As Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) woos young voters ahead of an expected 2016 presidential bid, it's become conventional wisdom among many Beltway pundits that Paul could broaden the GOP's appeal with his ostensibly tolerant views on social issues - never mind that that this narrative is completely divorced from Paul's traditional conservative positions on such topics.
Paul's effort to win over Millennials and other constituencies historically suspicious of the GOP came to the fore with his March 19 speech at the University of California, Berkeley, where Paul condemned government surveillance programs as a threat to privacy.
The chattering class proclaimed that the speech was emblematic of Paul's appeal as an unconventional, "intriguing" Republican. And despite Paul's conservative stances on issues like marriage equality, reproductive choice, and creationism, many media outlets have also pointed to Paul as the kind of candidate who could help move the GOP away from its hardline social positions. It's a narrative that even some of Paul's conservative critics have come to accept, as Charles Krauthammer showed when he called Paul "very much a liberal on social issues."
A look at media coverage of Paul helps explain where Krauthammer got that notion.
For some time now progressives have been discussing the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power, the faulty notion offered by some commentators that if a Congress opposed to President Obama's policies refuses to act, it's Obama's fault for failing to persuade them. Since the recall elections that removed two Colorado state senators who had supported stronger gun laws from office, a similar line of thought has emerged, the Green Lantern Theory of Electoral Politics, in which commentators castigate gun violence prevention advocates for the loss of those seats even as the commentators acknowledge the electoral realities that made victories unlikely.
On September 10, State Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) were defeated in recall elections after being targeted over their support for expanded background checks on gun sales and a 15 round limitation on firearm magazine size. Some media commentators have described the election results as having major implications for the gun debate while downplaying factors on the ground that demonstrated that the election was less than a total victory for pro-gun advocates and unlikely to be a bell-weather for future elections.
In a piece for The Atlantic, Molly Ball does an excellent job of laying out those factors:
Democrats and gun-control advocates have come up with a number of rosy rationalizations to minimize the loss. Gun-rights campaigners failed to collect enough signatures to initiate two other recalls, they point out, so the victory was really mixed. The gun-control laws passed by the Colorado legislature remain in place, and Democrats retain control of both houses. Tuesday's recall was a low-turnout election with procedural irregularities that made it harder for people to vote. Both lawmakers represented tough districts, particularly Senator Angela Giron, whose district was Democratic but culturally conservative; she lost by 12 points, while state Senate President John Morse lost by fewer than 400 votes. All those things are true.
But Ball, after laying out all of these facts that made the recall elections unique, concludes that those realities "don't matter." According to Ball, gun violence prevention advocates should have found some way to win, regardless of the difficulty of achieving that result. She concludes that "risk-averse pols" who "value survival" will back away from the issue, and thus "it doesn't seem far-fetched to think that gun control might go back into the policy deep-freeze where Democrats had it stowed for most of the last 10 years."
Like the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Politics, this line of thinking encourages putting responsibility on exactly the wrong people; while the theory of Presidential Politics blames Obama for the irrational actions of congressional Republicans, the theory of Electoral Politics blames activists for potential irrational responses of national politicians to state legislative elections featuring unique circumstances.
In The Atlantic, former Washington Post reporter Garrett Epps defended a federal district judge's decision to put a new California law banning "ex-gay" therapy on hold, lending credence to the shoddy claim that the law limits the free speech of therapists hoping to cure their patients of homosexuality.
California is in the midst of a legal battle over SB-1172, a law adopted in September that bans the harmful practice of "ex-gay" therapy. On December 4, U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb granted a preliminary injunction against the law, handing a victory to the plaintiffs who have argued that the law restricts the free speech of therapists.
In his December 5 article, Epps references this argument, embracing the claim that the law would prohibit therapists from even suggesting "ex-gay" therapy - also known as "sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE) - to their patients:
At its heart, the statute forbids a therapist's communication to a patient: I think that you can change your sexual orientation and if you want to, I will help you. And thus it embodies what First Amendment lawyers call a "viewpoint-based restriction." Therapists are free to counsel patients that their gay sexual orientation is a good thing, and are free to counsel against SOCE; those who give the opposite advice face state-mandated loss of their therapists' licenses.
Epps cites Conant v. Walters, a 2002 case in which the Ninth Circuit struck down a policy that prohibited doctors from recommending medical marijuana to their patients on first amendment grounds.
But SB-1172 does not prohibit doctors from discussing or even recommending "ex-gay" therapy to their patients. It only prohibits them from performing that therapy, as the text of the law clearly states: "this bill would prohibit a mental health provider... from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts."
In a November 30 article in The Atlantic, national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that it was "too late" to enact gun violence prevention laws, using discredited research from John Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" thesis and debunked claims by criminologist Gary Kleck that defensive gun uses outpace gun crimes.
Affirmative action policies that will come before the Supreme Court in the upcoming Fisher v. University of Texas case have long been the target of right-wing misinformation that distort the benefits of diversity in higher education. Contrary to the conservative narrative in the media, these admissions processes serve important national interests by promoting equal opportunity and are based on long-standing law.
Writing for The Atlantic yesterday, Fred Campbell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute made perhaps the most nonsensical anti-net neutrality argument I've ever seen: that the passage of the FCC's Open Internet Rule set us down a slippery regulatory slope that led to the wildly unpopular Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA:
The unintended consequences of the FCC's new regulatory approach appeared swiftly. By signaling the end of the bipartisan agreement against Internet regulation, the FCC's order opened the floodgates for additional government interference. New legislative and regulatory initiatives to reign in the free market for Internet services began popping up everywhere.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), introduced in late 2011, is one of these new initiatives and the reason Issa became so engaged in Internet policy. Ironically, the same progressives that advocated for net neutrality rules were among the most vociferous opponents of SOPA, but this time, they weren't alone. Conservatives and centrists joined hands with progressives to oppose SOPA in a redux of the earlier bipartisan agreement opposing Internet regulation. This bipartisan opposition gave the anti-SOPA movement the kind of mainstream momentum that net neutrality always lacked, which made it appear that, once again, we could unite in our opposition to government interference in the Internet.
Let's pick this apart piece-by-piece, shall we?
The Atlantic's Jefferson Morley begins a piece on politicians and baseball with one of the dumber, but more persistent, smears of Hillary Clinton:
More than a few baseball fans scoff when Hillary Clinton pretends to be a Yankee fan.
Unless Hillary Clinton began pretending to be a Yankees fan as a child in Illinois just in case she one day decided to run for Senate from New York, and kept that pretense alive across several decades while living in Arkansas and Washington, DC, she does not "pretend" to be a Yankees fan. She is a Yankees fan.
Jefferson Morley either knows this, in which case he is intentionally misleading his readers, or he does not know this, in which case he is remarkably ignorant of the topic about which he writes.
The Atlantic's Joshua Green is lapping the field in the "silliest thing you'll read all day" competition with a piece purporting to explain "How LeBron's Move Helps the Tea Party."
Green's "explanation"? See, Tea Partiers are mad. And, um, now Ohioans are mad at LeBron James. Therefore they'll become ultra-conservative Republicans, like the Tea Partiers. Or something. Take a look:
Back to Ohio. The unemployment rate is well above the national average, nearly 11 percent. The state's manufacturing base has been decimated, and those jobs aren't coming back. And now, suddenly, the biggest star in the state -- an economic engine in his own right, and a guy who probably single-handedly made Cleveland a recognizable sports mecca all over the world -- has forsaken its residents. And not just forsaken them, but utterly humiliated them by forsaking them on a globally televised ESPN Special!
Would you be angry? I sure would be. And I'd be that much more amenable to the Tea Party message that everything is going to hell.
Wow, that's good stuff! I can't wait for Green's explanation of how Hurley taking Jack's job in the series finale of Lost will stoke Tea Party anger, too.
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder gives the Sestak/Romanoff nonstory -- and the journalists responsible for it -- a sound thrashing:
[P]ractice -- and not simply underhanded practice, but open, above-board practice, since the time those laws were written suggests that the law's authors intended them as a bulwark against official corruption, not against the mixing of politics and policy. In other words, if you apply an originalist reading of these statutes, you will not end up with anything remotely resembling an indictable offense. What keeps this story alive is the media's feeding off the energy that can be generated from deliberately misconstruing the law and its intent.
It is simply not illegal for the White House to offer him an alternative to running against their preferred candidate. There is a reason why no one has ever been prosecuted for this crime.
Making this distinction is critical, because the moment these claims are treated as valid claims, rather than politically-motivated cant, is the moment that they become legitimate facts worthy of a debate, and of news coverage. See this story in USA Today: "Obama under fire for election tactics by Sestak, Romanoff." Under fire ... because USA Today has decided that the charges warrant the label.
The media ecosystem is such that the denials and fact-checking and common sense will serve to reinforce the conviction (if it, indeed, is real) by those making these allegations that there must be something to the story.
More potentially pernicious than liberal bias, than the false equivalences bias, than really just about any other bias that journalism that inject into a public discussion of a story is the power that comes from merely selecting which subjects to cover. Whatever the collection of facts about White House officials attempting to influence primary elections is, it is not a scandal. It is not the type of story that journalists with credibility and experience should be selecting to cover. It's the type of story that journalists ought to resist covering, precisely because the act of giving it attention elevates the arguments that don't correspond with the truth. If journalism is good for anything, it is to provide what Republican Bruce Bartlett calls "quality control" over the narrative. Well, a big mess just slipped by.
Although Obama never promised to abstain from politics, he invited some of this scrutiny by refusing to delineate what he found acceptable and what he did not. But this is a venial sin compared to the transgressions of organized journalism. [Emphasis added]
Oh, just go read the whole thing.
"Warn your kids[!] Better yet, home school [them]," because Obama is "Brainwashing America's Youth," again -- if the latest bit of right-wing fear-mongering is to be believed, that is. Several conservative bloggers have run with the "story" that Organizing for America is accepting applications for its semester-long internship program/"civilian youth brigade," in which the "shocking list" of suggested reading includes community organizer Saul Alinsky's 1971 book Rules for Radicals (the purpose of which is: "indoctrinating [your children] into Saul Alinsky's radical tactics and ideology").
If so, you'd better keep your kids away from those Tea Parties.
Tea Party leader and "the co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter" Michael Patrick Leahy has written an entire book based off of Alinsky's "shocking" work, deftly entitled: Rules for Conservative Radicals: Lessons from Saul Alinsky[!] the Tea Party Movement and the Apostle Paul in the Age of Collaborative Technologies. In his book, "Leahy argues that today's conservative radical should follow the tactics of Saul Alinsky, but apply the morals and ethics of Martin Luther King."
And Leahy is not the only conservative poisoned by what right-wing blogger Pamela Geller calls "the mother's milk of the left."
Conservative "hero" and Fox News' favorite investigative journalist James O'Keefe is also a fan. The Los Angeles Times reported that O'Keefe found an "unlikely source of inspiration" in Alinsky and O'Keefe "took to heart" Alinsky's principle to: "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules."
Also, on Fox News' Glenn Beck, David Horowitz advocated for conservatives to follow "what Saul Alinsky argues"
Alinsky's "evil" has even reached all the way out to the Heartland, with The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reporting: "in Kansas City, Missouri, a group of conservative organizers will conduct a most unusual training session. They will teach the "Rules for Radicals' laid down by the god of community organizing, Saul Alinsky. The idea: learn to recognize the footprints of the enemy." Similarly, The Washington Independent's David Weigel has reported that "Alinsky has found a thriving and surprising fan club in the modern conservative movement," with "many 'Tea Party' activists say[ing] they're cribbing from Alinsky."
Yes, if Geller and the other bloggers on the right are to be believed, Obama is coming for your children through the vessel of Saul Alinsky. And in Geller's own words: "Can you imagine if the Republicans attempted such a stunt?" The mind boggles.
Marc Ambinder makes some good points in his post "In Defense of Double Standards, Sometimes" -- and one big mistake. I'll refer you to his site for the good points rather than attempting to paraphrase them.
Here's the big mistake: Ambinder isn't really defending "double standards."
It does not follow that similar incidents should be treated similarly, particularly if the magnitude of the differences are more significant than the similarities. Double standards are often defensible.
And here's the problem: If "the magnitude of the differences are more significant than the similarities," it isn't a situation where the phrase "double standard" is appropriate.
The phrase "double standard" means that two identical (OK, nearly identical) situations are being treated differently.
It doesn't make any sense to apply the phrase "double standard" to situations that have greater differences than similarities. It's like saying we have a double standard in the way we punish murderers and jay-walkers. Well, no: We have different standards for murderers and for jay-walkers, because they have done vastly different things.
Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking "OK, but isn't this just semantic nit-picking?"
No. When we use the phrase "double standard" in discussing disparate reactions to dissimilar events, we suggest that the events are not dissimilar. We blur the differences -- and, in doing so, we advantage the perpetrator of the greater misdeed.
Take a look at the reason this discussion has come up: Republicans (and many media figures) are saying or suggesting there is a double-standard in the way Democrats and Republicans are treated when they make racially-charged comments. The basic argument is that Republican Sen. Trent Lott lost his job as Majority Leader when he made such a comment, while Democrat Harry Reid has not lost his job. (A variant of the argument: Democrats -- and the media -- were more critical of Lott than Reid, so they have a double-standard for Democrats and Republicans.)
Now, let's review the two situations: Trent Lott suggested America would be a better place had we elected a white segregationist presidential candidate. Harry Reid used archaic language in talking about the black man whose presidential candidacy he supported.
Those are not the same things. They aren't even close to the same things. One is pretty clearly much, much worse than the other. And so the phrase "double standard" does not apply. In using it, rather than describing exactly what each man said, the media blurs the difference between their comments, suggesting they are the same (or, at least, equally bad.) They confuse, rather than clarify.
Like I said: Ambinder makes some good points. But he isn't really defending double-standards. He's defending treating different situations differently. One of the lessons journalists should take from his post is that the danger in habitually describing things as "double-standards" just because one side in a given dispute wants them to.
Under the header "Leaving the Right," Andrew Sullivan explains his departure from the conservative movement:
... I've always been fickle in partisan terms. To have supported Reagan and Bush and Clinton and Dole and Bush and Kerry and Obama suggests I never had a party to quit.
For these reasons, I found it intolerable after 2003 to support the movement that goes by the name "conservative" in America.
I cannot support a movement that exploded spending and borrowing and blames its successor for the debt.
And yet he supported Reagan, and Bush after Reagan -- presidents who exploded spending and borrowing. He supported Clinton, who dramatically reduced the deficit in his first term, and then abandoned him for Dole. Then, after Clinton balanced the budget in his second term, Sullivan supported Bush the Second. Huh?
Back to Sullivan:
I cannot support a movement that so abandoned government's minimal and vital role to police markets and address natural disasters that it gave us Katrina and the financial meltdown of 2008.
It's just now occurring to Sullivan that the conservative movement isn't big on policing markets? Really? Where was he during, for example, the savings & loan meltdown of the 1980s?
I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.
Welcome to the party, Andrew. Didn't you notice what Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and the rest were up to in the 1980s and 1990s, or how much influence they had on the Republican Party?
I cannot support a movement that is deeply homophobic, cynically deploys fear of homosexuals to win votes, and gives off such a racist vibe that its share of the minority vote remains pitiful.
Yet Sullivan supported the Ronald Reagan who kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi and the George Bush who campaigned on Willie Horton. And -- I can't believe this is news to Andrew Sullivan -- the hostility of the Republican Party and the conservative movement towards gays is not exactly a recent development.
Nor is any of this:
I cannot support a movement that criminalizes private behavior in the war on drugs.
I cannot support a movement that regards gay people as threats to their own families.
I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.
I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy.
I cannot support a movement that refuses ever to raise taxes, while proposing no meaningful reductions in government spending.
And yet Sullivan supported Reagan, and Bush after him. He supported Dole, and Bush, both of whom campaigned on massive tax cuts that would have led to the deficits Sullivan says he can't abide (Bush's, in fact, did so.) In fact, the most famous tax increase backed by a Republican president in decades came in George H.W. Bush's first term -- and Sullivan promptly abandoned him for Clinton.
I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.
Rush Limbaugh was so intertwined with the GOP in the early 1990s that when Republicans took control of Congress in the 1994 elections, they nicknamed him the "majority maker" and made him an honorary member of the class of '94. Sullivan supported the GOP presidential candidate in the very next election, and took another decade before deciding the GOP's embrace of Limbaugh was a deal-breaker. For those who were not aware of Rush Limbaugh 15 years ago, let me assure you that he was not speaking favorably of gay rights or deficit-reducing taxes or environmental protection or evolution at the time. He was attacking all of that, when he wasn't busy suggesting Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered.
To paraphrase Reagan, I didn't leave the conservative movement. It left me.
Yes, but it left Sullivan long ago, if it was ever with him. The question is why it took Sullivan so long to realize that. But Sullivan simply tells us the modern conservative movement runs up massive deficits and is, if not racist and homophobic, quite eager to exploit racism and homophobia. Well, duh. Some of us have known that for quite some time. If Sullivan wants to contribute something interesting, he can tell us what took him so long.
Deficits, bigotry and financial meltdowns are not particularly popular. And yet the conservative movement and the Republican Party enjoyed great success while running up massive deficits, embracing bigotry and refusing to regulate markets, with disastrous results. They enjoyed that success not only because of people who say they support deficits and bigotry, but because of those who say they cannot support such things but do so anyway.
I'm sure it feels good for Sullivan to denounce the evils of the conservative movement, but it would be more useful -- and more honest -- if he would explain his role in making them possible.
Time's Karen Tumulty suggested Mitt Romney for Health and Human Services secretary, citing the role he played in creating Massachusetts' universal health care system as governor, while The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder pointed to the Massachusetts plan to suggest Romney for "White House health care czar." But neither Tumulty nor Ambinder noted that Romney rejected applying the Massachusetts plan to the entire nation, saying "[a] one-size fits-all national health care system is bound to fail."
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reported that Judy Black, whom he identified as "a policy director (read: lead lobbyist) for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck's DC arm" and "the wife of McCain strategist Charlie Black," forwarded a PowerPoint presentation on the "campaign contributions that Fannie and Freddie provided to leading Democratic members of Congress." But Ambinder did not point out that Charlie Black has lobbied for Freddie Mac.
While discussing an Obama campaign ad that noted Sen. John McCain's reported inability to say how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own, MSNBC's Joe Watkins claimed, "I thought that Barack Obama was not going to attack Senator McCain's wife." The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder uncritically reported the McCain campaign's claim that "Obama's charges 'attack Cindy. She owns the homes.' " But Obama's ad neither mentions nor refers to Cindy McCain or the McCains as a couple.