So after a brief moment in the spotlight, it appears that Ben Carson will not be this week’s Savior of the Republican Party after all. But his quick rise and fall raise an interesting question: Why are some people incredibly smart when it comes to some topics, and incredibly stupid when it comes to others?
To bring you up to speed, Carson is a noted neurosurgeon who, among other things, was the first to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head. He’s also extremely politically conservative (and African-American), which made him a popular, though by no means nationally famous, figure in some conservative circles. Then in February, he gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which he took the occasion to sharply criticize President Obama (who was sitting right there) and advocate for a flat tax, which as everyone knows is pleasing unto the Lord. The Wall Street Journal then ran an editorial titled “Ben Carson for President,” and he was off to the races, making media appearances, appearing at CPAC, and obviously seriously considering a run for the White House. Until he went on Hannity and said no one should undermine traditional marriage, “be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality,” a comment that the PC police took issue with. And now it turns out that in addition to his anti-gay views, Carson also believes that the world is 6,000 years old, and evolution is just some crazy idea for which there’s no more evidence than there is for the biblical story of creation.
It’s this last part that I find particularly interesting. Elitist that I am, I tend to think of young-earth creationists as poorly educated, backwoods folk. This isn’t a matter of religious belief versus lack of belief, either. The Catholic Church, which is run by some fellows who are pretty serious about their religion, says that evolution is perfectly compatible with the biblical creation story, properly understood. I really don’t understand how one could make it through college and med school (with all those science prerequisites!) and sustain those beliefs. After exposure to not just the discoveries of science but to scientific thinking and methods themselves, you have to go through some incredible mental gymnastics to believe that it’s all just a lie. There have been other prominent Republican politicians who have advocated intelligent design (Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum did last year), but if you’re going for the top job, young-earth creationism is an entirely different level.
And that’s not all. Carson also seems to be something of a biblical literalist, also a belief system no person with an IQ higher than that of a turnip could reasonably hold to, unless he were also willing to advocate the stoning of rebellious children, the death penalty for working on the sabbath, and all the juicy polygamy, genocide, slavery, and rape that make the Old Testament such a page-turner. But maybe his views on those things are more nuanced than they appear.
We all have subjects we know nothing about, and things we struggle to understand. For instance, I’m pretty handy around the house when it comes to mechanical systems or anything that is made of wood, but I find electricity baffling. Circuits, ohms, volts, watts— for some reason I find it kind of confusing, as evidenced by that time I shorted out half the house trying to install a simple light switch. That being said, I wouldn’t assert that it’s all phony mumbo-jumbo, and trained electricians are nothing but a bunch of con artists. There are people who are insightful at understanding literature but terrible at understanding physics, or vice-versa. What’s so jarring about Carson is that his area of accomplishment is a scientific one, yet he seems incapable of thinking rationally when his religious beliefs touch on areas his scientific mind ought to help him understand.
It’s Carson’s venomous views on gay people, and not his crazy views about geology and biology, that will keep him from becoming the mainstream figure some had hoped. But I suspect he’ll do just fine, finding a Palin-esque niche on the right to occupy. It may not be the White House, but it’s a pretty good gig.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 1, 2013
Someone’s going to have to explain this one to me.
Fox News Host Eric Bolling on Thursday offered to pay for one week’s worth of White House tours after the administration temporarily suspended them due to cutbacks under sequestration. “If I can get the White House doors open, I will pick up the tab,” Bolling said on the Fox show “The Five.”
Soon after, Fox News’ Sean Hannity offered to also “pay for a week” of White House tours out of his own pocket.
If this seems familiar, it’s because the offers come on the heels of Republican outrage over the decision to scrap White House tours as a consequence of sequestration budget cuts. Apparently, the president and his team had a choice: cancel the tours or start Secret Service furloughs. They chose the former.
And the right apparently can’t stop talking about it, to the point that Fox personalities want to open their wallets to keep the tours going. By some accounts, Fox News has been more than a little preoccupied with the issue.
There may be some deeper symbolic meeting that eludes me — if there is, I’m all ears — or perhaps conservatives are vastly more attached to White House tours than I ever realized. Either way, I can’t help but wonder about the right’s priorities.
Jed Lewison noted today, for example, that the Army was forced to suspend a tuition-assistance program as a result of the sequester, but Bolling and Hannity aren’t offering to pick up the tab on this one.
Of all things for Republicans to be going nuts about, losing the White House tours is the last one. Sequestration is causing real harm to real people, whether it’s unemployed workers, children and mothers who need Head Start, or soldiers looking to enroll in the Army’s tuition assistance program.
They could make all these problems go away — including the loss of their precious tours — with the blink of an eye. All they have to do is repeal sequestration. If they just repealed the damn thing, they wouldn’t even have to raise taxes.
And if they want an equivalent amount of deficit reduction, they can get that too by replacing sequester with a combination of revenue and spending cuts. As President Obama has said more times than anybody cares to remember, his offer is still on the table. Republicans are the ones saying no, and even if White House tours are the only thing that pisses them off, they still have the option of doing something about it.
I have to admit, watching news events unfold, it’s sometimes easy to find myself saying, “Well, I bet Fox will have a field day with this one.”
But White House tours? When sequestration is causing real hardship on real people? I’m at a bit of a loss on this one.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 8, 2013
The long simmering war between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party has finally come to a boil. Last week Karl Rove, the “brains” behind the Republican super PAC American Crossroads announced the creation of a new super group, the Conservative Victory Project.
I’m a Democrat who believes in the axiom that the best thing to do when Republicans are lined up in a circular firing squad is to stay out of the way, watch, and enjoy the spectacle. Rove’s brainchild is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to start.
But I’ll start with visibility. Up to this point, the war between the Republican Party has been confined to party confabs like state conventions and cocktail hour at the Heritage Foundation. The creation of the Conservative Victory Project means that the battle will be a lot more visible taking place on television in front of the faces of millions of voters.
What is worse, two feet of snow in the Northeast or Karl Rove’s two feet of clay? Then there’s the question of effectiveness. American Crossroads was a miserable failure in 2012. Rove’s super PAC spent close to $200 million, almost all of it in races where the Republican candidate lost. If the Conservative Victory Project performs as poorly against the Tea Party as it did the Democratic Party, then there will be even more hapless Tea Party candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin who win primaries and lose to Democratic candidates. If Rove wants to spend millions of dollars to defeat Tea Party candidates instead of Democrats, I’m all for it. Democrats are licking their chops at the prospect.
If Rove and his moneyed minions were serious about taking on the Tea Party, they should have done it before the Tea Party took over the Republican Party in 2009. If Rove and his acolytes were really serious about crushing the extremists in the GOP, they would step up to the plate and take on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who rile up the crazies in the GOP daily. Hannity may rhyme with sanity but the two words are not synonyms.
A Tea Party official suggested the name: Conservative Victory Project group was “Orwellian” because the real goal of the group was to defeat conservative candidates. I don’t get a vote but in my opinion, a more appropriate name would be the Republican Defeat Project.
By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, February 8, 2013
“Situational Patriotism”: If You Only Love America When It Agrees With You, It Says More About You Than Fidelity To Your Country
Remember when conservatives used to say, “America, love it or leave it”? When just about any protest coming from somewhere else along the ideological spectrum was cause to question that person’s loyalty and love of country? Ah yes. Those were the days.
But now, after decades of positioning government as the enemy, the more recent rise of Tea Party populism, and the prospects of a two-term Democratic president, some on the right find themselves in rather a different place. Instead of impugning the loyalties of others for their perceived lack of patriotism, they are left to employ a sort of situational patriotism all their own.
Take, for example, Ben Shapiro. You may not know who Shapiro is. I certainly didn’t (apparently he’s an “Editor-at-Large” for Breitbart.com). But then he went on CNN and offered this little chestnut: Average citizens are entitled to semi-automatic weapons because the U.S. government may follow the path of Nazi Germany (his analogy, not mine) and descend into tyranny.
That may sound intemperate to you, but Shapiro is hardly alone among those tramping about the outer limits these days. On his radio program, Sean Hannity said he could well understand why “more conservative states” might say, “I don’t want to be a part of this union anymore,” and secede from the United States. The justification: Taxes on the very wealthy had been raised to levels not seen since (gasp) the 1990s.
There’s more. The now infamous freak-out of one Alex Jones on Piers Morgan’s show; Texas Rep. Steven Stockman’s pronouncement that executive branch efforts to reduce gun violence are an “existential threat to the nation”; Mark Levin’s claim to a “fury” about the “imperial presidency ” of Barack Obama that he can “barely contain.” And much more is sure to come on the heels of the president’s announcement yesterday.
Now to be clear, not every conservative is marching to the beat of the same drum. See what David Frum’s been doing on Twitter (and elsewhere), for example. But the rumblings from some quarters are sufficient that it’s hard not to wonder: What’s really going on here? Authentic anger, or something more tactical? I think the answer is…yes.
Consider Shapiro’s statement on a gun control debate that centers on an horrific massacre and whether there are any sensible measures we can take—like banning the semi-automatic weapon the shooter used—to help ensure something like that never happens again. A debate on the merits might be: Are there productive uses for semi-automatic firearms when put in the hands of average citizens that we can weigh against the damage they cause when employed with malicious intent? For some of us at least, it’s hard to think of any productive uses that outweigh the nefarious ones.
But what if you expand the playing field so much that ideas like defending ourselves from the U.S. military is treated like a rational justification? If that’s the kind of thing that average Americans should be preparing for in the ordinary course of business then hell, semi-automatics aren’t going to do the trick. Keeping a herd of angry dinosaurs in the backyard is more like it.
And how about Hannity. Congress just raised taxes on the very wealthy to a rate higher than under President George W. Bush, but the same as under President Bill Clinton, and much, much lower than under a whole host of other presidents. In other words, we might not like higher taxes, but the current tax rate on the very wealthy is well within range of the rates they’ve historically been asked to pay.
But Hannity’s casual suggestion that all those folks signing secession petitions are making a reasonable case serves the same purpose as Shapiro’s, if about a different issue: If slightly higher taxes on a small sliver of the wealthiest Americans during a time of troubling deficits really is cause for secession, then God forbid considering any other tax increases on anyone else for any reason.
In other words, Shapiro and Hannity (and Stockman and Levin, etc.) are less interested in convincing you that they are right than they are in expanding the range of conservative ideas that can be deemed reasonable, while at the same time narrowing the space left for ideas of a more moderate or liberal persuasion. It’s an attempt to affect a rightward shift of what we think of as the mainstream, something conservative pundits have proven pretty good at.
And maybe it will work. But you gotta wonder at what point all of this comes back to bite them. The fact is, Shapiro’s remarks betray a deep suspicion of the United States, and Hannity’s casual indifference to the essential nature of this country and the strength we derive from its ideological and geographic breadth, is fairly breathtaking.
Here’s something worth remembering: Tax rates go up and tax rates go down. We spend more and we spend less. Sometimes what you believe is in vogue and sometimes it isn’t. That’s part of the democratic process at the heart of our country, the evolutions the country goes through with each succeeding generation.
If you only love America when it agrees with you, that isn’t love at all. It’s a kind of situational patriotism that says more about you than fidelity to your country. Makes one yearn for a time when patriotism was made of sterner stuff.
By: Anson Kaye, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, January 17, 2013
So much of politics can be described as an elaborate game of “I know you are, but what am I?” One side makes an attack, and the other side tries to mirror or echo it. For a prime example of this, look no further than yesterday’s attempt by conservative bloggers to turn a five-year-old Barack Obama speech into a campaign scandal, following the “47 percent” video that has inflicted huge damage on Mitt Romney’s campaign.
In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama spoke to students at Hampton University, where he discussed the alienation felt by lower-income African Americans and others in inner cities. He critiqued the federal government for its poor response during Hurricane Katrina, while also emphasizing ways in which the black community could improve itself. For Obama, this was boilerplate. The thing that made it interesting—for the right’s purposes, at least—was the fact that Obama slipped into an African American accent during the speech. If you pay attention to politicians at all, you know this isn’t unusual. When George W. Bush talked to Southern Evangelicals, he dropped his “g’s” and added a little twang to his voice. Likewise, when Hillary Clinton spoke to black audiences during the 2008 primaries, she sometimes began to mimic a preacher’s cadence. It happens, and it usually becomes an occasion for good-natured ribbing.
For Matt Drudge, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity & Associates, however, Obama’s accent was evidence of his racial “divisiveness” and contempt for ordinary Americans. Here’s how Carlson saw the speech: “He’s saying: ‘They don’t like you’ because they are black. That is the theme of the speech from front to back, from beginning to end: ‘They don’t like you because of your skin color.’ And that is a shockingly— that’s a nasty thing to say. It’s a divisive thing to say. It’s a demagogic thing to say.”
Anyone who has watched or listened to the speech will tell you that this is the opposite of what Obama said. The dominant tone, in fact, sounded like this: “We can diminish poverty if we approach it in two ways: by taking mutual responsibility for each other as a society, and also by asking for some more individual responsibility to strengthen our families.”
To many on the right, it seems, there’s no way that a black person can talk to other black people without being “divisive.” It’s as if they’re angry at the fact that sometimes, African Americans say things to each other, for each other. If the political world is a variation on high school, then conservatives are the people asking—every day—”Why are the black kids all sitting together at lunch?”
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, October 3, 2012