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“When Is It Okay To Exploit Fear?”: Deliberately Increasing People’s Sense Of Insecurity To Make Them Vote For You

When I saw that President Obama had remote-psychoanalyzed Trump voters, I knew that the right would go crazy and say that it reminded them of his infamous bitter-clinger comments from 2008. At this point, it’s Pavlovian. What I saw from right-wing blogger Tom Maguire was a little unexpected, however.

He took a screenshot of the New York Times headline, which read: Obama Accuses Trump of Exploiting Working-Class Fears. And then he posed a rhetorical question for all of us:

The headline is baffling – exploiting fears is now a political no-no? – and shows a failure of nerve somewhere in the editorial process.

For a moment it was me who was baffled. It took a second to process what exactly Maguire was getting at. To me, “exploiting fears” is a moral failing. Full stop.

For Maguire, exploiting fears is a given in the political process and unworthy of notice.

At first, I was offended. Then I realized that we’re both probably correct in our own way, but with limitations.

I’m sure if I challenged him, Maguire would recite countless examples of Democratic politicians exploiting the fears of the electorate. These would be fears about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, or fears about NSA surveillance, or fears about grandma losing her Medicare or Social Security. No doubt, talking about the bad things that may result if the other party wins is a core element of all political campaigning, and it always has been.

I think this is different in kind, though, than using fear itself as a political tool. It’s hard to draw a hard line, and it’s partly about the merit of the threat you’re talking about. Jim Geraghty tried to get at the distinction in a piece he just wrote at the National Review that complains about Democratic accusations of fear-mongering.

…all of other threats that we’re told are more likely to kill us than a terrorist — other drivers, the ladder at home, the stove, the local swimming pool – aren’t deliberately trying to kill us.

…You may fall off your ladder while putting up the Christmas lights on the roof, but it’s not like there’s a sinister group, al-Laddera, plotting to wobble when you’re leaning over to put that last string up above the gutter. There’s not much the government can do to stop you from falling off a ladder, other than PSAs saying “be careful!” But there’s an awful lot the government can do to target terrorists and mitigate the threat they present.

In other words, for Geraghty, it’s legitimate to continually alarm the electorate about a very low-probability threat to their personal safety because there is at least something the government can do to minimize that threat.

For me, though, the responsible thing to do as a political leader is to calm people’s fears both so that they won’t be needlessly or disproportionately afraid and so that they don’t freak out and make unreasonable demands on their political leaders.

What’s really bad, in my opinion, is to deliberately increase people’s sense of insecurity not primarily so that they will demand policies to keep them safe but to make them more inclined to vote for you and your political party. Making people afraid for political gain is cynical and almost cruel.

So, naturally, I see it as dubious when someone like Donald Trump ramps up people’s anxieties and provides nothing solid as actual policy prescriptions. To me, that’s totally different than arguing that electing Hillary Clinton will result in a Supreme Court less inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade or energy policies less favorable to coal. You can scare and motivate people to vote based on accurate information. That’s not a political no-no, and it never has been.

But “exploiting” fears is a little different, especially when part of your pitch is to create fear when none ought to exist (“The president is a secret Muslim”) or to ramp fear up beyond any rational level, which is what the terrorism vs. wobbly ladder comparison is meant to illuminate.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 22, 2015

December 23, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, Politicians, Terrorism | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“It’s Time To Ban Guns. Yes, All of Them”: Urgently Needs To Become A Rhetorical And Conceptual Possibility

Ban guns. All guns. Get rid of guns in homes, and on the streets, and, as much as possible, on police. Not just because of San Bernardino, or whichever mass shooting may pop up next, but also not not because of those. Don’t sort the population into those who might do something evil or foolish or self-destructive with a gun and those who surely will not. As if this could be known—as if it could be assessed without massively violating civil liberties and stigmatizing the mentally ill. Ban guns! Not just gun violence. Not just certain guns. Not just already-technically-illegal guns. All of them.

I used to refer to my position on this issue as being in favor of gun control. Which is true, except that “gun control” at its most radical still tends to refer to bans on certain weapons and closing loopholes. The recent New York Times front-page editorial, as much as it infuriated some, was still too tentative. “Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership,” the paper argued, making the case for “reasonable regulation,” nothing more. Even the rare ban-guns arguments involve prefacing and hedging and disclaimers. “We shouldn’t ‘take them away’ from people who currently own them, necessarily,” writes Hollis Phelps in Salon. Oh, but we should.

I say this not to win some sort of ideological purity contest, but because banning guns urgently needs to become a rhetorical and conceptual possibility. The national conversation needs to shift from one extreme—an acceptance, ranging from complacent to enthusiastic, of an individual right to own guns—to another, which requires people who are not politicians to speak their minds. And this will only happen if the Americans who are quietly convinced that guns are terrible speak out.

Their wariness, as far as I can tell, comes from two issues: a readiness to accept the Second Amendment as a refutation, and a reluctance to impose “elite” culture on parts of the country where guns are popular. (There are other reasons as well, not least a fear of getting shot.) And there’s the extent to which it’s just so ingrained that banning guns is impossible, legislatively and pragmatically, which dramatically weakens the anti-gun position.

The first issue shouldn’t be so complicated. It doesn’t take specialized expertise in constitutional law to understand that current U.S. gun law gets its parameters from Supreme Court interpretations of the Second Amendment. But it’s right there in the First Amendment that we don’t have to simply nod along with what follows. That the Second Amendment has been liberally interpreted doesn’t prevent any of us from saying it’s been misinterpreted, or that it should be repealed.

When you find yourself assuming that everyone who has a more nuanced (or just pro-gun) argument is simply better read on the topic, remember that opponents of abortion aren’t wondering whether they should have a more nuanced view of  abortion because of Roe v. Wade. They’re not keeping their opinions to themselves until they’ve got a term paper’s worth of material proving that they’ve studied the relevant case law.

Then there is the privilege argument. If you grew up somewhere in America where gun culture wasn’t a thing (as is my situation; I’m an American living in Canada), or even just in a family that would have never considered gun ownership, you’ll probably be accused of looking down your nose at gun culture. As if gun ownership were simply a cultural tradition to be respected, and not, you know, about owning guns. Guns… I mean, must it really be spelled out what’s different? It’s absurd to reduce an anti-gun position to a snooty aesthetic preference.

There’s also a more progressive version of this argument, and a more contrarian one, which involves suggesting that an anti-gun position is racist, because crackdowns on guns are criminal-justice interventions. Progressives who might have been able to brush off accusations of anti-rural-white classism may have a tougher time confronting arguments about the disparate impact gun control policies can have on marginalized communities.

These, however, are criticisms of certain tentative, insufficient gun control measures—the ones that would leave small-town white families with legally-acquired guns well enough alone, allowing them to shoot themselves or one another and to let their guns enter the general population.

Ban Guns, meanwhile, is not discriminatory in this way. It’s not about dividing society into “good” and “bad” gun owners. It’s about placing gun ownership itself in the “bad” category. It’s worth adding that the anti-gun position is ultimately about police not carrying guns, either. That could never happen, right? Well, certainly not if we keep on insisting on its impossibility.

Ask yourself this: Is the pro-gun side concerned with how it comes across? More to the point: Does the fact that someone opposes gun control demonstrate that they’re culturally sensitive to the concerns of small-town whites, as well as deeply committed to fighting police brutality against blacks nationwide? I’m going to go with no and no on these. (The NRA exists!)

On the pro-gun-control side of things, there’s far too much timidity. What’s needed to stop all gun violence is a vocal ban guns contingent. Getting bogged down in discussions of what’s feasible is keeps what needs to happen—no more guns—from entering the realm of possibility. Public opinion needs to shift. The no-guns stance needs to be an identifiable place on the spectrum, embraced unapologetically, if it’s to be reckoned with.

 

By: Phoebe Maltz Bovy, The New Republic, December 10, 2015

December 11, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Ben Carson’s Candidacy Is Doomed”: The More Attention He Gets, The Less Electable He’s Going To Look

Ben Carson ought to get ready, because things are about to get very difficult for him. In fact, we can probably start the clock on the demise of his presidential candidacy.

Okay, so that’s a little dramatic. But today we saw the first national poll, from the New York Times and CBS, that puts Carson in the lead in the Republican race. Yes, it’s only one poll, and yes, that lead is within the margin of error, meaning he may not actually be ahead (the poll averages still have him trailing Donald Trump by a few points). But he’s clearly leading in Iowa, and this poll will be taken as a cue for the press to give him more scrutiny than he’s gotten so far. Carson has been getting more media attention, but that focus will intensify now. And it won’t be good for him.

In a year in which outsiders are all the rage, Carson is the most outsidery of all. Ted Cruz is a U.S. senator who built his identity by hating the institution he’s a part of and everyone who’s in it — but he’s still a senator. Carly Fiorina is a former CEO — but she ran for office before and has been involved in politics for some time. Even Donald Trump is less of an outsider than Carson. He may be just as ignorant about policy, but there’s a surface plausibility to him being president. He runs a company, you can see him on TV ordering people around, and he’s got a plane with his name on it.

With each passing week, however, Carson has been gaining. All of his shocking statements on things like Muslims not being allowed to run for president unless they publicly disavow their religion, or Obamacare being the worst thing since slavery, or that the Jews might have stopped the Holocaust if they had more guns, only seem to have helped him win support for his campaign. But there’s a limit to everything.

As of now, Ben Carson’s actual plans for being president will get much more attention. And even Republicans may not be happy with all of what they hear.

Take, for example, Carson’s plan to shut down Medicare and Medicaid and replace them with health savings accounts. From a policy standpoint, it’s utterly daft. But it’s also about as politically unwise as you could imagine. Medicare is one of the two most beloved government programs there is. Even though Republicans would love to get rid of it (in part because its success stands as a constant rebuke to their belief that government can’t do anything right), they always insist that their plans to cut or transform it are really about “strengthening Medicare to make sure it’s there for future generations.” They know that saying anything other than that they love the program and want it to exist forever is somewhere between treacherous and suicidal.

That doesn’t stop Democrats from charging that Republicans want to destroy the program, an attack that usually works. And with Carson, there wouldn’t be any doubt — he does want to end Medicare.

What else does he want to do if he becomes president? His ideas are almost absurdly vague, a fact that will become more and more evident as he gets more attention. Go to the “Issues” section of his web site, and you’ll search in vain for anything resembling an actual proposal. When he is asked about particular policy issues, he tends to offer something so simplistic and divorced from reality that it often seems like it’s the first time he’s ever thought about it. How might he change the tax system? Well, how about a tithe, like in the Bible? (Or actually not like in the Bible, but never mind that.) How would that actually work? He doesn’t know, and barely seems to care.

Carson certainly checks off many of the standard Republican boxes: overturn Roe v. Wade, balanced budget amendment to the Constitution (as idiotic an idea as either party has ever produced, but that’s a topic for another day), show Russia who’s boss, more guns, and so on. But as he’s forced to talk more about a Carson presidency, he’s likely to get lots of negative coverage growing out of his own lack of understanding of government.

You see, the journalists covering Carson come from that same Washington world he finds so alien, and they’ll be drawn to talking about his unfamiliarity with it. This has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism — someone like Ted Cruz, who’s every bit as conservative as Carson, can have a conversation about the presidency with reporters in which they’re all inhabiting the same planet. They can ask him a question about something like defense spending or Social Security or foreign policy, and while his answers might be oversimplified, they won’t make the reporters say, “Oh my god, did he just say what I think he said?”

You might reply that Donald Trump knows just as little as Carson, and also gives ridiculous answers to policy questions. But Trump’s ability to blow through those questions (“When I’m president, it’ll be terrific!”) is possible because his supporters don’t really care about the answers. They’re not party loyalists who are concerned with ideological fealty or electability.

But Carson’s support right now is centered on evangelicals and older Republicans, and they’re more pragmatic than you might think. Yes, they’ll support someone like Carson for a while — just as they gave Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee victories in Iowa — but that support isn’t permanent. Once other Republican candidates start going after Carson for wanting to eliminate Medicare (Donald Trump has already started), many of Carson’s voters are going to say, “Well that’s not going to go over too well,” and even, “I’m not sure I like that.” The more attention he gets, the less electable he’s going to look.

Am I being premature? Perhaps. Carson is so popular with evangelicals in part because they’ve known him for years (his autobiography is a common assignment in Christian home-school curricula everywhere). His combination of a calm, soothing manner and absolutely radical ideas has proven compelling to a healthy chunk of the Republican electorate. It’s entirely possible that he could sustain this support enough to win Iowa and then receive all the glowing coverage such a victory would produce. And the very fact that he’s doing as well as he is makes for a fascinating story. But it isn’t going to last.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Evangelicals, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Reproductive Rights Are Political”: Yes, Planned Parenthood Has To Be In The Politics Business

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” Chuck Todd, a journalist I respect, asked an interesting, but odd, question of Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood: “Should you be in the politics business?”

This is a circular argument: Planned Parenthood has been in the politics business since it opened its doors. Female sexuality, and the control thereof, has always been inherently political. The term “sexual revolution” is not an abstract concept – the introduction of the pill 50 years ago was what marked the full entry of American women into the workforce. The pill is credited with a third of the increase in wages for American women.

There is nothing more physically and economically determinative to a woman than deciding if or when to have children, a decision to which Planned Parenthood has made an enormous contribution for millions of us.

This is why social conservatives continue to attack not just abortion, but contraception – if you’re against abortion and contraception, it’s not just about abortion. And it’s why Planned Parenthood has become a talisman to the right, a symbol of what they fear most – women controlling their own reproductive destiny. Two-thirds of the 1 million abortions in this country are done by private practitioners other than Planned Parenthood, but there are no mass protests and bloody fetus pictures outside their offices.

Why? Because Ruth Bader Ginsburg is right – the right’s War on Women is fundamentally a war on poor women. Two-thirds of women who have an abortion already have a child, and the overwhelming reason cited for the procedure is that they can’t afford another one. There’s a reason the original Roe plaintiff, Norma McCorvey, was working class. Rich women could get abortions before Roe, and they will if the Supreme Court overturns it next spring – which is possible, since the court has taken up the Texas abortion restrictions.

Historically, fights over female autonomy are hardly unique to either our country or even our millennia. Sex and power for women have always been intertwined and an object of fascination, fear and political manipulation for men.

Anne Boleyn was executed by Henry VIII for accusations of infidelity – and not producing a son, as were many royal wives, never mind that the man determines the sex of the child. Her daughter Elizabeth I, arguably Britain’s greatest monarch, was the Virgin Queen, precisely because once she married and surrendered her sexuality to a man it diminished her imperium.

So what it comes down to, again, is that this is about power. House Republicans are creating a Planned Parenthood investigative “committee” to weaken political opponents and catalyze their base, the same way they set up the Benghazi “committee” to weaken Hillary Clinton and fire up conservatives.

And in the states, right-wing Republicans are attacking Planned Parenthood with every political means at their disposal, including electing retrograde state legislatures that in turn enact horrific, humiliating laws designed to slut-shame women out of having abortions and restrict access to contraception.

What angers conservatives about Planned Parenthood isn’t just what they do – contraception, reproductive health care and, yes, abortions. It’s how the organization does it – without judgment or shame – and the result it produces: women in control of their own bodies, both physically and politically.

 

By: Laura K. Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, October 6, 2015

October 8, 2015 Posted by | Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Rights, War On Women | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ben Carson Is Right About Something!”: But Where Would His New Standard Leave Most Republicans?

Just a few days ago I wrote an article slamming Ben Carson for his asinine view that a Muslim should not be president of the United States and that the values of Islam are incompatible with our Constitution.  The irony here, of course, is that Carson’s very views are inconsistent with our Constitution, which expressly prohibits a religious test for president (or any federal office.)

But on Monday night Carson actually said something I agree with. While on Fox News, he stated, “I don’t care what religion or faith someone belongs to if they’re willing to subjugate that to the American way and to our Constitution.”

He even said he would support a Muslim American seeking office if the person  “clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion.”

I couldn’t agree more with Carson. And I say that as a Muslim American. If a Muslim candidate for office were to advocate imposing Islamic law in America or revising our Constitution to agree with the Koran, I would be the first one to loudly oppose that person.

But I also feel strongly the same test should apply to all candidates of any faith. John F. Kennedy, a man I greatly admire, espoused a similar view when running for president in 1960 when he was subject to vile religious bigotry for being Catholic. Like Carson is now saying about Muslims, in 1960 some on the right claimed that Roman Catholicism was “incompatible with the principles” of our nation and that Kennedy was not truly loyal to America simply because of his faith.

In response, Kennedy gave a famous speech in 1960 before a group of Protestant ministers in Houston to address these allegations head on. There, Kennedy said that “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Adding, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

Kennedy did, in essence, what Carson advocated Monday; namely that he swore “to place our Constitution above” his religious beliefs.  And I believe it’s now time for the GOP presidential field to do the same. (The Democrats as well but let’s be honest, the religion talk comes from the Republican presidential field.)

So in accordance with the “Carson doctrine,” at the next GOP debate, all the  presidential candidates should be asked if they would expressly pledge to place our Constitution above their religious beliefs.  Yes, I know some will try to squirm there way out of it saying things like, “America was founded on Christian values and that is my faith” or “America is a Christian nation and I’m a Christian so there won’t be a problem.”

Not so quick. If any candidate refuses to make this pledge, follow up questions must be asked. We, as a nation, need to know specifically which of their respective religious beliefs they view as superior to our Constitution. Here are a few proposed questions:

  1. In the Bible it says that, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Do you agree or reject that principle?
  2. If a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, would you support the men of the town stoning her to death as expressly as mandated by the Bible?
  3. We have heard American pastors called for killing gays for “for their abominable deed” as it’s described in the Bible. Is that something you reject or agree with?
  4.  If a woman is raped in the city but does not cry out for help, would you stone the woman to death to “purge the evil from your midst” or reject that and instead follow our Constitution?
  5. Do you believe in death for those who commit blasphemy as required by the Bible?

We can even ask about modern day issues such as if a bill was put in front of you to ban all abortions, would you sign it, imposing you religious believes upon all Americans or follow the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade?

Don’t we need to know which passages they would follow if elected president and which they would reject? And yes, I know that many of the above passages are from the Old Testament and some Christians will claim that they don’t follow that book—except when some cite it to demonize gays, of course.

Well I’m far from a theologian but Revs. Billy and Franklin Graham are. Billy believes that Christians mistakenly ignore the Old Testament when in fact God gave “the whole Bible to us.” And his son Franklin has echoed that very sentiment with his words, “I believe the Bible from cover to cover. I believe the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament.”

But even before the next debate, we know some would fail the Carson test. For example, Mike Huckabee has stated that conservatives cannot accept “ungodly” court rulings on gay marriage and abortion. He has even urged that we need “to amend the Constitution” to agree with the Bible.

And Rick Santorum in 2012 told us that Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech “makes me throw up,” and U.S. laws must “comport” with the Bible. So he’s out too.

But the jury is still out on the rest including Carson himself. Isn’t it time we know if these candidates will place the U.S. Constitution over the religious beliefs or are they more beholden to the Biblical passages listed above?  I, for one, very much want to know the answer to that question.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Religious Beliefs, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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