So now we know a little more officially than we did before that the Republican Party higher-ups know or at least suspect that there’s likely no actual political scandal in the IRS matter, and that they’re letting Darrell Issa have his fun and make a fool of himself just for the sake of doing whatever random damage to Barack Obama they can in his remaining time in office. An article by Shane Goldmacher in National Journal yesterday, when read properly between the lines, says as much. And if they can’t get him while he’s in office, by ginning up some flimsy reason to open impeachment hearings, they’ll hound him on his way out the door and afterward, trying to add words like “corrupt” and “tarnished” to the first paragraphs of historical summations of his tenure. That’s all this is really about—their base’s rage at the continued existence of Barack Obama, and their own twisted craving to acknowledge and stoke it.
The Goldmacher piece makes the commonsensical and nonideological observation that you might think that Issa, who has been out there throwing unproven allegations against the wall like Oscar Madison did Felix Unger’s linguine, would be reined in a bit by his party. This is especially so after calling Jay Carney a “paid liar” and backing it up with nothing specific. In fairness, a couple of Republicans—interestingly, Lindsey Graham and John McCain chief among them—did urge a holding of the horses after that one.
But by and large, Republicans are perfectly happy for Issa to keep stirring the pot. Eric Cantor—this happened after the “paid liar” remark—singled Issa out for praise at a closed-door meeting of the House GOP on Tuesday. At a press conference the same day, Cantor twice refused to criticize Issa even mildly.
I would love to know what someone like Cantor really thinks about this IRS thing. My guess about him and most top Republicans: they’d love for some unexpected nugget of political gold to turn up, of course, but they surely know very well that this scandal is almost certainly a bureaucratic one. With luck, they might land proof that someone in the Obama reelection campaign knew about the IG probe into the matter, but then the question will be how much detail this person or persons knew. The likelihood would be simply that they knew of the existence of the probe but nothing about the details.
On the other hand, there may be even less to all this than that. Issa once promised that he would release all the transcripts of his closed-door proceedings. He has not done so, and I gather he is stonewalling reporters on the question. Could it be that there’s something in the full transcripts that would more or less end this whole thing? I’m sure we can trust him, though, because Republican staffers never doctor docum—oops, never mind.
Whatever. Nothing would stop the GOP from trying to turn this thing into another Watergate. Their base will demand it, because to them, Obama is capable of all manner of evil. Ted Cruz’s recent McCarthy-esque comparison of Obama to Nixon (because the IRS matter somehow proves that Obama has an “enemies list”) is, to the base, soft-pedaling the situation if anything, and undoubtedly insulting to Nixon to boot.
Over the years since Obama arrived on scene, right-wingers have believed and circulated and peddled the following about him (and this is just a very partial list from Snopes.com, putting aside the ones you already know about the birth certificate and his “Muslim” heritage): that he refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; that his campaign was funded by Hugo Chávez; that he wanted to replace “The Star Spangled Banner” with the less martial “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”; that he must have used a non-U.S. passport to travel to Pakistan in 1981; that he plans to ban recreational fishing in the United States; that he had to surrender his law license; has banned the National Day of Prayer; stopped wearing his wedding ring in observance of Ramadan; and once kissed David Cameron, smack on the lips.
All that is to say nothing of the racist invective that is the constant background music of this presidency. We in the media never discuss this (go Google “chat board Obama n—-r,” except use the actual word, and just see what you get), but it is a daily diet in this country—yes, daily—and nothing said about any president in history that I can think of comes close to matching its relentless and savage sickness.
This is the rage the Republicans are feeding—and conservative intellectuals are doing their best to ignore. And no, it’s not this way when the situation is reversed. The Democrats specifically did not embark on these political fishing expeditions, and while much of the base wanted them to, a lot of liberal commentators did not. (I was against pursuing impeachment charges against Bush and Cheney, which you can read about here; I did urge Democrats to hold war-profiteering hearings, on which they vexingly ignored me.) The liberal base hated George Bush all right, but the hate wasn’t quite as existential, wasn’t quite as drenched in the same kind of suppurated derangement one finds in quarters of the right.
Besides which, Bush discredited himself through his uniform incompetence. Obama, clearly competent, has not done that and is unlikely to do it. So the Republicans have to do it to him. Tarnishing Obama is the only way they can emerge from these eight years not completely humiliated by him, so we’re just going to have to endure it.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 6, 2013
Judge Edith H. Jones of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is facing serious allegations this week after controversial remarks the jurist made at Federalist Society in February. According to the conservative group, there is no transcript of recording of Jones’ speech, but affidavits from attendees point to deeply problematic language from anyone, least of all a sitting federal judge.
According to the [ethics] complaint, Judge Jones, 64, who was nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, and who until recently was the chief judge of the Fifth Circuit and mentioned during Republican administrations as a possible Supreme Court nominee, said that “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime.”
One of the affidavits accompanying the complaint is from Marc Bookman, a veteran death penalty lawyer in Pennsylvania, who attended the lecture. He quoted Judge Jones as saying, “Sadly, some groups seem to commit more heinous crimes than others.” When asked to elaborate, Judge Jones “noted there was no arguing that ‘blacks’ and ‘Hispanics’ far outnumber ‘Anglos’ on death row and repeated that ‘sadly’ people from these racial groups do get involved in more violent crime,” the affidavit said.
A variety of civil rights organizations and legal ethicists this week filed a complaint of misconduct. An affidavit from James McCormack, the former chief disciplinary counsel for the Texas bar, added that he believes Jones “violated the ethical standards applicable to federal judges under the Code of Conduct for United States judges.”
Making matters slightly worse, this wasn’t the only offensive comment Jones made at the event.
Judge Jones is alleged to have said that the defenses often offered in capital cases, including mental retardation and systemic racism, were “red herrings.” She also said, according to the witnesses, that Mexicans would prefer to be on death row in the United States rather than in prison in Mexico.
It would appear that defendants have reason to question whether Jones is a fair and impartial arbiter of justice. Indeed, if I were a criminal defense attorney, and my client’s conviction rested in part on a ruling from Jones, I’d probably have new grounds for an appeal.
The matter will reportedly be reviewed by the 5th circuit’s chief judge. It’s a controversy worth watching.
Postscript: When Jones was on a very short list of jurists then-President George W. Bush was considering for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, the Washington Post published this brief profile, noting, “Known as a strong and outspoken conservative, she has written opinions that called into question the reasoning behind the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, has been an advocate for speeding up death penalty executions, and is a vocal proponent of ‘moral values.’ She also wrote a 1997 opinion throwing out a federal ban on the possession of machine guns and has been an advocate for toughening bankruptcy laws.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2013
“Can Dish It Out, But Can’t Take It”: The Republican Delusion, Free Speech Includes The Right To Be Free From Criticism
The GOP is a “party of crybabies.” Or so says Jonathan Bernstein in yesterday’s Salon, reprieving one of my biggest pet peeves, which is the presumption by conservatives that freedom of speech entails freedom from criticism for one’s opinions – no matter how absurd or obscene those opinions might be.
The reason this matters is that one important measure of the health of a democracy is the quality of its public discourse and debate. Politics, after all, is the process by which unlike groups sort out their differences.
“I’m Okay, You’re Okay” sounds harmless enough. But inside the velvet glove of the right wing’s democratic-sounding assertion that we are all entitled to our own opinions and that all opinions should therefore be equally tolerated and respected is the iron fist of an authoritarian mindset that presumes when one group – typically theirs – seeks to demean or marginalize some other group there is not a damn thing the rest of us can do about it but grin and bear it.
On the contrary, the entire justification for freedom of speech in a liberal democracy, and why it is one of our cardinal political values – enshrined in the very First Amendment of our Constitution — is that free speech provides the foundation for open and robust debate, for a marketplace of ideas, for the sifting process of political give-and-take that sorts the wheat of what is true from the chaff of what is false.
Debate defines the mental habits and values — the character — at the core of what Walter Lippmann called the “traditions of civility” which separate Western democratic political institutions from all others that have existed throughout history.
Yet, we know that right wing conservatives do not believe in free and open debate or subscribe to Lippmann’s traditions of civility, or at the end of the day believe in free speech at all for any but themselves and likeminded true believers, because of their hysterical reaction to requirements like the long-dead Fairness Doctrine that do nothing more than guarantee opposing ideas equal time.
What right wing conservatives want in the end, says Bernstein, is not the freedom to speak and compete as participants in a democracy but the freedom to monopolize the means of communication, to proselytize without interruption, to propagandize without rebuttal, to transmit whatever angry, hateful, insulting and offensively anti-social messages they choose without censure.
In this way, conservatives hope the larger society will eventually conform, by a process of relentless repetition and attrition, to their reactionary notions of what a proper society ought to look like.
And so, says Bernstein, “it’s time to call out” Republicans for their belief that “democracy” means giving them “the supposed right to be free from criticism.”
Such “epistemic closure” might be popular inside the “faith-based community’s” closed-information loop, he says, “but it’s a nasty idea that sorts exceptionally badly with democratic politics.”
Thus, to right wing conservatives, it was far less offensive for immigration “expert” Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation to call blacks and Hispanics mentally deficient than it was for Richwine’s critics to call him a “racist.”
The mainstreaming of extremism begins with the absurd — and very unconservative assumption — that in some way all ideas are created equal, or that standards do not exist for identifying and ostracizing wrong or deeply offensive ones.
Thus, we are logically led to a conviction popular with conservatives these days that “the accusation of racism is one of the worst things that anyone can call you in public life,” as Richwine himself pleads, for “once that word is out there, it’s very difficult to recover from it, even when it is completely untrue.”
Yet, someone with more imagination than Richwine might imagine even worse things to be called than “racist,” counters Bernstein. “For example, someone could be called a member of an intellectually inferior race, genetically doomed to always be looking up to those races that have superior intelligence. But pointing that out would no doubt violate Richwine’s standards of civilized political discourse.”
The same goes for Christian fundamentalists. With them, calling homosexuality a crime against nature and a sin against God barely registers on their Outrage-o-Meter. What really stings is to call these anti-gay holy-rollers “bigots.” Indeed, it’s the liberal critics of religious anti-gay critics who are the real bigots, according to these right wing fundamentalists, because it’s liberals who are persecuting the devout for offenses no more sinful than defending their Judeo-Christian traditional family values.
Similarly, notes Bernstein, the Republican response to the Democratic rhetoric of a “war on women” wasn’t so much that the substance of Democratic charges was wrong, since Republicans made no effort to offer a point-by-point substantive rebuttal. It was, rather, as one Republican Congressman put it, that the criticism of conservatives itself was “repugnant.”
No wonder the perpetually put-upon Peggy Noonan is always shaking her well-coiffed head and sighing her by now-famous sigh and asking why do President Obama and the Democrats always seem to be picking so many disagreeable fights?
Even more telling, says Bernstein, was Mitch McConnell’s “epic” op-ed in the Washington Post this week, in which McConnell claimed the First Amendment was imperiled by the Obama campaign’s “explicit attacks on groups and other private citizens” in 2012.
How so? Because the Obama campaign published opposition research on big Mitt Romney donors on its website, says Bernstein. There were no claims from Republicans that the information on the website was false. One Romney big-money donor singled out did in fact pour millions of dollars into anti-gay rights crusades. Neither were their claims that criticism of Republicans was linked in any way to their harassment at the hands of federal agencies in the same way Richard Nixon once ordered the IRS to target those on his “enemies list.”
No, for McConnell, the truly offensive thing about Democratic criticism was that it occurred at all.
For McConnell, such criticism is all part of “the left-wing playbook: Expose your opponents to public view, release the liberal thugs and hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting causes you oppose.”
What McConnell objects to, in short, is the possibility that billionaire businessmen who bankroll Republicans or other far right causes might face retaliation from their customers exercising their own First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly to organize boycotts of right wing businessmen whose politics or causes they oppose.
That’s what McConnell cannot abide: The idea that the plutocrats he supports — the upper crust, the ruling class, the New American Oligarchy — might in any way be inconvenienced or held accountable through the normal channels of democratic give-and-take for their exercise of political power.
McConnell and fellow plutocrats like Mitt Romney think members of their class ought to be able to pull strings anonymously, surreptitiously, “quietly behind closed doors,” without the public being any the wiser or able to retaliate in any way.
“The First Amendment was written to protect speech that was not popular,” said McConnell, cynically twisting the meaning of one of America’s fundamental democratic rights to suit his own self-serving purpose, which is to revive a new Gilded Age Plutocracy. “The American people need to remain vigilant against any effort by the powerful to stifle speech.”
That means, as Bernstein points out, keeping speech as anonymous and immune from criticism as possible.
That idea is not only “nuts,” says Bernstein, it is also “deeply anti-democratic.” We should all be careful in democratic politics to avoid questioning other people’s motives, he says. But there is nothing wrong with taking note of whose interests are being served in politics or questioning who benefits from a particular policy.
“Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with the press using those donors as a shorthand way of informing citizens which interests are represented by the various candidates, or for those candidates to make a point of which interests finance their opponents,” he says.
Recent liberal complaints about conservative criticisms have been limited to legitimate concerns about their accuracy, as in the phony idea that 47% of the population is a parasitic class of “takers” who pay no taxes. Liberal complaints of conservative behavior have also focused on their decency, as when Sandra Fluke was slandered as a “slut” for offending right wing talk radio fat man Rush Limbaugh when she testified publicly for birth control benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
Free speech and democracy are inextricably linked, says Bernstein, and so “the Republican delusion” that free speech includes the right to be free from criticism is, therefore, “quite destructive.”
It’s destructive because right wing conservatives think they have the latitude to attack ethnic groups without the risk of being called out for their racist comments, says Bernstein, or to dominate campaigns financially without the risk anyone will notice who really runs the country.
Democracy and secrecy – or silence — don’t mix. But that is what Republicans think they are entitled to under their contorted definition of what “democracy” entails.
It’s long been said that if ever government of, by and for the people were to perish from this earth, it is likely to be done in from within – by those who had grown weary of its disciplines of liberality, disinterestedness and broad-mindedness or found that popular government did not serve their selfish, parochial interests.
That’s why this debate over free speech matters, and why it’s important we understand its meaning. With their dangerous assertion that criticism of conservative ideas imposes an intolerable contraction of their First Amendment rights, political reactionaries like Mitch McConnell have once again unfurled a rich liberal tapestry of individual freedoms, liberties and democratic rights as a cloak for autocracy and authoritarianism.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, May 26, 2013
“Cracker To Cracker”: The Bonding Of Southern “Populists” And Good ol’ Boys Without, Of Course, The Racism
As longtime readers of my stuff know, I’ve got a real ax to grind whenever someone tries to justify display of Confederate regalia, particularly the Confederate Battle Flag (a.k.a., the Cross of St. Andrew), as an innocent symbol of “southern pride.” As a proud southerner who regards the Confederacy (not to mention the neo-Confederacy of the late Jim Crow era) as a shameful period in my home region’s history, I felt this way even before I helped Zell Miller (you know, the old Zell Miller, before he turned to the dark side) write the 1993 State of the State Address calling for eliminating the Battle Flag from Georgia’s state flag. And as the years went by, amnesia about both the Confederacy and the Battle Flag has always made me a bit crazy, driving me at one point to write a long rant about Appomattox. When Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a “Confederate History Month” in 2010, I counter-proposed a “Neo-Confederate History Month” to take notice of the long, dark shadow the Lost Cause had cast over white and black southern folk in the many years since the planters’ revolution failed. And I got agitated just last month when country music star Brad Paisley tried to claim the Battle Flag was just an innocent token of “southern pride” (presumably “white southern pride,” since I’m not aware of too many African-Americans sporting the symbol).
This is all preamble to what I feel I need to address to former U.S. Rep. Ben “Cooter” Jones, cracker to cracker, about the hissy fit he pitched in the Boston Globe yesterday in response to the decision by Rep. Ed Markey’s campaign to disinvite Jones from performing at a fundraiser for his “old pal Eddie” because it discovered he’s a loud-and-proud defender of the display of the Battle Flag (most notably emblazoned on the car he drove as a character on Dukes of Hazzard).
I’m not going to quote Cooter’s op-ed extensively; you can read it for yourself. His private views on the subject (the standard-brand post-neo-Confederate “populist” view that the Battle Flag was just misappropriated by racists and should offend no one if displayed by non-racists) wouldn’t have been an issue if Jones hadn’t waged a very public battle last year with NASCAR (word to Cooter: when you are to the right of NASCAR, it’s time to reconsider) over its “politically correct” decision to bar the car from The Dukes, named “General Lee,” from a raceway). I guess a really good staff vetting might have also turned up Doug Wilder’s complaint when Jones used the General Lee in his unsuccessful 2002 congressional campaign in Virginia (Cooter lost to some guy named Eric Cantor).
In the op-ed, Jones complains that he’s got a sterling civil rights record, and I’m sure that’s true. I’m also sure he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. I actually know the guy a little from back in the day, when I did some light campaign work for him in Georgia. And I was one of his constituents when he was in Congress, and thought he was a fine public servant. And yes, I am very familiar with the constant temptation southern white liberals (or as they usually style themselves, “populists”) have succumbed to over the years to try to make some common cultural bond with good ol’ boys by adopting Confederate symbols–without, of course, the racism. Hell, I remember a southern-based New Left group back in the 60s that made as its logo a Battle Flag with the clenched fist of The Movement at the center!
But I’d say to Ben Jones (as another “old pal Eddie”) that it’s time, and actually far past time, to give it up and consign the Battle Flag to its well-deserved grave in the Museum of Bad Symbols. Seriously, Ben, aside from its original association with a violent revolution against the United States in the cause of human bondage, and aside from its long association with Jim Crow, and aside from its twentieth-century revival as the emblem of hard-core resistance to measures of basic decency, and aside from the fact that it defines “southern pride” in a way that inherently excludes a huge number of actual and hereditary southerners–aside from all that, if you can possibly put all that aside: displaying that Flag makes four violent years of failure that plunged our region into grinding poverty and cultural isolation for nearly a century the centerpiece of southern identity. That’s an insult to all the southerners who lived before and after the disaster of the Confederacy, and a continuing distortion of what it means to be southern.
To use an appropriate analogy, if the Serbs can give up Kosovo, white southerners can give up the Confederacy and its symbols. Most of them, in fact, already have. But the process of recovery won’t be helped by southern celebrities, however well-meaning, running around the country taking offense at the “political correctness” of people who don’t have much stomach for the St. Andrew’s Cross and its bloody history.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 16, 2013
Many on the political right simply can’t get this diversity thing right — and I deeply doubt that they want to. Theirs is a bone-deep contempt for otherness, a congenital belief in the superiority-inferiority binary, a circle-the-wagons, zero-sum view of progress, prosperity and power.
This became apparent yet again Wednesday when it was revealed that one of the co-authors of a much maligned Heritage Foundation “study” about “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Jason Richwine, had written a Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard in 2009 titled “IQ and Immigration Policy.”
Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post summarized Richwine’s dissertation thusly:
“Richwine’s dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races. While it’s clear he thinks it is partly due to genetics — ‘the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in I.Q.’ — he argues the most important thing is that the differences in group I.Q.s are persistent, for whatever reason. He writes, ‘No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach I.Q. parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-I.Q. children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.’ ”
“He does caution against referring to it as I.Q.-based selection, saying that using the term ‘skill-based’ would ‘blunt the negative reaction.’ ”
Skill-based. Clever. Or Machiavellian.
In reality, it’s just another conservative euphemism meant to cast class aspersions and raise racial ire without ever forthrightly addressing the issues of class and race. This form of Roundabout Republicanism has entirely replaced honest conservative discussion, to the point that anyone who now raises class-based inequality is labeled divisive and anyone who raises race is labeled a racist.
It’s a way of wriggling out of unpleasant debates on which they have stopped trying to engage altogether. The new strategy is avoidance, obfuscation and boomerang blaming.
This “skill-based” phraseology is simply the latest in a long line of recent right-wing terms of art.
There was Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment about the people who would “vote for the president no matter what.” He continued: “there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
That was in line with the other-ing of President Obama, whether in the form of aspersions about his birth or his faith or his understanding of and commitment to the country he leads. Recall John Sununu, a top Romney surrogate, saying that Obama “has no idea how the American system functions” and saying that he wished the president “would learn how to be an American.”
Representative Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, blamed turnout in “urban areas” for their loss, rather than their ragtag campaign operation and a coreless nominee who was utterly inept when attempting to connect with average voters. Remember Romney liked grits, y’all.
The former House speaker and failed presidential candidate Newt Gingrich — the one who said that poor children had no habit of working “unless it is illegal” — told Fox News last year that President Obama was “not a real president.” During that same television appearance, Gingrich said of the president: “I’m assuming that there’s some rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don’t understand. Whether he needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for a while, um, watch ESPN, I mean, I don’t quite know what his rhythms are.”
Huh. Needs large amounts of rest and to go play basketball and watch television. Nothing subliminal there. Moving along.
This list could extend to more than one column — including terms like “job creators” and “we built this,” and the candidate Rick Santorum (who has three degrees) calling the president a snob for wanting “everybody in America to go to college ” (which is not at all what the president said).
And it could stretch back further to the patron saint of the right Ronald Reagan’s use of the welfare queen meme and George Bush’s and Lee Atwater’s invocation of Willie Horton in the 1988 presidential campaign.
But I think you get the picture.
The right is constantly invoking class and race as cudgels in our political discussions; they just hide the hand that swings the club.
The rebranding of the Republican Party is to a large degree the renaming of intolerance.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New Tork Times, May 8, 2013