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.
From the September 25 edition of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show:
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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.
In his December 7 Washington Post column, Michael Gerson, columnist and former aide to President George W. Bush, argued that Republicans should support the DREAM Act:
The Dream Act now before Congress is similarly clarifying. The legislation would create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children. Applicants must have graduated from high school or have gotten a GED. They would be given a conditional legal status for six years, in which they must complete two years of college or serve at least two years in the military. If they failed to meet the requirements - or committed a crime (other than a non-drug-related misdemeanor) - they would lose their legal status and could be deported. If they succeeded, they would be granted a green card and could apply for citizenship.
It would be difficult to define a more sympathetic group of potential Americans. They must demonstrate that they are law-abiding and education-oriented. Some seek to defend the country they hope to join. The Defense Department supports the Dream Act as a source of quality volunteers. Business groups welcome a supply of college-educated workers. The Department of Homeland Security endorses the legislation so it can focus on other, more threatening, groups of illegal immigrants.
No one is proposing the mass deportation of this particular group, which would be last on the target list of even the most enthusiastic immigration restrictionist. The actual choice is between allowing these young men and women to develop their talents and serve in the military, or not.
Whatever its legislative fate, the Dream Act is effective at stripping away pretense. Opponents of this law don't want earned citizenship for any illegal immigrant - even those personally guilty of no crime, even those who demonstrate their skills and character. The Dream Act would be a potent incentive for assimilation. But for some, assimilation clearly is not the goal. They have no intention of sharing the honor of citizenship with anyone called illegal - even those who came as children, have grown up as neighbors and would be willing to give their lives in the nation's cause.
During the current lame-duck session of Congress, Republicans have been correct to emphasize economic concerns, which the public prioritized in the recent election. But supporting the Dream Act would send a useful message - that some Republicans in victory are capable of governing for the sake of everyone.
From Gerson's Washington Post column, headlined "With Holder at the helm, detainee policy is a disaster":
Under Holder's influence, American detainee policy is a botched, hypocritical, politicized mess.
The case of embassy bomber Ahmed Ghailani - the only Guantanamo Bay detainee the Obama administration has brought to trial in the United States - was intended to increase public faith in civilian prosecutions. But a terrorist hugging his lawyers in victory can't be considered a confidence builder. Days before the Ghailani verdict, the White House admitted that Mohammed, because of massive, public resistance, would not be seeing the inside of a Manhattan courtroom anytime soon. "Gitmo," one official told The Washington Post, "is going to remain open for the foreseeable future."
Where do these developments leave Holder, for whom failure is not only an option but a habit? A recent profile by Wil Hylton in GQ magazine attempts to put his tenure in the best possible light - the lonely, naive man of principle undone by politics. But the portrait is unintentionally devastating. Holder clearly views the war on terrorism as a distraction. "The biggest surprise I've had in this job," he told Hylton, "is how much time the national security issues take."
How does Obama back down and accept a tribunal? He could begin by appointing an attorney general who understands the requirements of national security. Some on the left believe Holder should resign out of principle. Some on the right believe he should leave because he is out of his depth. Such bipartisanship should not go to waste.
In a November 5 Washington Post op-ed titled, "The GOP's Sarah Palin problem," former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote that Sarah Palin "seems increasingly indifferent to Republican fortunes and increasingly tolerant of disturbing extremism," criticizing her endorsement of Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo. Gerson further stated that Palin's "approach to politics" is a "threat to the Republican future."
From Gerson's Post op-ed:
O'Donnell and Angle were gifts of Sen. Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin to their party. Tea Party enthusiasm and shallow ideological purity were supposed to be better than outdated, "establishment" attributes such as achievement, wisdom or qualification. This approach to politics is expected of DeMint, who has gained national prominence by accusing his Republican colleagues of compromise. Coming from Palin, however, it is a threat to the Republican future.
Palin's support for O'Donnell showed poor political judgment. But Palin went further, also endorsing Constitution Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo in Colorado, one of the most divisive figures in American politics.
It was one of the best outcomes of Election 2010 that Tancredo was exiled from any position of public trust. But it is disturbing that Palin found Tancredo to be the "right man for the job." Her endorsement raises the question of whether Palin has any standards for her support other than anti-government rhetoric. Either as a power broker or a candidate in the 2012 election, Palin's increasingly erratic political judgment should raise Republican concerns.
Yes, I know it's only Tuesday. Doesn't matter. Nobody is going to out-dumb former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who used his Washington Post column today to complain about intellectual snobbery.
Gerson pegged his column to President Obama's recent statement that "Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now … and facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country is scared."
Gerson then gets the stupid started by claiming "these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president." That's an astonishing claim, given that I doubt one person in a hundred would contest the assertion that "facts and science" do not "win the day all the time," or that people don't always think clearly when they are scared.
Gerson does contest it, though, writing "Human beings under stress are not hard-wired for stupidity" because that "would be a distinct evolutionary disadvantage." Is Michael Gerson under the impression that humans -- or any other species -- have completely finished evolving and contain no traits that present an evolutionary disadvantage? That would be an odd belief. (Note also that Gerson changes Obama's completely uncontroversial statement that humans do "not…always think clearly when we're scared" into an assertions that humans are stupid. But even that strawman proved too formidable an opponent for Gerson.)
Anyway, none of that is the really dumb part. The really dumb part comes after Gerson calls Obama an "intellectual snob," then writes:
Not that there is anything wrong with this. Some of my best friends are intellectual snobs. But they don't make very good politicians.
And that's when I should have stopped reading. Barack Obama, as you may remember, is the president of the United States. That, pretty much by definition, makes him a "very good politician." And that clinches "dumbest column of the week" honors for Gerson.