Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Patriots In Denial

Conservatives have always been a patriotic bunch, but their flag-waving seems a lot more aggressive these days. The two big conservative events in DC this month, the Values Voters Summit and the 9/12 march on Washington by the so-called tea party protesters, were patriotism on steroids. Values Voters kicked off with a full Boy Scout color guard, the pledge of allegiance and a rousing rendition of the national anthem. The 9/12 march featured numerous flags, anthem-singings and even a crowd rendition of America the Beautiful. As I was leaving, a guy on the sidewalk chirped, “So wonderful to see all you great patriots out here!”

After spending many hours at these gatherings, I was left with the impression that many Americans are responding to the recession with a newfound nationalism. Republican politicians are egging them on, insisting that despite the collapse of the banking system, the foreclosure crisis, and the utter destruction of American manufacturing, the U.S. has always been and still is the greatest country in the world, one made that way by God. And they really, really hate anyone realistic enough to suggest otherwise—especially if that person happens to be President Barack Obama.

Santorum Tanks, Huckabee Triumphs Again

Well, the results are in and it looks like former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has exactly zero hope of ever mounting a serious presidential campaign. Not that anyone really thought he did, except perhaps for him. Santorum's name was on the ballot for the straw poll at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in DC this weekend, along with other GOP luminaries such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. In past years, the straw poll has been an early testing ground for the GOP's presidential aspirants. But if Santorum was hoping to woo activists from a distance (he didn't actually show up to campaign) with his anti-gay history, it didn't work. Santorum managed to garner a scant 2.5 percent of the vote, saved from coming in dead last only by Ron Paul. 

As in past years, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee cleaned up big time. None of the other candidates even came close to his 28 percent of the votes. Behind him, there was a four-way tie among Romney, Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a guy who looks very much like someone running for vice president (the Indiana curse, perhaps). The fact that Palin fared so poorly also doesn't bode well for her future as a candidate, as she nearly lost to virtual unknowns Pence and Pawlenty along with Huckabee. 2012 is still a long way away, but it's not hard to imagine Huckabee as an early frontrunner for the race. His youthful fondness for frying squirrels in a popcorn popper nothwithstanding, Huckabee polled within seven points of Obama in April this year in an early look at potential matchups for 2012. Having seen him light up a room this weekend before the values voters, I have to think he's a pretty serious candidate.

Mitt Romney For Olympics Czar?

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney entered the Values Voters Summit in DC Saturday like royalty, with the disco ball turning and patriotic music from the 2002 Olympics blasting from the speakers. It was a warm welcome from a group of Christian conservatives who largely prefer non-Mormon Bible-thumper Mike Huckabee as a presidential candidate. Watching Romney read his speech word for word from the teleprompters, it seemed clear that he had made a huge tactical error in picking a career. He still looks more like a TV president than Martin Sheen ever could.

Still, his speech garnered a lot more enthusiasm than that of say, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who also failed to stick to the protocol here of starting out with a Bible story. Romney decried out-of-wedlock births and rapped on White House czars. He had a few snappy one-liners. Repeating the GOP mantra on cap and trade, which he equated with a 15 percent income tax on all Americans, he quipped, "Democrats keep talking about climate change. I think they're confusing global warming with all the heat they've been taking at town halls." 

After two days of such rhetoric, though, it was clear that the conservatives need to coordinate their jokes better. (And a pox on Nancy Pelosi for every referring to town hall participants as an "angry mob.") By noon Saturday, Romney was like the 18th speaker to invoke the mob reference. The conservatives were funnier dissing Tom DeLay's new ballroom dancing career, which has been a running gag this weekend.

Romney's speech wasn't helped by coming last in the lineup, behind Bill Bennett, a genuinely funny guy. His Mormon heritage really hurts him in the humor department. Having grown up in Utah, I know first-hand that Mormon humor is distinctly inside-baseball and, well, not very funny. (What do you call a burger that catches fire on the grill? A burnt offering, yuck yuck.)  Romney's version of the town hall riff: "The Demorats call them a mob, crazies, trash—I call them patriots." 

Failed humor aside, Romney made a solid showing to an appreciative crowd. Nonetheless, he's still likely to get killed in the straw poll. In 2007, he just edged out Huckabee, but that was largely because of Internet voting, which has since been banned as a result. This year's poll is strictly in-person. And if Romney can't win over the values voter foot soldiers, there's not much hope for him nationally. Maybe he has a future as Obama's Olympic czar. That's one offical White House job that the values voters might approve of.

O'Reilly Bans Media From Speech

Conservative TV host Bill O'Reilly headlined the Friday night session of the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit, ensuring a good turnout for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's stump speech. I confess to having burned out after nine hours of Christian political speeches yesterday, and I skipped the evening events in favor of a much-needed cocktail in the hotel bar and dinner with my husband. Apparently I made the right choice. As it turned out, O'Reilly banned the media, without advance notice, from his speech. I would have been stuck in the bar either way. Bob Ellis, a conservative writer from Dakota Voice, confirmed that one of the conditions of O'Reilly's appearance at the summit was a media blackout. Ellis was deeply annoyed at being shut out. He writes:

I’m sorry, but that seems more than a little hypocritical of Bill O’Reilly to say the least.

After all, the man (who I like very much to watch and agree with on most things) gives no quarter to anyone on his show.  That’s essentially how a good reporter should be: not put up with the spin.

Yet he’s afraid to have the media report on his speech?

Say it ain’t so, Bill!

So while I now have a transcript of Pawlenty's bland speech, I couldn't tell you what O'Reilly had to say. Which is too bad, because there was some action last night. Adele Stan over at AlterNet reports that hotel security forceably ejected blogger Mark Stark from the room during O'Reilly's speech.

Rick Santorum For President?

Conservatives are gathered this weekend in DC at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit to kvetch about Obama, liberals and the homosexual agenda. But aside from bemoaning the collapse of American culture, they are also here to start the vetting process for potential GOP presidential candidates. Many of the aspiring candidates are here to woo evangelical voters, including Mitt Romney, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee and Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But there are a number of other people on the summit's straw poll ballot who are also throwing their hats in the ring. The best known are Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. But the ballot also includes Ron Paul, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and, surprisingly, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Perhaps his appeal to the values voters is not so shocking given his rabid anti-gay stance. But Santorum lost his last election in a blowout by Sen. Bob Casey in one of the largest losses in Senate history. His defeat stemmed in no small part to a concerted Internet campaign by gay columnist Dan Savage to use Santorum's name to describe the "frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the biproduct of anal sex," an effort launched after Santorum equated homosexuality with bestiality. It's hard to imagine the guy could run a viable presidential campaign with his name forever linked to anal sex in Google. I guess we'll find out how viable Santorum is among people who agree with him today at 3:15 when the straw poll results are released.

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