, “In general, I think we’re in tune with one another.”
Paul should be embarrassed. (But so should the AP, which circulated the story about Paul meeting with Bundy without noting the Nevada wingnut’s history of racist commentary.)
Maybe the Kentucky senator’s foray into African American outreach has discouraged him, and he thinks there’s more profit in the gun-toting anti-Obama patriot movement. Or maybe he thinks outreach for the GOP means visiting black colleges, but espousing the same old policies that have driven nine out of 10 black voters to the Democratic Party.
What’s clear is that young Rand Paul seems to be assembling the coalition of his father Ron Paul, which was notably light on black support because Paul himself was kind of a racist, given to Bundy-like musings about black crime and indolence in his newsletters over the years. Communing with Cliven Bundy isn’t going to win Paul black votes, however — no matter how much he thinks he knows about the Negro.
Scott Walker brags about how fighting unions in Wisconsin prepared him for fighting ISIS. But lately what’s notable is how often the 2016 GOP presidential hopeful squirms and weasels and outright lies when the truth would hurt him politically.
After Walker ducked the question of South Carolina’s Confederate flag all weekend, his staffers emailed reporters claiming he wanted the flag to come down all along, but he thought he should let Gov. Nikki Haley say so first. At home, he won’t raise state fees or taxes to pay for urgent bridge and road repairs, so he’s proposing to weasel out of a jam by borrowing the money – and Wisconsin Republicans are in revolt. “It’s not been well received, is the best way to put it,” the state Senate GOP leader told the New York Times.
Then there’s that little matter of the lies he told about his abortion stance in 2014, trying to get re-elected. They’re coming back to haunt him. Anti-abortion Republicans seized on an ad Walker ran in October, when he was running way behind with women, calling abortion an “agonizing” decision, insisting his goal was to “increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options,” and claiming his legislative agenda “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” Walker also refused during his re-election campaign to say whether he supported a 20-week abortion ban.
When out-of-state conservatives unearthed the mealy-mouthed ad and began using it against Walker, he became a staunch supporter of the 20-week ban, promising to sign the bill that was “likely to come to my desk.” Now it comes out that Walker himself asked legislators to send him the ban – and he’s also the one who made sure that it contained no exceptions for rape or incest.
Walker famously made light of concerns about women who become pregnant during rape. “I think for most people who are concerned about that, it’s in the initial months when they are most concerned about it,” he told reporters, presumably speaking from his vast reservoir of experience counseling women who’ve been raped.
Anti-abortion conservatives may find themselves mollified, for now, by Walker’s tough new stance. But expect his primary opponents to have fun with his flip-flopping and evasion over the last year. And if Walker isn’t tough enough to stand up to pro-choice forces in Wisconsin and tell the truth about his record, how will he fight ISIS?
Oh, and then there was that lie about how the “Wisconsin Idea” governing the state university system got rewritten, replacing goals like “search for truth” with workforce-development jargon. Walker called it a “drafting error;” legislators later produced evidence the changes were demanded by the administration. (He reversed them.)
It turns out Wisconsin Republicans are none too happy with Walker’s plans to solve his budget mess by carving $300 million out of the university system’s budget. “The university doesn’t deserve this cut,” GOP state Senator Luther Olsen complained. “We are fools if we go around bashing one of the best things in the state of Wisconsin.”
But Walker seems less interested in what’s best for Wisconsin than what’s best for him in early primary states. His strength right now is his ability to raise money, and his status as leader of the pack in neighboring Iowa, the first caucus state. But it’s hard to imagine that news of his in-state troubles isn’t crossing the border into Iowa.
Those troubles are already having one tangible campaign impact: They’ve pushed Walker’s official announcement back by a few weeks at least. The governor said he was waiting until he’d signed the budget – but there’s no budget deal, largely because of dissent among Republicans. It’s likely to take until mid-July at least to reach an accord.
Walker’s evasions undermine the image he’s tried to cultivate of a leader who makes tough choices. He puffed himself up on Red State last week, writing about his rivals: “Some want you to think they fight,” then adding, “But speeches aren’t fighting or winning.” But lying and weaseling aren’t fighting or winning, either.
Megyn Kelly and Howard Kurtz are mad at me. Or at least, people like me. They’re angry at the “liberal media,” which they claim turned the sad story of the Duggar family sex abuse scandal into a “red-blue” issue, in the words of Kelly.
That’s hilarious. First of all, the Duggars made themselves a political issue when they became political activists, endorsing ever more right-wing candidates, crusading to deny LGBT people their rights, and accusing transgender folks of being “child predators.” The Duggars’ rights weren’t being infringed. No one tried to stop them from having 19 kids and counting.
I might make the case, now, that they had too many kids to care for properly, given the repeat abuse by son Josh of four of his sisters, including a five-year-old. I might make the case that their fundamentalist patriarchal view of family pathologizes normal sexual urges while making young women the property of their parents and then their husbands. But no one in authority judged them, or tried to stop them, or suggested parenting classes, or made sure their sons were being supervised and their daughters protected.
Now it’s Fox that’s trying to make the Duggars’ troubles a political issue, and it’s more evidence of how badly Roger Ailes has gotten off his own game. Increasingly, Ailes is trying to turn crackpot, fringe figures — Cliven Bundy, the Duggars – into sympathetic stand-ins for the so-called “silent majority” he targeted, to great political success, in the late 60s and early 70s. And it’s not working.
At their best/smartest, Ailes and his client Richard Nixon tapped into genuine angst felt by large numbers of Americans in the 1960s. They were never a majority — although they probably were a majority of older white people, sadly — nor were they entirely silent. But this grumpy plurality believed that their values were being challenged and their lives were being changed. That was key to the white backlash that restored Republicans to power after Lyndon Johnson trounced them in 1964.
Leaving out whether it was fair, or overly animated by racism, millions of white people resented busing; believed removing prayer from schools was wrong; and worried about rising crime rates, the prevalence of divorce, and growing drug use. Ailes helped Nixon channel their worries into politics, and they took the white working class away from the Democratic Party, perhaps permanently.
The old magic doesn’t work as well any more politically. Since Ailes launched Fox in October 1996, Republicans have lost the White House in three of five elections (and lost the popular vote in a fourth.) Still, his grumpy plurality is large enough to make big profits for Rupert Murdoch, and trouble for Democrats.
Increasingly, though, Americans are comfortable with the cultural changes of the last 50 years. Fox has to work harder to find culture war heroes it can trumpet to rile up its audience. So they turn to crackpots like gun-toting welfare rancher Cliven Bundy, whom Sean Hannity tried to turn into the 21st century Patrick Henry. Then, of course, Bundy embarrassed Hannity and Ailes when he shared his entirely predictable racism, opening up to reporters with the never-promising line, “Let me tell you something about the Negro.”
Now Hannity’s star is fading, and Kelly’s is rising. That’s why I was disappointed, honestly, that she decided it would be a big career move to go after the Duggar freak show and try to turn the family into culture war martyrs. Many Salon readers will disagree with me, but I still think there’s something decent within Kelly that had to shrivel up sitting across from Jim Bob Duggar, listening to him defend his son’s actions as “not rape,” and play down his daughters’ abuse because most of the time, they were sleeping.
Whatever Fox and the Duggars’ intent, I have to think the ratings stunt backfired on the family. The parents turned it into a pity-party. “We went through the most darkest times our family has ever gone through.” Michelle Duggar said, “We were shocked, devastated. No parent is prepared for a trauma like that. There was so much grief in our hearts.”
Boo frickin’ hoo, Michelle. They came off as irresponsible whiners blaming their troubles on their enemies and the media. I don’t think it helped them keep their lucrative TLC show.
Of course, Fox’s defenders will hit me with “Look at their ratings!” They’re down, but not as much as other cable channels. And hey, there’s still a sizable group of aging white people who want to sit on their couches and hate on Obama. But I don’t believe even most of those people are coming to Fox because they’re championing the Duggars. Increasingly, the network’s leaders are getting tone deaf and missing their own audience.
Which raises the question: When are good white Christian people going to rise up and tell Fox that the Duggars don’t represent them?
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the lifelong crusader for economic justice now running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has serious civil rights movement cred: he attended the historic 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a quarter million people changed the country’s course when it came to race. It would be wrong and unfair to accuse him of indifference to issues of racial equality.
But in the wake of his picture-postcard campaign launch, from the shores of Vermont’s lovely Lake Champlain, Sanders has faced questions about whether his approach to race has kept up with the times. Writing in Vox, Dara Lind suggested that Sanders’ passion for economic justice issues has left him less attentive to the rising movement for racial justice, which holds that racial disadvantage won’t be eradicated only by efforts at economic equality. Covering the Sanders launch appreciatively on MSNBC, Chris Hayes likewise noted the lack of attention to issues of police violence and mass incarceration in the Vermont senator’s stirring kick-off speech.
These are the same questions I raised last month after watching Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio hail the new progressive movement to combat income inequality at two Washington D.C. events. Both pointed to rising popular movements to demand economic justice, most notably the “Fight for $15” campaign. Neither mentioned the most vital and arguably most important movement of all, the “Black Lives Matter” crusade. (Which is odd, since “Fight for $15″ leaders have explicitly endorsed their sister movement.) And the agendas they endorsed that day made only minimal mention, if they mentioned it at all, of the role that mass incarceration and police abuse plays in worsening the plight of the African American poor.
Looking at the overwhelmingly white Bernie Sanders event last week, I saw it again: the rhetoric and stagecraft employed by white progressives whom I admire too often –inadvertently, I think — leaves out people who aren’t white. Of course, Sanders’ home state of Vermont is 96 percent white, so his kickoff crowd predictably reflected that. But his rhetoric could have told a more inclusive story.
So could Elizabeth Warren’s. I love her stirring stories about her upbringing: the days when her mother’s minimum wage job could support a family, when unions built the American middle class, and when Warren herself could attend a public university for almost nothing. Like a lot of white progressives, she points to the post World War II era as a kind of golden age when income inequality flattened and opportunity spread, the result of progressive action by government. I’ve written about the political lessons of that era repeatedly myself.
But the golden age wasn’t golden for people who weren’t white. Yes, African American incomes rose and unemployment declined in those years. But black people were locked out of many of the wealth-generating opportunities of the era: blocked from suburbs with restricted covenants and redlined into neighborhoods where banks wouldn’t lend; left out by the GI Bill, which didn’t prevent racial discrimination; neglected by labor unions, which discriminated against or outright blocked black members. (That’s why I gave my book, “What’s the Matter with White People?”, the subtitle “Why We Long for a Golden Age that Never Was.”)
Conservatives look back at those post-World War II years as a magical time when men were men, women raised children, LGBT folks didn’t exist or stayed closeted, and the country was white. Progressives point to the government support that created that alleged golden age, but they too often make it sound rosier than it was for people who weren’t white. In fact some of those same policies of the 1950s helped create the stunning disparities between black and white family wealth, which leaves even highly paid and highly educated African Americans more vulnerable to sliding out of the middle class.
All of this leaves white progressives vulnerable to charges that they don’t understand the political world they live in today. “I love Elizabeth, but those stories about the ‘50s drive me crazy,” one black progressive told me after a recent Warren event.
Dara Lind points to Sanders’ socialist analysis as a reason he’s reluctant to focus on issues of race: he thinks they’re mainly issues of class. She samples colleague Andrew Prokop’s Sanders profile, which found:
Even as a student at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, influenced by the hours he spent in the library stacks reading famous philosophers, (Sanders) became frustrated with his fellow student activists, who were more interested in race or imperialism than the class struggle. They couldn’t see that everything they protested, he later said, was rooted in “an economic system in which the rich controls, to a large degree, the political and economic life of the country.”
Increasingly, though, black and other scholars are showing us that racial disadvantage won’t be undone without paying attention to, and talking about, race. The experience of black poverty is different in some ways than that of white poverty; it’s more likely to be intergenerational, for one thing, as well as being the result of discriminatory public and private policies.
Ironically, our first black president has exhausted the patience of many African Americans with promises that a rising economic justice tide will lift their boats. President Obama himself has rejected race-specific solutions to the problems of black poverty, arguing that policies like universal preschool, a higher minimum wage, stronger family supports and infrastructure investment, along with the Affordable Care Act, all disproportionately help black people, since black people are disproportionately poor.
At the Progressive Agenda event last month, I heard activists complain that they’d been told the same thing: the agenda will disproportionately benefit black people, because they’re disproportionately disadvantaged, even if it didn’t specifically address the core issue of criminal justice reform. (De Blasio later promised the agenda would include that issue.) But six years of hearing that from a black president has exhausted people’s patience, and white progressives aren’t going to be able to get away with it anymore.
Hillary Clinton could be the unlikely beneficiary of white progressives’ stumbles on race. The woman who herself stumbled facing Barack Obama in 2008 seems to have learned from her political mistakes. She’s taken stands on mass incarceration and immigration reform that put her nominally to the left of de Blasio’s Progressive Agenda on those issues, as well as the president’s. Clinton proves that these racial blind spots can be corrected. And American politics today requires that they be corrected: no Democrat can win the presidency without consolidating the Obama coalition, particularly the African American vote.
In fact, African American women are to the Democrats what white evangelical men are to Republicans: the most devoted, reliable segment of the party base. But where all the GOP contenders pander to their base, Democrats often don’t even acknowledge theirs. Clinton seems determined to do things differently, the second time around. The hiring of senior policy advisor Maya Harris as well as former Congressional Black Caucus director LaDavia Drane signal the centrality of black female voters to the campaign. In a briefing with reporters Thursday in Brooklyn, senior Clinton campaign officials said their polling shows she’s doing very well with the Obama coalition, despite her 2008 struggles – but she’s taking nothing for granted.
Pointing to Warren and Sanders’s shortcomings when it comes to racial politics doesn’t mean they’re evil, or they can’t learn to see things with a different frame. But they’re going to have to, or they’ll find that the populist energy that’s eclipsing Democratic Party centrists will be dissipated by racial tension no one can afford.
Late Wednesday night, the Washington Post dropped a bombshell in the Freddie Gray case: according to a second-hand report from the prisoner who traveled in the same police van, Gray was “banging against the walls” of the van as though he “was intentionally trying to injure himself.” On Fox, Sean Hannity went predictably nuts about the “blockbuster,” and used it to blame President Obama for weighing in on race relations “before the facts are known.”
The Post has done some good reporting from Baltimore, but this “scoop” is curious. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had previously cited the same prisoner as saying the ride he shared with Gray was quiet and uneventful.
NBC affiliate WBAL’s Jayne Miller took the story apart within about an hour, reporting that the prisoner in question only got aboard on the van’s fourth stop, and was with him for five or six minutes. Gray had been alone in the van, with police, for at least a half hour, Miller said, citing the cops’ own timeline, during which time the vehicle made a curious stop to place the young West Baltimore man in leg irons.
The Post called the story the “first glimpse” of what actually happened inside the van, and added that “it is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version.” That’s one way to put it.
This isn’t the first story to charge that Gray, not police, was responsible for his own injury. An “exclusive” on a right-wing site blared “FREDDIE GRAY ALLEGEDLY HAD SPINE SURGERY JUST ONE WEEK BEFORE ARREST.” It quickly metastasized to “everyone’s racist uncle’s Facebook feed,” as Gawker put it.
It was just as quickly debunked. Evidence of a lawsuit settlement cited by the right had to do with a suit Gray’s family filed against their landlord, charging negligence that led to the children’s being poisoned by lead paint, according to their attorney William “Billy” Murphy.
An attorney for Gray’s family challenged the Post’s report, too. “We disagree with any implication that Freddie Gray severed his own spinal cord,” Jason Downs told the Post. “We question the accuracy of the police reports we’ve seen thus far, including the police report that says Mr. Gray was arrested without force or incident.”
Of course, while the first police account said Gray was arrested without incident, a cellphone video released later showed that he’d been slammed to the ground and dragged into the van, obviously in pain. But WBAL’s Miller cautioned against theories that his spine had been injured during the arrest. And indeed, though Gray is in pain in the video, and is being dragged at first, he stands on his own before he’s loaded into the van.
Most reporting so far points to Gray’s injury occurring in the van – perhaps on one of the Baltimore Police Department’s notorious “rough rides” — where they drive recklessly and stop suddenly, in order to punish prisoners within the quiet confines of police vans, away from the eyes and the cell phones of community witnesses. His spine was almost entirely severed, and his larynx was crushed. WBAL’s Miller told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell Wednesday night she’s heard from multiple medical sources that “it’s virtually impossible to do that injury on your own.”
And so it continues, crackpot theories and right-wing “exclusives,” plus the occasional mainstream report coming from police department leaks, all trying to exonerate police and implicate Freddie Gray in his own death. All of this noise could be silenced by an official police report on the incident.
Yet while the police investigation will be completed Friday, earlier reports that it would also be released to the public Friday have been rebutted by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who says it will then go to the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office. The mayor has given no timeline for the report’s release. Until then, Gray’s community will seek justice, and the right will fill the vacuum with victim-blaming stories.
Nothing screams “I’m a libertarian” like a creepy, cultish, rhyming campaign slogan, don’t you think? Something like “Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream,” Sen. Rand Paul’s new motto (as leaked to Politico), teasing the kickoff to his 2016 presidential campaign?
Can’t you imagine glassy-eyed, libertarian-minded Millennials chanting that slogan, maybe wearing some kind of military-style yet vaguely hipsterish campaign uniform?
No, actually, I can’t either. Rhyming slogans don’t say “libertarian” to me; Paul’s tweet seemed weirdly authoritarian, in fact. But on the eve of Paul’s announcing a 2016 presidential run, nothing makes sense about his campaign branding, or the way the media simply accept it, in all its messy, massively self-contradictory glory.
So I write to give my colleagues one simple tip to improve their Paul campaign coverage: Stop calling him a “libertarian.” Stop it right now.
And a related piece of advice: Stop reflexively insisting he’s going to appeal to supposedly libertarian-minded Millennials. Because he’s not.
Robert Draper didn’t create the Paul charade, but he seriously helped it along, in his New York Times magazine piece on the nation’s supposed “libertarian moment” last August. He saw the moment well-captured by Rand Paul, who was “to the libertarian movement what Pearl Jam is to rock,” Draper wrote, explaining. “On issues including same-sex marriage, surveillance and military intervention, his positions more closely mirror those of young voters than those of the G.O.P. establishment.”
Many good reporters and analysts have spent many long hours debunking Draper’s assumptions. (I tried it here.) On issues of women’s rights and LGBT rights, immigration, drug legalization and even military spending and intervention, Paul has either always been or has become a fairly standard issue Republicans.
Think Progress’s Judd Legum runs exhaustively through the record, but here are a few highlights. First of all, he’s staunchly anti-choice, supporting the “Life begins at Conception Act” and pretty much every other piece of anti-abortion legislation that’s come before him. He’s got a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. To be fair, other libertarians have gotten away with being pro-liberty for everyone but women. Paul’s father Ron, who was somewhat more genuinely libertarian than his son, likewise supported draconian anti-abortion laws.
And while Paul used to sound vaguely live-and-let-live when it came to gay marriage, he has toughened his rhetoric. He now says the idea of a marriage between a same-sex couples “offends myself and a lot of people,” and he’s joined Rick Santorum in suggesting it may lead to interspecies intimacy. We learned last week that he doesn’t even believe in the concept of gay rights, telling an interviewer in 2013, “I really don’t believe in rights based on your behavior.”
Where libertarians tend to support liberalizing immigration laws and promoting more open borders, Paul has voted against any liberalization of U.S. immigration policy. He even cosponsored a bill with Sen. David Vitter to end citizenship rights for the children of foreigners born on this soil, when he first got to the Senate. “Citizenship is a privilege,” Paul said at the time, “and only those who respect our immigration laws should be allowed to enjoy its benefits.”
On issues of military intervention and defense spending, Paul used to be more aligned with anti-intervention libertarians. Not any more. He signed Sen. Tom Cotton’s war-mongering letter to Iran’s ayatollahs, for God’s sake. Longtime defender Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, who’s trolled me for years over my Paul criticism, trashed Paul: “This was the last straw,” Raimondo told the Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi. “I’ve put up with a lot from that guy! I’ve had to defend him like a Jesuit. I’m done. Let somebody else do it.”
Likewise, his admirers at Reason magazine lost it over his new budget proposals hiking defense spending. His first proposed budget in 2011 cut defense by $164 billion over five years; last month Paul outlined a $190 billion defense spending hike, over the next two years. “Rand Paul goes hawkish, proposes massive defense increases, becomes less interesting,” complained Reason’s Nick Gillespie.
Paul has also flip-flopped on Israel, moving from calling to withdraw most foreign aid to the country to sponsoring the “Stand with Israel Act” last year, which would have increased aid while cutting it from the Palestinian Authority entirely.
The supposedly groovy Kentucky senator even opposes the legalization of marijuana, though he did cosponsor a bill with Democrats Kristen Gillibrand and Cory Booker to protect medical marijuana patients from federal prosecution in states where it is legal. Paul hyped his opposition to legal marijuana, not surprisingly, in a meeting with ministers in 2013. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”
See, 2016 reporters? He said it himself. He’s not a libertarian. Why keep the myth alive in tedious, insight-free campaign coverage?
“Cake is speech.”
That’s what Indiana Baptist pastor Tim Overton told NPR’s Steve Inskeep Thursday morning, defending his state’s controversial “religious freedom” law. I thought it was so funny, I immediately tweeted it.
But as the day went on, it became clear that Overton’s argument wasn’t some fringe theory: It’s shaping up as a core tenet of one “compromise” approach to religious freedom laws that’s under consideration, in the wake of the backlash to the Indiana law, which Overton fervently supported as written. It’s at the heart of the fix to the law Jeb Bush pushed Wednesday night with pro-gay rights Republican donors.
Here’s how the pastor tried to explain it: Critics who say Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act would let businesses routinely deny service to LGBT Americans are wrong. “I don’t think any RFRA anywhere would say, ‘I’m not gonna give you a hotel room, I’m not gonna give you a hamburger, or gasoline or groceries,’” Overton told Inskeep. “That’s outside the bounds.”
But just as a religious leader should be able to decide, according to the tenets of his or her faith, whether to preside over gay marriages, Overton argued, so should a florist or a baker get to decide whether his or her “artistic ability” should be part of a gay wedding.
I think most Americans would agree that a pastor like myself should not be compelled by the government to use my speech to support someone else’s perspective. I think that has parallels to the cake maker. The cake maker is using his or her artistic ability to make a cake and that cake communicates something. I think that cake is speech, that says ‘we celebrate this union.’ I just don’t think they should be forced by the government to use their speech to support someone else’s perspective….I would like the line to be drawn in services that involve speech.
When Inskeep asked how society would determine what type of service represented “speech,” Overton punted and said that would be up to courts. “I think that distinction will be played out in the court,” he replied. “All the legislature can do is pass principles to guide the court.” (Remember when the right hated activist judges?)
I admit: I thought Overton’s was a fringe point of view when I first listened. And then I received the transcript Jeb Bush’s campaign released to share his remarks, to Silicon Valley donors, about how he would like to clarify Indiana’s law – a law, by the way, that he said needed no clarification just two nights before. Here’s the key part:
I do think if you’re a florist and you don’t want to participate in the arrangement of a wedding, you shouldn’t have to be obliged to do that if it goes against your faith because you believe in traditional marriage. Likewise if someone walked into a flower shop as a gay couple and said I want to buy all these off the rack, these flowers, they should have every right to do it. That would be discrimination. But forcing someone to participate in a wedding is not discrimination; it is I think protecting the first amendment right.
So Bush, too, tries to define “discrimination” as turning someone away from a flower shop, versus a protected “First Amendment right” to refuse to participate in a wedding.
I can’t imagine how such a compromise would work in the real world. On the one hand, it would force an LGBT bride or groom to tell a florist or a baker, “Oh, by the way, this is a GAY wedding, and I hope you don’t have any problem with that.” Otherwise if they figured it out along the way, it would seem they could legally back out, and leave the marrying couple up a creek. (And imagine if you had to tell a florist: “Oh, by the way, I’m a Catholic, and I hope you don’t have a problem with Catholic weddings.”)
But let’s say some kind of compromise worked there – maybe the burden would be on the florist or baker to tell all prospective clients: “We don’t serve gay weddings — or Catholic weddings!” (I think that’s a preposterous compromise, but work with me here.) What stops a hotel owner, or a pizzeria proprietor, or a gas station franchisee, from saying, “My work is a form of expression, too — and I don’t want to express support for gayness by providing my services to these individuals?”
Overton himself left the door open to that argument when he told Inskeep “all of life for the Christian is about glorifying God. We are glorifying God in the workplace. To ask a Christian to do something in the workplace that violates their conscience, I don’t think that’s freedom of religion.”
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum thinks a photographer has the clearest case to turn down an LGBT wedding, and a baker has the worst.
If they’re the only baker in town, they should bake the cake. If there’s someone, if they have a, if someone has a ferry service onto an island, and that’s where the wedding is, and you’re the only way to get to that island, there’s no road to the island, well, you’ve got to provide the service. But if the person has other opportunities to go other places, my feeling is that people shouldn’t be forced to participate in a ceremony that violates their religious tenets and teachings. Now you’re right. The cake baker is the most attenuated, and probably has the hardest argument to make. The photographer has the easiest argument to make. But I think in a world where have true tolerance, and we allow people to live their faith in their jobs, then I think we allow space for everybody unless there’s a compelling interest not to.
Santorum was mum about the florist, even though Hugh Hewitt specifically asked him about it.
The only way out of this moral and political cul-de-sac involves passing religious freedom laws along with laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But so far, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is holding firm in opposing such a move. Now, Indiana-based Angie’s List is saying it won’t accept that state’s compromise RFRA, which would reportedly add some kind of preamble, but not actually add discrimination protection to state law. (For the record, the head of Salesforce as well as the Indiana Pacers earlier said they would accept the compromise.)
For the far right, of course, even Indiana’s compromise is going too far. (Santorum is “disappointed” in his “dear friend” Mike Pence.) My friend Greg Sargent thinks it’s progress that some space has opened up within the GOP to at least debate these issues, and I guess that’s true. But the religious freedom argument should be simple: If your religion tells you it’s wrong to be gay, then don’t have gay sex, or get gay married. It’s amazing to watch Bush and others contort themselves to make floral arranging and cake baking a form of religious expression, to pander to the far right, though it’s not likely to work. This debate will get sillier before it’s settled.
Thanks to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, we’re getting an early look at a field of GOP presidential hopefuls that is supposed to include some moderates who plan on expanding the party’s appeal beyond its right-wing base. And it’s pathetic. Before Pence’s odd press conference, where he promised to “fix” the bill but insisted there was nothing wrong with it, the top GOP contenders hustled to outdo one another in backing Pence and his divisive legislation.
Let’s remember that in 2014, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were among the Republicans who urged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto AB 1062, Arizona’s version of Indiana’s “religious freedom” law – admittedly after they’d run for president in 2012. The 2016 candidates are showing no such courage – quite the opposite, in fact.
They are showing they all agree with Sen. Ted Cruz on one thing: the key to winning in 2016 isn’t outreach to so-called minorities, women and middle America, but to discouraged evangelical Christians (not to mention white voters) who sat out 2012.
Supposedly moderate and gay friendly Jeb Bush went all in defending Pence with radio host Hugh Hewitt Monday night. At first Bush took the route of condescension: the bill’s critics are too dumb to understand it.
“I think if [critics] actually got briefed on the law that they wouldn’t be blasting this law. I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing,” Bush told Hewitt, who agreed. “This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to have, to be able to be people of conscience…I just think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”
Bush and Hewitt peddled the line that the Indiana law is the same as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by President Clinton in 1993, which is clearly not true. Amazingly, though, Bush himself explained exactly how the law is different. I’m not sure if that proves he’s stupid, or he thinks the voters are:
There are incidents of people who, for example, the florist in Washington State who had a business that, based on her conscience, she couldn’t be participating in a gay wedding, organizing it, even though the person, one of the people, was a friend of hers, and she was taken to court and still in court. Or the photographer in New Mexico. There are many cases where people, acting on their conscience, have been castigated by the government. And this law simply says the government has to have a level of burden to be able to establish that there’s been some kind of discrimination. We’re going to need this. This is really an important value for our country to, in a diverse country, where you can respect and be tolerant of people’s lifestyles but allow for people of faith to be able to exercise theirs.
In other words, this law lets the florist in Washington State and the photographer in New Mexico discriminate against gay clients. Thanks, Jeb, for spelling out why there’s been a national backlash against the bill. For his part, Pence insisted the bill would do no such thing, but it’s hard to know what the bill would have done or will do after Pence’s off the rails press conference.
Bush’s Florida rival, Sen. Marco Rubio, was equally straightforward about the bill’s intent. “Nobody is saying that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or at a hotel because of their sexual orientation. I think that’s a consensus view in America,” Rubio told Fox on Monday. “The flip side is, should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?”
Not surprisingly, Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and right-wing neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson quickly issued statements supporting Pence, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told CNN through a spokesperson that he supported the bill. Cruz said he was “proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same.” However, within 24 hours Mike no long stood with Mike.
Sen. Rand Paul has yet to weigh in on the Indiana bill, fixed or otherwise. But on Tuesday morning the nation learned that Paul doesn’t believe in the concept of gay rights, having told an interviewer in 2013, “I really don’t believe in rights based on your behavior.” The notion that “behavior” makes one gay seems rather backwards and bigoted, but the media will no doubt go on praising Paul for being an iconoclast who wants to expand his party’s reach, if not its concept of equal rights.
The Indiana bill served to out the leading GOP contenders when it comes to LGBT rights. Pence then pulled the rug out from under them by admitting the bill needed fixing. Good old McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed tried to square the circle this way on Twitter Monday night:
Coppins has been trying to depict Bush as the “gay-friendly” moderate for a while now, God bless him, even as Bush does what he can to prove otherwise. The soft bigotry of low expectations, when it comes to Republicans respecting civil rights, may ultimately vindicate Coppins. But no one should mistake that for genuine social progress.
There are two entirely different ways to be horrified by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker comparing his battle with state unions to the fight against ISIS. If you haven’t heard, when he was asked how he’d combat the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq at the Conservative Political Action conference Thursday, he replied: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”
From the left, you can be disgusted by Walker comparing legal protests by labor unions and their supporters to the barbaric, blood-thirsty terrorism of ISIS. From the right, you can be appalled that Walker is clueless enough to suggest that standing up to peaceful protesters is remotely comparable to fighting a multi-national terror threat. Many people probably have both reactions; I know I did.
I’m not sure it’s enough to break the fever on the right that has delirious admirers seeing Walker as the 21st century Ronald Reagan. That might take a bigger dose of Walker idiocy – but it’s probably coming.
Once again, Walker’s hard-working communications staff had to clean up his mess with an emailed statement, just as they did last week after he said he didn’t know if President Obama is a Christian. Spokesperson Kristin Kukowski told reporters:
Governor Walker believes our fight against ISIS is one of the most important issues our country faces. He was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS. What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership. Those are the qualities we need to fix the leadership void this White House has created.
Walker himself tried denying that he’d compared Wisconsin protesters to ISIS. “You all will misconstrue things the way you see fit,” he whined to reporters after his speech, “but I think it’s pretty clear, that’s the closest thing I have in terms of handling a difficult situation, not that there’s any parallel between the two.”
It wasn’t just the stunning equation of peaceful protesters to ISIS that made Walker seem unready for the presidency during his CPAC speech. There he was, dead-eyed as usual, trying to claim that getting regular briefings from the FBI should count as foreign policy experience. He’s learned to punctuate his unremarkable remarks with a lame, Bill Clinton-style thumb-poke of faux-sincerity. It actually seemed sincere the first couple hundred times Clinton did it. Walker looks like he’s still practicing in front of a mirror. His light-blue shirt is baggy, his tie is too long, his hair is messy, not tousled; he looks like he’s running for Badger Boys State, not the presidency.
It turns out CPAC wasn’t the first time Walker has tried his “standing up to unions means I can whip ISIS” line. He made a similar argument at the New York event where Rudy Giuliani upstaged him by claiming President Obama doesn’t love America, according to Larry Kudlow, an event co-sponsor:
Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
If Kudlow is correct, that undermines Walker’s claim that he was merely citing the protests as an example of a “difficult situation” he’s faced. He thinks somehow ISIS in Iraq and Syria will be cowed by his battles on the steps of the Capitol in Madison.
The right seems befuddled by Walker’s CPAC speech. The Blaze crowed that “Scott Walker pulls thunderous applause at CPAC,” while the National Review Online’s Andrew Johnson kvelled “Scott Walker hit all the right notes.”
But former Texas Gov. Rick Perry quickly criticized Walker’s remarks. And NRO’s Jim Geraghty was appalled:
That is a terrible response. First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn’t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.
Secondly, it is insulting to the protesters, a group I take no pleasure in defending. The protesters in Wisconsin, so furiously angry over Walker’s reforms and disruptive to the procedures of passing laws, earned plenty of legitimate criticism. But they’re not ISIS. They’re not beheading innocent people. They’re Americans, and as much as we may find their ideas, worldview, and perspective spectacularly wrongheaded, they don’t deserve to be compared to murderous terrorists.
I couldn’t put it better myself.
Walker is already complaining that this is another “gotcha” moment by the media, in the wake of those “gotcha” questions about whether Obama loves America or is truly a Christian as he publicly declares. As Digby reminds us, the Urban Dictionary aptly defines a “gotcha” question as one Sarah Palin is too dumb to answer.
Claiming fighting protesters prepared you to fight ISIS when asked about fighting terror? That’s an answer even Palin might have been too smart to give.
Bill O’Reilly continues his frenzied attacks on Mother Jones’ David Corn, even after at least seven former CBS colleagues have come forward, with varying degrees of outrage and disdain, to back up Corn’s reporting and dispute O’Reilly’s accounts of his time in the Falklands “war zone” – which consisted of covering demonstrations in Buenos Aires, 1,200 miles away from the actual war.
But O’Reilly went around the bend on Monday by threatening New York Times reporter Emily Steel, telling her in a phone interview that if he didn’t find her story fair, “I am coming after you with everything I have.” In case she was confused about his meaning, he added: “You can take it as a threat.”
Liberal social media went wild over O’Reilly’s threat, as though he’d crossed some obvious line of human decency or journalistic integrity and there might even be repercussions. But why? Most of us know this is O’Reilly’s M.O. Normally he sends his “producer” Jesse Watters out to menace reporters who’ve displeased him; Amanda Terkel tells her 2009 story of being stalked, harassed and ambushed by Watters here; there are many others.
When I criticized O’Reilly for his violent imagery in reporting on Dr. George Tiller before his murder, he invited me on his show promising to have a reasonable debate. Instead he told me to “stop talking” and berated me for having “blood on your hands” – and over the next week, sliced and diced the interview in unflattering and unfair ways and replayed clips with a variety of flunkies (thanks, Juan Williams) agreeing about my perfidy.
But not only does O’Reilly regularly come after critics “with everything I have,” so does his boss, Roger Ailes. I don’t see how O’Reilly’s fabrications, or his threats to reporters, will get him in trouble, when that’s exactly how Ailes runs his Fox News empire. His efforts to intimidate unauthorized-biographer Gabriel Sherman are legendary. When he couldn’t frighten Sherman or his publisher, he turned his bullying on his staffers, making clear they’d pay with their jobs and reputations if they talked to Sherman.
As one Fox employee told Ailes enforcer Brian Lewis, “Look, I know you can kill me. I don’t wanna wake up tomorrow to read I’m gay and fucking sheep.” Ironically, when Ailes began to suspect Lewis himself was a Sherman source, he followed his longtime P.R. guy and tried to ruin his reputation with unproven allegations of “financial irregularities.” (Sherman recounts all of this in his excellent “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” and Media Matters catalogs it here.)
And when Ailes bought a small town New York newspaper, he tried to put a rival paper out of business, as Gawker’s John Cook has repeatedly documented. Not merely by lobbying the town to disqualify the paper from receiving legal listings – the lifeblood of small local papers – but by harassing publisher Donald Hall personally: “poking his finger in his chest, threatening to sue him, and darkly suggesting that if Hall ever retaliated, Ailes’ papers would go public with damaging information.”
The Fox chairman has personally described New York Times reporters as “a bunch of lying scum,” so don’t expect him to come to Emily Steel’s defense any time soon.
Besides, not all journalists are appalled by O’Reilly’s lying or bullying. In the last few days Politico’s Dylan Byers, radio host Hugh Hewitt and the lads at Mediaite have served as an annex to the Fox P.R. operation. Hewitt slavishly defended his pal O’Reilly in a tedious and tendentious 45-minute “interview” with Corn, in which he tried to suggest that Corn’s inability to remember precisely what Brown University required to designate a graduate Phi Beta Kappa was comparable to O’Reilly’s having trouble keeping his story straight on whether he reported from a Falklands “war zone.”
As it happens, I’ve known Corn since college, and I’ve heard him tell countless stories about his battle for Phi Beta Kappa. Brown was a war zone, as Corn tells it — he had to fight his way past the brown-nosers and the big-footers and haters and the “old men” — people whose parents sent them to kindergarten late, to give them an advantage. Cruel Brown professors fired insults and even pieces of chalk at the best students; once Corn had to drag a colleague to a nearby pub for safety. Finally, Corn prevailed – and got himself the hell out of that combat situation. If you’ve read his books, you know stories of his days in the Brown war zone figure prominently.
I’m kidding, of course.
But really, that’s what Hewitt would have you believe. Not only has Corn not gone around peddling his Phi Beta Kappa stories (of course), O’Reilly is not merely guilty of mixing up details. He has aggressively and frequently told stories about himself in a “combat situation” and a “war zone” when he was not, in order to denigrate other journalists and prove his macho bona fides.
Still, if you dislike O’Reilly and Fox, you’re inclined to think this episode has to have repercussions. I’m just not sure it will. The network makes money off the willingness of its audience to believe the worst about the “liberal media.” Lying, exaggerating, raging at Mother Jones and threatening a Times reporter are all in a day’s work.
I never thought I’d be spurred to defend GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers, but the misogyny coming from the right, in the wake of her helping torpedo the 20-week abortion ban, is appalling.
The boys over at Red State are leading the charge, with sexually insecure sad sack Erick Erickson calling her “the GOP’s Abortion Barbie” (his sick nickname for Wendy Davis) and now another Red Stater, Aaron Gardner, asking “Is Renee Ellmers worthy of life?”
In a country where abortion providers have been murdered and clinics bombed, that’s a particularly ugly provocation.
Gardner justifies his threatening question by explaining he’s the product of rape – his biological grandfather apparently raped his grandmother — and that the rape exemption to the abortion ban that Ellmers supports somehow makes the case that he’s not worthy of life.
Tell me why you are worthy of this life you have been given, Representative. It might seem like an unreasonable request, I am sure that many will find it impolite…But when the pro aborts call me an extremist, when they say, “exceptions for rape”, I hear, “you are not worthy of life.” I feel compelled to justify myself and explain that it isn’t extreme to defend one’s own existence.
So the staunchly antiabortion Ellmers is transformed into a “pro-abort” through the magic of male hysteria. This is a particular kind of paranoia and narcissism that should get Gardner into therapy, not on the front page of RedState (where they’re also calling Hillary Clinton “an elderly unaccomplished crone,” by the way, but we’re used to the anti-Democrat misogyny.)
Now, Ellmers has been reliably right-wing and anti-women most of the time, leading the charge against the Affordable Care Act’s mandating that insurance policies cover pregnancy-related healthcare with the memorable war cry: “Has a man ever delivered a baby?” As I noted at the time, you might think that was the opening salvo in a defense of sharing the costs of childbearing, but no, it was a defense of protecting men, and essentially returning to the days when being a woman was a preexisting condition.
To win her North Carolina seat narrowly in 2010, she campaigned against the so-called Ground Zero Mosque – that year’s Ebola scare, which also magically went away after the election – and called in Sarah Palin, who named Ellmers to her famous “Mama Grizzlies” pack.
She also tried to help the GOP win over women by advising that when talking issues, they “bring it down to a woman’s level” by talking about real women’s lives – advice that was widely interpreted as condescending to real women.
But she’s offended some right-wingers with her defense of a pathway to citizenship in immigration reform, and her role in defeating the 20-week abortion ban – for now, anyway; Sen. Lindsey Graham obviously thinks it has a future if the GOP can solve “the definitional problem of rape” – has now turned wingnut cavemen into enemies.
To be fair, plenty of conservative women have also criticized Ellmers, but not with the sexist savagery of their male counterparts.
It’s fascinating to me: Right-wingers love their Mama Grizzlies, tough gals like Palin and Sen. Joni Ernst to name two, as long as they stay in line. But when they stray from wingnut orthodoxy, they can expect the same abuse female Democrats get. I’ve been looking around to see if any conservative women have stood up for Ellmers, in the face of RedState’s ugly assault, but I haven’t found any. I will surely update this post if I do.
I wrote last week about the encouraging new energy among Democrats to do big things about wage stagnation and the erosion of the middle class – and that was before President Obama proposed free community college tuition, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, on behalf of the House Democrats, unveiled a plan for massive middle class tax cuts funded by tax hikes on business and Wall Street, particularly a stock transaction tax.
I agree with Salon’s Elias Isquith that Van Hollen’s proposal, in part, continues the trend of the “submerged state:” working through the tax code to provide government benefits that Americans don’t recognize as such, like the home-mortgage-interest deduction, thus leaving them free to hate “government.” Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson likewise talk about “the privatized welfare state,” in which government “tax expenditures” subsidize employers to provide things like health care and (less frequently) pensions, which other industrialized nations largely provide outright. Thus too many Americans believe incorrectly that government only helps lazy slackers, and does nothing for their families.
It’s a strategy pursued by Democrats and Republicans alike: President Clinton lifted millions of Americans out of poverty by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, while offering the largest boost to higher education funding since the G.I. Bill with new college tuition tax credits. But since he did it stealthily, through the tax code, Clinton could still boast that “the era of big government is over.”
The House Democrats’ plan would also end tax loopholes enjoyed by the top 1 percent, particularly breaks on carried interest income and mortgage deductions for the highest earners. If Americans want to return to the days when government helped build the middle class, they will have to return to much higher tax rates on the very wealthy. Van Hollen’s proposal reinvigorates this stagnant debate.
Meanwhile, the president’s proposal for free community college to students who achieve decent grades jettisons the submerged-state framework entirely, creating a potential new entitlement that reflects a 21st century approach to education.
Take a moment to think about the big social gains made in the 19th and 20th century, thanks to political agitation: from K-12 education to health and safety regulations to Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and other safety net programs. Then think about how, outside of the Affordable Care Act, government stopped keeping up with social change. At a time when some post-secondary training is crucial, our educational system is stalled in a K-12 model. At a time when researchers recognize the role of early learning – not to mention the role of mothers in the workplace – we’ve likewise failed to build a system of pre-kindergarten education and care.
Between his calls for new preschool funding and now a guarantee of two-year community college access, Obama is finally helping the country catch up. (Of course, if Obama and the Democrats really wanted to do something radical to juice the economy, they’d buy up student loan debt, and pay back the generation of young people who suffered when we decided to privatize so much of higher education funding.)
I’m aware of all the progressive criticism of the president’s proposal. Community college is already fairly well subsidized by grants, plus many institutions don’t have an impressive track record of degree completion. But combined with existing efforts to improve community colleges, Obama’s plan could make a difference.
Like his pre-K proposals, Obama’s community college plan will face Republican opposition and probably won’t go anywhere anytime soon. But for too long Democrats have been constrained by the notion of what Republicans will let them do. Their pinched proposals for change helped lead to another midterm shellacking (although that’s still largely a structural problem relating to who votes in off years.)
Yet low turnout in non-presidential years is tied to the fact that voters think little is at stake. Democrats are finally making clear there’s a whole lot at stake. This is a years-long, maybe decades-long project. But this was a big week.
There is so much that’s horrifying about what’s now simply called “the torture report,” the redacted summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into years of unforgivable CIA abuse post-9/11. But one thing that recurs disturbingly often is anal rape imagery: examples of “rectal feeding,” of rectal exams that used “excessive force,” and “at least one instance,” according to the report, of threatened sodomy with a broomstick.
Am I the only one who thought about Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was not just threatened but actually sodomized with a broomstick by the New York Police Department’s Justin Volpe in 1997? The torture report’s release, in the wake of grand juries failing to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and right here in New York, where Louima was tortured, reminds us of the danger of unaccountable state power.
Yet an undercurrent of authoritarianism in American culture — and a particular American deference to authority figures who are supposed to “protect” us – threatens to let it go unchecked.
To be fair, many Americans are horrified by the torture report’s revelations. And many Americans believe police officers should be held accountable when they use excessive force and harm or kill Americans, of any race. But there’s a disturbing impulse evident lately, to excuse abuses of power on the part of those who are charged with protecting us, whether cops or the post-9/11 CIA. “I don’t care what we did!” former Bush flack Nicolle Wallace shrieked on “Morning Joe” Monday. And she spoke for too many Americans. (Though not for her former boss Sen. John McCain.)
I watched the debate over the torture report unfurl all day Tuesday, online, in print and on television. All the coverage focused on a few questions: whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein is right that torture didn’t work; whether the report might produce blowback by our enemies; whether the CIA is being scapegoated for Bush administration decisions. There was shockingly little emphasis on the fact that torture is illegal and a war crime, banned by the Geneva Conventions, a U.N. Convention against torture ratified under a supportive Ronald Reagan, and by Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code.
So much in the torture report should appall Americans, above and beyond the many details of depravity. CIA officials lied about who they had in custody. They lied about what they were doing. They destroyed evidence. They tortured two of their own informants. At least 20 percent of the people they detained, as examined by investigators, were held wrongfully. They paid $81 million to two psychologists who knew nothing about al-Qaida, terrorism or the war against them. They didn’t fully brief President Bush until April 2006, after 38 of 39 detainees had already been interrogated.
This should be an issue that unites civil libertarians on the left and the right – as should excessive force by police — but the authoritarian impulse is stronger on the right. Libertarianism also seems overwhelmed by the prevailing resentment of President Obama, and the changing America that he represents. Still, it’s amazing: Even as wingnuts deride Obama as a fascist and a tyrant, they applaud excessive force by police officers and CIA officials.
It’s also amazing that it’s taken two years to get a redacted executive summary of the “torture report” released. Let’s remember that we’re merely talking about sharing information about the Senate’s investigation into torture, not about indicting or punishing anyone. At least grand juries considered whether to indict Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo in the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. There has been no such process regarding CIA torturers.
Which is not to say the grand jury process in Ferguson or Staten Island delivered justice to those men’s families. Nor have the families of John Crawford and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, African-Americans killed by police while holding toy guns, even gotten a fair and clear accounting of how their sons died. Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white men, yet white people’s confidence in police fairness, and doubts about cops’ racial bias, have never been higher, while African-Americans’ is understandably at a record low.
Thankfully Abner Louima’s attackers were punished; Volpe is serving 30 years in prison, and Louima won a settlement of $8.7 million – the largest police brutality settlement in New York history at the time. The Louima rape happened to take place under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has emerged as the chief defender of cops who kill in the last two weeks. Giuliani’s career is an example of how the authoritarian impulse in American politics often prevails.
I don’t know why the worst element in law enforcement – locally and globally – turns to rape when left unchecked. But since rape is about power, it may be the ultimate example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Weirdly, the incorrigible neocon Danielle Pletka made a reference to rape, or at least the botched Rolling Stone story on rape, in the New York Times, when attacking the Senate’s torture report. “It has become the norm,” she complained, “to act based on false reports; to close fraternities because of rapes that may or may not have happened; to release terrorists because it is inconvenient to keep them.”
How strange that Pletka would reference rape in this context. Or maybe not. The right-wing backlash that defends torture and police abuse also agitates to restore a culture that blames rape victims for what happened to them, and excuses all but the most violent sexual assault as boys just being boys. Human progress is marked by the rejection of all such abuses of power; it feels like we’re living in a time when such progress is stalled, temporarily.
America’s Looming Freak Show: How GOP Control Will Terrorize a Nation – With No Political Repercussion
Bill Scher made the argument from the left as well as anyone could, while this piece by the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, coming from the center-right, was more predictable and vexing. (Paul Waldman took a shot at it back in August, here.) The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump followed and endorsed Seib’s argument. But those takes rely at least in part on the notion that if Republicans gain the Senate, they’ll either have an incentive to help “govern” – or they’ll shame themselves in the eyes of the American public if they don’t. Unfortunately, neither premise is true.
In fact, I’m concerned that worsening political dysfunction perpetuates itself by convincing more Americans that politics is futile. The Obama coalition in particular – younger, less white, less well off than even prior coalitions of Democrats – has gotten so little that’s tangible from its history-making turnout in 2012 (and yes I’ve read that Krugman piece and I mostly agree.) The prospect of its coalescing to become a permanent force in American politics has been at least postponed, if not thwarted entirely, by the deliberate GOP sabotage of the political process.
For me, the backdrop to this depressing midterm election is not merely ISIS and Ebola, but continued unrest in Ferguson, Mo., where it seems unlikely Officer Darren Wilson will face consequences for shooting Michael Brown. From New York to Los Angeles, the issue of police violence just gets worse. There’s increasing activism on the issue, which is great to see – the crowds that turned out for “Ferguson October” over the weekend, and into Monday, were inspiring.
Yet little of the activism is tied to voting, at least partly because the electoral system has done so little to solve the problem, even in cities with liberal mayors. New York alone has paid a half billion out to the victims of police abuse just since 2009. I’m excited by the new young leadership on police issues even as I’m worried about this election – and maybe that combination makes me uniquely unable to deal with the notion that Democrats losing the Senate next month could have a silver lining.
Bill Scher reprised his Politico argument on MSNBC’s “Up with Steve” on Saturday, continuing to press the case that Republicans will suffer politically “if they look like a completely dysfunctional party incapable of governing.” (Scher, unlike Seib, holds out no false hope that the GOP will get its act together and compromise with Obama if it wins back the Senate.)
But Republicans already look like a completely dysfunctional party incapable of governing, and they’re on the verge of another great midterm win. A year after the government shutdown, it’s shocking even to me how little it ultimately cost the party politically. Everyone knew that October 2013 polls weren’t as important as October 2014, and that the GOP would have a year to recover – but even I didn’t believe that they would, so completely.
The shutdown cost the economy $24 billion in growth. It showed the nation the incompetence of House GOP leadership. It exposed the civil war in the Senate. The country saw that the party was craven, dysfunctional, agenda-free and not merely incapable of governing, but uninterested in it. After the shutdown, the share of voters identifying themselves as Republican dropped to 25 percent in Gallup polling, the lowest level in 25 years, and polls showed Democrats might have a shot at taking back the House.
But a year later, Republicans are in no danger of losing the House and have a better than even chance to take back the Senate. Even at the time, it was clear that a feckless, frenetic media — which immediately went on to treat Obamacare web site glitches as just as catastrophic as the GOP’s shutdown debacle — would let the party off the hook. Yet so have voters. The Republican base is more than content to have its leaders do nothing but block and sabotage Obama. And the Democratic base still disproportionately sits out the midterms, which lets the obstructionists dominate the agenda.
Seib holds out hope that a GOP Senate might be able to deliver on immigration reform. Continued Beltway optimism about that prospect is delusional. Given that the Senate already passed a (slightly bipartisan) bill, GOP control won’t change anything. Sadly, even the president fell for the fiction that the House would eventually take up the issue for far too long, postponing executive action on deferring deportations so that he couldn’t do it before the midterms – and now there’s worry about depressed Latino 2014 turnout as a result. Let’s hope nobody in the White House falls for that again.
Scher takes special comfort from the fact that 2016 looms, giving the GOP “the opportunity to work out its dysfunctional family issues under the white-hot spotlight of a presidential campaign.” There’s no doubt 2016 will be much better for Democrats. The base turns out for presidential elections, and the Senate map that year will be as tough on Republicans as it is in 2014 on Democrats, forcing the GOP to defend more seats and offering their rivals more pickups. All of that is a given.
But even a 2016 rout is unlikely to force Republicans to focus on a policy agenda and commit to governing again. All they have to do is thwart the plans of President Hillary Clinton, or whomever, and reap the rewards two years later.
Until the Democrats’ structural disadvantage in voter turnout is corrected, American politics is an endless feedback loop of futility: little or no policy change leads to a discouraged electorate, which ensures little or no policy change, which guarantees more voter apathy. Democrats may yet keep the Senate, and if they do it will come down to greater grassroots and national emphasis on turning out unmarried women voters (more on that later this week). But if they don’t, there will be no silver lining.
Sure, it will be entertaining to watch de facto House Speaker Ted Cruz make life even more miserable for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It’s a given that the 2016 Republican primary race will be as big a freak show as 2012 (and maybe even with Mitt Romney again too!) But this optimist no longer believes the GOP will pay any lasting price for more cartoonish dysfunction. But the rest of us will, for a long time.
Another day, another troubling video of police killing an unarmed black man . Or so it seems. But the horrific South Carolina video released Wednesday, in which a cop shot Levar Jones while he was reaching for his license, as he was asked to do — was the first recent case in which the officer was disciplined: not only fired, but charged with assault, appropriately.
Stark video evidence helps account for the difference in the treatment of Jones’s police assailant and the cops who shot Mike Brown in Ferguson, choked Eric Garner in Staten Island and gunned down Ezell Ford in Los Angeles. But what about John Crawford III, the young father shot by police in a Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart holding a toy gun? Newly released video is almost as stark as in the Jones case. It shows the police opened fire on Crawford immediately, even though the gun he held was fake and he wasn’t pointing it at anyone. Yet a grand jury declined to bring charges against the officers involved.
There are two main reasons for that. One, a young white wannabe Marine, 24-year-old Ronald Ritchie, lied to a 911 dispatcher and claimed Crawford was pointing his gun at other shoppers, including children. He would later, in a television interview, make the false claim that Crawford had also aimed the gun at police. Ritchie should clearly be prosecuted.
But another reason the cops weren’t charged is the fact that they did exactly what they were trained to do, from authorities starting with Ohio’s Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine. The Guardian’s Jon Swaine got ahold of a Power Point used to train Beavercreek police officers, just two weeks before they killed Crawford, in what to do when faced with an “active shooter threat.”
It essentially tells them to shoot first – I’m sorry, I mean “engage” first — and ask questions later, as they did in Crawford’s case.
The training manual, “Single Officer Response to Active Shooter Threats: What to do when YOU are first on the scene,” emblazoned with DeWine’s name, boasts of the way police departments have changed their protocols when facing cases like Crawford’s. From 1966 through 1999, the Power Point explains, “patrol officers respond by locating the shooter, containing the suspect, evacuating the area” and “notifying the SWAT team.” That sounds awfully soft on crime.
From there to 2008, the response was a little sharper, but it still emphasized “containment.” Then in 2008, the approach shifted. Suddenly “officers are empowered to engage the active threat upon arrival,” without waiting for backup. It cites FBI studies showing that active shooter event normally last 3-4 minutes, but “average time per kill/injury is 15 seconds.” Clearly, officers have to act fast.
In case that message was lost on anyone, the presentation closed with two slides. One asked what the trainees would want police to do in case of an active threat in a building “with the one I love the most: Wait for backup, “or enter the building and engage the suspect as soon as possible.” Then came a photo of a teacher leading tiny children to safety at Sandy Hook in December 2012.
Is it any wonder Beavercreek officer Sean Williams charged into Walmart, wearing protective gear, with his gun aimed at Crawford, who was talking on his cell phone and holding the toy gun at his side? A witness later said he heard the police “yell and shoot simultaneously.”
“I believe that had he been white, the tolerance level of the officer involved realistically would have probably been more favorable,” John Crawford Jr told Swaine about his son. Crawford also told Swaine that he thought the 911 call claiming his son had been menacing, pointing the gun at other shoppers, wouldn’t have been made if he was white.
We’ll never know for sure, but that sure seems to be the case. I only just watched the television news interview Ronald Ritchie gave on the day of the shooting, back when he was presumed to be a hero. He looks so pleased with himself, sharing how “a black gentleman…was just waving [the gun] at children and people…I couldn’t hear anything that he was saying. I’m thinking that he is either going to rob the place or he’s there to shoot somebody else.”
Ritchie claimed the police told Crawford to drop the gun, twice, but Crawford “decided to swing the rifle to the officers, pointing at them, and that’s when the officer shot him twice.” When the Crawford family and their attorneys got a look at the surveillance video – it wasn’t released until after the grand jury decision – they said it was clear John Crawford never pointed the gun at anyone. Now that the video is public, we know that is true.
So Ritchie recanted his story, in an interview with Swaine: “At no point did he shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody,” he said. But it was too late: His false story set in motion the sped-up response laid out in “Single Officer Response to Active Shooter Threats.”
The reaction to Mike Brown’s shooting in Ferguson focused the country on the militarization of local police departments. John Crawford III’s killing should do the same with their terrible training. And Ronald Ritchie’s false 911 report should make us realize that the racism that led Ritchie to either cruelly lie about Crawford, or to somehow see a menace where none existed, is deadly too.
Beheadings aren’t enough, apparently. Right wing promoters of eternal war have a new way to scare Americans into fighting ISIS: insisting the Islamic terrorists are sneaking into the “homeland” via the dangerous southern border that a feckless President Obama refuses to secure.
This fixation has migrated from the fringe of the fringe over on Breitbart.com, which shamed itself in July with headlines announcing that border officials had found a “Muslim prayer rug” at the Arizona border that turned out to be an Adidas soccer jersey. In August, Breitbart protÃ©gÃ© James O’Keefe, the goofball behind the ACORN sting and other dumb stunts to entrap evil liberals, snuck across the border in an ludicrous Osama bin Laden costume, to “prove” America’s worst enemy could penetrate our weak southern flank, even though he’s dead.
If you heard about O’Keefe’s stunt, you probably chuckled darkly (especially if you saw photos.) You chuckled, that is, unless you’re Sen. John McCain. If you’re Sen. John McCain, you used O’Keefe’s stunt to browbeat a top Homeland Security official, Francis Taylor, at last week’s Senate hearing about the ISIS threat.
When Taylor insisted officials “have the intelligence and the capability at our border” to block terrorists from crossing, McCain shot back: “Well you know it’s interesting because a American reporter named James O’Keefe dressed as Osama bin Laden walked across the border at the Rio Grande river undetected. Does something like that concern you?” Taylor said O’Keefe was not “undetected,” and that border officials saw him and his crew, but McCain wasn’t satisfied.
Now it’s a full-blown panic. The Drudge Report’s top headline hypes “ISIS at the border?” even though the New York Times story it links to explains how the U.S. is working hard to debunk this conspiracy, though it can’t work faster than Fox News is hyping it.
Fox and Friends hosted Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter Monday morning, who claimed he’d found “Muslim clothing” and “Koran books” on his side of the border. Painter continued: “So we know that there are Muslims that have come across and are being smuggled into the United States. If they show their ugly head in their area, we’ll send them to hell. I would like for ‘em to hit ‘em so hard and so often that every time they hear a propeller on a plane or a jet aircraft engine that they urinate down both legs. When you do that, then you’ve accomplished a lot.”
The wingnuts at Judicial Watch are claiming ISIS is already in El Paso and that Ft. Bliss is in danger. For weeks they’ve been warning that “chatter” has led government officials to secretly warn of “an imminent terrorist attack on the border.” No matter how much government officials deny there’s any evidence of such a plot, let alone any internal warnings, Judicial Watch keeps peddling the stories.
“President Obama or his administration should acknowledge this dire threat on the border, whatever its political ramifications are for the debate on immigration,” Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton told the Times. But the White House ignores the threat, he says, because it “goes against the narrative that the border is secure” and we “don’t need to worry about illegal immigration.”
Fitton helps explain why the story is such Fox-bait: It’s a two-fer, letting the network channel its aging white audience’s fear of dirty, drug-running, gang-banging, Ebola-carrying future Democratic voters from Mexico and Latin America into a fear of ISIS, and whip them into a war frenzy. It’s no stretch to believe that the president they hate is working to help his two favorite constituencies – Muslim terrorists and illegal immigrants – by leaving the border open.
But the Times caught Fox trying to have it both ways. Roger Ailes’s empire gave last week’s Senate hearing completely contradictory coverage: Over on Fox News Latino, the headline read: “ISIS Terrorists Not Sneaking Over U.S. Southern Border With Mexico, D.H.S. Officials Tell Congress.” Calm Fox-watching Latinos, apparently, were able to handle the truth. But on FoxNews.com, the same hearing was framed for maximum freakout among the network’s elderly white viewers: “D.H.S. Confirms ISIS Planning Infiltration of U.S. Southern Border.”
In response to similar headlines on right-wing sites like Washington Free Beacon, which also twisted Taylor’s testimony, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statementdeclaring “There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border.” But that hasn’t stopped the right from fomenting its “ISIS on the border” panic. Look for Sheriff Gary Painter to become a Sean Hannity regular sometime soon.
A series of leaked panel discussions from the Koch brothers’ June retreat shows that their right-wing donors network is focused on a GOP takeover of the U.S. Senate, and the 2014 midterms generally. But a parallel tier of programming during the lavish weekend advanced the brothers’ newest priority: Reversing Americans’ perceptions that they’re just greedy gazillionaires by repackaging their research and activism as promoting Americans’ “well-being,” not merely free-market fanaticism.
In new audio and transcripts of one retreat panel, obtained by the Undercurrent and provided exclusively to Salon, three Koch-funded activists shared the lessons of using new strategies to promote “well-being” to reach elusive GOP constituencies: young people, Latinos and women. Their remarks were alternately condescending and stereotypical, with the occasional flash of insight that triggered lame political advice. If their presentations are any measure of the quality of the Kochs’ attempted rebranding, progressives still have to fear the conservative brothers’ money, but their messaging, not so much.
“I have a big surprise for everyone here: Young people like beer,” joked Evan Feinberg of the Koch-funded Generation Opportunity. At least I think he was trying to make a joke. GenOpp is the group behind those “Creepy Uncle Sam” anti-Obamacare ads thatbackfired against the right. So understandably, Feinberg didn’t mention Creepy Uncle Sam, but bragged about GenOpp’s recent “Free the Brews” campaign, which used his generation’s interest in craft brewing to advance the Kochs’ deregulation agenda.
Feinberg, a former Rand Paul staffer who ran against GOP Rep. Tim Murphy of Pittsburgh in 2012 as a Tea Party Republican (and lost), insists GenOpp is nonpartisan, in order to retain its tax status. But there he was, preening for the Koch network, at a retreat mostly devoted to taking back the Senate, with only GOP officeholders in attendance.
Here’s Feinberg’s whole “Free the Brews” pitch. You’ll see why they pay him the big bucks.
Young Americans are really interested in the craft brewing industry. In fact, I’ve got a couple of friends who brew beer in their basement right now. They’d rather leave their jobs, and become an entrepreneur, and start their own brewery. It really actually is something that marks our generation. It’s a cultural phenomenon.
We actually did an experiment where we use technology on Twitter. We wanted to — overall we wanted to know what do young people care about? How do they form their communities online? And so we did a really intense analysis of their Twitter streams. We found out that craft breweries and craft beer were actually the largest cultural segment in North Carolina. So we set about to talk about craft breweries because it’s what they care about, so we care about it.
Just like a lot of other businesses, it’s one that’s marked by tons of government regulations, tons of cronyism where businesses are trying to keep the little guy down…So we did a Free the Brews campaign. It featured young entrepreneurs that we’re really supporting and who were really trying to cut through the red tape and get started. We got hundreds of people into that event. In Asheville, North Carolina we have over 500 people that we were able to impact through our Free the Brews event.
…We’ve been able to get tons of these young Americans interested in the ideas of freedom, not because we came through with a really great way to talk about marginal tax rates, but because we were able to talk about freedom and regulation about something that they care about.
Nobody asked Feinberg to define “tons.” Feinberg’s career is a case study in the way wingnut welfare creates a culture of dependency, or alternatively, the debilitating effects of affirmative action for white people.
His craft beer remarks let Rachel Campos-Duffy segue into the way her Latino-outreach organization, LIBRE, has worked with GenOpp on the issue of “freeing” food trucks, too. The main area of overlap seemed to be that GenOpp’s targets tend to eat the food – millennials love “having a truck pull up and bring delicious food directly to you,” Feinberg explained — while LIBRE’s targets tend to make the food. But both groups will benefit if Big Government doesn’t overregulate the growing food truck industry, Campos-Duffy argued. (It’s a variation on the right’s embrace of Uber, Airbnb and Burning Man.) She explained that LIBRE is working in Florida with “the fast food truck communities” to fight “big government, and cronyism, and over-regulation [of] the little guy.”
Interestingly, Feinberg, Campos-Duffy and Teresa Oelke of Americans for Prosperity, who focused on outreach to women, agreed that Democrats have done a better job of convincing young people, women and Latinos that they care about them. Campos-Duffy framed the panel as showing how Koch activists work to promote the “six components of well-being,” which she defined as “health and environment, living standards, freedom, community, relationships, and peace and security.”
Oelke and Campos-Duffy discussed the challenges in besting the Democrats when talking to women about politics and “well-being.” Oelke explained:
They want to know if you’re building a world that they want to be a part of, if you’re a building a community that they want to be a part of. So for example, they may not like Obamacare, but they trust the President’s intentions to make the world a better place. And that goes a long way (inaudible).
CAMPOS-DUFFY: That actually reminds me of Michelle Obama. You know, these young girls were abducted in Africa, and what would we tell (inaudible) bring our girls home. Now, it didn’t do much to help the outcome, but it did (inaudible) some goals, that she cared. And that’s what Democrats want to do. That’s what they care about. That’s their goal. They want to help. And so on the right, we want (inaudible).
OELKE: We have to do a better job of selling our motivations and what motivates us. You know our activists, they do care. The people in this room, they do (inaudible). They want these people to have an opportunity to move from poverty to prosperity. That’s what drives us.
Yet many voters distrust Republicans, the three admitted – and little or nothing they shared with the group is likely to change anyone’s minds.
Campos-Duffy said that LIBRE chapters are helping open baseball fields to the community, and partnering with H&R Block to assist people in filling out their tax returns. That’s nice, but nobody asked her if they are helping any of them claim the earned income tax credit, a formerly Republican idea now repudiated by most of the party as leading to the problem of the “47 percent” who pay no taxes. Oelke described seminars that help would-be entrepreneurs with business budgeting and tax licensing problems.
All of these efforts, Campos-Duffy explained, “help us to demonstrate our goodwill, that will sort of help show that we care, and show how we can depend on each other and not (inaudible) for everything on the government.” Sounds good. But then she noted that everyone “saw what happened in Katrina when people relied solely on the government” – a rather condescending take on the suffering of poor people who were abandoned when the Bush administration failed at what even conservatives normally acknowledge as a basic function of government: help in a natural disaster.
Unbelievably, Oelke bragged about how AFP, which lobbies against environmental regulation, helped to provide bottled water after a chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River. “That’s how Americans for Prosperity Foundation was introduced to the community,” she kvelled, “because we were there for them, and we were invested in what mattered to them.”
To be fair, though, AFP’s candidate is winning in the West Virginia Senate race, since anti-environmental regulation messaging always plays well there, anyway. Sending bottled water to a community coping with corporate poisoning might not be effective “outreach” in many other places.
The Kochs may eventually win over some skeptics with their emphasis on “well-being,” and their efforts to mute their self-interested neo-feudalism. But if their June retreat panel is any indication, they’ve got a lot more work to do on messaging. The panel closed with a shout-out to Campos-Duffy’s husband, GOP Rep. Sean Duffy — the pair are veterans of MTV’s “Real World” — for sitting in the audience and taking care of his own children on Father’s Day, while his wife tried to save the world.
Every once in a while, those of us who were slow to board the magical Barack Obama 2008 Hope and Change Express get to say “We told you so,” and then go back to work. This is one of those times. Forgive me.
As Ezra Klein insists Obama has achieved success only by “breaking American politics,” and Ron Fournier tells us “the fundamental reason he became president was he was promising there’s no red state, there’s no blue state, I’m going to bring the country together,” people who resisted candidate Obama’s wispy, post-partisan rhetoric back then shake our heads and feel a little bit vindicated.
Personally, I have to say: I hate being vindicated (on this, anyway). It would feel so much better to have been wrong.
Somebody broke politics, but it wasn’t Barack Obama — and yet he gave his enemies plenty of evidence to frame him.
Even President Obama has to regret some of his 2008 rhetoric, which partly blamed the Clintons for the right’s vengeful crusade against them, as pundits use it to claim that he not only broke politics, but that he will actually deserve the blame if Republicans impeach him for doing his job. Journalists still blame Democratic presidents for the unhinged behavior of Republicans.
Exhibit A is an allegedly “balanced” Wednesday Fox News panel where the nominal non-right-wingers – journalists Fournier and A.B. Stoddard – joined conservative Charles Krauthammer in suggesting Obama could be responsible for his own impeachment, if he goes ahead with an executive order deferring deportation action on the parents of children who already enjoy deferred status. (Krauthammer called the move “impeachment bait” in Thursday’s Washington Post column.)
But the reaction of Stoddard and Fournier is worth breaking down in detail. (Thanks, Daily Caller, for capturing it.)
“If President Obama goes too far on this — whether it’s within his legal right or not — the outrage will be so incredible on the Republican side, it will probably bring more Democratic losses this fall,” the Hill’s Stoddard began. “Because I don’t know that Latinos are going to turn out this fall as a result of this issue. But it also could become a constitutional crisis.”
So it’s a bad move, “whether it’s within his legal right or not,” because a) it might not work politically; and b) “it could also become a constitutional crisis.”
Fournier quickly agreed.
Let’s assume for a second that legally he can do this — just stipulate that, just for a second. Should he do it? Even if you agree, like I do, that we really need to do something about these 12 million people who are in the shadows, even if you agree that it is legal, I still think there is an argument to be made that he should not do it.
OK, let’s stop there. The president shouldn’t do something to ease the immigration crisis, “even if you agree that it is legal.” Why is that? Fournier has a quick answer:
“Because the fundamental reason he became president was he was promising ‘there’s no red state, there’s no blue state, I’m going to bring the country together.’ He’s been a polarizing president.”
I’m not sure what qualifies Fournier to pronounce “the fundamental reason” Obama was elected, either in 2008 or 2012. Some people may have indeed admired his post-partisan rhetoric. But speaking as a two-time Obama voter, many of us wanted to see healthcare reform and less income inequality. Many members of the Obama coalition, who make less than $50,000, wanted economic relief from the Bush recession and the 30-year downward economic spiral that began under Ronald Reagan. Many of the Latinos who voted for Obama very much wanted immigration reform.
The political desires of the Obama coalition don’t much concern Fournier. “This would be a nuclear bomb that would blow open and make this country even more divided,” he warned, “in a way that most Americans just don’t want.”
In case you missed his point, Fournier followed up his Fox appearance with a whole column elaborating on it. The headline sums up the wrong-headed argument: “Even if reform is needed and legal, endowing the presidency with new, unilateral powers is a dangerous precedent.”
Obviously if reform is “legal,” then it wouldn’t endow the presidency with “new, unilateral powers.”
Kevin Drum boils the argument down to this: “President Obama shouldn’t do anything that might make Republicans mad."
It really is that simple. If you grant, as Fournier seems to, that the president can legally change deportation priorities, but you think he shouldn’t, because it will further divide the country and Republicans will use it as an excuse to impeach him, you’re granting irrational people control of the nation. This is largely what happened during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, but that time, Obama was listening to the Fourniers and Stoddards of the world, and trying to both be bipartisan, and also to appease the crazy Tea Partiers who would blow up the global economy rather than raise the debt limit.
That only enabled the crazies, who were being coddled by supposed moderates like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who crowed approvingly that his party’s right flank proved the debt ceiling was “a hostage worth ransoming.”
So we know Republican leaders aren’t going to stand up to the party’s far-right base. And we know Krauthammer is going to accuse the president of creating a constitutional crisis to turn out his base for the mid-term elections, because that’s Krauthammer’s job. But it would be nice if writers who don’t identify themselves with conservatism could describe this dynamic; maybe even critique it — not become part of it.
For the record, I can’t say conclusively whether the executive action the president is pondering is “legal,” and neither can Fournier or Krauthammer. (They both rely on Obama’s own previous statements denying that he has such powers; so he was right then, but he’s wrong now?) Anyway, it’s a perfectly legitimate point to debate. But I feel confident in saying that the enormously cautious Obama, who is sometimes too cautious for my taste, won’t do it cavalierly – not to turn out his base in November, and certainly not as “impeachment bait.”
The right is setting an impeachment trap for the president, and the media are starting to play along.