For the rights of organs everywhere ….

    “When a physician removes a child from a woman, that is the largest organ in a body.”

    Mary Sue McClurkin

Alabama Republican Party logoCan we skip the litany and just note that 2012 was a strikingly bad year for conservatives in the War of the Lady Parts? It’s a depressing review, to be certain. Unfortunately, 2013 is off to a bad start for the social conservatives, who are apparently quite happy to continue the trend of refusing to make any sense.

A big hint dropped last month when a two year-old court filing emerged in which a Catholic hospital turned the Church’s longstanding fetal personhood argument upside down, giving the impression that money is more important than life. The Church hierarchy has since reiterated its life-at-conception stance, and repudiated the filing, but the damage is done.

This month the personhood argument takes another hit from the anti-abortion crowd as the Alabama legislature works to pass a new TRAP law aimed at making pregnancy termination services more difficult to provide and receive. Arguing in support of HB 57, state Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R-Pelham) explained:

“When a physician removes a child from a woman, that is the largest organ in a body,” McClurkin said in an interview Thursday. “That’s a big thing. That’s a big surgery. You don’t have any other organs in your body that are bigger than that.”

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Grand Old Vengeance?

I’m not ready to open any paricular conspiracy theory over this sort of thing, but, rather, would make the note simply so that, if the vaguely haunting implications of Yian Q. Mui and Jia Lynn Yang‘s Washington Post article ever start to come about, at least I won’t have to scramble around to find the thing again:

Republicans have a message for the businesses that worked closely with the Obama administration over the past two years on key controversial issues: We won’t forget.

Take the case of Wal-Mart, the behemoth big-box retailer that liberals have long loved to hate. Several years ago, it began to break ranks with industry groups by speaking out in favor of an increase to the minimum wage and health-care reform. And, for the first time in its history, it gave more money to Democrats than the GOP for Tuesday’s elections.

The corporation’s moves caught the eye of Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan. During a phone call with company lobbyists last year during the fight over the health-care bill, Camp bluntly reminded Wal-Mart of its unpalatable position on the issue, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Now, Wal-Mart’s political team finds itself in an awkward position. Camp is poised to become the next chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Companies that worked with the Democrats over the past two years would face a far less sympathetic audience from Republicans, who are expected to make significant gains in the midterm elections.

You know, it’s just one of those things. Someday I might hear something and think, “I’ve heard of this before.” More often than not, though, when that happens, I can never remember where I heard it before. Or something like that.

This is your brain on America

David Brooks recently bucked the trend of looking back at the decade most of us would like to forget in order to prognosticate about the next ten years. Okay, so that’s just trading one trend for another, but at least I’m not going on about the Bono article.

In almost every sphere of public opinion, Americans are moving away from the administration, not toward it. The Ipsos/McClatchy organizations have been asking voters which party can do the best job of handling a range of 13 different issues. During the first year of the Obama administration, the Republicans gained ground on all 13.

The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones. Now the tea party brigades have all the intensity.

The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation.

I’m always hesitant to fall back on the whole “people are stupid” idea, or divide my view of right and wrong according to education. But it’s not just the Bush years, the “naughty oughties”, or whatever we might call the last ten years; rather, almost the whole of the period in which my political conscience has been active has been defined by the difference between being smart or stupid.

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A dubious season

‘Tis the season to make the point, I suppose. Harold Meyerson brought us this little gem in Wednesday’s Washington Post:

As Christians across the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it’s a fitting moment to contemplate the mountain of moral, and mortal, hypocrisy that is our Christianized Republican Party ….

…. My concern isn’t the rift that has opened between Republican political practice and the vision of the nation’s Founders, who made very clear in the Constitution that there would be no religious test for officeholders in their enlightened new republic. Rather, it’s the gap between the teachings of the Gospels and the preachings of the Gospel’s Own Party that has widened past the point of absurdity, even as the ostensible Christianization of the party proceeds apace.

There is a spectre haunting American Christianity, and in the grand American tradition it is a Devil of their own making. Satan himself might rise and declare, “I accuse”; the faithful, for all their dependence on this ancient symbol given by their belief the power of flesh and blood, would be deaf to the call.

Meyerson concerns himself with national politics, which is indeed a fitting object for examination. He targets the White House, the House GOP, the Republican presidential candidates. The indictment, on the surface, seems to describe just another day in American politics. Contrasted against the religious faith alleged at the core of GOP support, though, and juxtaposed to the rhetoric of so many Republican politicians, it is a damning accusation, and if the Devil of Christian lore has nothing to say about the course of things, it is because he is so very pleased by what he sees. Any pro athlete will tell you: don’t mess with a winning streak.

The idea of a group so dedicated to Christian expression as to childishly reiterate supremacist ideology a few years ago when the court considered the Pledge of Allegiance seemed odd enough at the time. Treading at the edge of absurdity is the idea that such a Christian expression should reject what Jesus said in order to take up, in a twist nearly infinitely ironic, a superficial jihad: the last thing these “Christians” will do is turn the other cheek. Rather, they would pretend America blameless, assert that no hostility toward our nation and its people could ever be justified, and proceed to fight back until aggression ceases. It’s like the bully who grabs your face and slams the back of your skull against a locker at school. When someone finally hauls off and punches him, he pretends innocence. “I never hit him,” says the bully. And it’s true. Instead, he merely extorted, pushed around, tripped, harassed, threatened, insulted, kicked, vandalized, and stole. None of those actually describe the closing of a fist and throwing of a punch. And in a way, I am brought to recall any number of schoolyard fights where the  aggressor would shove his target, and the intended victim would not have it. “I’m gonna kick your ass,” the bully would sneer. “So go on. Throw the first punch.”

In retrospect it seems almost perverse, but bullies are human too, and will presume themselves innocent and oppressed. After all, psychologists will tell you that few bullies are actually psychopaths; the vast majority of bullies are simply redirecting other conflicts, many of which originate at home.

To a degree, then, we do owe the bullies a measure of sympathy. But how far should that sympathy extend?

It is a valid question because one thing terrifies Americans more than death itself. (And why should death be terrifying, since a majority of Americans, by their Christian faith, look forward to the end of the world?) Generally, Americans are frightened senseless at the notion of being called bigots. Even the bigots don’t want to be seen as bigots. They recognize that their hatred is foul, so they pretend to be holy warriors, righteously xenophobic victims beset by hordes of evil outsiders. Among Americans, everyone, including obvious aggressors, fights defensively. It is tactically wise and politically effective, even and especially when that defensive stance is counterintuitive. One might look at laments coming from various Christian quarters of late and wonder, How can you be oppressed when you’re in charge?

Although the situation seems blatant, the players clearly identifiable in the age of modern media, understanding the factors can be a bit challenging. Ideological currents running back to the early twentieth century, or into the nineteenth, make for discussions unto themselves; speak nothing, then, of those enduring nearly two millennia. Indeed, grasping the logic exercised by modern profiteers prophets can be a tricky issue, as the faith of personal prosperity appeals to contemporary American greed, borrowing as it does from the Calvinism so closely tied to the roots of the nation’s history.

What we must remember, at the outset, is that redemptive monotheism is an appeal to greed. In declaring an abstract concept that cannot be demonstrated true—e.g., the immortal soul—the most important, most valuable, most cherished thing in the whole of existence, redemptive monotheism essentially bribes (at best) the faithful with unverifiable promises. This idea, alternately described as a bribe, extortion, or a gift, is commonly known as Pascal’s Wager. It is not entirely irrelevant to consider that in the hands of twelfth-century theologian Peter Abelard this wager, then called the Slave’s Wager, was considered the weaker argument since it was offered by a theoretical devout Jew.

We should not be surprised, then, that greed is a recurring theme throughout the history of one of the greatest wild-eyed promises ever made. There is in history a coherent story of how we came from rumors of Christ to the present condition, but it is neither easy, friendly, nor definitive. And almost any rational consideration of such a tale would describe it as a tragedy. I say almost because we simply cannot know everything, and someday we might discover or recognize something that changes this measurement of the outcome.

Stay tuned.

Jesus and the right-wing evangelical

A new twist on an aging joke. I recall there was a David Horsey cartoon published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in advance of the 1996 election that ran along these lines. The Emerald City’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist aimed at gubernatorial candidate Ellen Creswell and her evangelical support bloc at the time.

A tip of the hat and my thanks to anyone who can come up with that panel. I found this latest twist via Savage at Slog via Andrew Sullivan. Enjoy. (Or not.)

Sen. Trent Lott resigns in a cloud of mystery

Watch out for the spatter. As speculation flies in the wake of an announcement by Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) that he will retire at year’s end, we can only wonder what exactly hit which fan.

Trish and I have decided it’s time for us to do something else. We went to First Baptist Church recently in Jackson. I must say, we were up there and we went to First Baptist Jackson and the pastor there, Stan Buckley, just happened to preach on Ecclesiastes 3:1.

“There’s a time for everything and everything — a special time for everything under heaven”: I believe that’s the paraphrase, but he just seemed to be speaking to me and to us.

While the prominent and controversial Republican invoked Biblical wisdom in his press release, early scuttlebutt suggests—as it almost always will—something a little less noble. Big Head DC suggests that Lott’s departure comes in the face of a potentially “huge” sex scandal.

Hustler’s Larry Flynt may have played a role in the sudden and unexpected announcement of the resignation of Sen. Trent Lott this morning. Flynt was already involved earlier this year in uncovering Sen. David Vitter’s involvement with the so-called DC Madam escort service. He has said he would reveal more “huge” tawdry politico sex scandals by year’s end.

Some are speculating that a sex scandal is involved in the odd Trent development, although the unofficial spin is that the exit of the Republican Senate Minority Whip may be linked to a new post-Senate career lobbying law that takes effect at the end of the year. He is believed to be in good health.

Neither libido nor greed make for a dignified departure. Over at, Paul Kane offers some less-scandalous analysis:

Lott said that he was going to move into the private sector after 35 years in Congress, but denied that he was getting out before a new two-year “cooling-off” restriction takes effect on Jan. 1. The restriction bars lawmakers from taking lobbying jobs for two years after they leave public service. Lott also denied that health issues were the cause. “Let me make it clear: There are no problems, I feel fine,” he said ….

…. While the seat is likely to remain in GOP hands because of Mississippi’s conservative tilt, Lott’s resignation is a highly symbolic blow to Republicans who have already seen a handful of veteran incumbents announce their retirements rather than seek re-election next year. Several of the retirees are former committee chairmen leaving in part because they are unlikely to reclaim their gavels any time soon, but none possess the inside knowledge of the chamber and its parliamentary procedures like Lott.

Lott acknowledged that this year, filled with somewhat intractable fights over Iraq war policy and most domestic issues, has been “awfully tough”. And GOP aides said Lott grew tired of the political infighting in the Senate as Republicans have been forced into a position of merely blocking a Democratic agenda.

It has been a long run for Senator Lott, whose troubles in 2002 following his praise of former Sen. Strom Thurmond’s failed segregationist presidential bid may well have been a harbinger of the GOP’s coming meltdown. At a celebration for Helms’ retirement, Lott explained that had Thurmond been elected president, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years”. While spokesman Ron Bonjean attempted to play down the remarks, saying that Lott intended only to “pay tribute to a remarkable man”, and thatit was wrong to “read anything more into these comments”, the appeal went nearly unheard as the national press picked up a Mississippi newspaper report about similar words spoken at a 1980 campaign event in support of Ronald Reagan.

In the wake of the 2002 scandal, Lott lost his Senate leadership position, and Sen. Bill Frist rose to take his place. And while issues of civil rights, a failed domestic agenda, a difficult domestic economy, and stagnant-at-best wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dogged the Republican party, it may well have been Frist’s histrionics in the Schiavo controversy that finally began the GOP’s irreversible slide toward midterm defeat in November, 2006.

So it isn’t hard to accept that Lott is exhausted. After all, as Congressional Democrats seem to take every opportunity to hurt their party’s chances in the 2008 election, Republicans seem unable to capitalize. While the Democrats have never fully recovered from their Clintonian meltdown, the GOP seems to have utterly failed to learn anything by watching their counterparts’ implosion. In fact, if it is possible at all, the GOP’s decline seems to have taken an uglier tone as all its factions fall into disarray. The neocon concession to certain liberal budgetary concerns leaves the economic conservatives confused and alienated while the desperate play for tax cuts has only escorted the economy into a growing sense of chaos. Social conservatives find themselves in dire straits as their untenable political ambitions stretch to the limits. If their position was not precarious enough before, arguing for institutional gender discrimination, against potentially lifesaving medical research, and, of late, for the right for professionals to withhold medical treatment from patients for assertions of conscience, the widespread accusations of sexual misconduct against conservative politicians and civic leaders will only drive GOP social policy deeper into crisis.

If, as some suggest, Lott faces a major sex scandal of his own, could we blame the Senator for deciding to not have this fight? Certainly, he could not hope to forestall a hit by Larry Flynt, but perhaps he can minimize the impact. If Lott is on his way out, or already out the door as Flynt starts spilling details, the party can at least call it old news and remove the scandal from GOP offices to the retiring Senator’s front lawn.

Time alone will bring us the details, and in the sordid world of Washington politics, it is doubtful that we will get through this period without hearing at least some of the naughty bits. The party of sharks is in disarray, and an old man who has served his country for thirty-five years in Congress is not prepared for another feeding frenzy. At a time when Republicans struggle between factional principles and the need for electoral appeal, the passing of another old-school, frat-boy conservative may well serve the GOP’s future. The last five years have cast Lott as a powerful symbol of so many things amiss about the Republican Party, and it may well be that, regardless of the reasons, his resignation from the U.S. Senate will be seen as at least a small step toward repairing the damage of these Bush years.

GOP front-runner?

Georgetown University’s Chris Cimaglio offers one of the better summaries of the challenges facing the GOP presidential candidates. A highlight:

Despite his record as a cross-dressing, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani wants you to know that he’s really a staunch conservative. He misses no opportunity to assert that he cut taxes 23 times as mayor of New York and exploit his reputation for leadership on 9/11 by reminding voters that he’s for torturing terrorists, terror suspects, anybody who looks like a terrorist, and the guy who looked at him funny on the street. Giuliani has apparently detained truth indefinitely as well. He is so shameless in his desire for the presidency that he has thrown his moderate credentials out the window in favor of ultra-conservative bluster. While his dramatic ideological change might not bother some conservative voters, Rudy will have more trouble covering up the fact that he married a woman he thought was his third cousin and was then stunned to discover that she was, in fact, his second cousin. He then proceeded to cheat on his second wife and move his girlfriend and future third wife into his house before his second wife moved out. As a result, Rudy’s children don’t speak to him and his daughter supports Barack Obama. Party of family values, indeed.

Mind you, none of this makes him, fundamentally, a bad guy. Not knowing who he was marrying? Some would say that is every guy. And it is, except it means something different in that context. Exploiting a terrorist attack for political gain? Is exploitation not the American way? Certes, except Hizzoner is now asking to be president, and if the last fifteen years of GOP attack dogs accusing character issues of damn near every Democrat they could find have not explained the expectations to Rudy, what good could that do him?

And, like, the cross-dressing thing. That should not be much of an issue, except for the fact that, as with his history on abortion, gay rights, and gun control, Hizzoner is supposed to be a Republican. The GOP has spent so much bluster trying to push homosexuals back into the closet that, yeah, the cross-dressing thing could be problematic. And, besides, who really wants to think of Rudy Giuliani in lingerie? The only thing I can think of that would be more disturbing is, well, yeah. Marv Albert. In … er … lingerie.



GOP Candidates: In case you somehow didn’t get it last time

There is little I can say that I have not already. The GOP continues their effort to make 2008 presidential decisions as easy as possible. Michael Roston explains:

In recent weeks, Republican presidential candidates have found time in their busy schedules to speak or debate before the Republican Jewish Coalition, “Value Voters,” conservative Floridians, even Wyoming Republicans, who hold virtually no sway in the primary race. They’ve also agreed to appear at the CNN/YouTube debate they at one point shunned.

But it appears that some GOP frontrunners are once again letting an opportunity to appear before African-American voters lapse, just as they decided to sit out a black voter forum hosted last month by Tavis Smiley.

The Congressional Black Caucus Institute announced in September that it had scheduled a debate for November 4 on Fox News for Republican presidential candidates. But a spokeswoman for the group confirmed to the Huffington Post that it has now been postponed, with no new date set.

Or Steve Benen at Carpetbagger:

Last month, PBS hosted a Republican presidential candidates’ debate at historically black college in Baltimore — and all of the top four GOP candidates decided to skip it. This followed close on the heels of a Univision-hosted Republican debate in Miami on Latino issues — which was cancelled when all but one candidate declined invitations. The National Council of La Raza asked Republican candidates to address its annual conference in July, but none showed up. The National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials extended similar invitations to the entire GOP field, but only Duncan Hunter agreed to attend.

Previously, in considering the decisions by GOP front-runners to skip a September debate at Morgan State University, I had noted warnings by such figures as Newt Gingrich and Jack Kemp; they deserve credit on this because they both know how to blow prestige and political capital. I had even suggested that it was hard to argue with the warnings. Quite obviously, I was wrong.

In September, Newt Gingrich advised, “Any of them who give you that scheduling-conflict answer are disingenuous. That’s baloney.” And he was talking about his fellow Republicans. I suppose we should not be surprised that he, too, was wrong.

CBCI is right to attempt to reschedule the debate. The mere weeks between announcing and intending to hold the debate, reasonably considered, did not give the GOP enough time to come up with proper excuses. Besides, it will be interesting to see how much negotiation it will actually take to get the GOP front-runners into a debate pitching to minority voters. One wonders why they are so reluctant.

In the meantime, I happened to hear the Morgan State debate on the radio, and one of the things that struck me is that the GOP needs to trot out its favorite show poodle, Alan Keyes, a little more often. He’s a poster-child for diversity. (Maybe he should invite Mitt Romney over for tube steaks and policy discussions.) And does this not point out another problem the GOP faces? What does it mean, exactly, when you have to rustle up candidates to fill out the stage at a debate? Hell, the Democrats are actually leaving candidates out of debates, and the GOP is scrambling to field enough to make the discussion … what? Worthwhile? Entertaining? Not futile? Certain ironies swirl viciously around this whole situation, but where to start? What is important? Should I really spend three hundred words explaining the gay joke I just made a couple of lines above? Perhaps expound on the contrasts between a Democratic party that is going absolutely martial all over its own membership in an effort to–rhetorically, at least–save the country, and a GOP so divorced from, well, itself that we would be moved to pity save for the fact that it is, after all, the Republican party?

This must be an aggravating time for Republicans. Even if we pretend the average Republican holds minority communities in such disdain, it is harder still to pretend that the average Republican is too stupid to see the point. They’re watching their candidates essentially throw away the fight before it ever gets underway. Maybe the evangelical campaign should start a PUSH campaign: Pray Until Something Happens. Because it really does look like the GOP is going to need a miracle.

Of course, Karl Rove has yet to commit his first official atrocity of this campaign cycle, so maybe this whole forfeiture of the race, this early concession, this acknowledgment by the GOP front-runners that even they do not believe in themselves, is all part of an elaborate ruse.

Stay tuned. It can only get more ridiculous from here.

What? It’s a funny picture.

Over at Wonkette, Ken Layne was apparently trying to be funny.  And, apparently, he can be from time to time.  (I’m not a regular Wonkette reader.)

As the nation slips into a new “Not So Great Depression,” Republicans are embracing a new kind of Compassionate Conservatism that should appeal to poverty-stricken people who’ve lost their homes, jobs and traditional abhorrence of homosexuality and pedophilia. Leading the new effort is Wisconsin Republican leader and Brown County GOP Chairman Donald Fleischman, currently facing charges of child enticement, contributing to the delinquency of a child and exposing himself to a child — all because he (allegedly) wanted to show his love to a runaway boy!

It’s not the worst, but it’s not much, either.  My point isn’t to bash Layne’s writing; I haven’t read enough of it.  But I needed a disclaimer for pointing you to the article.  After all, it’s the graphic that makes the trip worth it:

 The GOP is so screwed