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“It’s Always 1938”: The Right’s Lazy, “Ridiculous Neville Chamberlain Obsession”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) turned to a familiar comparison to condemn international nuclear talks yesterday. “I believe we are hearing echoes of history,” the senator said. “I believe we are at a moment like Munich in 1938.”

Of course he does.

Right-wing critics of the talks have been talking like this for months, though conservatives seem to be pushing the thesis with increased vigor now that an agreement appears more likely. Last week, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress, Mike Huckabee even celebrated the Israeli leader as “a Churchill in a world of Chamberlains.”

I’m reminded of a Peter Beinart piece from a while back.

Over the past quarter-century, there’s hardly an American or Israeli leader the Kristol-Netanyahu crowd hasn’t compared to Chamberlain. In 1985, Newt Gingrich called Reagan’s first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.” When Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, hawks took out newspaper ads declaring that “Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.”

Then, when Israel moved to thaw its own cold war with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yitzhak Rabin assumed the Chamberlain role…. Then it was Bill Clinton. “The word that best describes Clinton administration [foreign] policy is appeasement,” explained Robert Kagan and Kristol in 1999. Then, of course, it was the opponents of war with Iraq. “The establishment fights most bitterly and dishonestly when it feels cornered and thinks it’s about to lose. Churchill was attacked more viciously in 1938 and 1939 than earlier in the decade,” wrote Kristol in a 2002 editorial, “The Axis of Appeasement.”

Simon Maloy had more along these lines today, taking a closer look at the right’s “ridiculous Neville Chamberlain obsession” and “all the times conservatives accused Barack Obama of appeasing the world’s many Hitlers.” It’s not a short list.

With this in mind, the latest nonsense from Cruz and Huckabee isn’t just wrong and offensive; it’s lazy.

As we discussed a while back, during the 2008 presidential race, far-right radio host Kevin James accused Obama and other Democrats of Chamberlain-like “appeasement” policies in the Middle East. When msnbc’s Chris Matthews asked James what, specifically, happened in Munich in 1938, the conservative host simply had no idea – James thought it’d be provocative to throw around buzzwords popular with the right, but he never bothered to gain even a cursory understanding of his own rhetoric.

It seems the political world is witnessing a repeat of the same circumstances, only this time it’s on a much larger scale. Instead of one confused radio host being exposed as ignorant on national television, we see many leading Republicans – including likely presidential candidates – following the same example, pushing a comparison they don’t understand.

Let’s make this plain: every attempt at diplomacy with a foreign foe is not Munch. Every enemy is not Hitler. Every international agreement is not appeasement. Every president or prime minister conservatives don’t like is not Chamberlain.

There’s all kinds of room for spirited debate about how best to shape U.S. policy towards Iran, but if Republicans want their concerns to be taken seriously, they’ll have to do better than this.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 13, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Right Wing, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scott Walker; W. Without The Compassion”: With Walker, Conservative Evangelicals Don’t Much Feel The Need For Compassion

While it’s becoming common to hear Scott Walker dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan or Flavor of the Month or Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time gaffmeister sure to be pushed aside to make way for Jeb’s Brinks truck of cash or Rubio’s glamor, there are less-apparent aspects of his appeal worth noting. That intrepid translator of the Christian Right’s codes, Sarah Posner, has a fascinating take at Religion Dispatches about Walker perfectly matching a growing mood among politically active conservative evangelicals who want a less showy but more reliable champion:

Should he run for president, Walker may very well turn out to be the 2016 cycle’s evangelical favorite—not because he ticks off a laundry list of culture war talking points, pledges fealty to a “Christian nation,” or because he’s made a show of praying publicly to curry political favor. Although by no means universal, some conservative evangelicals—those who eschew the fever swamps of talk radio, yet share the same political stances of the religious right—are weary of the old style of campaigning. They’re turned off by the culture war red meat, the dutiful but insincere orations of piety….

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last month, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote that in 2016 evangelicals won’t be looking to candidates to “know the words to hymns,” “repeat cliches about appointing Supreme Court justices who will ‘interpret the law, not make the law,’” or to use “‘God and country’ talk borrowed from a 1980s-era television evangelist.”

Moore “has a good feel of the pulse of evangelicals” and “represents a wide segment” of them, said Tobin Grant, a political scientist at Southern Illinois University and blogger on religion and politics for Religion News Service. Unlike his predecessor, Richard Land, known for inflaming the culture wars, Moore’s “focus is more on religious and social concerns than directly political ones” and has “less interest in changing DC and more interest in keeping DC out of the way of the church,” Grant said.

These evangelicals are listening for a candidate who can signal he is “one of us” without pandering. Both evangelical and Catholic candidates who have earned the culture warrior label for their strident pronouncements—Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, or Mike Huckabee—are seen as embarrassing embodiments of stereotypes these conservative Christians would like to shed….

Walker hits the right evangelical notes without overplaying his hand—and that’s exactly the way they want him to keep it. John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy and provost at Houston Baptist University, said that Walker “would do well to do nothing to appeal to us. We get it. He’s one of us. He sounds like one of us. He leans forward like one of us. He answers questions like one of us.”

Now this isn’t to say the new strain among conservative Christians involves any changes in their positions on culture-war issues, or a tolerance for different opinions: it’s a matter of tone and emphasis–and of trust.

You may recall how effective George W. Bush was in dropping little indicators of his evangelical piety (even though, technically, he attended a mainline Protestant church), like a secret handshake, when he showed up on the campaign trail in the 2000 cycle: Bible quotes, allusions to hymns, and evangelical catch-phrases were modestly arrayed in his rhetoric–not abrasively, but just enough that believers saw it, and as with Walker, knew he was “one of us.” Bush, of course, also grounded much of his “compassionate conservative” agenda in church work and religious sentiment. It seems that with Walker conservative evangelicals don’t much feel the need for compassion, which is a good thing, since it’s not one of his more obvious traits. No, they want something else:

Instead of talking about opposition to marriage equality, evangelical activists say, religious freedom has become the new defining mantra. Unlike marriage equality, on which white evangelicals, particularly Millennials, are divided, religious freedom unifies them like no other issue but abortion.

“What will matter to evangelicals,” Moore wrote in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, “is how the candidate, if elected president, will articulate and defend religious-liberty rights.”

The religious liberty issue is, for evangelicals, a “four-alarm fire,” said Denny Burk, Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, part of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He said evangelicals expect the candidates “to have the courage of their convictions to persuade people about what’s going on.”

From the Hobby Lobby litigation to cases involving florists, bakers, and photographers refusing to provide services for same-sex ceremonies, the issue has been percolating in the evangelical community for years. In recent weeks, conservative Christians have talked and written prolifically about Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist found liable under the state’s anti-discrimination laws for refusing to provide flowers for a long-time gay customer’s wedding, and Kelvin Cochran, the Atlanta fire chief fired after revelations about anti-gay comments he wrote in a book.

It requires a great deal of paranoia and passive-aggressive claims of “persecution,” of course, to take isolated collisions between anti-discrimination laws and religious principles into a major threat to the immensely privileged position of Christians in the United States. But it seems Christian Right leaders are up to the task, and here, too, Walker, with his quiet but insistent talk about death threats from the enemies he’s made in Wisconsin, fills the bill.

Speaking in 2012 to a teleconference with activists from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Walker said his faith has enabled him to rise above the “vitriol, and the constant, ongoing hatred” during the recall election he faced in the wake of his anti-union legislation, which has crippled the state’s once-iconic labor movement. Along with the unmistakable contrast of his church-going family with the profane and progressive activists, Walker cited two Bible verses. He didn’t recite them, but for anyone who knows their Bible—as Walker, the son of a Baptist pastor, does—the meaning was clear. The verses that helped him withstand the hatred were Romans 16:20 (“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you”) and Isaiah 54:17 (“no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.”)

Don’t know about you, but I’d interpret those two verses as consolatory promises of Christian vengeance, not turn-the-other-cheeck pacifism. And so it may be Walker is giving exactly the right impression of representing stolid but not showy vindicator who’s in for a long fight with secular socialists and their union allies.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 13, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Evangelicals, Religious Freedom, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fox ‘News’ Proof Of Old P.T. Barnum Adage”: Fox Is A Belief System, Not A News Network

Every once in a while the universe arranges itself to make you look smarter than you are. Lucky me, I am having such a moment now.

Last month, when NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ career imploded as he was caught in a high-profile, self-aggrandizing lie, I suggested in this space that there would be much less angst or fallout if someone from Fox “News” were caught lying.

Enter Bill O’Reilly.

Shortly after I wrote that, the liberal Mother Jones magazine ran a story questioning his claim to have been in the combat zone in the Falkland Islands while covering that war for CBS. From his Fox podium, O’Reilly dismissed Mother Jones as the “bottom rung of journalism in America,” which was gushing praise next to his takedown of reporter David Corn, a “liar,” an “irresponsible guttersnipe,” a “far-left zealot” and “dumb.”

Since then, however, other news organizations have reported other instances of questionable assertions on O’Reilly’s part.

For instance, he has long said he was outside the home of a figure in the John F. Kennedy assassination and heard the shot when the man killed himself. That suicide happened in Palm Beach. Former colleagues say O’Reilly was in Dallas that day.

He has claimed he was “attacked by protesters” while covering the 1992 Los Angeles riots for Inside Edition. Former colleagues say he is exaggerating an incident where an angry man took a piece of rubble to a camera.

O’Reilly has said he witnessed the execution of a group of American nuns in El Salvador. That happened in 1980. O’Reilly apparently did not reach El Salvador until 1981.

For the one falsehood, Williams received a six-month suspension without pay. For a handful of apparent falsehoods, O’Reilly has received unstinting support from his bosses at Fox.

This rather neatly makes the point I sought to make a month ago. Namely, that Fox — the window-dressing presence of a few bona fide reporters notwithstanding — is not a real news-gathering organization but, rather, the propaganda arm of an extreme right wing that grows ever more cult-like and detached from reality as time goes by. Fox is a belief system, not a news network. Exhibit A is the fact that O’Reilly is not now fighting for his professional life.

To anticipate what his believers will say in his defense: Yes, he is a pundit and yes, pundits are entitled to their opinions. But that does not release them from the obligation to be factual.

It is telling that Fox recently responded to sharp questions about all this from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow by sending her a statement noting that O’Reilly’s ratings are up despite the controversy. To act as if ratings answer, or even address, questions of credibility is to express contempt for the very notion of credibility. It suggests Fox’s full-body embrace of the old saying, often attributed to Barnum, about the birth rate of suckers.

But why shouldn’t Fox be sanguine? People who mistake it for a news outlet will never hold it accountable for failing to be one, because in the final analysis, news is not really what it promises them, nor what they seek. Rather, what it promises and what they seek is an alternate reality wherein birthers make sensible arguments, death panels are real, Trayvon was the thug, Sarah Palin is a misunderstood genius, and all your inchoate fears of the looming Other are given intellectual cover so they no longer look like the scaredy-cat bigotry they are.

It gives its viewers what they need. It tells them what they want to hear.

Because it does and because that’s all they ask, O’Reilly’s troubles will soon very likely blow away. Yes, he is apparently a serial fabulist. And yes, that would disqualify you from most newsrooms.

But this is Fox.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 11, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Journalism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Georgia Bill Helps Wife Beaters”: “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” Is Among The Worst In The Nation

Georgia is poised to pass the nation’s harshest “religious freedom” law, allowing discrimination, judicial obstruction, and even domestic violence. Yet while the bill is far worse than Arizona’s notorious “Turn the Gays Away” bill, it’s attracted far less attention from national advocacy groups and businesses.

The bill, the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” is one of a raft of similar bills (RFRAs, for short) wending their way through state legislatures across the country. The bills are part of the backlash against same-sex marriage, but they go much farther than that. Like the Hobby Lobby decision, which allows closely-held corporations to opt out of part of Obamacare, these laws carve out exemptions to all kinds of laws if a person (or corporation) offers a religious reason for not obeying them.

For example? Restaurants could refuse to serve gay or interracial couples, city clerks could refuse to marry interfaith couples, hotels could keep out Jews, housing developments could keep out black people (Genesis 9:18-27), pharmacies could refuse to dispense birth control, banquet halls could turn away gay weddings, schools could specifically allow anti-gay bullying, and employers could fire anyone for any “religious” reason.

The national movement to pass these laws is well-funded and well-coordinated; most of the laws are written by the same handful of conservative legal hacks in Washington, working for organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, both of which have had a hand in the Georgia bill.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said in an interview with The Daily Beast that “in the last two years, there have been 35 bills introduced around the country to establish or expand a RFRA. And there have been over 80 bills filed that specifically allow for discrimination against gay and trans communities.”

As worrisome as these laws are, however, Georgia’s is worse than most.

First, the language is the strictest possible. As with other RFRAs, Georgia’s act says that the government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” without a “compelling governmental interest” and the “least restrictive means of furthering” that interest. This is the classic three-prong test that was at issue in Hobby Lobby, and is considered extremely difficult to meet.

Georgia’s RFRA also specifies that “exercise of religion” can be just about any “practice or observance of religion, whether or not compelled by or central to a system of religious belief.”

In other words, if I say it’s my religious exercise, it is.

Second, the Senate version of the bill was passed by its sponsor, State Senator Josh McKoon, with all kinds of shenanigans. He rammed it through the judiciary committee, which he chairs, while opposition members were in the bathroom.

Then, on dubious procedural grounds, he refused an amendment by a fellow Republican that would have specified that the “religious freedom” could not be used to discriminate against others.

Ironically, says Graham, Georgia doesn’t have that many protections for LGBT people in the first place.

“This is a preemptive strike against the LGBT community,” he says. “If this bill is not intended to allow discrimination, why were its sponsors so adamant about refusing to say so?”

McKoon’s bill passed the Republican-dominated State Senate on March 5, and now heads to the State House, where Republicans have a 2:1 advantage over Democrats, and where representatives have shelved their own version of the bill to try to pass McKoon’s version.

The combination of these factors has led to a curious result: a law so strict that it will lead to a host of unintended consequences—and has even led some Republicans to oppose it.

Some legal commentators have said that the law would give a pass to spousal and child abusers, as long as the husband (or father) has a religious pretext. Which is easy to provide; the Christian Domestic Discipline Network, for example, offers a host of rationales for “wife spanking.” And let’s not forget Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son. But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Georgia has numerous laws protecting child welfare, which is arguably a compelling state interest. But are such laws really the “least restrictive means” of protecting it? Not necessarily. At the very least, the laws offer a novel defense against assault and battery.

Or maybe not so novel. Graham says, “We have found cases where people used their religious views as an excuse to impede an investigation into child-endangerment and child-abuse charges. They were not ultimately successful, but they did slow down the investigations.”

With the new law, they would be far better armed. In fact, says Graham, conservative district attorneys in Macon and Marietta have said that the bill would impede investigations and prosecutions of child abuse.

Indeed, Georgia’s RFRA recently gained an unlikely opponent: Mike Bowers, the former attorney general of Bowers v. Hardwick fame. As some may recall, that was the Supreme Court case that upheld Georgia’s anti-sodomy law—and Bowers was the named plaintiff.

In an open letter to Graham (PDF), Bowers said that the law is “unequivocally an excuse to discriminate….[P]ermitting citizens to opt-out of laws because of a so-called burden on the exercise of religion in effect ‘would permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.’”

This perhaps is one reason why conservatives like Bowers and the D.A.s in Macon and Marietta stand opposed to it. As Bowers wrote, “this legislation is not about gay marriage, or contraception, or even so-called ‘religious freedom.’ It is more important than all of these, because it ultimately involves the rule of law.”

What is the future of Georgia’s RFRA?

The Georgia State House ends its session on April 2, and Graham predicts a tight vote. “This will probably go all the way to the final hours” of the session, he said.

Oddly, the most effective forces in killing Arizona’s “Turn The Gays Away” bill—corporations and the Chamber of Commerce—seem to be sitting this battle out. Maybe it’s because Arizona was bidding on a Super Bowl and Georgia isn’t. Or maybe it’s because no one is paying attention. But for whatever reason, the corporate silence is deafening.

This is especially the case for Coca-Cola, which has spent millions to brand itself as pro-gay (remember that Super Bowl ad?) but has been mum on the Georgia bill.

“For now, it appears that Coca-Cola has a relationship of convenience with the gay community,” said Bryan Long, executive director of the progressive organization Better Georgia, in an email to The Daily Beast. “The company promotes equality when it serves the brand but won’t stand up for us when we need it most.”

If big business, national media, and national LGBT organizations continue to sit on the sidelines, the bill’s fate may be a matter of vote-counting. The House bill had 59 cosponsors, out of 180 total members. But Graham pointed out that a pending non-discrimination bill has 78, including 19 Republicans. So it is up for grabs.

On the other hand, maybe those who claim to speak for “equality” will decide to actually do something about it.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, March 13, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Domestic Violence, Georgia, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Poison In Which Conservatives Marinate”: The Rancid Stew Of Fantasy, Hatred, And Yes, Racism

If you look at poll results saying that most Republicans think Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim enacting a secret plan to destroy America and think, “What the hell is wrong with these people?”, you have to understand that it gets reinforced day after day after day by media sources they believe to be lonely islands of truth amid a sea of lies. Yes, they hear it from politicians like Rudy Giuliani, who seems to be on some kind of mission to prove himself to be America’s most despicable cretin. But that only reinforces the river of political sewage that flows into their ears each and every day.

To wit, here’s Republican uber-pundit Erick Erickson, filling in for Rush Limbaugh and telling his millions of listeners what they want to hear:

“Barack Obama believes that for the world to be more safe the United States must be less safe. For the world to be more stable the United States must be less stable. Barack Obama believes the United States of America is a destabilizing, arrogant force in the world, we need our comeuppance and we need to be humbled. And so everything Barack Obama does domestically and in foreign policy is designed to humble the arrogant crackers who have always run the United States.”

Yes, that’s right, “arrogant crackers.” How on earth anyone could get the idea that the attacks on Obama by people like Erickson are meant to stoke their audience’s racial resentments, I have no idea.

As a general rule, whenever you hear a conservative pundit start a sentence with “Barack Obama believes…” you’re about to hear something that not only bears no plausible relationship to reality but is also meant to play on the worst instincts of his or her audience. And it is simply impossible to overstate the ubiquity of this particular theme in conservative media: Barack Obama hates not just America but white people in general, and all of his policies are meant to exact racial vengeance upon them. This is the rancid stew of fantasy, hatred, and yes, racism in which millions upon millions of conservatives have spent the last six years marinating.

To my conservative friends: I know that you are obsessed with the idea that conservatives are constantly being unfairly accused of racism. And there are certainly times when some liberals are too quick to see racist intent in a comment that may be innocuous or at worst unintentionally provocative. But you make heroes out of people like Giuliani, Limbaugh, and Erickson. You applaud them, honor them, extol them, and when other people occasionally notice the caustic hairballs of bile they spit onto waiting microphones, the most you can say is, “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.” So you have nothing to complain about.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 13, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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