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“Feeding The Paranoid Right”: Republican Politicians And Conservative Media Bear Direct Responsibility For Vile Thinking On The Right

In today’s edition of Republicans Think the Darndest Things, a poll from Farleigh Dickinson University that came out the other day found, as polls regularly do, that Americans in general and conservatives in particular believe some nutty stuff. That’s not news, but there are some reasons to be genuinely concerned, which I’ll explain. The headline finding is this: Respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” Forty-four percent of Republicans—yes, almost half—said they agreed. We’ve been doing pretty well with this constitutional system for the last 224 years, but it’s just about time to junk it.

The right reaction to any shocking poll result is to say, “Let’s not make too much of this.” And I don’t think any but a tiny proportion of the people who would answer yes to that question would start in or participate in a revolution. Let’s take the gun owners who email me every time I write an article about guns, telling me I’m an ignorant unmanly Northeastern elitist liberty-hating girly-man wimp (yeah, they’re heavy on the accusations of insufficient manliness; this is what psychologists call “projection”). If their neighbor came over and said, “Enough is enough; I’m going down to the police station to kill some cops—you know, for liberty. Are you coming?”, how many of them would say yes? Not very many.

Nevertheless, the fact that so many people are willing to even entertain the idea is appalling, and we have to put the responsibility where it belongs. We don’t know for sure if you would have gotten a different result had you asked this question before, say, January of 2009 (to pick a random date), because no one was asking. But Ed Kilgore has the appropriate reaction:

But our main target ought to be the politicians and pundits and bloggers that walk the revolutionary rhetorical road because it’s “entertaining” or it makes them feel all macho (like Grover Norquist swaggering around Washington with a “I’d rather be killing commies” button after one of his trips to Angola in the 1980s), or it’s just useful to have an audience or a political base mobilized to a state of near-violence by images of fire and smoke and iron and blood.

As I’ve observed on many occasions, you can only imagine how these self-appointed guardians of liberty would feel if casual talk of “armed revolution” became widespread on the left or among those people. There should not, cannot, be a double standard on this issue.

So please join me in calling on conservatives to cut this crap out and separate themselves from those who believe in vindicating the “original constitution” or defending their property rights or exalting their God or protecting the unborn via armed revolution. If William F. Buckley could “excommunicate” Robert Welch and the John Birch Society from the conservative movement back in the 1960s, today’s leaders on the Right can certainly do the same to those who not only share many of that Society’s views, but are willing to talking about implementing them by killing cops and soldiers.

As a general matter, I don’t think it’s necessary to demand that politicians repudiate every crazy thing said by anyone who might agree with them on anything.1 But Ed is absolutely right: Republican politicians and conservative media figures bear direct responsibility for the rise of this vile strain of thinking on the right. They cultivate it, they encourage it, they give it aid and comfort every single day.

For instance, the NRA is having its annual convention in Houston as we speak. Yesterday, a man went into the Houston airport with an AR-15 and a handgun, fired into the air, was fired upon by law enforcement officials, and then shot himself. Glenn Beck then went on his program and told his viewers that there is “a very good chance” that the episode was engineered by the “uber left,” whatever that means, and compared it to the Reichstag fire. In other words, Beck is encouraging people to think that just like Hitler and the Nazis, Barack Obama is about to use an episode like that as a pretext for the imposition of some kind of horrifically oppressive regime. Beck is a featured speaker at the NRA convention, along with a passel of well-known Republican politicians like Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. How many of them will condemn him? None, of course.

They won’t, not only because most of the people at the convention probably agree with Beck, but because what Beck says is only a tiny step or two toward the fringe from what they say all the time. Is there a prominent Republican politician who hasn’t at some point in the last four years told people that Barack Obama is a tyrant, or that our liberties are being stripped away, that Obama wants to kill your grandma with his death panels, or that America is inches from ceasing to be what it has been for two centuries? Is there a prominent Republican politician who hasn’t done his or her part to feed the paranoid, violent fantasies of the extreme right? If confronted, they’d no doubt say, “Oh, well I never actually said people should forget about democracy and start killing cops and soldiers in an attempt to overthrow the government. That’s not what I meant at all when I talked about ‘tyranny’ and ‘oppression’ and that stuff.” But that’s exactly what their supporters heard, and they damn well know it. And they ought to be held to account.

1For some reason, not everyone gets asked to do this in equal measure. For instance, in Barack Obama’s first appearance on Meet the Press in 2006, Tim Russert confronted the Senate candidate with some inflammatory things Harry Belafonte had said about George W. Bush. Now what was the connection between Belafonte and Obama? I can’t think what it might have been.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 3, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Facing Republican Intransigent Extremism”: How President Obama Can Still Win In Washington

The Washington pundits of the moment – a group that includes such blinding lights as Maureen Dowd and Ron Fournier – seem to believe that if only President Obama would provide adequate “leadership,” the partisan polarization on Capitol Hill would evaporate and America’s problems could be solved at last. While the president rightly mocked this notion as a fantasy worthy of Hollywood’s Aaron Sorkin, it does raise the vital question, however obtusely, of what Obama might do as he confronts an oppositional Republican-led Congress.

Whatever the punditocracy may imagine, there is no way for Obama to force his agenda on the Republicans in the House and the Senate, who range from scheming partisans like Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor to Tea Party zealots like Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann. Unlike Abraham Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson, the two brilliant manipulators with whom he is sometimes compared and found wanting, the president is not equipped to bribe, blackmail, or herd in the style of those Machiavellian chief executives. If he were so equipped — and indeed used his power as ruthlessly as Lincoln or Johnson — the same pundits who now complain that he isn’t controlling the agenda would shriek about his misuse of power.

In this journalistic mindset, the president (especially a Democratic president) is always wrong; using power is bad/unethical/cynical, while failing to use power is weak/aloof/naïve. Both ends of this stick have been repeatedly applied to Obama, of course, just as they were constantly used to punish Bill Clinton.

Alternatively, those calling for presidential “leadership” — especially the oh-so-serious Beltway types — want Obama to prove his bona fides by abandoning Democratic programs and principles, even though the Republicans have showed no willingness to cross their redline on taxes. In fact, the president has offered an excess of compromise already, while failing to elicit any fresh initiative from the opposition. Yet somehow, in the pundit mindset, Obama and the Republican leadership are equally at fault.

The president understands that critics who play such jejune Beltway games don’t deserve much of his time or attention, unless they can serve as absurdist foils for a funny dinner speech. The most salient fact in American political life is (and for some time has been) the intransigent extremism of the Republican Party. Any columnist who tries to ignore or excuse that extremism has nothing useful to tell any president.

What Obama evidently doesn’t understand, despite years of bitter experience, is the significance of that right-wing extremism for someone like him, whose nature is to accept differences and seek compromise. Unable to negotiate with a reasonable counterpart on either side of the Hill, he too frequently negotiates with himself – whether over Obamacare, the debt ceiling, the budget, deficit reduction, taxes, or “reforming” Social Security.

Yet whenever he discards a progressive position, such as the public option in health care, or adopts a conservative position, such as reducing Social Security cost-of-living increases, he only succeeds in demoralizing his base. Meanwhile, rejection by the Republicans is preordained.

So what is left for President Obama to do if he wishes to see any of his second-term agenda enacted? By now he ought to have noticed that when he speaks out firmly on behalf of progressive principles, in support of working families, his polling numbers improve and his power increases. (And whenever he vacillates, his numbers diminish and his authority weakens.)

The recent battle over gun background checks indicates that even some of the most reactionary Republicans – like Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey, formerly of the Club for Growth – can be pushed into supporting sensible reform. But that doesn’t mean seeking a “grand bargain” with politicians who want no bargain at all. It does mean mobilizing citizens on the largest possible scale, every day; it means making sure they know that the president is on their side, shares their values, and will uphold his promises to them. It means explaining to the American people, with fearless candor, that the Republican Party is unfit to participate in national governance – and unless that party is defeated decisively next year, no important objective can be achieved.


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, May 3, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Scheduling Conflicts”: Senators Who Voted To Kill Background Checks Dodge Meetings With Gun Victims

Senators who voted against a bipartisan amendment expanding background checks for firearm purchased at gun shows and online refused this week to meet with families impacted by gun violence, citing scheduling conflicts or ignoring requests altogether.

The push, part of an effort organized by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, comes as lawmakers who opposed the popular measure are facing pointed questions from angry constituents at town halls and seeing their approval ratings plummet. As a result, some are simply dodging the tough questions, particularly from families who have been most affected by gun violence:

– SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): Anne Lyczak — who lost her husband Richard in January 1994, when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Portsmouth, N.H — “wrote a letter to Ayotte, inviting her to dinner at her house to talk about ways to prevent gun violence…. Ayotte’s office, however, turned down Lyczak’s request, saying the senator would keep it under consideration for the future. Ayotte’s office cited scheduling constraints” [Huffington Post, 5/3/2013]

– SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): “Caren Teves, whose son was killed last summer in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., said she invited Flake to dinner to sit in her son’s empty chair. He replied with a hand-written note affirming his support for expanded gun control measures. “I am confused and would like an answer,” Teves said. “I would like Sen. Flake to look me in the eye and tell me why he ignored me.” Teves said Flake has ignored many emails and phone calls from her and her husband, but she remains determined. [KTAR, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. MARK PRYOR (D-AR): Neil Heslin — whose son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School — “said he invited Senator Pryor to a private dinner to speak about how legislation he wants to eliminate gun loopholes. However, Heslin told us he never heard back from Pryor, but plans to speak with him at a public event in Lonoke County Thursday.” [KATV, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): “Fran Lynch of North Carolina’s Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham sent a letter to Burr, asking that he join her and her friends for a discussion on gun control… Burr’s scheduler replied that the senator was unavailable “due to previously scheduled events already on his schedule.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): “[A] Springfield, Ohio woman whose 27-year-old son was killed in last year’s Colorado movie theater rampage tried to arrange a dinner with Portman so she could express her frustration with his vote….A Portman aide told The Plain Dealer the senator’s schedule did not permit him to meet with Jackson this week, but he would consider it in the future.” [Plain Dealer, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Parents of a woman who was killed in the Colorado theatre shooting “said they initially invited both Cruz and Senator John Cornyn to their home for dinner…. Though Cornyn has not accepted their invitation, Cruz, who was in town on Wednesday for a North Side Chamber of Commerce event, met briefly with the couple at a local restaurant.” [KSAT, 5/1/2013]

The National Rifle Association has begun running radio ads thanking Ayotte for voting down background checks and the senator continues to justify her opposition to the amendment by falsely claiming that additional screenings would lead to the creation of a gun registry. The claim, widely debunked, has been advanced by the NRA.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the sponsor of the bipartisan measure, has pledged to slightly modify his amendment and bring it back for a vote in the Senate. Gun advocates remain hopeful that the growing public pressure could convince more than 60 senators to support the bill, forcing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to put it up for a vote in House of Representatives. The House version of the Manchin compromise has more than 120 co-sponsors, including three Republicans.


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, May 4, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are No ‘Absolute’ Rights”: Limitations Are Both Possible And Necessary

Every time I write a column on guns, the howl arises that I am talking about a right that is enshrined in the Constitution, buddy, and I better watch myself. The howl then transmutes into an extended harangue that this right is absolute, and no libtard fascist, whether me or the Satanesque Dianne Feinstein, is going to limit the right in any way. The first soldier to charge across this rhetorical veld is followed by hundreds harrumphing their assent. The only problem is that it’s an ahistorical, afactual, and barbaric argument. No right is absolute. In fact, the Second Amendment arguably has fewer restrictions on it these days than many of the other first ten, and there is and should be no guarantee that things are going to stay that way. In fact, if we’re ever going to be serious about trying to stop this mass butchery that we endure every few months, they cannot.

Let’s begin by going down the list and reviewing various limits placed on nearly all the amendments of the Bill of Rights (I thank Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center for helping me out here). The First Amendment, of course, guarantees the right to free speech and assembly, and to worship as one pleases. There haven’t been that many restrictions placed on the freedom to worship in the United States, although there is a steady stream of cases involving some local government or school board preventing someone from wearing religious clothing or facial hair or what have you. Sometimes a Christian school or church is denied a zoning permit; but more often it’s the freedom to worship of a minority (Muslim, Sikh, etc) that is threatened.

As for free speech, of course it is restricted. Over the past 50 or so years in a series of cases, courts have placed a number of “time, place, and manner” restrictions on free speech. To restrict speech in general, the government must meet four tests. But this is always being revised and negotiated. Here’s one restriction on the Bill of Rights that I’d wager most conservatives would happily approve of. In 1988, the HHS under Reagan promulgated rules prohibiting a family-planning professional at a clinic that received federal dollars from “promoting” (i.e. telling a woman about) abortion. This was challenged partially on free-speech grounds. In Rust v. Sullivan (1991), the Supreme Court held that these rules did not violate the clinicians’ free-speech rights. So far as I can see, this is still law. It’s just one example from many free-speech restrictions that have been imposed over the years, as you can see here.

Let’s skip the Second Amendment for now. The Third Amendment—my personal favorite—proscribes the private quartering of troops. Not so relevant to life today—in fact, the Supreme Court has apparently never considered a Third Amendment challenge. Onward.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure, and of course there are loads of exceptions to this right, the most notable being that whenever an officer of the law has reason to think an imminently dangerous situation exists, s/he may invade a citizen’s privacy. Then there’s the question of the “exclusionary rule,” by which evidence deemed to have been improperly obtained can be excluded as evidence. Jurisprudence on this question goes back a hundred years, and this very interesting paper notes that it has been two decades since the Court upheld the application of the exclusionary rule in a search-and-seizure case. Since then, the Rehnquist and Roberts courts have ruled six times—every time for the government, i.e., limiting the constitutional protection. (Funny, isn’t it, how many of these other, non-gun limitations on the Bill of Rights are championed by conservatives?)

The Fifth Amendment most famously protects against self-incrimination. Kendall notes that there have indeed been almost no restrictions placed on this right—inside the trial courtroom. Outside the courtroom, however, limitations are rife, having to do mostly with circumstances of interrogations and confessions made within them. This amendment also provides for due process, and that means Miranda rights, and again here, we know from recent news stories that not everyone is immediately read them, and we also know that it’s conservatives who have always despised Miranda in the first place and seek to limit or overturn it today.

The Sixth Amendment provides the right to counsel and a speedy trial, and here again, our time is witness to a slow watering down of these rights by the Court’s conservative majority, as in 2009’s Montejo v. Louisiana. The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury in civil cases, and this contains a blatant restriction: the Court has never “incorporated” this right to apply to states, where the majority of civil cases are tried, so most civil cases don’t include this right. And the Eighth Amendment, against cruel and unusual punishment, has been much contested with respect to issues like juvenile crime. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments don’t enumerate specific rights as such and so aren’t relevant.

Now, back to the Second Amendment. I’m sure that pro-gun extremists know very well about Scalia’s famous opinion in Heller (2008), which dramatically expanded gun rights. But even in that decision, Scalia himself said that Second Amendment protections could apply only to weapons “in common use at the time.” Chris Wallace asked Scalia in 2012 about semiautomatic weapons and extended magazines, and he said: “What the opinion Heller said is that it will have to be decided in future cases. What limitations upon the right to bear arms are permissible. Some undoubtedly are, because there were some that were acknowledged at the time. For example, there was a tort called affrighting, which if you carried around a really horrible weapon just to scare people, like a head ax or something, that was I believe a misdemeanor. So yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed.”

Now I don’t trust him to rule that way as far as I could throw him, but if even Scalia is saying that, then yes, limitations are both possible and reasonable.

Imagine what conservatives would think of a group of liberals who insisted, while threatening an insurrection, on a pure and absolute interpretation of the Fourth or Sixth Amendment—and imagine how ridiculous they would look to average Americans. Hunters, sportsmen, collectors, and even defenders of their homes (misguided as they may be, according to the statistics certainly do have rights to keep and bear arms that are reasonable and should not be trampled. But the idea that any right is unrestricted is totally at odds with history, the law, and reality. And the idea that a group of Americans possesses an absolute “right” to own and keep weapons that can—and in practice do—kill numerous innocent people in seconds, destroying families and communities and tearing at the nation’s collective soul, is barbaric and psychotic. As the old saying goes: if you want to shoot an assault weapon, go enlist.

For civilians, meanwhile, we’re one Supreme Court justice away from getting some sanity and balance to interpretations of the Second Amendment, and the only thing I can’t decide is whether it would be more delicious for Barack Obama to appoint that judge or for Hillary Clinton to do it.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 5, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Bill of Rights, Constitution | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Safe And Effective”: All Women Should Have Quick, Confidential Access To Emergency Contraception

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration took an important step for millions of women by moving emergency contraception out from behind the pharmacy counter and making it available to people ages 15 and older with valid identification.

As a doctor, I know that this is good news and a great first step. Emergency contraception is a safe and effective form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex. By reducing barriers, this announcement will help more women prevent unintended pregnancy.

At the same time, the Obama administration said this week that it is appealing last month’s federal ruling that would have eliminated the age restriction completely. Citing scientific research and evidence, the judge removed the age and point of sale restrictions that made it harder for all women to access emergency contraception. That ruling should stand.

Unprotected sex sometimes happens – a condom breaks or non-consensual sex occurs. When it does, all women, regardless of their age, need access to emergency contraception quickly and confidentially.

Remember, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy. The sooner it is taken, the more effective it is (but if you are already pregnant, it won’t work). That’s why removing unnecessary barriers that delay access can help a woman prevent an unintended pregnancy.

The research shows that emergency contraception is safe for women of all ages, including young people. Research also indicates that teens understand how to use emergency contraception and understand it is not intended for ongoing, regular use. It doesn’t increase risky behavior either.

A recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that sexual activity is exceedingly rare among the youngest adolescents. However, when sex does occur among teens under 14, it is often non-consensual and contraceptives are not used.

So despite some of the myths out there, emergency contraception is a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy for all women, regardless of age (though, as someone who talks to parents everyday about health care, I also know it’s crucial that parents have conversations with their children about these issues).

The good news is that this week’s decision makes it a whole lot easier for women to get access to emergency contraception. More should be done to remove all barriers and unnecessary hurdles. While the teen birth rates have declined significantly in the last two decades, they are still high, including in states that lack access to medical providers and preventive health care.

That’s why, as a doctor, I know it makes good scientific and medical sense to expand access to emergency contraception to all women.


By: Deborah Nucatola, MD, Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, May 3, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Birth Control, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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