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“Under the Dome”: How The Conservative Media Are Keeping The GOP From Moving Past The Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Over the weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee issued a call to arms to conservatives not to give up the fight against same-sex marriage, based on his bizarre belief that no decision of the Supreme Court has the force of law unless Congress passes legislation to confirm it. Because of that, Huckabee says, the fight can continue unhindered no matter what the court does. “I’m utterly disgusted with fellow Republicans who want to walk away from the issue of judicial supremacy just because it’s politically volatile,” he said. “Here’s my advice: Grow a spine!” Huckabee’s legal analysis may be idiosyncratic (to put it kindly), but his position — that this isn’t a fight conservatives should abandon just because they’ve nearly lost it — is one with plenty of purchase among the Republican faithful. And he’s hardly the only one with a media pulpit from which to preach it. In fact, the division within the GOP has a parallel in the conservative media. The presence of hard-liners (or dead-enders, if you prefer) like Huckabee is going to make it all the more difficult and painful for the party to evolve in the way its more sober strategists know it must.

Conservatives worked very hard over a period of decades to build up their own media to serve as an alternative and a counterweight to a mainstream press they saw as biased against them. This project was spectacularly successful, particularly with the explosion of right-wing talk radio in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the launch of Fox News in 1996. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that people began questioning whether it was doing the movement more harm than good by encasing conservatives in a self-reinforcing bubble from which it became increasingly difficult to see the outside world clearly.

Just as there are divisions within the GOP, there are divisions within the conservative media. And just as the party’s conservatives make it hard to make strategically necessary shifts — or simply avoid moving too far to the right — the continued power of hard-line media figures can keep the party from modernizing.

Since 2012, Republicans have been fretting about how they can “reach out” to minority groups, particularly Latinos, in order to widen their appeal beyond the older white folks who are the core of the party. The trouble is that it’s hard to reach out when elected officials within your party keep loudly proclaiming their anti-immigrant views. The same is true on gay marriage. The party’s national strategists would like nothing better than for the issue to go away. They know that the policy outcome is inevitable and public opinion is not turning back, so there’s little point in mounting some kind of rear-guard action against it, one that will only make the party look outdated and out of touch. But as Greg and I both pointed out last week, potential future presidential candidate Ted Cruz is going to force a debate on it in 2016 whether other Republicans like it or not.

Some parts of the conservative media will do the same thing. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters observes that in most of its programming, Fox News has all but stopped talking about same-sex marriage. But that’s not going to silence Huckabee (whose show runs on Fox on the weekends), or Rush Limbaugh, or many of the other radio hosts with huge audiences. As long as they press the issue, the Republican base will still demand that candidates proclaim their objections to the changes taking place in the country, and the harder it remains for the party to move past its vehement opposition to marriage equality. Everyone knows that evolution will have to take place eventually, but the conservative media have the power to make the transition inordinately painful.

Fox’s abdication of the marriage issue demonstrates that the network functions as the semi-official organ of the Republican Party. Roger Ailes may be in business to make money, but he won’t do so in ways that harm the interests of the GOP. The same, however, can’t be said of everyone with a large conservative audience. On a whole range of domestic issues, from immigration to marriage equality to reproductive rights, they’re going to continue pulling the party to the right even when it has to turn back to the center or risk electoral disaster (like, say, the election of a certain former secretary of state to the White House). Conservative media have been great at keeping the rabble angry and excited, getting them to the polls and getting them to open their wallets. But when the party needs to take a cold hard look at reality and evolve or get left behind, the same media are going to be an albatross holding it back.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 13, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Conservative Media, GOP, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stealth Personhood”: Colorado Antichoicers Have Gotten Craftier About Framing Their Next Ballot Text

Since there’s been more discussion of “Personhood” initiatives this year than in past years, and since Colorado’s a state where such initiatives have been voted down twice, it’s worth being aware that the Colorado antichoicers have gotten craftier about framing their next ballot text. This time around, they’re trying to amend the state’s criminal code and wrongful death law to include the “unborn” in the definition homicide. Here’s a report from TNR’s Jessica Schulberg:

The initiative has tied its campaign to the story of a 29-year-old woman named Heather Surovik. In 2012, Surovik was 8-months pregnant with her third child when a drunk driver struck her car. The unborn baby, whom she planned to call Brady—the initiative is also known as the “Brady Amendment”—did not survive the crash. The driver, Gary Sheats, pleaded guilty to drunk driving and vehicular assault. But Surovik felt that at 8 pounds and 2 ounces, Brady warranted the same protections under criminal law as a living being. She wanted Sheats charged with homicide as well.

Sympathetic as this story is, the amendment could have truly damaging consequences for women’s reproductive freedom. “Amendment 67 is extremely misleading in its language,” said Diana Hsieh, Ph.D, in a recent press release by the Coalition for Secular Government. “The proponents of the measure apparently want voters to believe that it is about protecting pregnant women from vicious criminal attacks, but the reality is that the measure would treat women as murderers for getting an abortion or even for using certain types of birth control or in vitro fertility treatments,” she added.

It’s an even bigger bait-and-switch than all those “medical regulations” that are shutting down abortion clinics around the country under the guise of protecting “women’s health.” And its prospects rely entirely on perpetuating that deception. It’s unlikely to work, but it’s still reprehensible. Colorado voters clearly don’t want to make zygotes quasi-citizens, or create a legal foundation for attacks on early-term abortions, IV fertility clinics, or contraception. Tricking them into indicating otherwise won’t exactly enhance the already thin reputation for integrity of the antichoice folk.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 14, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Personhood, Reproductive Choice, Women's Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

“And There You Have It”: Walker On Minimum Wage; ‘I Don’t Think It Serves A Purpose’

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) debated challenger Mary Burke (D) on Friday, and the issue of the minimum wage offered the candidates a chance to highlight their differences. The question posed summarized the situation nicely: can a full-time worker live on $7.25 an hour? And does the state have a responsibility to even set a minimum wage?

Burke “strongly” endorsed a higher legal minimum, but the Republican incumbent largely dodged the question, though he seemed to express opposition to the law itself. “I want jobs that pay two or three times the minimum wage,” Walker said, adding, “The way that you do that is not by an arbitrary level of a state.”

Daniel Bice at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel followed up on that point in an interview with the governor today, asking Walker whether he believes the law should exist. The governor replied:

“Well, I’m not going to repeal it but I don’t think it’s, I don’t think it serves a purpose. Because we’re debating then about what the lowest levels are at. I want people to make, like I said the other night, two or three times that.”

It’s a striking thing for a governor to say during a tough re-election campaign, especially given his economic record – Walker promised Wisconsin voters four years ago that he’d create 250,000 jobs in his first term, and he’s struggling to get to Election Day with roughly half that total.

Indeed, if the governor doesn’t think the minimum wage “serves a purpose,” it’s not too late for Walker to ask someone to explain the law’s rationale.

Establishing a minimum wage is not about creating a target income for an entire population – it’s about creating a floor so that full-time workers don’t have to live in poverty.

Walker’s comments are rather bewildering. When Democrats created the federal minimum wage – after Henry Ford helped prove its value – the point wasn’t to “debate what the lowest levels” would be for most people, but rather, the law was created as a protection against abuse. Its existence did not prevent U.S. workers from creating the world’s most dynamic middle class.

How an incumbent governor of a Midwestern state can still find this confusing is a bit of a mystery.

For that matter, we can look around the country and see plenty of states doing quite well after raising their minimum wage, which makes sense – when more workers have more money in their pockets, they’ll spend more, which creates more economic activity and more jobs.

It’s one of the reasons a higher minimum wage is so popular with so much of the country.

It’s heartening, I guess, that Scott Walker isn’t pushing for the repeal of the wage law, but the fact that he doesn’t see its “purpose” seems like the sort of thing Wisconsin voters will be hearing again in the campaign’s final three weeks.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 14, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Minimum Wage, Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hyping The Threat”: Fear And Anxiety Are Bigger Threats Than Ebola

During the summer, I got hooked on a TNT drama called The Last Ship, an apocalyptic thriller about a global pandemic that wipes out most of the human population. As it happens, the telltale signs of this killer plague bear a striking resemblance to the symptoms of the Ebola virus.

Indeed, Hollywood has been inspired by Ebola for decades, almost since the virus was first identified in 1976. But in those fictional crises, including that portrayed in the 1995 film Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, the virus has changed — either through mutation or human intervention — to become airborne, like smallpox and tuberculosis. If you are a screenwriter, you need that element of quick and easy contamination to sustain edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Characters in The Last Ship, for example, enter unfamiliar territory fully clad in protective gear for fear of suddenly sharing space with an infected person. They dare not breathe the same air if they expect to survive.

Real-world Ebola, however, isn’t that easy to catch, according to experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has caused a devastating pandemic in West Africa, where the medical infrastructure is poor to non-existent, but it won’t come close to that here, they say.

Still, judging from the news media, lots of my professional colleagues have seen Last Ship and Outbreak. They’re in full panic mode, hyping the threat and speculating about the possibility of a global pandemic that swamps the Western world as it has West Africa. That hysteria has only increased since Thomas Eric Duncan died last week in a Dallas hospital, becoming the first Ebola fatality in the United States.

As Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told The New York Times, “… at the moment, we have a much larger outbreak of anxiety than we have of Ebola.”

That’s partly due to the madness of partisan politics, where critics of President Obama look for any reason, rational or not, to blast him. Fox Not-News has had a steady stream of commentators blaming the president for Ebola patients in the United States, as if he’s the mad scientist of a Hollywood thriller.

But the 24-hour news cycle also demands hysteria, whether from liberal commentators or conservatives. Fear is one of the most powerful of human emotions, and it drives eyeballs to the TV screen and clicks online. If there is no genuine crisis, a manufactured one will have to do.

It’s also true, psychologists point out, that human beings have difficulty assessing risks. Many Americans, they note, have a fear of flying and would rather drive a long distance because they believe it’s less dangerous to do so. But numbers show that commercial aviation is much safer than doing battle with your fellow road warriors.

In 2012, the last year for which statistics were available, 33,561 people died in motor vehicles in the United States. The number killed in commercial airline accidents that same year? Zero.

If humans better understood risk, we’d focus more on the refusal of some Americans to have their children vaccinated against highly contagious childhood diseases. There is little risk from inoculations, but a grave risk in allowing an illness such as measles or whooping cough to get out of control.

Meanwhile, Ebola is indeed wreaking havoc. Just ask Sama King, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Sierra Leone, one of the countries that have been hardest hit. After 30 years in her adopted country, much of that in Atlanta, she was thinking of returning to the place of her birth. But she has had to put that off to become an activist and fundraiser instead.

“We are grateful for what the international community has done, but it needs to do more. If (international agencies) had intervened earlier, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” she said.

King has worked to increase awareness of the pandemic and to raise money for food and protective gear. She is now focusing on the many orphans left behind in Sierra Leone, children who have nowhere to go, whose relatives may be afraid to keep them because of the stigma associated with Ebola.

Now that’s a genuine crisis.


By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor at the University of Georgia; The National Memo, October 11, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, Infectious Diseases, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP’s ‘Reparations’ Insanity”: Why Thom Tillis’ Latest Screwup Is So Important

History may ultimately remember GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis as one of the only Republicans in North Carolina history to serve as speaker of the House. And if he manages to defeat Sen. Kay Hagan this November, history may ultimately remember Tillis as a bona fide member of the United States Senate. But while history’s verdict is still to be determined, my estimation of Thom Tillis is already set. Simply put, he’s the (despicable) gift that keeps on giving.

By the second time Tillis made news by giving voice to the base of the Republican Party’s reactionary id — first for promoting a “divide and conquer” strategy to attack recipients of government support; then for contrasting African Americans and Latinos in North Carolina with the state’s “traditional population” —  I was beginning to have my suspicions. But a recent report on a 2007 statement in which Tillis claims a “subset” of the state’s Democrats ceaselessly call for “de facto reparations” is the clincher.

In this instance and others, what makes Tillis so valuable is the way his previous statements show what it sounds like when an ultra-conservative tries to reach his fellow travelers by using language intended to signal his membership within (and loyalty to) the tribe. Indeed, as was the case during both his “divide and conquer” gaffe and his “traditional population” slip, the Tillis we see attacking “de facto reparations” is on the defensive, trying to prove to his far-right audience that he’s still on their team. And everyone on that team, to state the obvious, just so happens to have white skin.

In fact, once you learn about the specific context of Tillis’s reparations remark, the connection between the U.S. far-right’s hatred for redistribution and its negative views of non-white citizens becomes even clearer. According to the report, Tillis’s statement was an attempt to persuade his most conservative supporters that the legislature’s apology would not pave the way for reparations, which was apparently their concern. “This resolution acknowledges past mistakes and frees us to move on,” Tillis assured these right-wingers, trying to spin the apology as a way to put the debate over racism and slavery’s legacy finally to rest.

Guarding against the possibility that his support for the apology be interpreted as a sign of a more fundamental disagreement with the Republican base, Tillis then endorsed the redistribution-is-reparations argument in general, claiming that a “subset” of Democrats “has never ceased to propose legislation that is de facto reparations.” All this despite the fact that, according to Tillis, “Federal and State [sic] governments have redistributed trillions of dollars of wealth over the years by funding programs that are at least in part driven by [the subset’s] belief that we should provide additional reparations.” And there you have it, according to Tillis: modern liberalism itself is little more than an elaborate excuse for giving money to blacks.

For people inclined to see most of U.S. politics as heavily influenced by the country’s shameful history on race — a group amongst which I count myself — Tillis’s argument, his conflation of redistribution and race, couldn’t have been more revealing. Yet for those who are not conservative but are still sometimes uncomfortable ascribing so much of our politics to the consequences of race, there may be a temptation to assume Tillis’s argument, while undeniably racialized, has more to do with the ways Republicans have gone backwards on race during the Obama era. But let’s remember: Tillis’s comments came in 2007, before there was a President Obama, before there was Obamacare and before conservative media began talking about reparations as a matter of course.

So Tillis’s latest flub isn’t about Obama, specifically. Instead, it tells us something essential about the conservative movement today as a whole. Namely, that despite what self-styled centrist pundits and Republican Party leadership may tell you, the debate over the welfare state and redistribution — which has once again come to dominate American politics, and is likely to continue to do so into the foreseeable future — is, especially for hardcore conservatives, a debate about tribal belonging and race. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said that all politics is local; if I could tweak the phrase for the current era, I’d say that when it comes to American politics, all redistribution is racial.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, October 14, 2014

October 15, 2014 Posted by | North Carolina, Racism, Thom Tillis | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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