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“Bring On The Pajama Bashing”: Conservatives Can’t Help But Give Vent To Their Ugliest Impulses And Anxieties

Just as we understand the world through stories, our political narratives often revolve around characters, ordinary people who become momentarily famous as supposedly representative of some policy issue or cultural trend. Sometimes they’re fictional, and sometimes they’re people who have chosen to push themselves into a political debate. But often it’s someone who dips a toe into the political waters, then finds the cameras swinging on to them in what surely is a bracing lesson in the contemporary media’s appetites.

What ensues is a debate about just what this person is supposed to represent. Is she the embodiment of a problem conservatives refuse to solve? Is he the truest of Americans, held down by liberal meddling? Or is this person, down to his or her very soul, everything we want the public to hate about the other side?

I’ve written before about the standard media practice of offering “exemplars,” or ordinary people used as the vehicle through which to tell the story of a policy issue or an event. The kind of political exemplars pushed by the parties aren’t as common, but each one gets much more attention. Last week saw another episode of these exemplar controversies, and certainly one of the oddest ones yet. Despite some of the weird details, it was familiar in the way it wound up: with conservatives showing the worst of themselves. They haven’t seemed to realize that no matter who starts these arguments, the right almost always loses them. That isn’t because liberals are so brilliant at choosing these exemplars, or because liberals control the media in which the argument plays out. It’s because once things get going, conservatives can’t help but give vent to their ugliest impulses and anxieties, driven on by the mistaken belief that all Americans will see things the way they do.

Last week, the pro-Obama group Organizing for America put up a web ad with a photo of a 20-something man wearing pajamas and drinking hot chocolate in what looked like a Christmas-morning scene, to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance. Immediately, many in the conservative media reacted as though just looking at this young fellow had transported them back to the junior high schoolyard where the class bully had called them sissies. The only way to restore their manhood, apparently, was to go after some random kid in a web ad by saying he’s kinda gay.

The National Review‘s Rich Lowry kicked things off with a column imputing to this fictional character, now named “Pajama Boy,” an entire history and a series of character flaws. “He might be glad to pay more for his health insurance to include maternity benefits he doesn’t need as a blow against gender stereotyping,” Lowry wrote. But that was one of the more restrained assaults on Pajama Boy’s masculinity. A writer for the popular conservative site Pajamas Media (so named as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the belief that bloggers are just people sitting in their pajamas spouting off, though by now they seem to have changed their stance on pajamas), wrote a piece beginning, “Whatever horrifying condition deprived Pajama Boy of his genitals, I suppose we must be thankful he can’t pass it along to future generations.” He went on to assert cleverly that left-wing academics also “have no genitals” and concluded, “Side with the left long enough, and your genitals fall off. As well they should.” Lowry’s National Review colleague Mark Steyn wrote, “Obamacare pajama models, if not yet mandatorily gay, can only be dressed in tartan onesies and accessorized with hot chocolate so as to communicate to the Republic’s maidenhood what a thankless endeavor heterosexuality is in contemporary America.” Don’t even ask what happened on Twitter.

It should go without saying that if you see a photo of a somewhat nerdy-looking young man and your first impulse is to shout, “Gay! Gay! That guy’s gay!” then maybe you should do some hard thinking about where this powerful sexual anxiety comes from.

So what happens when this is all said and done? Democrats put up a web ad, then conservatives blow a gasket and end up looking shrill and homophobic. This kind of pattern has repeated itself many times. Recall Sandra Fluke, the activist who became briefly famous when she testified before Congress about a controversy over insurance coverage for birth control at the university where she was a law student. Though she said nothing about her personal life, conservatives immediately attacked her for believing that women should have the right to a sex life. Rush Limbaugh, the most powerful conservative media figure in America, called called her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and said, “if we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” And they wonder why there’s a gender gap.

It isn’t that Democrats aren’t willing to criticize the exemplars Republicans elevate. You remember Joe the Plumber, whom John McCain loved so dearly he brought him up in a debate with Obama, praised him in stump speeches, and even produced an ad with salt-of-the-earth Americans proclaiming “I’m Joe the Plumber” as though he was Spartacus. Liberals certainly chuckled when Joe turned out to not actually be a licensed plumber, and took some satisfaction when he failed to turn his celebrity into a career as a lawmaker, losing his 2012 campaign for an Ohio congressional seat by a razor-thin 49-point margin. Liberals were happy to note that the small business owner who starred in a Mitt Romney ad attacking Barack Obama for “you didn’t build that” actually got nearly a million dollars in government loans and contracts.

But there’s a particular venom that characterizes the approach many conservatives take to the liberal exemplars. For example, it’s hard to imagine a prominent liberal columnist driving to Baltimore to poke around the home and business of the family of a 12-year-old boy who advocated for the S-CHIP funding that helped his family afford medical treatment for him and his sister after a serious car accident. But that’s what conservative celebrity Michelle Malkin did in 2007, in an attempt to prove that the boy’s family didn’t deserve the help. It certainly seems as though whenever we meet a new ordinary citizen liberals are touting, the first thought some conservatives have is, “This person must be destroyed.”

There’s also often a disconnect between the attempt to undermine the exemplar and the policy argument conservatives are making. Let’s say Malkin had succeeded in uncovering some dirt on that young boy’s family. What would that have shown—that poor children shouldn’t get health coverage? It was reminiscent of something we learned more about this week, one of the most well-known exemplars in American political history: the “welfare queen” whose bilking of the system Ronald Reagan touted as proof that poor people didn’t deserve help from the government. While liberals believed for many years that Reagan had simply made up the tale (like so many others), Slate has the fascinating backstory of Linda Taylor, who not only defrauded welfare in the 1960s and 70s but may have also committed multiple acts of murder and kidnapping. The problem with Reagan’s use of her story is that he wasn’t arguing that it showed that we needed to do more to crack down on fraud so con artists couldn’t take advantage of the system. Reagan was arguing that this career criminal was actually a typical welfare recipient, and her story showed that benefits should be cut for everyone.

Reagan’s “welfare queen” story had real political potency. These days though, conservatives are more likely to get worked up over some individual liberal (or the photo of someone they presume is a liberal) and eventually find that the public doesn’t share their excitement. Just like they thought Joe the Plumber was going to win them the 2008 election, I guess they think a photo of a guy wearing pajamas is going to get Americans mad at Barack Obama and make them not want to get health insurance. To which liberals should probably respond: Go ahead. Keep telling us about how liberal men aren’t as manly and strong as you are, and how single women are a bunch of sluts, and how racial minorities are ungrateful moochers. How’s that been working out for you lately?


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Merry Christmas From The GOP”: On December 28th Unemployment Benefits End For 1.3 Million Families

Three days after Christmas, unemployment benefits end for 1.3 million people who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits, but still can’t find a job.

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you have to be actively looking for a job. Virtually all of these people would rather work, but can’t find a job in today’s economy where there are three applicants for every job available.

But when the budget deal was negotiated in Congress over the last several weeks, Republican negotiators refused to agree to continue those unemployment benefits. And at the same time, they demanded the continuation of tax breaks for big oil companies and loopholes for Wall Street billionaires who get their income from hedge funds.

Merry Christmas from the GOP.

Of course this kind of Christmas cheer comes from the same gang that routinely drags out the well-worn charge that progressives and Democrats are engaging in a “war on Christmas”. Maybe someone should force Republican Members of Congress to sit through a showing of “A Christmas Carol” and then explain why they think Ebenezer Scrooge is the hero.

Over the last decade the far right, that now dominates the GOP, has conducted a real war on the values that we celebrate at Christmas.

In case they missed it, Christmas is about giving, and sharing and loving your neighbor. It’s about family. Christmas has nothing to do with greed or selfishness or paying people poverty level wages so you can maximize your bottom line.

The Christmas spirit is not about cutting off an economic lifeline for over a million people so the wealthiest in the land can continue to prosper beyond imagining. And remember many of those same wealthy people who are doing so well are personally responsible for the recklessness that caused the Great Recession and cost the jobs of those whose unemployment benefits they now believe we can “no longer afford”.

You hear a lot from the right wing about having to make “tough choices” because some things “we just can’t afford”. Ironically those “things we cannot afford” never include the things that benefit the very wealthy.

In fact, as surprising as it may seem to many Americans, there is more bounty in the land this Christmas, than at any time in our nation’s history. Our income per capita – and our productivity per person – has increased by 80% over the last 30 years. But over those same 30 years, average incomes for most Americans were stagnant – and virtually all of that increased income and wealth went to the top 1%.

That is bad enough. But then to insist that our country “can’t afford” to continue paying unemployment benefits to people who can’t find a job – and by the way – cut off their benefits three days after Christmas – that is an outrage.

Many on the right are so out of touch with ordinary Americans that they argue that providing unemployment benefits makes people “dependent”. This of course completely ignores the fact that to qualify you have to have been working and lost your job for no fault of your own; you have to be actively looking for work; and the maximum benefits in many states are very low.

Ask the Koch brothers to support a family on the $258 per week maximum benefit in Louisiana, or the $275 per week maximum benefit in Florida – or even the $524 per week maximum benefit in Ohio.

People don’t want to stay on unemployment benefits. They want to find a job that provides them with income and benefits that allow them to give a better life to their families and their kids. They want to make a contribution and feel that they do worthwhile work. Most Americans want to be proud of what they do for a living – they don’t want to be “dependent” on anyone.

You have to be from another planet to believe that most people will become “dependent” on a total income of $275 per week.

Unemployment benefits provide workers and their families with an economic shot in the arm to get them through being laid off in an economy when jobs are still hard to come by.

And let’s be real clear why jobs are so hard to come by. Jobs are still hard to come by because of the policies of those very same right wing politicians who refused to reign in the orgy of reckless speculation on Wall Street that resulted in a ruinous financial collapse from which the economy is still recovering.

Jobs would be a lot easier to come by if the GOP did not do everything it could to block President Obama’s American’s Jobs Act that would create millions of jobs in both the public and private sectors by investing in teachers, and infrastructure.

Jobs would be a lot easier to come by if the GOP were not fixated on cutting government investment at a time when virtually all economists – including the Federal Reserve Chairman – believe we need more fiscal stimulus and that the policy’s of the Republicans in Congress continue to be a major drag on economic growth.

In fact the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that failing to continue federal unemployment benefits will cost the economy 240,000 jobs and slow the growth of the overall economy by .2%.

Those who receive unemployment benefits spend virtually every dime on the goods and services they need to live. That spending provides jobs to thousands of other Americans. So cutting federal unemployment benefits will actually create a quarter million more people who are unemployed. Great work GOP.

So here is the bottom line. It turns out that a society that reflects the spirit of Christmas – one where we have each other’s back – where we care about each other and not just ourselves – a society like that is better for everyone.

In fact, it turns out that the “moral” thing to do – the “right” thing to do – is also the “smart” thing to do.

It turns out that progressive values like loving your neighbor as your self – are the most precious possessions of humanity because they are the values that will allow us and our children to prosper and survive.

And that’s why the spirit of Christmas doesn’t just belong to Christians – or Catholics or Baptists or Episcopalians – or anyone. The Christmas spirit belongs to everyone on our small fragile planet. And that spirit embodies exactly the set of values that we must use to chart our course not just on Christmas Day but 365 days each year – including December 28th when over a million families will lose the economic lifeline that provides them a bridge to a better life.


By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post Blog, December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“America’s Greediest”: Sheldon Adelson, Who Hates Gambling, Unless He’s Profiting From It

Among the most venerable Yuletide traditions is the annual appeal on behalf of the “neediest cases,” which has spread nationwide since it first appeared in the New York Times so long ago.

More than a century later we still have the poor with us, of course, and the rich, not to mention the unspeakably super-duper-rich – many of whom comport themselves in ways that likewise provoke public concern, especially in an era of growing inequality and impoverishment.

National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason believes the time has come to revive a somewhat less charitable tradition that he and his late colleague, the great progressive journalist Jack Newfield, established at The Village Voice during an earlier era of avarice:  “The Greediest Cases.”

This holiday season we will feature a series of profiles of America’s Greediest Cases, and we encourage readers to nominate deserving public figures in the worlds of business, government, media, entertainment, and sports who exemplify the grasping materialism and rank hypocrisy of our time.

No list of America’s greediest would be complete without the nation’s 11th richest man, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson, who serves as chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, is worth an estimated $28.5 billion. While he has profited quite handsomely from gambling, however, he is not eager to share the wealth that the industry has bestowed upon him. That’s why a man who made more than $25 billion from casinos in the past three years alone has become the public face and the checkbook of the anti-online gaming lobby.

According to Adelson, gambling online — currently legal in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey, and being debated in at least a half-dozen other states — is “a societal train wreck waiting to happen.” That’s how the 80-year-old casino mogul described it in a June column for Forbes, in which he declared that “as a father, grandfather, citizen and patriot of this great country, I am adamantly opposed to the legalization and proliferation of online casino gaming.”

In that overwrought essay, Adelson lays out his moral opposition to the industry, terming it “a toxin which all good people ought to resist,” and warning that it could bring a “plague” to American society by allowing “underage children” or “people betting under the influence of drugs” to pick up gambling and ruin their financial futures. Of course, if this sounds like something that could also happen at one of Adelson’s brick-and-mortar casinos, that’s because it is.

Adelson insists that he could make even more money from online gambling — boasting that his popular brands “would be very effective competitors in this market place” — but it is simply not worth the moral cost.

This may be a good time to mention that Adelson earned the vast majority of his wealth through his casinos in Macau –where he  allegedly gained licenses for those establishments with help from organized crime, and by using his vast political connections to kill congressional legislation that would have punished China for human rights abuses. It will always be difficult for Sheldon Adelson to claim the moral high ground, but on questions of gambling it is basically impossible. Instead, common sense suggests that Adelson is less concerned with protecting the poor addict who could “click [his] mouse and lose [his] house,” as he put it in his Forbes op-ed, and more concerned with exerting his influence on any reform that affects the gambling industry.

Even if Adelson’s motivations in his crusade against online gambling are pure, it’s not hard to find other reasons to include him among the “greediest cases.” After all, this is a man once sued by his own children, who alleged that he defrauded them by convincing them to sell him their shares in his company for just half of their true value (the younger Adelsons lost that case, although Adelson also lost a motion attempting to saddle his sons with deposition costs).

Adelson’s extensive involvement in the 2012 election may represent the clearest example of his greed. Although he spent over $100 million supporting various Republican candidates last year, he was once a Democrat. In fact, even as he was spending the GDP of a small country in an effort to elect Republicans, Adelson confided to the Wall Street Journal that he is “basically a social liberal,” who supports stem-cell research, a woman’s right to choose, comprehensive immigration reform, and even “socialized-like health care.”

Why then is he so committed to electing politicians who would wage war against his deeply held beliefs? According to Adelson, it’s because of the Republican Party’s stronger commitment to charity and to the state of Israel. But others aren’t so sure; former Adelson employee (and U.S. Representative) Shelly Berkley (D-NV) claims Adelson once told her that “old Democrats were with the union and he wanted to break the back of the union, consequently he had to break the back of the Democrats.”

Moreover, the billionaire has a strong personal financial incentive to support Republicans. According to an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, Adelson could have received a $2 billion tax cut had Mitt Romney been elected president and enacted his tax plan. That’s apparently more than enough to buy his silence on reproductive rights or health care reform (not to mention a great return on his $100 million investment).

And although Romney lost, there’s no need to pity Adelson. Even without his chosen candidate in the White House, he has managed to dodge about $2.8 billion in gift taxes since 2010 by aggressively exploiting the little-known GRAT loophole. Indeed, no matter who wins the presidency — or the battle over online gambling, for that matter — Sheldon Adelson is going to do just fine.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, December 19, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Instructive Whose Sticking Up For The Worse”: There Are Two Americas, And One Is Better Than The Other

Matt Lewis writes of the controversy over Duck Dynasty that “There really are two Americas” and that the divide over the show “has as much to do with class and geography and culture and attitude as it does with religion.”

That’s true.

Specifically, there’s one America where comparing homosexuality to bestiality is considered acceptable, and another where it is rude and offensive.

In one America, it’s OK to say this of gays and lesbians: “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.” In the other America, you’re not supposed to say that.

There’s one America where it’s OK to say this about black people in the Jim Crow-era South: “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” There’s another America where that statement is considered to reflect ignorance and insensitivity.

In one America, it’s OK to attribute the Pearl Harbor attacks to Shinto Buddhists’ failure to accept Jesus. In the other America, that is not OK.

There are two Americas, one of which is better than the other. And it’s instructive who’s sticking up for the worse America.

The conservative politicians who are complaining that Phil Robertson’s firing flies in the face of “free speech” are generally smart enough to understand that Robertson doesn’t actually have a legal right to be on A&E. When Sarah Palin and her cohorts talk about the importance of “free speech,” they mean something much more specific: That the sorts of things that Robertson said are not the sorts of things a private employer should want to fire someone for saying. That they are, or ought to be, within the bounds of social acceptability.

But they’re wrong. The other America — the America I live in — has this one right. Racist and anti-gay comments and comments disparaging of religious minorities are rude and unacceptable and might cost you your job. It’s not OK to say that gay people are “full of murder.”

I will add one caveat, in the vein of Andrew Sullivan’s comments. The things Phil Robertson said should get you fired from most jobs. But starring on a reality show is a special kind of job, one where demonstrating that you are a good person who follows good social conventions may not be necessary.

For example, if at a Business Insider function I were to flip over a table and call one of my colleagues a “prostitution whore,” I’d probably be fired. But when a Real Housewife of New Jersey does that, she’s doing her job just fine. Similarly, Phil Robertson represents some very real pathologies of his culture, and his job is to provide a look into the reality of that culture to the TV viewer.

In some sense, when Robertson compares gays to terrorists, he’s doing his job, too. So I’m sympathetic to the idea that A&E shouldn’t suspend him for this. But if they shouldn’t suspend him, it’s because it’s acceptable for Robertson to say unacceptable things, not because his remarks were acceptable.


By: Josh Barro, Business Insider, December 20, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Good Poor, Bad Poor”: Where You Stand Depends On Where You Sit

On Sundays, this time of year, my parents would pack a gaggle of us kids into the station wagon for a tour of two Christmas worlds. First, we’d go to the wealthy neighborhoods on a hill — grand Tudor houses glowing with the seasonal incandescence of good fortune. Faces pressed against the car windows, we wondered why their Santa was a better toy-maker than ours.

Then, down to the valley, where sketchy-looking people lived in vans by the river, in plywood shacks with rusted appliances on the front lawn, their laundry frozen stiff on wire lines. The rich, my mother explained, were lucky. The poor were unfortunate.

Dissenting voices rose from the back seat. But didn’t the poor deserve their fate? Didn’t they make bad decisions? Weren’t some of them just moochers? And lazy? Well, yes, in many cases, my mother said, lighting one of her L&M cigarettes, which she bought by the carton at the Indian reservation. But neither rich nor poor had the moral high ground.

As the year ends, this argument is playing out in two of the most meanspirited actions left on the table by the least-productive Congress in modern history. The House, refuge of the shrunken-heart caucus, has passed a measure to eliminate food aid for four million Americans, starting next year. Many who would remain on the old food stamp program may have to pass a drug test to get their groceries. At the same time, Congress has let unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million people, beginning just a few days after Christmas.

These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior. Here’s a sample of this line of thought:

“The explosion of food stamps in this country is not just a fiscal issue for me,” said Representative Steve Southerland, Republican from Florida, chief crusader for cutting assistance to the poor. “This is a defining moral issue of our time.”

It would be a “disservice” to further extend unemployment assistance to those who’ve been out of work for some time, said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. It encourages them to sit at home and do nothing.

“People who are perfectly capable of working are buying things like beer,” said Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, on those getting food assistance in his state.

No doubt, poor people drink beer, watch too much television and have bad morals. But so do rich people. If you drug-tested members of Congress as a condition of their getting federal paychecks, you would have most likely caught Representative Trey Radel, Republican of Florida, who recently pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine. Would it be Grinch-like of me to point out that this same congressman voted for the bill that would force many hungry people to pee in a cup and pass a drug test before getting food? Should I also mention that the median net worth for new members of the current Congress is exactly $1 million more than that of the typical American household — and that that may influence their view?

For the record, the baseline benefit for those getting help under the old food stamp program works out to $1.40 a meal. And the average check for those on emergency unemployment is $300 a week. If you cut them off cold, the argument goes, these desperate folks would soon find a job and put real food on the table. They are poor because they are weak.

I met a wheat farmer not long ago in Montana whose family operation was getting nearly $300,000 a year in federal subsidies. With his crop in, this wealthy farmer was looking forward to spending a month in Hawaii. No one suggested that he pass a drug test to continue receiving his sizable handout, or that he be cut off cold, and encouraged to grow something that taxpayers wouldn’t have to subsidize.

One person deserves the handout, the other does not. But these distinctions are colored by your circumstances — where you stand depends on where you sit.

When a million Irish died during the Great Famine of the 1850s, many in the English aristocracy said the peasants deserved to starve because their families were too big and indolent. The British baronet overseeing food relief felt that the famine was God’s judgment, and an excellent way to get rid of surplus population. His argument on relief was the same one used by Rand Paul.

“The only way to prevent the people from becoming habitually dependent on government is to bring the operation to a close,” Sir Charles Trevelyan said about the relief plan at a time when thousands of Irish a day were dropping dead from hunger.

This week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg tried not to sound like a plutocrat out of Dickens when asked about the homeless girl, Dasani, at the center of Andrea Elliott’s extraordinary series in The New York Times — a Dickensian tale for the modern age.

“The kid was dealt a bad hand,” Bloomberg said. “I don’t know why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky, and some of us are not.”

And in that, he echoed my mother at Christmas. Luck is the residue of design, as the saying has it. But the most careful lives can be derailed — by cancer, a huge medical bill, a freak slap of weather, a massive failure of the potato crop. Virtue cannot prevent a “bad hand” from being dealt. And making the poor out to be lazy, or dependent, or stupid, does not make them less poor. It only makes the person saying such a thing feel superior.

By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, December 19, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Poverty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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