I was on Hardball last night talking about the escapades of this Milton Wolf character, the tea party guy who’s challenging GOP incumbent Senator Pat Roberts this year. Wolf became freshly newsworthy this past weekend when the Topeka Capital-Journal revealed that in 2010, Wolf, a radiologist, posted photos of disfigured corpses on Facebook (of people who’d been shot, etc.) and joined other commenters in poking fun at the them.
One image he posted showed a human skull all but blasted apart, about which Wolf wrote: “One of my all-time favorites,” Wolf posted to the Facebook picture. “From my residency days there was a pretty active ‘knife and gun club’ at Truman Medical Center. What kind of gun blows somebody’s head completely off? I’ve got to get one of those.”
The Kansas City Star headlines an AP story by asserting that Wolf has “apologized,” but I read the piece and I’ll be jiggered if I see any apology in there. What Wolf does is try to explain his actions, although not really, and then accuse Roberts of leaking the material (which, if he did, so what; any opposing campaign would). A release by Wolf’s campaign even called the alleged leak (and it’s only alleged) “the most desperate move of any campaign in recent history,” another clueless and self-pitying statement.
So, this is clearly freakazoid behavior, and is obviously a grotesquely inappropriate thing for a medical professional to do. And it raises the broader question: Where does the tea party find these people?
I think this is an interesting question, because the answer describes one of the movement’s major impacts on our politics, which is the elevation of ideology above every other human consideration—of things like experience and temperament and character—in selecting people for high office; indeed, the creation of a posture in which those other considerations are scorned.
Here’s what I mean. Pre-tea party, if you wanted to be involved in Republican politics, you started the way nearly everybody starts in politics, in both parties. You run for city council, or county commissioner; then state legislature; then maybe, if you’ve demonstrated some skill or charisma or something, you’ll get to Congress or maybe become governor.
Each of these campaigns vets you, so that the crazy things you did and said when you were young are placed before the voters, who decide whether those things matter or not. And each of these experiences, as a county commissioner or state legislature, leavens you a bit, teaches you what the process of government is like, gives you a little sobriety. You might still be very conservative (or very liberal on the other side), but experience has, at least in theory and I think in most cases, made you a little more mature and better equipped to hold higher office.
But then comes the tea party in 2010, and boom, none of this matters anymore. So people who would normally have had to run for lower office first are suddenly running for United States Senate! Christine O’Donnell, no apparent relevant experience in anything except being on TV. Sharron Angle, who did admittedly serve in the Nevada state assembly for eight years but who was there to throw bombs; she voted no in the 42-member body so often that statehouse reporters joked about votes being “41 to Angle.” And lots of people with histories of out-there statements.
None of that earns any demerits in tea party “vetting.” For the tea party, all you need to do is pass ideological muster: hate Obama; hate government; embrace their idea of “freedom.” You sure don’t need to have shown a sober temperament. In fact, quite the opposite. Being known as 41 to Angle is a great calling card for tea party voters, because it shows them that you’re not a sell-out and the system hasn’t ruined you.
So it’ll be especially interesting to see if this harms Wolf. The reaction will tell us whether tea party people and Republicans generally in Kansas regard what he did as just another sort of manly joke that offends prissy liberal sensibilities (and thus requires that they rise to his defense)—that is, whether they have a knee-jerk ideological reaction—or as something that’s really just kind of beyond the pale for a human being, let alone a doctor, to do—that is, whether they have a more human reaction. Because I think 99 percent of normal human beings would react to what Wolf did with varying degrees of disgust. But once it becomes a political act, and he gets taken apart on MSNBC, a certain percentage will defend him. How high that percentage ends up being will be a fascinating thing to see.
As I was leaving the set, a producer said into Chris Matthews’s earpiece, and he announced, that a recent poll had it Roberts 49, Wolf 23. So Wolf is behind, but he’s not out of it. The primary isn’t until August. He has plenty of time to make a run. There’s also plenty of time to learn more weird stuff about him. That comes with the tea-party territory, and it’s creating a class of pols who should be back-bench state legislators but have the chance of becoming U.S. senators. It’s just a good thing most of them don’t win.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2014
“Platinum-Level Citizenship”: Highly-Religious Christians’ Battle To Change The Very Nature Of The First Amendment
Ask a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you’re likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a “war on religion” since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there’s little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind.
In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They are demanding that our laws stake out for them a kind of Citizenship Platinum, allowing them an exemption from any law or obligation they’d prefer to disregard. They would refashion the First Amendment in their image.
Last week saw a number of new developments in the effort to create this elevated status for religious people, as bills seeking to enshrine discrimination against gay couples moved forward in two states. A bill in Kansas would explicitly allow both businesses and government to discriminate against gay couples in pretty much any way they wanted. A movie theater could turn gay couples away at the door, or a paramedic could refuse to treat a gay person having a heart attack, and they’d be immune from prosecution or lawsuits. After passing the Kansas state house overwhelmingly, the bill died in the state senate, in a brief (though likely temporary) moment of sanity.
A bill in Arizona did better, passing both houses, and it now awaits Governor Jan Brewer’s signature. This one was written more broadly, without the direct focus on gay couples, but its effects would be the same. It grants to any person, organization or corporation a nearly unlimited right to assert their “sincerely held” religious beliefs as a shield against lawsuits for discrimination.
Similar bills are pending in a number of conservative states; this won’t be the last we hear of them. And the Supreme Court will soon hear the case of Hobby Lobby, the retail chain that would like to be exempt from some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act because its owners are Christians, and therefore they should be able to select the provisions they’ll abide by and not bother with those they find religiously objectionable.
The implications couldn’t be clearer. Let’s consider the put-upon Christian florists of Arizona, who might be subjected to the unspeakable horror of taking a gay couple’s money. What if one of those florists decided that since being born again through Christ is the one and only path to heaven, selling flowers to Jews or Muslims or Catholics would violate his deeply felt religious beliefs? Would he then be free to put up a sign in his window saying, “We only serve Protestants here”? According to the Arizona law, he would, regardless of what that pesky Civil Rights Act says. Or what if the owner of an accounting firm decided that since his religion places men above women, all his female employees will be paid half of what he pays male employees for doing the same job? It’s his religious belief, after all.
Anyone could say that almost any belief they have springs directly from their faith and their reading of scripture, and the state would be required to abide by it. Your faith tells you not to obey laws against discrimination? Well, maybe mine tells me that paying taxes is an offense to God. And my neighbor is a biblical literalist, so when his teenage son mouthed off to him, he arranged for the boy to be stoned to death, just like the Lord instructs quite clearly in Deuteronomy 18 and Leviticus 20. Surely we can’t convict him of murder, since he was only following his sincere religious beliefs.
You might say, well, those beliefs are ridiculous. Maybe they are. And maybe I find your opinions about gay people ridiculous. But up until now, neither one of us has had to have our own liberty compromised because of what the other believed, because we defined the First Amendment’s free exercise clause through religious practice. The government can’t tell you how to worship your god, and it can’t do things that make it difficult for you to worship as you’d like.
But now, conservatives are pushing a much broader conception of religious freedom, one that extends beyond religious practice to virtually anything a religious person does. But it’s when you take your religious practices outside of your own faith, your own beliefs, and your own practice and start applying them to other people that you lose the special privileges that religion is accorded. As an old saying has it, my right to swing my fist ends precisely where your nose begins.
Any Christians who want to can believe that gay people are sinful and wicked, or that gay marriage is a terrible thing. What they can’t do is use those beliefs as a get-out-of-jail-free card that gives them permission to break the law or escape civil liability when they harm other people.
Up until now, the distinction between religious practice and the things religious people do when they enter the secular world has worked pretty well. Anti-discrimination laws don’t mean that a rabbi has to conduct a wedding for two Baptists. Religious organizations can hire only people of their own faith. But once you enter into other realms, like commerce, you have to obey the laws that govern those realms.
If we grant religious people the kind of elevated citizenship conservatives are now demanding, where the special consideration given to religious practice is extended to anything a religious person does, the results could be truly staggering. Why stop at commerce? If things like employment law and anti-discrimination laws don’t apply to religious people, what about zoning laws, or laws on domestic abuse, or laws in any other realm?
The supporters of these laws, and of Hobby Lobby, argue that religious people shouldn’t have to put aside their beliefs when they act in the secular world. “It’s alien to me that a business owner can’t reflect his faith in his business,” said one Republican Arizona legislator. But when your business puts you in contact with people who don’t share your faith, putting aside your religion is precisely what you have to do, if “reflecting” that religion means violating the law.
For many years, conservatives would argue that they didn’t really object to equal rights for gay people, they were just against “special rights.” In practice, what they meant by “special rights” were things like the right not to be fired from your job or evicted from your home because of your sexuality, rights that weren’t special at all. But today, religious conservatives are demanding truly special rights for themselves. They want one set of laws that applies to everyone else, and another set that applies only to the religious. Or more precisely, they want religious people—but no one else—to be able to pick and choose which laws apply to them, and which they’d prefer to ignore. That’s a twisted version of the liberty the First Amendment was supposed to guarantee.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prsopect, February 24, 2014
When a bad idea pops up in a state legislature, it’s about as common as the sunrise. When the same bad idea pops up in 10 state legislatures at the same time, something odd is going on.
At issue are proposals to make anti-gay discrimination easier for social conservatives under the guise of “religious liberty.” Kansas, for example, recently generated national headlines for a bill that would have given those with “sincerely held religious beliefs” license to discriminate practically everywhere – restaurants could deny gay couples service; hotels could deny gay couples rooms, even public-sector workers could refuse to provide services to LGBT Kansans.
Kansas’ right-to-discriminate bill was derailed, but as Adam Serwer reported yesterday, very similar proposals have drawn attention in Idaho, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah. My colleague Laura Conaway found a related measure in Maine.
“Religious freedom is a shield, not a sword,” Nick Worner of the Ohio ACLU said, paraphrasing George H.W. Bush appointed federal Judge Carol Jackson. “It’s not religious freedom when you’re using it to hurt someone else.”
For proponents of civil rights, the good news is that these proposals are faltering in nine states. The bad news is, a bill in Arizona’s Republican-led legislature actually passed yesterday.
The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday and the GOP-led House on Thursday, would bolster a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.
The state Senate passed it on a straight party-line vote, 17 to 13. The House followed suit, 33 to 27, with two Republicans joining all the Democrats in opposition.
This is no modest effort to accommodate religiously motivated discrimination.
Democratic opponents of the bill tried to make clear to GOP lawmakers just how significant the right-to-discriminate measure would be.
[O]pponents say it could also protect a corporation that refused to hire anyone who wasn’t Christian and could block members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from access to nearly any business or service.
“The message that’s interpreted is: ‘We want you to work here, but we are not going to go out of our way to protect you, to protect your rights, to protect your family,’ ” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “God forbid should someone come to the Super Bowl and come to a restaurant that is not going to allow them in.”
The bill is awaiting action from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who has not yet taken a position on the proposal.
If she signs it into law, a legal challenge would be inevitable. Organized boycotts would also appear likely.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 21, 2014
Kansas might as well start producing “Only Heterosexuals Served Here” signs for businesses and government offices.
A bill that sailed through the state’s House of Representatives tells Kansans: You can be as discriminatory as you like against homosexuals and the state will have your back. Just be sure and do it in God’s name!
The bill is meeting pushback in the Kansas Senate, but don’t be fooled. This is denial and fear on steroids. It’s happening across the country. And it won’t be the last we’ll hear of such legislative efforts.
The legislation is aimed at civil unions. It’s a pre-emptive strike to ensure that people “with sincerely held religious beliefs” against homosexuality will be able to turn gay couples away if they request flowers for a wedding, a banquet hall for a reception or wish to hire a photographer for their civil ceremony. Also covered are those involved with adoption, foster care, counseling or social services, including government employees. Like a city clerk who might want to cite his Bible to avoid legally recognizing a gay marriage declared valid elsewhere.
The politicians who support this nonsense have no clue what discrimination looks like, feels like or how it has historically has functioned in society. The constant cry rationalizing this bill and similar measures elsewhere is that it is religious conservatives — not homosexuals — who are apt to suffer from discrimination.
Really? I’m doubtful that any has entered a public business to be told that their money is no good there — because they’re a Christian. Nor have they suffered the added humiliation of being slurred as they are shown the door. So the idea of ensuring such denial of public accommodation as a legally protected “right,” something no aggrieved person could ever sue for, feels just dandy to them. Justified, even.
What’s really happening — what’s threatening the religious conservatives of Kansas — is that the general public’s views on homosexuality are shifting. Rapidly.
People under the age of 25 shrugged at the hoopla surrounding All-American lineman Michael Sam’s public announcement that he is gay before the NFL draft. Seventeen states have legalized same-sex marriage so couples can gain the tax benefits, insurance, medical protections and legal responsibilities that straight people have long held. And federal courts have overturned bans against same-sex marriages in Utah and Oklahoma.
So religious conservatives now take up the mantle of a minority. That’s one of the few honest things about this conversation. Their view of homosexuality will soon be (if it is not already) a minority opinion.
Yet they miss crucial points. No government authority — neither the courts nor the executive branch — is telling people that they can’t continue to decry homosexuality. They can quote the Bible to condemn it all they want. Preachers can preach that God has naught but fiery damnation in store for LGBT people. Churches can continue to bar gay couples from marriage and any other sacrament.
But that long-enshrined First Amendment protection of speech and religious freedom isn’t good enough for these folks. No. They want the assurance that they can also run a public business, advertise their services to one and all, and still maintain the right to tell gay people they aren’t welcome. And never face the legal ramifications of a lawsuit, if such a thing could ever transpire in Kansas.
Here’s another overlooked fact. It is legal in much of America to discriminate against gays and lesbians. In many states and cities, a gay person can be fired if a boss takes a disliking to his or her “lifestyle,” and the fired employee has no legal recourse to fight back. Sexual orientation does not enjoy the federal protections of other attributes, such as race, sex, color, religion or national origin.
This backlash is not unlike the many hateful exertions to protect the “Southern way of life” from the threat of civil rights legislation. Certainly, there were, and likely still are, people who opposed the “mixing of the races” on religious grounds.
The Kansas bill’s sponsor points to one clause as a measure of fairness to gays. When an employee of a business or a government office doesn’t want to deal with a gay person, another employee should. Tap the non-homophobe to do the job!
This only underscores the bill’s absurdity, especially from a Christian perspective. Jesus of Nazareth was infamous in his time for supping with prostitutes and tax collectors, and yet these supposedly upright followers of his cannot bear to act with charity and decency in public and commercial life?
To defeat this bill and others like it around the country, a spotlight must be focused on the legislators who back them. Efforts to that effect have already begun in Kansas. But this sort of political hustle won’t die easily. It’s all about ginning up feelings of persecution among so-called “values voters” … over having to surrender the long-held prerogative to persecute. Lacking any grace or humility, these demagogues won’t leave the scene until they’ve discharged all their poison into our politics.
But they will never prevail.
By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, February 18, 2014
“No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it,” Esau told The Wichita Eagle on Friday. “It would be my hope that they could work out their incompatibilities and learn to work together on things.”
…Esau disputed the suggestion that bill was an example of government overreach. He said the state gives benefits to married couples, such as tax breaks, so couples shouldn’t enter into the institution of marriage lightly.
Moreover, he said, the state has a vested interest in supporting “strong families,” and divorce undermines that.
“I think we’ve made divorce way too easy in this country,” he said. “If we really want to respect marriage it needs to be a commitment that people work at and don’t find arbitrary reasons to give up.”
Of course, one of the immediate effects of this law would be that couples seeking a divorce would have to face-off in court and point fingers at each other. Either that, or one of them would have to accept the blame for their failed relationship.
Divorce is tough on kids, but nasty divorces are toxic.
But this isn’t even the worst bill that was considered in the Kansas House this week.
On Tuesday, the Kansas House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a measure designed to bring anti-gay segregation—under the guise of “religious liberty”—to the already deep-red state. The bill, written out of fear that the state may soon face an Oklahoma-style gay marriage ruling, will now easily pass the Republican Senate and be signed into law by the Republican governor. The result will mark Kansas as the first state, though certainly not the last, to legalize segregation of gay and straight people in virtually every arena of life.
If that sounds overblown, consider the bill itself. When passed, the new law will allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Private employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality. Stores may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay. Hotels can eject gay couples or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations—movie theaters, restaurants—can turn away gay couples at the door. And if a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney’s fees.
Unlike Rep. Esau’s idiotic no-divorce bill, the anti-gay measure will actually become law. Most likely, the federal courts will strike it down as unconstitutional, but that won’t prevent Republicans in Kansas from wasting money defending it.
By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 15, 2014