Talking about race in American politics is uncomfortable and awkward. But it has to be said: There has been a racist undertone to many of the Republican attacks leveled against President Obama for the last three years, and in this dawning presidential campaign.
You can detect this undertone in the level of disrespect for this president that would be unthinkable were he not an African-American. Some earlier examples include: Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “you lie” at one of Mr. Obama’s first appearances before Congress, and House Speaker John Boehner rejecting Mr. Obama’s request to speak to a joint session of Congress—the first such denial in the history of our republic.
More recently, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, in a conversation overheard at Reagan National Airport in Washington, said of Michelle Obama: “She lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.” He offered a lame apology, but as Mary C. Curtis put it on the Washington Post’s new blog She the People: “Can you imagine how the incident would play out if an African American congressman made a crude remark about First Lady Laura Bush’s body? It certainly would have taken more than an insincere apology to wash that sin away.” This ugly strain was crudely evident in the “birthers” and their ridiculous demands that Mr. Obama produce his birth certificate to prove that he was American, and not secretly an African Muslim.
Just the other day here in Iowa, Mitt Romney’s son, Matt, said his father might release his tax returns “as soon as President Obama releases his grades and birth certificate and sort of a long list of things.” The younger Mr. Romney later backtracked, either because he was sincerely chagrined, or, perhaps more likely, because he recognized that it could hurt his father.
Sometimes the racism is more oblique. Newt Gingrich was prattling on the other day about giving “poor children” in “housing projects” jobs cleaning toilets in public schools to teach them there is an alternative to becoming a pimp or a drug dealer. These children, he said, have no work ethic. If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t get that poor kids in housing projects is code for minorities, he or she hasn’t been paying attention to American politics for the last 50 years. Mr. Gingrich is also fond of calling Mr. Obama “the greatest food stamp President in American history.”
Is Mr. Romney playing the same chords when he talks about how Mr. Obama wants to create an “entitlement society?” The president has said nothing of the sort, and the accusation seems of a piece with the old Republican saw that blacks collect the greatest share of welfare dollars.
Mr. Obama’s election in 2008 was a triumph of American democracy and tolerance. He overcame incredible odds to become the first president of mixed race, the first brown-skinned president. It’s pathetic that some Republicans are choosing to toss that milestone into the garbage in their blind drive to destroy Mr. Obama’s presidency.
By: Andrew Rosenthal, The Loyal Opposition-The New York Times, January 3, 2011
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will re-examine on Jan. 9 whether a 2005 South Dakota law mandating what doctors say to women seeking abortions is constitutional. The court will address again a specific provision in the law requiring physicians to inform patients of possible suicide risks in relation to the procedure.
The provision allows women seeking abortions to make informed decisions and should be allowed to stand, said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.
“The state is pleased that the full court will address the important issue of suicide risk disclosures for women considering an abortion,” Jackley said in an email. “The 2005 disclosure legislation was an attempt by the [South Dakota] Legislature to put in place proper disclosure requirements to ensure a women considering an abortion makes a knowing and voluntary decision. … It is the state’s position that the legislative enactment on suicide risk disclosures is reasonable, factually accurate, not ambiguous, and lawful.”
Planned Parenthood officials and other abortion rights advocates argue that a link between abortion and suicide never has been proven, and that the law forces doctors to provide patients with erroneous medical information.
“We believe that scientific research is on our side and that when the court hears the merits of the issue, they will uphold the court’s prior decision,” said Jennifer Aulwes, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. If the provision is allowed to stand, “doctors providing abortions would need to read a medically inaccurate and scientifically unsupported script to a patient that he or she is about to provide medical care to. It brings up ethical issues for health care providers.”
A long court history
The abortion disclosure requirements have been in dispute since their enactment in 2005. Among other mandates, the state law required doctors to tell women seeking abortions:
- That abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.
- That the patient has an existing relationship with the unborn human being that is protected by law.
- A description of all known medical risks associated with having the procedure, including an increased risk of suicide.
Before the law took effect, Planned Parenthood sought an injunction against the requirements, a request that was granted by a district court. An appeals court subsequently overturned the injunction, in part, as it related to the law’s “human being disclosure” provision. In a September 2011 decision, a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court agreed with the state that doctors must disclose “all known medical risks” of abortion, but the court concluded that the specified suicide risk disclosure violated the U.S. Constitution. The full court, and not just the panel, will rehear the case Jan. 9.
The state says suicide is three to six times more frequent in women who receive abortions compared with women who undergo childbirth. The state’s data primarily relies on a 2009 analysis done by Priscilla Coleman, a human development and family studies professor at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. She examined the mental state of women who had abortions from data collected by the National Comorbidity Survey, a national mental health survey. She found that compared with other women, women who had abortions were at increased risk for anxiety, mood disorders and substance abuse.
But Aulwes, of Planned Parenthood, pointed to an analysis of the same data in 2010 by Julia Steinberg, an assistant professor of health psychology at the University of California, San Francisco. Steinberg’s analysis failed to find the same connection, even without taking into account preexisting factors such as a history of mental health problems.
By: Alicia Galleges, American Medical News, January 2, 2011
GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa is one of the leading spokespeople for the Tea Party wing of the House GOP. With the national press continually asking King whether he’ll be making an endorsement in the Iowa caucuses, he has been built up into something of an important GOP figure.
So it’s good to see that King is candidly admitting that the House Tea Party wing has been employing the threat of a government shutdown as nothing more than a deliberate hostage strategy designed to wring maximum concessions from Democrats.
King made the concession in an interview with Laura Ingraham. Dems are highlighting the interview because King bashes House Speaker John Boehner for his weak leadership, but the bolded portion below is the real news here:
KING: We have not lead in a clear way. American people don’t know what House Republicans believe in, and they surely don’t know what we’re willing to fight for. And I am as disappointed as the public is…
It’s clear to me that Speaker Boehner made a decision, either before, but I am convinced it was at least shortly after the election last November, a year ago last November, that we would not be in a position where we would be blamed for shutting down the government … that’s the only place where you bring the leverage to this Congress, to take on Harry Reid and Barack Obama, is you have to be willing to face a shutdown and you have to have the debate among the American people.
INGRAHAM: You think that would have helped the Republican Party and you guys would be in a better position today if the government had been shut down?
KING: The shutdown isn’t the point so much as, I don’t want the shutdown either. But if you are afraid of the shutdown you can’t have the confrontation and you lose every negotiation along the way.
And there you have it! During each impasse — the first government shutdown fight; the debt ceiling debacle; the payroll tax cut showdown — we keep being told that Tea Partyers really are crazy enough to allow the worst to happen. During the government shutdown fight, we were even told that Tea Partyers viewed that outcome as a positive. Their willingness to take us over a cliff is why Dems simply must make the concessions they’re demanding.
But now a top Tea Party leader has given away the game, admitting that not even Tea Partyers want a shutdown. Creating the impression that they’re willing to let it happen is only about winning maximum concessions in negotiations. Let’s hope Dems keep this in mind the next dozen times this happens.
By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, January 3, 2011
The Republican candidate Newt Gingrich and the cable channel History have both followed the same formula for success, by elevating fantasy over actual history. The difference, however, is that Newt wants to carry his sensational vision of a bygone age into office.
Newt is the most prominent self-described “historian” in the United States. If he were elected in 2012, he would be only the second president after Woodrow Wilson to hold a PhD. Indeed, according to Newt, his gifts at decoding the past are so illustrious that Freddie Mac paid him $1.6 million, not for lobbying, but for his historical skills. Meanwhile, over on cable, the History Channel is rising in popularity with the mission statement, “History: Made Every Day.” With practitioners and purveyors of the past soaring so high, these might seem like giddy times for the historical profession.
But neither Newt nor History shows much interest in the serious study of human experience. Newt has never published any scholarly history at all. And the lack of real analysis on History has become so absurd it was skewered by “South Park” in the episode, “A History Channel Thanksgiving”.
What motivates these peddlers of yesteryear is not history but fantasy. Newt’s staple is the alternate history or the counterfactual. What if Robert E. Lee had won at Gettysburg in 1863? What if Hitler had not declared war on the United States in 1941? His other books include historical novels, as well as prophetic visions like “Winning the Future,” which opens with the line, “In the twenty-first century, America could be destroyed.”
On cable, History has followed in Newt’s footsteps with a cocktail of conspiracy theories, counterfactuals, religious hokum, and science fiction. Many of its shows are entirely fictional, like “Ancient Aliens” and “The Bible Code,” or summon future possibilities like “Armageddon” and “Life After People.” The channel has a particular fascination with fortune telling, including “Seven Signs of the Apocalypse” and “Nostradamus 2012.”
What History adds to the mix that Newt has resisted, so far at least, is reality television, with hit show like “Pawn Stars” and “Ice Road Truckers.”
For both the candidate and the cable channel, what actually did happen seems less interesting than what might have happened, or what could still happen — with History throwing in some ice trucks for good measure.
Focusing on alternatives to history has proved to be a recipe for success. Newt’s eight counterfactuals and historical novels are bestsellers. By avoiding the actual past, History has become the fifth most popular cable channel.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with writing, or reading, fantastical stories. And Newt and History could be the gateway drug that lures people into a more substantive engagement with the past. Alternatively, their rise may reflect, and reinforce, a national dumbing down of history.
In any case, the real problem is that Newt is unwilling to keep the fantasy and reality separate. For the candidate, the past is a succession of sensational moments where civilization is at risk, until one man steps forth to hold the barbarians from the gates, whether it’s Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, FDR, Thatcher, Reagan, or Newt himself. “I have an enormous personal ambition”, said Newt back in 1985, “I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it.”
The historical parallels that Newt draws are telling. When he failed to collect 10,000 signatures required to qualify for the Republican primary ballot in Virginia, he reached into the grab bag of history and pulled out Pearl Harbor. “Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941,” scribbled campaign director Michael Krull on the Gingrich Facebook page. Here was an alternative universe, where the deaths of 2,400 Americans in a Japanese sneak attack were comparable to routine signature collection in Virginia. As Krull put it: “We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action.” As a candidate, this kind of fantastical thinking is absurd, but as president it would be hazardous.
Newt and History are on the same page. If the Republican primary doesn’t pan out for Newt, he can always work for the cable channel. One of their upcoming shows is “Full Metal Jousting,” about a bunch of guys on horses smashing into each other. The problem with the show, of course, will be clearing all of the muck from the stables. It’s here that a solutions guy like Newt can think outside of the box — by employing poor kids as janitors.
By: Dominic Tierney, The Atlantic, January 3, 2011
Despite sponsoring foreign-policy legislation while in the United States Senate and preparing to run for the presidency, Rick Santorum has embarrassed himself time and again during the GOP primary when making statements about the rest of the world. The most recent example is his cartoonishly simplistic understanding of the British Empire’s decline from its 20th-century peak.
Here’s what he told a crowd Monday in Iowa, as reported by The Huffington Post’sElise Foley:
“If you look at every European country that has had world domination, a world presence, from the French to the British — 100 years ago, the sun didn’t set on the British Empire,” Santorum said at an appearance in Sioux City, Iowa. “If you look at that empire today — why? Because they lost heart and faith in their heart in themselves and in their mission, who they were and what values they wanted to spread around the world. Not just for the betterment of the world, but safety and security and the benefit of their country.” “We have taken up that cause,” Santorum added. But now, he said, “We have a president who doesn’t believe in America.”
This proved too much for Daniel Larison:
Yes, it couldn’t have had anything to do with two exhausting global conflicts that cost the lives of millions of British subjects, or the financial ruin of Britain that followed these conflicts. The British just “lost heart and faith in their heart in themselves and in their mission.” Obviously, the only thing needed to maintain “world domination” is self-confidence and resolve.
The mockery is deserved, and piling on is necessary, for it’s getting wearisome to take seriously someone who claims to venerate America’s founding values, bristles at the notion that foreign occupations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan suggest an imperial mindset, and yet asserts that Great Britain failed the world when it stopped trying to rule a fifth of its inhabitants. One wonders how long he thinks the British should’ve asserted their will in India, Ireland, and its North African colonies, among other places, and why he thinks maintenance of these colonies always enhanced rather than detracted from the safety and prosperity of the home islands.
“Believing in America” should entail an embrace of the values on which it was founded: the idea that all humans are endowed with self-evident, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But in Santorum’s twisted formulation, belief in America requires an embrace of its military footprint in multiple foreign nations, something he apparently regards as our “cause.” In other words, the problem isn’t just that Santorum has a naive, simplistic and woefully inadequate understanding of how empires rise and fall, it’s that he regards global domination as this nation’s proper object — as if we’re called to be a hegemon on a hill rather than a city.
By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, January 3, 2012