Dave Gilson

Dave Gilson

Senior editor

Senior editor at Mother Jones. Obsessive generalist, word wrangler, data cruncher, pun maker.

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Charts: Republican Platforms, Then and Now

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 6:02 AM EDT

On Tuesday, the Republican Party released its 2012 party platform, a 62-page, 32,000-word treatise on its agenda, which includes priorities such as reconsidering a return to the gold standard, bringing back Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and ignoring climate change.

Platforms' planks come and go: For instance, accusing Democrats of "work[ing] unceasingly to achieve their goal of national socialism" (1952), increasing federal arts funding (1976), or calling for biodegradable plastics (1992). But some core themes remain the same. For a quick look at how Republican platforms have changed in the past seven decades, I examined some of the party platforms kept on file with the University of California-Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project. A few things that stood out:

Platforms are getting longer: The 1948 GOP platform clocked in at a tidy 2,739 words. By 2004, it had bloated to more than 41,000 words. This year's is a little slimmer, but it's hardly a quick read.

Heroes and foes come and go: George W. Bush has received more love (relative to the length of party platforms) than even Ronald Reagan, yet he went from being mentioned 250 times in 2000 to being mentioned 3 times in passing this year. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have been popular bogeymen. Barack Obama, however, is mentioned only 9 times this year, usually in the phrase "Obamacare." Reagan is also mentioned 9 times this year.  

 

Complaning about taxes never grows old: The Republican party seems more tax-obsessed than ever, yet unfair taxation has been a constant theme in its platforms for decades. Debt and God also get regular mentions. Communism, once a top international and domestic concern, is all but forgotten. 

The "Japanese Radical Cat" Who Spied on the Panthers for the FBI

| Tue Aug. 21, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

Richard Aoki California WatchRichard Aoki at a 1968 Black Panthers rally California WatchThe Center for Investigative Reporting has a fascinating new story about Richard Aoki, a '60s Berkeley activist who joined the Black Panthers, helped arm the militant group, and became known as a fierce radical—all while working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This revelation has upended the reputation of the man Panthers cofounder Bobby Seale praised as "a Japanese radical cat." It also adds another chapter to the FBI's long history of using undercover informants to surveil extremists, both real and imagined.

An FBI agent first recruited Aoki in the late 1950s and asked him to gather information on various leftist groups. "The activities that he got involved in was because of us using him as an informant," his original FBI handler told reporter Seth Rosenfeld. Aoki went on to report on the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Young Socialist Alliance, and the Vietnam Day Committee before joining the Black Panthers in 1967.

He became the organization's most prominent nonblack member and was named "Field Marshall at large." Yet as informant "T-2," Aoki was secretly reporting on its activities. His career as an FBI asset is recorded in documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests. Rosenfeld told me that the documents do not mention whether the Feds asked Aoki to join the Panthers.  

Aoki also helped arm the Panthers. None of Rosenfeld's FBI reports mention that Aoki gave weapons to the group, so it's not clear if he did so with the agency's knowlege or blessing. In his memoir, Seale recalled that he and fellow Panther Huey Newton had prodded Aoki to give them guns from his personal collection: "We told him that if he was a real revolutionary he better go on and give them up to us because we needed them now to begin educating the people to wage a revolutionary struggle. So he gave us an M-1 and a 9mm." Either way, Aoki later took credit for contributing to "the military slant to the organization's public image"—an image that, Rosenfeld writes, eventually "contributed to fatal confrontations between the Panthers and the police."

Just How Libertarian Is Paul Ryan?

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 4:41 PM EDT

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Mitt Romney's new running mate, has been hailed as the closest thing to a libertarian on the Republican ticket since Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). "Ryan is going to be very attractive to the broad libertarian voters," the Cato Institute's David Boaz told Buzzfeed. But aside from his Ayn Rand-reading, entitlement-busting ways, just how libertarian is Ryan?

Thankfully, MoJo's Josh Harkinson made this handy Venn diagram showing the various flavors of American libertarianism, from cranky Ron Paulism to traditional free-market and social liberalism. Sticking Ryan on the diagram shows that while he has a lot in common with small-government, antitax libertarians, he has a lot in common with mainstream conservatives. He has supported extending the Patriot Act, voted to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and voted for the bank bailout—all big no-nos for old-school libertarians.

Ryan is hardly the purists' pick, but as Reason noted before Romney tapped him, "For advocates of limited government, Ryan remains one of the most important allies in Congress."

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