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.

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.

Carrie Prejean: It's All About Me

If there was ever any doubt that beauty queens were vacuous, former Miss California USA Carrie Prejean wiped it away Friday when she appeared before the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in DC. The beauty queen has earned quite a following since she told Perez Hilton at the Miss USA pageant earlier this year that she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman. (The nude photos probably helped, too.)

At the Values Voter Summit, Prejean appeared tan and shimmery, semi-clad in a sleeveless white blouse. She stood in stark contrast to Maggie Gallagher, the frumpy head of the National Organization for Marriage who introduced her. Prejean could have said just about anything and the crowd would have gone gaga. (One speaker called her a "modern day Esther.") There was reportely a near-riot when volunteers were needed to escort her to her car after her speech. But if attendees were hoping to hear a tirade against gay marriage, Prejean disappointed them. She came here to talk about one thing: herself. She started her story like this: "I was just a strong woman starting off in a pageant."

 

Stephen Baldwin: Preacher Man

Actor and famous brother Stephen Baldwin has been on the stump of late trying to rally up the under-25 crowd for conservatives. He appeared last week at the big 9/12 march in DC,  and on Friday afternoon he was one of the big names at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit. Troubled by the fact that Obama overwhelmingly won the youth vote, conservatives seem to be pinning their hopes on people like Baldwin and Carrie Prejean to broaden their appeal to the next generation. But if Baldwin is the best celebrity they can come up with, their movement is in big trouble.

Baldwin, who became a born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, runs an extreme-sports ministry that brought God to arenas and other such sacred venues. He also co-hosts a popular talk radio show. At the summit, Baldwin appeared with his show's co-host Kevin McCullough to heavy applause from the gathered faithful. Baldwin acknowledged the warm welcome with many "amens" and then explained how he liked to turn these things "over to the Lord."

Without any irony, Baldwin lamented the impact that Hollywood has had on youth culture, perhaps thinking about his first film, The Beast, or his 2007 appearance on "Ty Murray's Bull Riding Challenge." Apparently Baldwin has hopes of returning America to the country of his youth, when people really believed in the American dream. (Lots of the Values Voters speakers have used this kind of restoration language.) The only way to recover this lost dream, according to Baldwin, is with "the spirit of the Lord." Baldwin's spiel was heavy on faith, light on politics. In fact, far from rallying a political movement, Baldwin seemed to be practicing his next sermon. And when it comes to preaching, Baldwin is no Mike Huckabee. One snippet:

"The American dream is the same thing as believing in things we cannot see. We need to be in the place in our experience in that dynamic that allows the spirit of the Lord that allows us to do it through us."

Coming from a guy who recently ended up in the hospital suffering from life-threatening bug bites he got on "I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!" it was a bit hard to follow. Nonetheless, the still-studly Baldwin—who once wrote a song called "My 18-inch Biceps"—will be rocking out with all the young conservatives here in the far reaches of the Omni Shoreham later tonight.

 

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