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Michael Gerson, syndicated columnist and former aide to President George W. Bush, explained in The Washington Post that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy is “fueled by conspiracy.”
Trump has peddled numerous conspiracy theories, including leading the charge in questioning the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate, and claiming vaccines cause autism, that the government lied about the dangers of Ebola, that Muslims cheered on 9/11, and that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered, among others. Trump regularly surrounds himself with and lauds known conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, an infamous 9/11 truther, and Roger Stone, a notorious dirty trickster who alleges the Clintons are murderers.
In a May 23 opinion piece for the Post, Gerson wrote Trump “is not flirting with the fringes” by pushing “conspiratorial nonsense,” but “is French-kissing them.” Gerson explained that “Trump emerged in conservative circles by questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship, and thus the legality of his presidency,” and has since peddled numerous conspiracy theories and has “succeeded by appealing to stereotypes and ugly hatreds.” Gerson warned “every Republican official endorsing Trump” that the conspiratorial “company he keeps … is the company you now keep.” From the May 23 Washington Post opinion piece:
But it was Donald Trump who led the opposition. He tweeted: “The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders.’ Act fast!” And: “Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting.”
Health officials were not lying. Travel to and from West Africa was essential for medical personnel and aid workers to defeat the disease at its point of origin. Trump’s ban would have made Ebola materially more likely to spread beyond control.
What kind of politics is ascendant in the United States? A distrust of institutions that borders on conspiratorial. Here is Trump again: “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes — AUTISM.” And: “I am being proven right about massive vaccinations — the doctors lied.” And: “So many people who have children with autism have thanked me — amazing response. They know far better than fudged up reports!”
Lying doctors. Fudged reports. It would all be disturbing — if it were not conspiratorial nonsense. No connection has ever been demonstrated between vaccinations and autism. And this particular nonsense is potentially deadly. Trump is undermining a consensus for vaccination that builds up “herd immunity” and saves the lives of children.
Does Trump really believe that liberals may have ordered a hit on a Supreme Court justice? Who knows? We do know he finds such ideas useful. Trump emerged in conservative circles by questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship, and thus the legality of his presidency. This required the existence of a conspiracy to hide the circumstances of Obama’s birth. “They cannot believe what they’re finding,” he said of “people that have been studying it.” Having actually discovered nothing, Trump doubled down on a deception.
As a leader, Trump has succeeded by appealing to stereotypes and ugly hatreds that most American leaders have struggled to repress and contain. His political universe consists of deceptive experts, of scheming, of criminal Mexicans, of lying politicians and bureaucrats and of disloyal Muslims. Asked to repudiate David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, Trump hesitated, later claiming a “bad earpiece.” Asked to repudiate the vicious anti-Semitism of some of his followers, Trump responded, “I don’t have a message to the fans.” Wouldn’t want to offend “the fans.”
This is not flirting with the fringes; it is French-kissing them. Every Republican official endorsing Trump should know: This is the company he keeps. This is the company you now keep.
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Conservative pundits are bickering over Donald Trump's campaign, especially after National Review's "Against Trump" issue and the backlash it engendered. On one side are pundits who want to stop Trump's candidacy in its tracks. On the other are conservatives who are lauding Trump's candidacy, even if they have not officially endorsed him. Media Matters breaks down exactly who is on which side (click for the full-sized image):
Former top aide to President George W. Bush and Washington Post opinion writer Michael Gerson denounced "U.S. politicians" who are "declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and treating Muslims in the United States, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists." In the past week, this anti-Muslim posture has been exhibited primarily by GOP politicians and right-wing media.
In the wake of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, a number of Republican presidential candidates, governors, and media figures have used the violence to fearmonger about Muslims and Islam. With many on the right calling for the U.S. to deny entry to Muslim Syrian refugees, Newscorp. and 21st Century Fox executive co-chairman Rupert Murdoch suggested that the United States "make [a] special exception for proven Christians." Others have pressed Muslim advocacy groups to accept "responsibility" for the Paris attacks and have advocated for the "profiling" of Muslims on U.S. soil.
In a November 16 Washington Post op-ed Gerson described the dangers of "politicians defin[ing] Islam as the problem" -- namely that they are "feeding the Islamic State narrative" and "materially undermining the war against terrorism." From the op-ed:
As careful as we should be in drawing lessons from tragedy -- and there is something particularly disgraceful in mounting a political soapbox at a funeral -- the horrors experienced in Paris demand a renewed dedication to the prevention of such attacks .
Islamic State terrorists have goals beyond a blood-drunk love of carnage: to discredit the Syrian refugees (whom they hate) and to encourage the perception of a civilizational struggle between Islam and the West. They are succeeding at both.
They are stoking religious conflict between Muslims and Christians in order to attract recruits, including from Western countries. And one way to encourage the appearance of civilizational conflict is through spectacular acts of murder that somehow (horribly) appeal to a Sunni Arab sense of historical disempowerment.
All our efforts are undermined by declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and by treating Muslims in the United States, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists. Instead of blaming refugees, we need to make sure our counterterrorism and intelligence policies give us a chance to screen and stop any threat (which means keeping the post-9/11 structures of surveillance in place). But if U.S. politicians define Islam as the problem and cast aspersions on Muslim populations in the West, they are feeding the Islamic State narrative. They are materially undermining the war against terrorism and complicating the United States' (already complicated) task in the Middle East. Rejecting a blanket condemnation of Islam is not a matter of political correctness. It is the requirement of an effective war against terrorism, which means an effective war against the terrorist kingdom in Syria and western Iraq.
Right-wing media are acting as de facto political advisers for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, offering the candidate an array of advice that includes replacing his staffers, finding "his inner pit bull," and talking more about his faith.
After Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion upholding health care reform, the right-wing media have attacked his conservative credentials. Despite experts' statements that the opinion might have cleared the way for more rulings restricting federal power and progressive legislation, media conservatives are using this as a pretext to demand even more conservative judicial nominees. There is evidence their pressure is having an effect.
In today's Washington Post, Michael Gerson became the latest right-wing media figure to join the hysteria surrounding last week's health care reform decision, impugning Chief Justice Roberts' conservatism by accusing him of "deferring whenever possible" to Congress and the Executive. Perhaps he should look closely at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's recent successes before the Supreme Court. If the Chamber's record is any indication, Gerson's charge is quite off.
A new analysis from the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) points out that the Chamber has a historic win average in the Roberts Court as it continues to push back on government regulation in fields such as labor, environmental, civil rights, and consumer protection policy. And the Roberts Court isn't only siding with big business' attacks on public interest law for the easy questions. In ideologically divided cases, the current right wing of the Court is in near lockstep with the Chamber, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito taking the pro-business side the most (84% and 92%, respectively). That's a peculiar form of institutional deference.
This escalating trend was just capped with a stellar 7-0 finish in the most recent term, bringing the Chamber's success percentage in the Roberts Court to an unprecedented 68%, as calculated by CAC. And when it comes to challenging the Obama Administration's defense of duly enacted legislation, the Chamber has shredded the U.S. Government's traditional advantage by notching five of those wins over the Solicitor General, who in normal times is considered the "Tenth Justice." That title for the SG might no longer be apt.
In a 2009 article, Robin S. Conrad, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's high-powered litigation shop, offered her contrarian perspective on what was apparent only three years into John Roberts' tenure. Claiming that her employer, the National Chamber Litigation Center, "clearly lost five out of seven" of its labor cases and went on to lose "nearly half the cases that it participated in during the 2007 Term," Conrad bemoaned the "myth of a pro-business bias" that stuck to the Roberts Court even before Citizens United unleashed a flood of corporate money into the country's elections. The Chamber's top lawyer did allow, however, that "time will offer more opportunities to understand the Roberts Court's take on business issues." It turns out she was right: time did tell about the Roberts Court's pro-business tilt.
In a Washington Post column mainly focused on criticizing Republicans for pandering to conservative evangelicals, Michael Gerson distorted the findings of a survey from the Pew Research Center to push the claim that President Obama has engaged in an "assault on the autonomy of Catholic religious institutions." This distortion follows a series of attacks from Gerson and others that rely on falsehoods to claim that the Obama administration is engaging in anti-Catholic actions.
To back up his point, Gerson cited the Pew finding that 31 percent of white Catholics say that the Obama administration is "unfriendly toward religion." However, Gerson ignored the fact that among Catholics of all races, 42 percent of Catholics say that the Obama administration is "friendly to religion" compared to only 25 percent who say the administration is unfriendly.
To the extent that there has been any change in views of Catholics, the repeated baseless attacks on Obama by Gerson and others on issues related to religion is likely to blame.
Rather than doubling down on his claims, Gerson should instead correct the misinformation he has been putting out there. In November 2011, Gerson published a column titled "Obama turns his back on Catholics." Gerson argued that it was anti-Catholic for the Obama administration to require institutions such as Catholic hospitals to cover birth control. In fact, Catholic hospitals support the Obama administration's policies as does the Catholic population in general.
Following in the footsteps of Michael Gerson's November 14 Washington Post column, which ignored the opinions of American Catholics to accuse the Obama administration of "anti-Catholic bias," right-wing bloggers are pressuring the Obama administration to allow all employers to offer insurance that does not provide any coverage for birth control under the Affordable Care Act.
For instance, National Review Online blogger Kathleen Jean Lopez attacked progressives for "insisting that the White House not succumb to Catholic backward thinking over contraception." She also asked "How much of a problem has it been to convince people that President Obama's signature legislation is a threat to Catholics and others with so many prominent Catholics in the administration."
Not to be outdone, LifeSiteNews cited a National Catholic Reporter blog post to push the idea that "if Obama fails to widen the religious exemption, he can kiss away any real effort to win over Catholic voters in 2012 -- including those who supported him in 2008 despite his pro-abortion position."
But what do Catholics really think about whether health insurance should provide contraceptive coverage? According to a 2009 poll conducted for Catholics for Choice, 63 percent of American Catholics said that "health insurance policies -- whether they are private or government -- should cover ... contraception, such as birth control pills."
[Belden Russonello & Stewart, September 2009]
Catholics for Choice has also found that "even among those who attend church once a week or more, 83% of sexually active Catholic women use a form of contraception that is banned by the Vatican," that 69 percent of Catholic women have used birth control pills, and that 88 percent of Catholics have used condoms.
In a Washington Post column, Michael Gerson accused the Obama administration of "systematic anti-Catholic bias," pointing to its decision to end funding for anti-sex trafficking programs run by Catholic bishops that do not refer women who have been raped for abortions. In fact, large majorities of Catholics support allowing women who have been raped to have access to abortion.
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The national debate on the future of Social Security is surrounded by falsehoods and misconceptions regarding the program's finances and its relationship to the federal budget -- misconceptions that are repeatedly reinforced by major media outlets. In fact, as it's currently constructed, Social Security cannot add to the deficit in the long run, does not present a major threat to America's fiscal future, and is backed by some of the safest financial assets in the world.
As I've frequently pointed out, the fact that columnist Richard Cohen is what passes for a "liberal" at the Washington Post pretty thoroughly undermines the idea that the paper's opinion pages lean to the left. In response, people have occasionally asked me "Who says Cohen is supposed to be a liberal?" Well, now, the Post has removed any doubt about the role it thinks Cohen plays at the paper, officially designating him a "left-leaning" columnist:
Dana Milbank is the kind of "left-leaning" columnist who voted for Republican presidential candidates in 2000 and 2004 and a Republican-turned-independent in 2008. And who referred to Hillary Clinton as a "mad bitch." Just try to imagine the Post identifying as "right-leaning" a columnist who voted for Democratic presidential candidates in 2000 and 2004 and called Sarah Palin a "mad bitch."
But it's Richard Cohen's presence on the "left-leaning" list that's really remarkable. Here's a refresher:
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson writes:
[T]hough it is hard to identify a distinctive Catholic voter, there is certainly a distinctive Catholic teaching on politics - a highly developed and coherent tradition that has influenced many non-Catholics, myself included. Human life and dignity, in this view, are primary.
Gerson never gets around to explaining what he means by human dignity, so it's worth remembering that Gerson (like so many Post columnists) defends the Bush administration's use of torture:
Gerson pays lip service to opposing what he tactfully calls "harsh interrogations," but when you get past the throat-clearing, Gerson argues that firm opposition to such tactics simply "is not an option for those in government." And he has bitterly denounced efforts to investigate Bush administration interrogation methods, using rhetoric Nathan Jessep would appreciate:
And now Obama has described the post-Sept. 11 period as "a dark and painful chapter in our history." In fact, whatever your view of waterboarding, the response of intelligence professionals following Sept. 11 was impressive. ... Now the president and his party have done much to tarnish those accomplishments. So much for the thanks of a grateful nation.