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“Rootin’ Tootin’ Shootin’ Presidential Candidates”: A General Conservative Nostalgia For A Time That’s Passed

There was a time not too long ago when Republicans knew that when an election got tight, they could trot out “God, guns, and gays” to drive a cultural wedge between Democrats and the electorate, since the GOP was the party that, like most Americans, loved the first two and hated the third. It’s more complicated now, both within the parties and between them, but there’s no doubt that 2016 will feature plenty of culture-war sniping. For better or worse, Democrats and Republicans really do represent two different Americas.

I thought of that this weekend reading this article in the Washington Post about the personal relationships the potential Republican candidates have with guns. That they are all opposed to any limits on gun ownership is a given, but more interesting is the role guns play in their own lives. With a couple of important exceptions, the potential Republican candidates fall into one of two categories when it comes to guns: those who grew up with them, and those who embraced them once their political ambitions matured.

Some of them have been building their collections since childhood. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) is up to 12 now, including an AR-15 assault weapon that he has talked about using if law and order ever breaks down in his neighborhood. Former Texas governor Rick Perry is so well-armed, he has a gun for jogging.

Others were city kids who didn’t own guns until later in life. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) bought a .357 magnum revolver in 2010, the year he ran for Senate, saying the gun was for protection… [Ted Cruz] grew up in the suburbs of Houston and got his first exposure to guns at summer camp. But, as an adult, Cruz bought two guns: a .357 magnum revolver and a Beretta Silver Pigeon II shotgun, according to a spokeswoman… In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker also didn’t grow up hunting. But he got his first guns in his mid-30s: a shotgun he won in a raffle and a rifle he got as a gift, said a spokeswoman for his political committee. Now he hunts deer, pheasants and ducks with his motorcycle-riding buddies… Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal purchased a snubnosed, laser-sighted Smith & Wesson .38 revolver after Hurricane Katrina. He still keeps it for home defense, although his home is now the heavily guarded Governor’s Mansion.

Far be it from me to question the sincerity of any politician’s enthusiasm for firearms, but buying a gun does seem an awful lot like the kind of thing a Republican politician does just because that’s what Republican politicians are expected to do. But there’s gun rights, and then there’s contemporary gun culture. The two are not at all the same, and it’s the latter some Republicans seem so eager to embrace.

There’s an important context here, which is that gun ownership has been steadily declining for about four decades now. Yet even as fewer and fewer people own guns, gun sales are increasing, which means that the people who do own them are buying more and more. Ask a certain kind of gun-owner how many he owns, and he’ll say, “More than I need, but not as many as I want.”

And it’s that culture that many Republican politicians feel the need to make their own. You could see it as part of a general conservative nostalgia for a time that’s passed, when the law was a distant force and a man might have to protect his homestead from rustlers and thieves. The trouble is that for many gun-owners today, guns are less tools with everyday uses than fetish objects. It’s the very fact that they serve no practical purpose in most gun-owners’ lives that makes them so emotionally powerful. When a guy like Lindsey Graham says that he needs his AR-15 in case “there was a law-and-order breakdown in my community,” he’s living in a land of fantasy, where a middle-aged guy who wears a suit every day is actually an agent of heroic violence, the very embodiment of physical capability and potency.

But the bare fact is this: There are places in America where gun ownership is common and expected, and places where it isn’t. And more Americans live in the latter. So when Republicans proclaim themselves representatives of the first type of place—in both ideas and habits—they put themselves at an immediate disadvantage.

But not all of them do. Jeb Bush, for instance, has the appropriate Republican policy stance when it comes to guns (along with an A-plus rating from the NRA), but he does not himself own a gun. (The only other potential candidate who doesn’t is Chris Christie.) Which makes perfect sense if we think about gun ownership being so much a function of geography. Unlike some of his opponents—the emphatically Texan Rick Perry, the extremely Midwestern Scott Walker—Jeb isn’t really from any particular place. As a member of the Bush clan, he grew up traveling a kind of elevated platform of wealth and power that traverses the country. Connecticut, Texas, Florida—wherever it was, it was essentially the same. That isn’t really his fault; when your grandfather is a senator and your father becomes president, and you go to Andover and summer at Kennebunkport, that’s the world you’re from. And it isn’t a world where people view guns as a vital cultural totem. If Jeb walked out on a stage holding a rifle over his head, he’d look even dumber than Mitch McConnell did.

We don’t think about Hillary Clinton representing any particular place either. She grew up in Illinois but left it behind, spent almost two decades in Arkansas then left for Washington, and now lives in New York, but doesn’t embody any of those places (or even try to). That’s fine with liberals, whose demands for cultural affinity are served well enough by someone who moved around a lot. The president she’s trying to succeed most definitely represented a particular place, though it was less Chicago specifically than American cities in general, the dense and diverse places liberals either live or want to live.

And that’s where all the Republicans have a problem. They continue to romanticize rural and small-town life, but the number of Americans who actually live in those places is small and getting smaller. Even if plenty of suburban Republicans still imagine themselves out on the range, that isn’t the American reality. Planting your flag there may seem necessary to win the Republican nomination, but it won’t do you much good the day after.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 30, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Gun Ownership, Guns | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Anarchy Of ‘Religious Liberty'”: We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To Anyone Not Like Us

It’s a good thing Americans have no serious problems, because the time and energy we expend fighting over symbolic issues could become a problem. Sure, symbols can be important. The swastika is a symbol, also the U.S. flag. But this week’s farcical casus belli involves a couple of spectacularly ill-conceived “religious freedom” statutes in Indiana and Arkansas.

As originally written, these laws would give every private business in both states — every butcher, baker, and wedding cake maker — powers and privileges equivalent to the Pope of Rome. But is that what their authors actually intended? Moreover, even if the laws stand, which looks unlikely at this writing, would anything important really change in actual practice?

As a longtime Arkansas resident, I very much doubt it. Political posturing aside, person to person, are people here really so self-righteous and mean-spirited as to treat their LGBT neighbors like lepers? Or, more to the point, like blacks in the bad old days before the civil rights revolution of the 1960s? Would we revert to open discrimination in broad daylight?

No, no, and no. Those days are gone forever. Nobody really wants them back. What’s happened here is that the Chicken Little right has worked itself into yet another existential panic over the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected ruling legalizing gay marriage, badly overplayed its hand, and set itself up for yet another humiliating defeat.

Anyway, here’s what I meant about the Pope of Rome. A while back, I got myself into hot water with old friends by failing to express indignation about a Catholic girls’ school in Little Rock firing a lesbian teacher who announced her marriage to her longtime companion.

My view was simple: as a lifelong Catholic, the teacher knew the Church’s position, and she ought to have known what would happen. It’s an authoritarian institution, the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. By all accounts a terrific teacher — she landed another job immediately — the newlywed had somehow persuaded herself that as her homosexuality had long been an open secret, openly defying Church doctrine wouldn’t be a problem.


Now, you’d think the Catholic Church’s own appalling failures would have rendered it mute on questions of sexual morality for, oh, a century or so. But that’s not how they see it. When and if the doctrine changes, it won’t start in the Mount Saint Mary’s Academy faculty lounge. Damn shame, but there it is.

Was I being smug because I’ve never faced such difficult choices? Could be. But here’s the thing: No American has to be a Roman Catholic; it’s strictly voluntary.

But the United States isn’t supposed to be an authoritarian country. And that’s precisely what’s so potentially insidious about both the Indiana and Arkansas statutes as written, and why they cannot be permitted to stand. Under the guise of “religious liberty” they would give zealous individuals and private businesses near-dictatorial powers with no legal recourse.

Under Arkansas HB1228, aka the “Conscience Protection Act,” it’s every person his own religious dogma — “person” being broadly defined as any “association, partnership, corporation, church, religious institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity.”

Dogma would trump civil rights at every turn. What it could mean in practice is that if your landlord’s God objected to your being gay, he could evict you. Should your employer’s religious scruples cause him to object to your marrying another woman, he could fire you.

And there wouldn’t be a thing you could do about it.

Advertised as preventing “government” from forcing conscience-stricken wedding photographers to document Bob and Bill’s nuptials, the Arkansas law would also make it nearly impossible for private citizens to file lawsuits against “persons” professing religious motives.

“Persons,” remember, including corporations, estates and trusts. You could end up losing your job because some dead person’s will stipulated “no faggots.” Or no Muslims, Catholics, or redheads, I suppose.

But what such laws really threaten isn’t so much tyranny, University of Arkansas-Little Rock law professor John DiPippa points out, as anarchy. “With HB 1228,” he writes “county clerks could seek exemptions from issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, or for interracial couples, or divorced couples. Teachers could refuse to teach the required curriculum.”

All this because certain literal-minded religionists can’t get it through their heads that marriage can be two things: both a legal contract between consenting adults, and a religious ceremony. If your church chooses not to sanction certain kinds of marriages, nobody says it must. But as a legal matter, other people’s intimate arrangements are really none of your business.

Why is that so hard to understand?

So no, these laws are not going to stand as written. Hardly anybody wants to go back to the 1950s. When Apple, the NCAA, Angie’s List, Walmart, and Charles Barkley are all lined up on the same side of a political controversy, that side is going to win.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Arkansas, Indiana, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Notably Absent From This Debate”: Why Won’t Rand Paul And Chris Christie Take A Position On Indiana’s “Religious Freedom” Law?

Nearly a week since Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), igniting a nationwide debate about whether the controversial law invites discrimination based on sexual orientation, most potential Republican presidential candidates have taken the opportunity to bolster their conservative credentials.

“Governor Pence has done the right thing,” said former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Monday.

“I want to commend Governor Mike Pence for his support of religious freedom, especially in the face of fierce opposition,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz said in a written statement. “Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I’m proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same.”

Ben Carson, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry all expressed their support for Pence and Indiana’s RFRA law. (Meanwhile, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley have come out against it.)

But two likely 2016 candidates have been notably absent from this debate: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. What do they think about the law, and why have they been so quiet on the issue?

Samantha Smith, the communications director for Christie’s Leadership Matters for America PAC, did not return a request for comment on Wednesday morning. (I’ll update this if I hear back.) Christie’s past statements offer little light on where he will fall on the issue, but he has been shifting to the right on social issues in advance of the Republican primary. On Tuesday, he announced his support for a 20-week abortion ban. Given Christie’s shaky position within the party, and the fact that the rest of the field supports Indiana’s law, it would be very surprising if he joined with liberals in opposing it.

As for Paul, Sergio Gor, the communications director of RandPAC, wrote in an email, “The Senator is out of pocket with family this week and has not weighed in at this time.”

It makes sense that Paul is unplugging with his family this week: He’s expected to announce his presidential bid on April 7, the beginning of a long, grueling journey—and a victory would mean that these are his last moments of real privacy for a very long time. Could anyone blame him if he wanted to spend a few quiet days with his family? I couldn’t.

But it also seems a bit convenient that Paul is entirely unreachable while the controversy swirls. If his campaign launch is just six days away, surely Paul and his staff are in close communication. How long does it take to send a tweet or tell your staff to craft a statement?

It will be interesting to see how Paul reacts to the law—as he’ll be forced to do, probably no later than April 7—in light of his libertarian credentials. If he stuck true to them, not only would he support the law but also support the right of Indiana’s businesses to discriminate against LGBT people, something that the rest of the Republican field opposes. (They just disagree with liberals about whether Indiana’s law would allow discrimination.)

But if recent history is any guide, don’t expect Paul to stick true to his libertarian roots. Almost whenever he has faced a choice between traditional libertarian positions and mainstream Republican positions, he has chosen the latter in hope of winning the GOP nomination. Just recently, for instance, he called for more defense spending after saying for years that the military was bloated and needed further cuts.

In fact, Paul has already reversed himself on whether private businesses should be allowed to exclude people from their establishments for any reason. “I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal in 2010. “But, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership.” He continued, “In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior, but if we’re civilized people, we publicly criticize that, and don’t belong to those groups, or don’t associate with those people.” Just a few years later, as that position became controversial, Paul (dishonestly) said that he never held the libertarian position to begin with.

So while it is taking a while for Paul to give his position, it isn’t hard to deduce where he’ll eventually fall. Maybe he’s just waiting until the spotlight on Indiana dies down a bit, so that his libertarian supporters are less aware when he adopts the party line. But if that’s his plan, it’s not very presidential.


By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Indiana And Federal Statutes Not Wholly Identical”: Three Factors That Make Indiana’s Religion Law Different From Other States’

The Indiana statute is the culmination of a long, murky legal history that reaches back to the 1990 Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith, which significantly changed the standard interpretation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. At issue was whether a Native American group could use peyote in religious rituals in violation of an Oregon law. The court ruled that it could not — because the state law was “neutral,” in that it was not motivated by a desire to curtail religious rights, and because it applied to everyone in the state.

Legal precedent prior to 1990 dictated that the government could substantially burden a person’s practice of his or her religion only if its action was necessary to achieve a compelling government purpose. But in Smith, the court established that the free exercise clause could not be used to challenge a neutral law of general applicability no matter how much the law burdened religion.

So, before Smith, a priest in a dry county who wanted to use wine in communion surely would have prevailed in court. After Smith, he would have lost because the law prohibiting consumption of alcohol was a neutral law of general applicability.

In 1993, Congress, with strong bipartisan support, passed and President Clinton signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Its stated goal was to restore religious freedom by statute to what it previously had been under the Constitution. The law provides that whenever the government substantially burdens religion, even with a neutral law of general applicability, its action is illegal unless proven to be necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.

The next development came in 1997, when the Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional as applied to state and local governments because it exceeded the scope of Congress’ power. But the law remained constitutional as applied to the federal government, and was the basis for the court’s decision last June in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In that case, the court held, 5 to 4, that it violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to require a closely held corporation to provide contraceptive coverage if that contradicted its owners’ religious beliefs.

The new Indiana law has the same title and contains the same language as the federal statute. Like the federal law, the Indiana version provides: “A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

But the Indiana and federal statutes are not wholly identical. The Indiana law, unlike the federal RFRA, builds on Hobby Lobby by expressly providing protection to corporations and other business entities. That’s one reason to worry that the purpose of the Indiana law is to allow discrimination against same-sex couples based on business owners’ religious beliefs.

Another reason for concern is timing. Why is Indiana adopting the law now, 25 years after Employment Division v. Smith and 22 years after the enactment of the federal statute? There is a widespread consensus across the political spectrum that the Supreme Court is about to recognize a right to marriage equality for gays and lesbians and hold that state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violate the Constitution. This law appears to be a reaction to that development.

The rhetoric surrounding the Indiana law is also troubling. In fact, over and over in his interviews, Pence has refused to deny that the law would permit discrimination. He also was emphatic that there would be no expansion of rights for gays and lesbians on his “watch.”

This is why there are loud protests against the Indiana law and calls for boycotts of the state. But Indiana could easily solve this controversy by amending the law to provide that no one can discriminate against others based on sexual orientation, sex or race under the statute or on the grounds of religious beliefs.


By: Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, The Los Angeles Times; The National Memo, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Mike Pence, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Imagine Cruz As President”: You Can’t Stand In A Hog Wallow Without Getting Stink All Over You

And away we go — off on another crazy cruze with Ted!

Cinch up your seatbelts, for Senator Ted Cruz (fueled by his raw ambition and flaming jet-powered ego) has come screeching out of the GOP’s presidential staging area, getting a head start on all the other wannabes seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. And what a crazy start Ted made, launching his campaign from Liberty University. Liberty U is the creation of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the self-promoting Christian theocrat, bigot, liar, and buffoonish pretender to be God’s chosen agent on Earth. Cruz hopes that launching there will make him “God’s candidate” — the chosen one of far-right Christian extremists who dominate the vote in the early Republican contests.

But, good Lord — Falwell? The vast majority of Americans remember him as an unholy fool, a non-stop spewer of hate. “I listen to feminists and all these radical gals,” he said. “These women just need a man in the house. That’s all they need. A man to tell them what time of day it is.” And who can forget this piece of vicious sermonizing: “AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals”? Likewise, the pompous preacher said 9/11 was “what we deserve,” claiming it was God’s punishment for feminism, gays, the ACLU and other evils. His knowledge of African-Americans was equally insightful: “The true Negro does not want integration,” he explained.

Also, in Jerry’s world: “There is no separation of church and state”; “all public schools will be closed and taken over by churches,” and “Christians will be running them”; and the Bible is “absolutely infallible,” even “in areas such as geography, science, history, etc.”

You can’t stand in a hog wallow without getting stink all over you. Yet, Crazy Ted Cruz deliberately chose to stand in Falwell’s political wallow, which leaves him reeking with the stench of Falwell’s nastiness and know-nothingism. Is Cruz running to be president of the USA — or of Liberty University?

Ted’s announcement of his presidential candidacy was a real Cruz-a-palooza! It was part Ronald Reagan, part Elmer Gantry, part John Lennon and, of course, part Jerry Falwell — yet it was totally Ted Cruz — full of blather, bloat and BS.

Not only was it staged at Liberty U but Cruz thumped the word “liberty” again and again, like a televangelist thumping the Bible. “We stand together for liberty,” the candidate declared one final time at the conclusion of the show. That was more than a little cynical. While the mass media reported that Cruz drew a packed house of 10,000 Liberty students, few news stories mentioned a pertinent fact about the crowd — the budding scholars were not at… liberty to avoid his speech, for school officials made attendance mandatory.

Another word reprised throughout the campaign event was “imagine” — used 38 times by Cruz in a sort of dreamy imitation of the John Lennon song. “Imagine health care reform that keeps government out of the way,” warbled the senator, whose family has received free, platinum-level coverage from Goldman Sachs, where his wife was a top executive. But she has now taken a leave from the Wall Street giant to join Ted’s anti-government crusade, so suddenly they had no health coverage. No problem for a hypocrite like Cruz, though — only a day after the big speech, he said he plans to sign up for Obamacare, the very program he demonized and pledged to kill.

But it was in the speech’s finale that Ted reached his crescendo of cynicism: “It is a time for truth,” he bellowed. Truth? This is a guy who fabricates facts to foment fear among the fringiest of the farthermost fringe of the right wingers. The good news is that the more he campaigns, the more obvious it will be that can’t even imagine truth. And like Falwell, he will be another fool for the history books.


By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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