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“Change Your Stand, Or Shut Your Mouth”: ‘The Culture War’ — A Battle The GOP Can’t Win

The argument is over and conservatives have lost. Some of them just don’t know it yet.

That’s the takeaway from the remarkable events of last week wherein the states of Indiana and Arkansas executed high-speed U-turns — we’re talking skid marks on the tarmac — on the subject of marriage equality. Legislatures in both states, you will recall, had passed so-called “religious freedom” laws designed to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. In Indiana, the governor had already signed the bill and was happily dissembling about the discriminatory nature and intent of the new law.

Then reality landed like the Marines at Guadalcanal.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence made a fool of himself on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” five times refusing to answer a simple yes or no question about whether the bill would protect a business that refused to serve gay people. Angie’s List, which is headquartered in the state, delayed a planned expansion. NASCAR, the NCAA, the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA, and a host of businesses condemned the law. Conventions pulled out and some states and cities even banned government-funded travel to Indiana.

Down in Arkansas, where similar legislation awaited his signature, Gov. Asa Hutchinson was no doubt watching with interest as Pence was metaphorically shot full of holes. Then he received a tap on the shoulder from a very heavy hand. Walmart, the largest retailer on Earth, born and headquartered in Arkansas, urged a veto, saying the bill “does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.”

Both governors promptly got, ahem, religion. Hutchinson sent the measure back to legislators for revision. Pence signed a measure to “fix” a law whose glories he had spent so much time touting.

And here, a little context might be instructive. Twenty years ago, you recall, we were essentially arguing over the right of gay people to exist. The debate then was over whether they could serve in the military, adopt children, be fired or denied housing because of their sexuality, Ten years ago, public opinion on most of those issues having swung decisively, we were fighting over whether or not they could get married. Ten years later, that point pretty much conceded, we are arguing over who should bake the cake.

The very parameters of the debate have shifted dramatically to the dreaded left. Positions the GOP took proudly just 20 years ago now seem prehistoric and its motivations for doing so, threadbare. This is not about morality, the constitution or faith. It never was.

No, this is about using the law to validate the primal sense of “ick” that still afflicts some heterosexuals at the thought of boys who like boys and girls who like girls. And the solution to their problem is three words long: Get over it.

Or, get left behind. Consider again what happened last week: Put aside NASCAR, the NBA and Angie’s List: Walmart is, for better and for worse, the very embodiment of Middle-American values. To rephrase what Lyndon Johnson said of Walter Cronkite under vastly different circumstances, if you have lost Walmart, you have lost the country.

On gay rights, conservatives just lost Wal-Mart.

The adults on the right (there are some) understand that they are out of step with the mainstream, which is why they’d just as soon call a truce in the so-called “culture wars.” The fanatical, id-driven children on the right (there are far too many) would rather drive the GOP off a cliff than concede. Somebody needs to sit them down and explain that when you have taken an execrable stand and been repudiated for it as decisively as the right has been, you only have two options: Change your stand, or shut your mouth.

At this point, either one will do.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Culture Wars, GOP, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Large Pizza With A Side Of Hate”: The Next Time You Order An Extra-Large Pepperoni, Tell Them To Hold The Hate

The only purpose of the “religious freedom” laws in Indiana and other states is to assert that discrimination against gay people is acceptable. The only way to “fix” such measures is to repeal them.

As events this week have shown, the nation is becoming intolerant of intolerance. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) insisted that the absurdly titled “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was not meant to enable discrimination. But no sooner had the ink dried on the new law than a local pizzeria announced it was just raring to discriminate.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” said Crystal O’Connor, whose family owns and operates Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind.

As a practical matter, I’m betting that few couples, gay or straight, would be devastated to go without pizza at their wedding reception. But that’s not the point. O’Connor correctly understood that the law was intended to let her discriminate against gay couples. Her family’s Christian beliefs, she said, lead her to disapprove of same-sex marriage.

It is her right to believe whatever she wants. Religious liberty is guaranteed by the Constitution. But in a pluralistic society, freedom of worship cannot mean a business that serves the general public can discriminate. When I was growing up in the South, there were business owners who believed the Lord didn’t intend for different races to mix, much less marry. Federal civil rights legislation barred these businesses from acting on that belief. The proprietors got over it.

At Pence’s urging, the Indiana legislature quickly came up with a proposal to amend the law to prohibit discrimination based on “race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.” Pence signed it into law on Thursday. In other words: Never mind the whole thing, and we’re sorry we bothered everyone.

Read that list and contemplate the supreme irony: Indiana has ended up with an anti-discrimination law protecting the LGBT community that is among the toughest in the nation. Apparently, there will be pizza for everyone.

Doubtless with an eye toward Pence’s travails, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced that he will not sign the religious-freedom law his legislature just handed him without significant changes, probably along the lines of those done in Indiana.

Pence was a big supporter of the original law, so why the rapid moonwalk in the opposite direction? Because the business community, both locally and nationally, announced its opposition and activists began talking about a boycott of the state. Because the NCAA, which is holding the Final Four tournament in Indianapolis this weekend, announced its urgent concern. Because Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who heads the most valuable company in the universe, wrote a Post op-ed denouncing the Indiana law as discriminatory.

In Arkansas, Hutchinson heard expressions of concern from Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer — which happens to be headquartered in Bentonville, Ark. When Wal-Mart calls, and you’re governor of Arkansas, you pick up the phone.

About 20 states already have these religious-freedom laws on the books, although most are not as far-reaching as Indiana’s. There is no indication that rampant discrimination is taking place — but that’s not the point. The clear target is same-sex marriage, and the intention is to reassure citizens that discrimination against same-sex couples is at least theoretically permissible.

The fact that we don’t hear of these laws actually being used proves a truth about same-sex marriage that should be blindingly obvious: Whether two men or two women decide to marry has not the slightest impact on anyone else.

Just a decade ago, most gay activists considered same-sex marriage a bridge too far. Today, it’s the law in 37 states and the District. The world has not come to an end. “Traditional” marriage has not been threatened. Opponents cannot cite one negative impact on society, unless you count the deprivation felt by citizens who need somebody, anybody, to discriminate against.

With a few exceptions, such as Hobby Lobby, the business community has decided that bigotry is bad for the bottom line. Politicians can fight the likes of Apple, Wal-Mart and the NCAA if they want. It’s just not a high-percentage move.

Which brings me to the wrenching struggle the Republican Party is having with itself over the issue. It’s time for the GOP to get on the right side of history. The next time you order an extra-large pepperoni, tell them to hold the hate.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 2, 2015

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Discrimination, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Don’t Wreck Religious Liberty’s Brand”: A New Commandment Now Trumps Some Of The Others; ‘Thou Shalt Not Spoil The Brand’

We are all obsessed with our brands these days, and no one more so than states competing fiercely for jobs and businesses. Some of them are quickly learning that being seen as anti-gay is dangerous to their images.

As controversy engulfed Indiana over its religious liberty law that would give legal recourse to those who discriminate against gays and lesbians, leaders of North Carolina, which has one of the most conservative state governments in the country, were getting cold feet about passing a comparable statute.

“I think we need to show that if we approve this bill, that it will improve North Carolina’s brand,” said Tim Moore, the Republican Speaker of the state House of Representatives. “Anything we do, we have to make sure we don’t harm our brand.”

A new commandment now trumps some of the others: Thou shalt not spoil the brand.

Republican governor Pat McCrory went further the day before on a Charlotte radio show, saying that a religious liberty law “makes no sense.” Meanwhile in Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson called on state lawmakers to recall a religious-liberty bill they had passed.

This turn of events is coming as a shock to opponents of gay marriage. They thought that moving the fight to the ground of religious liberty was a politically shrewd fallback position now that courts are ratifying marriage equality. In our rights-oriented country, the best way to push back against one right is to assert a competing one.

Conservatives have a fair claim up to a point — and now they have barreled past it. The legitimate argument is that the country has rapidly changed its mind on gay marriage even as many religious traditions continue to see homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage as sinful.

Most supporters of gay marriage are willing to acknowledge (and should) that the law cannot force religious denominations to participate in activities they regard as deeply wrong. Most marriage equality statutes have thus included broad exemptions. An objecting church, for example, cannot be forced to bless a same-sex union, nor can it be required to let its facilities be used to celebrate one. Those who want their faith communities to change their view of marriage have to work the matter out on the inside and not rely on the coercive power of the state.

But opponents of gay marriage wanted more. Going far beyond what the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act had in mind at the federal level, they want a baker to be able to refuse to confect a cake for the reception after the ceremonies and for a florist to decline to provide the bouquets.

Now, I truly doubt that there are a lot of gay couples who would give their wedding business to vendors who regard what they are doing as an abomination. As a Catholic, I might not be enthusiastic about having an anti-Catholic baker involved in my wedding festivities. Not every battle has to be fought, and I suspect that many same-sex couples will voluntarily turn to bakers and florists who can share in their joy and don’t have to be forced to come kicking and screaming to the party. Supporters of gay marriage are winning, so they should consider the virtue of graciousness toward those who still oppose it. This would be good for social peace.

But consider my example: I do not think the law should give someone who sees the pope as the anti-Christ “religious liberty” grounds to use in justifying discrimination against me. Gays and lesbians are justified in feeling the same way. By taking reasonable religious liberty claims and then pushing and twisting them into a rationale for discrimination, opponents of gay marriage have picked a fight that will weaken religious liberty arguments overall. Where would this end?

Carefully thought-through religious liberty exceptions make good sense. They involve balancing when it is appropriate to exempt religious people from laws of general application and when it doesn’t. But turning religious liberty into a sweeping slogan that can be invoked to resist any social changes that some group of Americans doesn’t like will create a backlash against all efforts at accommodating religion. Forgive me, but this is bad for the brand of religious liberty.

It is, however, entertaining to watch conservative politicians be jostled this way and that between their business constituencies who don’t want this kind of trouble and their supporters among social conservatives who insist upon it. They thought they had found a way around the country’s increasing openness to gay rights. They’re fretting about brands because they now know they were wrong.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, April 2, 2015

April 3, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Inmates Are Now In Charge”: In Arkansas, The House That Bubba Built Crumbles

The House that Bubba Built, namely the Arkansas Democratic Party, crumbled to the ground Tuesday night as freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton knocked off Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who helped lead the charge to impeach President Clinton, won the race to become Arkansas’ next governor.  Hutchinson defeated Mike Ross, a former congressman whose first job in politics was serving as Bill Clinton’s driver, to win the governor’s mansion where Bill and Hillary once lived.

Despite Clinton’s seven trips to the state to campaign for the 2014 Democratic ticket, nothing he did could hold off the Republican wave that swept the state. The Democratic ticket was ultimately drowned out by the tide of anti-Obama sentiment in Arkansas, where the president has a 30 percent approval rating.

The Associated Press declared Cotton the winner two minutes after the polls closed, as Cotton swamped Pryor 56 percent to 40 percent, while Ross lost to Hutchinson 55 percent to 42 percent.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Cotton declared, “The people of Arkansas have made their choice.”

The shift in political power completes the partisan realignment of the state that began in 2010, when Republicans defeated incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln by more than 20 points, took control of the state legislature in 2012 for the first time in more than 100 years, and eventually swept all four House seats.

Cotton, a lanky Harvard-educated lawyer and Army combat veteran, burst onto the political scene in 2012 when he easily won his Arkansas House seat and became the “anti-Rand,” vocally defending the Iraq War as “just and noble” and rejecting his party’s growing libertarian inclinations on global affairs.

That unapologetically hawkish posture won over the likes of former President George W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. John McCain, GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, former Rep. Allen West, and the John Bolton PAC, all of whom donated generously to Cotton’s Senate bid

Cotton was also heavily bankrolled by the securities industry, the largest sector to donate to Cotton’s campaign, and Elliott Management Corp., the hedge fund run by Paul Singer, a neocon defense hawk.

Although Sen. Pryor committed a number of unforced errors during the campaign, including stumbling when asked whether he believed President Obama had properly responded to the Ebola outbreak, the president’s unpopularity in Arkansas seemed to doom Pryor from the start.

At one debate, Cotton tied Pryor to Obama by saying the latter’s name more than 70 times.  American Crossroads, another big funder for the pro-Cotton effort, plowed more than $500,000 into ads portraying the Pryor and the president as essentially the same person. In an ad called “Spelling Bee,” a young child spells “Pryor” as “O-B-A-M-A,” to which the judge says, “Close enough.”

On Tuesday night, Arkansas voters agreed that even sharing a party affiliation with President Obama, as Pryor and Ross did, was close enough for them, and officially completed Arkansas’ shift from blue to purple to — for now — solidly red.


By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, November 4, 2014

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Arkansas, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“But Ask Me Again Tomorrow”: Finding Support For Background Checks In Unexpected Places

Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas, has led a National Rifle Association task force on school violence, and yesterday unveiled a report calling for, among other things, more armed personnel in every American school.

But that’s not the interesting part. Rather, what mattered far more is what Hutchinson told Wolf Blitzer a few hours after unveiling the NRA’s plan.

For those who can’t watch clips online, asked about the centerpiece of Democratic efforts to reduce gun violence, Hutchinson said, “Yes. Absolutely. I’m open to expanding background checks.” He added that he’d like to see it done “in a way that does not infringe upon an individual and make it hard for an individual to transfer to a friend or a neighbor or somebody.”

This, to put it mildly, is not the NRA’s position. Indeed, the right-wing organization issued a statement soon after saying Hutchinson, who led the NRA’s school-violence task force and was doing interviews to promote the NRA’s plan, was “not speaking” for the NRA. The group went on to say Hutchinson was not referring to background checks when he said, “I’m open to expanding background checks.”


At this point, it’s worth pausing to appreciate an increasingly ridiculous dynamic: Republicans both (a) support Democratic efforts to expand firearm background checks; and (b) have vowed to kill Democratic efforts to expand firearm background checks.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for example, said he wants “a real background check on everyone” trying to buy a gun. His office then said he didn’t mean it.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) used to condemn the “dangerous” gun-show loophole and call for expanded background checks. He now believes the opposite.

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre once said, “We believe it’s reasonable to provide for instant background checks at gun shows, just like gun stores and pawn shops.” The group more recently said, “Yes, the NRA has changed its position.”

After the Columbine massacre, 10 Republican senators who remain in the chamber, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supported at least partially closing the gun-show loophole. All 10 have since moved further to the right.

And yesterday, the conservative Republican the NRA chose to lead its own school-violence task force said he’s “absolutely” open to “expanding background checks,” which the NRA then distanced itself from.

So, to review, the public overwhelmingly supports expanded background checks; Democratic officials support expanded background checks; Republican officials have spent years endorsing expanded background checks; the NRA itself has expressed support for expanded background checks; and by everyone’s estimation, there are no constitutional concerns whatsoever with expanded background checks.

And yet, despite all of this, the number of Senate Republicans who are prepared to close the gun-show loophole in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary remains zero.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 3, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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