When I sit down someday to write my memoirs and try to characterize this era, I will note three salient political features. One, and obviously, the increasing wingnuttery of the Republican Party. Two, the ever-increasing ownership of our political system by the top 0.1 (or even .01) percent. And three, the continuing and mind-boggling overestimation of Karl Rove’s brilliance.
The first two things I get. They happen to be real and true. But Karl Rove I do not. I never have, really, not even in 2000. I mean, his candidate didn’t even really win. Then came 2004. OK, I’ll give him that one, but all he did then was (barely) reelect an incumbent. Just two incumbents going back to FDR lost their reelection bids while eight won them, so that’s a pretty low bar for genius.
Then came the truly dark period, the one that should have pulverized his reputation forever, when Rove told his president to go out and promote Social Security privatization, which sank like a stone. This while Rove was talking up a “permanent conservative majority” and world-historic realignment, even though all he and his president’s failures managed to do was turn the Senate and the House Democratic in 2006 and then pave the way for the country’s rejection of John McCain and embrace of Barack Obama. Rove is a so-so political strategist, a corrupt trickster going back to college, and a venal and wholly unprincipled man who once orchestrated a whisper campaign that an Alabama judge who did admirable work with youngsters was a pedophile. And on top of all that, he’s just not that smart, as proved on Election Night 2012, when he made a world-class asshole out of himself over Ohio.
This week, everybody is going around saying, “Oh, this Hillary thing; typical unprincipled Rove, but you’ve got to give the devil his due. It works. The evil genius is at it again.” Let’s hold on to our hats here. What’s the proof that him suggesting that Hillary Clinton has brain damage is “working”? Because the media are talking about it, because people like me are writing about it, because it’s been Topic A on cable? Please. Since when are those indicators of anything? If cable-news controversies dictated politics and life, Obama never would have survived about a dozen little cable scandals in 2008, and Solange Knowles would be the world’s most important human being.
This is just the media thinking that because they’re chattering about something, all of America is. But there is certainly no evidence that regular Americans heard what Rove said and are drawing precisely the conclusions he wants them to draw. We won’t know for a long time whether Rove’s gambit about Clinton’s age and health worked. But I confidently place my dime on the square that says it won’t. Here’s why.
If you look back over his track record a little more closely, you see that Rove’s type of deceitful treachery has worked best in Republican contexts, or at least in conservative ones. The Rovian whisper campaigns—about that poor judge’s devotion to children, or John McCain’s love child, or Ann Richards’s sexuality—are all about sex, and they tend to take root in Christianist citadels (Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas, respectively) where the populace is awfully fire-and-brimstone-ish about such matters. So Rove—I will give him this much—knows the workings of the fearful, reactionary mind.
But the minds of the rest of us, not so much. Let’s hypothetically transfer the above three whisper campaigns to New York. The New York response to the defamed judge would have been: Get that obvious smear job outta our faces. To McCain’s love child it would have been: So what? And to suggestions of a candidate’s lesbianism: I had a feeling she was more interesting than she seemed.
I’m exaggerating for effect, but I’m making a serious point. Rove does not know how non-conservatives think about these things. Non-conservatives don’t hate Hillary Clinton. In fact, they rather like her, dare I say it about five, six, or seven times more than they like George W. Bush. And while non-conservatives do have fair and reasonable concerns about her health and age, they will parse them fairly and reasonably, and they’ll make fair and reasonable judgments.
Ultimately, Rove won’t have a thing to do with how voters assess Clinton on these fronts. She will, based on how she comports herself. And so far I see scant evidence that anything changed after she suffered a blood clot in December 2012. I’ve seen her speak since then. She’s the same speaker she always was. We all saw her on TV answering those questions at that Senate Benghazi hearing. She was plenty sharp that day. And that was three weeks after she got out of the hospital, and while wearing her eyeglasses with the supposed secret powers!
A campaign is, as we know, unbelievably hard. Either she’ll hold up to it or she won’t. People will be able to tell. My guess is she will. And voters outside the Rovian circle will have long since concluded that the brain damage gambit was just one more act of dishonesty and desperation by a man who has been, really, a loser for several years now, ever since the elections of 2006. Over the top? I ask you to recall his 2012, when his American Crossroads spent $103 million and didn’t win one single race, and was judged the worst—not one of the worst; the worst—return on investment in electoral politics.
I look forward to Election Night 2016, and the moment when Clinton tops 270 electoral votes—which may well come early in the evening—and a stumbling, bumbling Rove tries to offer up some explanation for it all, making excuses for the third presidential election in a row. Maybe by then the world will agree with me, that when they say “evil genius,” they’ll know they’re only half right and auto-correct.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 15, 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
“Uncle Sugar As Religious Bogeyman”: Women, Contraception And The Infringement On Conservatives “Biblical Role”
Mike Huckabee’s instant classic in the canon of modern Republican misogyny, denouncing overbearing government bogeyman “Uncle Sugar” for contraceptive handouts to women who “cannot control their libido or their reproductive system” may seem, on the surface, to be merely Tea Party anti-governmentism blended with run of the mill Rush Limbaugh slut-shaming.
Any Republican cringing over Huckabee’s remarks is really about his phrasing, not his ideology. After all, the RNC just adopted the resolution proposed by Committeewoman Ellen Barrosse “to fight back against Democrats’ deceptive, ‘war on women’ rhetoric.” Huckabee may have not been this effort’s best messenger, but in reality he’s an honest one: religious conservatives see “Uncle Sugar” (or, in the more frequently used parlance, “government bureaucrats”) as encouraging women to — gasp! — have lots of sex, when women should only be having sex with husbands, and on their husbands’ terms.
Recall when Huckabee was running for president in 2008, he faced criticism over his endorsement of the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention Family Statement, which read:
A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
Asked about this in a debate — and in the glare of the national spotlight — Huckabee fudged his answer, first questioning why he was the only candidate to be asked about religion, and then insisting that “it’s not a matter of one being somehow superior over the other.” But fellow Baptists wasted no time in calling out Huckabee’s lie, noting that despite his efforts to suggest he has an egalitarian view of wifely submission, the Southern Baptist statement is undeniably clear that, in Richard Land’s words, “somebody has to be in charge.”
Of course Huckabee isn’t the first Republican called to answer for his endorsement of biblical patriarchy. Just this week, New Mexico Republican Steve Pearce, in a new book, writes that “the wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice” and “the husband’s part is to show up during the times of deep stress, take the leadership role and be accountable for the outcome, blaming no one else.”
In 2011, Michele Bachmann had to explain what she meant in a 2006 speech at a megachurch when she said, in describing how her husband persuaded her to seek a second law degree in tax, “the Lord says, be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” Faced with a national audience, Bachmann fudged and said her marriage was based on love and respect.
In 2010, while running for his House seat, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) was faced with similar questions in Alan Grayson’s notorious “Taliban Dan” ad, which unearthed a speech Webster had given at Bill Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles, in which he is seen saying, “wives submit yourselves to your own husband” and “she should submit to me, that’s in the Bible.”
Webster complained his words were taken out of context, as did Factcheck.org and others. The conventional wisdom was that the ad had “backfired;” it was Grayson, not Webster, who had gone too far. But as Kathryn Joyce, who wrote about biblical patriarchy in her book Quiverfull, noted, “submission is a contentious and tricky issue even within conservative evangelical churches,” and that Webster’s emphasis “as those familiar with Christian rhetoric could recognize, is not on the optional nature of wives’ submission.”
A few months later, after Webster had unseated Grayson, I interviewed his mentor Gothard (who also counts Huckabee, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Republican anti-contraception darlings the Duggars among his fans). (In the full video excerpted in the Taliban Dan ad, Webster describes how Gothard’s teachings “absolutely changed my life” and are the “basis for everything I do today.”) Gothard, too, tried to backtrack on his authoritarian theology:
Gothard insisted to me (in direct contradiction to materials on his own website) that he does not teach submission. When I asked Gothard whether he teaches that wives should submit to their husbands’ authority, he laughed, answering, “no, no,” adding, that Jesus taught “he who is the greatest among you be the servant of all. That makes the woman the greatest of all because she has served every single person in the world by being in her womb.”
Gothard’s effort to soft-pedal his teachings—by portraying women as venerated objects, and by saying that “authority” is simply “love” and “love” is “freedom”—flies in the face of his critics’ descriptions of the impact of his authoritarian teachings on their lives. In interviews, former adherents to Gothard’s teachings, disillusioned former members of “ATI families,” and an evangelical critic told me that his unyielding theology, including “non-optional” compliance with seven “biblical” principles (the “basic” life principles), compliance with 49 “character traits,” and other periodic Gothard revelations, are contrary to the Bible and have wreaked havoc on their emotional and spiritual lives and those of their families.
Gothard doesn’t deny he teaches adherence to what he calls “the commands of Christ.” And even though he has developed his own highly unusual interpretation of the Bible, he insists he’s not demanding that his followers obey him, but that they obey God (or how he singularly has interpreted God’s word). Following this path, he tells me cheerfully, will bring one “success and health and happiness and joy.”
What is womens’ most important collective role, in Gothard’s view? “Serving” by having a womb. In the Southern Baptist Convention’s view, “nurturing the next generation.” Contraception, especially doled out (allegedly) by “Uncle Sugar,” gets in the way of that role of ultimate “love” and “freedom,” as described by Gothard. In this “biblical worldview,” “Uncle Sugar” puts government above God. But most important, and the reason why the Huckabee is so threatened by “Uncle Sugar” giving women an entirely different kind of freedom, is that Uncle Sugar upsets his “biblical” role as head of the household, the one to whom the wife must submit. And in that sense, Huckabee’s comments reveal not just his fear that the contraception benefit threatens womens’ traditional role, but how he worries that “Uncle Sugar” — and more crucially, women themselves — infringe on his.
By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, January 24, 2014
“The Rebranding Mirage”: The GOP Mirage Isn’t Radical Grassroots Power But Elite Control And “Pragmatism”
Anyone who reads a lot of political commentary is aware there’s a broad division in opinion about what’s going on in the Republican Party these days. One camp holds that all the radicalism and restlessness associated with the Tea Party Movement (and before that, the Christian Right) is ultimately insignificant because the GOP is an elite-driven, business-dominated enterprise that’s willing to let conservative activists and their rank-and-file foot soldiers have the keys for a joy-ride now and then, but is ultimately in charge and is ultimately pragmatic and “centrist” in its outlook. The other camp holds that the mirage isn’t radical grassroots power but elite control and “pragmatism.”
I’m firmly in the second camp. So is Salon‘s Brian Beutler, who has a long essay today disputing the President’s relatively benign view of the direction of the GOP, as expressed in that gazillion-word interview-based profile by David Remnick in the latest New Yorker.
The most interesting thing in Beutler’s argument is his discussion of how immediately after the 2012 elections GOP elites decided on comprehensive immigration reform as their “rebranding” vehicle:
Republican leaders settled on immigration reform as their one big overture precisely because they thought it would be the easiest gesture to make to the voters who rejected them without antagonizing the ones who didn’t. The GOP donor class hates taxing wealthy people to subsidize takers, but supports immigration reform uniquely among social issues for opportunistic reasons; and of all the Republican Party’s potential growth constituencies, working immigrants are the most sympathetic to conservative voters who oppose abortion and marriage equality out of religious principle.
So immigration reform is the greatest common factor — and it has been on a breathing machine for half a year and counting.
This should be kept carefully in mind when more difficult issue-position maneuvers–i.e., over entitlements, poverty programs, abortion, foreign policy, same-sex marriage, taxes–are put out there as potential image-changers for the GOP. If GOP elites, with the full backing of the business community and many conservative religious leaders in tow, can’t succeed in convincing “the base” and its ideological shock troops to pursue the ripe, low-hanging fruit of a bigger share of the Latino vote with immigration policies accepted by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, why does anyone imagine the tougher cases are going to go well? Beats me, beyond an intensely held belief in the power of elites and their determination to follow the median voter theory in a “move to the center” whenever an election is lost.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 22, 2014
Earlier this year, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus accepted the fact that his party’s social conservatism had alienated many young voters, women, and moderates. The party would still adhere to its platform, Priebus said in March, “but it doesn’t mean that we divide and subtract people from our party…. I don’t believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics.”
At the time, this seemed quite sensible. Understanding the Republican Party’s unpopularity is a multi-faceted dynamic, but its economic failures and extremist tactics are only part of the larger problem. The GOP’s support for a far-right culture-war agenda — anti-contraception, anti-gay, anti-reproductive rights, anti-Planned Parenthood — has taken a toll, too.
This support has manifested itself in Republicans’ legislative priorities — the House GOP has been preoccupied this year with votes on abortion and birth control — but it’s not limited to Capitol Hill.
Marriage, abortion and religious liberty are the top cultural topics to be addressed at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit.
Conservative political issues will be a major part of the presentations, but the social-cultural issues “are what define us as an organization,” said retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin of the Family Research Council (FRC), a main sponsor of the annual conference, which is now in its eighth year.
Right Wing Watch highlighted some of the fringe extremists who’ll play prominent roles at the right-wing conference, but the key takeaway is simple: Republican leaders will join these fringe extremists as if they’re mainstream.
Looking over the list of confirmed speakers at the Values Voter Summit, we see several sitting Republican U.S. senators (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio), and many more sitting Republican U.S. House members (Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and Scott Turner of Texas).
The list of confirmed speakers also includes House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was on his party’s national presidential ticket less than a year ago.
And why are these guests important? Because it’s a reminder that no matter how much damage the Republican Party’s culture war does to the GOP’s reputation, they just can’t help themselves. The religious right movement may not be the powerhouse it once was — remember when the Christian Coalition was a major force in American politics? — but it still is a significant part of the GOP base, even if it helps drive mainstream voters away.
Indeed, for Republicans eyeing national office, this has become something of a rite of passage — if you want to compete for the GOP’s presidential nomination, you’ll have to suck up to the party’s theocratic wing.
A group of longtime Christian conservative activists are holding a private meeting Thursday in Washington to hear informal presentations from two of the most talked-about potential Republican presidential candidates: Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
The gathering is being held in conjunction with the Family Research Council’s Values Voters conference, an annual gathering of Christian conservatives in Washington, but it is not an official part of that event. Rather, it is being staged by a loosely-organized group of Republican leaders that call themselves “Conservatives of Faith.”
The hosts include Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, the former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, the conservative talk show host Janet Parshall and Richard Viguerie, the direct mail pioneer, along with a handful of others from the conservative movement. [Robert Fischer, a South Dakota-based conservative organizer] is the group’s chief organizer.
Meet the new Republican Party. When it comes to social conservatism, it’s entirely indistinguishable from the old Republican Party.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 11, 2013