Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) won election to the House in 2010 in part by arguing that the longtime Democratic incumbent she was challenging was insufficiently anti-gay. (Never mind that her opponent, Ike Skelton, was the architect of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.) In Congress, she's distinguished herself mainly by comparing gay marriage to handing out drivers' licenses to third-graders (she's against it), and proposing to modify Don't Ask, Don't Tell by forcing gay soldiers to live in segregated barracks.

Now we know she's also a birther. At a townhall in her district on Thursday, Hartzler was asked for her thoughts on the President Obama's birth certificate, in light of Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio's investigation into the Commander-in-Chief's citizenship. Hertlzer's response:

I don't know, I haven't seen it. I'm just at the same place you are on that. You read this, you read that. But I don't understand why he didn't show that right away. I mean, if someone asked for my birth certificate, I'd get my baby book and hand it out and say 'Here it is,' so I don't know. 

I have doubts that it is really his real birth certificate, and I think a lot of Americans do, but they claim it is, so we are just going to go with that.

That's a real quote.

A little over a year ago, my colleague Adam Serwer unveiled what he called the "birther lexicon," which split the field of conspiracy theorizing about the president into seven distinct categories, such as "ironic birther" and "post-birther." I think Hartzler actually falls into an eighth, and previously unidentified category: slacker birther. As in, "someone who has serious concerns that the President worked with the state of Hawaii in a vast conspiracy to fabricate his birth certificate to hide the fact that he was not born in the United States, and is thus constitutionally unqualified to be President—but never took 10 seconds to Google the thing for herself (here's a quick link) and doesn't feel like doing anything about it." Say what you will about Joe Arpaio (really, go ahead) but when he thinks he's uncovered a massive conspiracy to defraud the public, he takes action.

As a political reporter, I spend most of my waking hours deleting emails from various campaigns asking for money. I know that sounds really glamorous, but after opening the nth email with an authentic-sounding subject line (a smattering, from Buzzfeed) only to find a stock-photo-laden pitch, it starts to wear on you.

That is what makes this pitch, from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and featuring a stock photo of a woman picking fruit at a supermarket, stand out:

Hello, I'm Woman Picking Out Fruit In Supermarket. And I'm writing to you today on behalf of Al Franken—a Senator who stands up for real people (including those of us who make a living posing for stock photos).

You've seen us shaking hands in business suits, posing together on college campuses, and laughing while we eat salads. You've seen us on billboards, in magazines, and on pretty much every political website. We are the people in stock photos.

I know the people in stock photos don't typically write emails, but Al isn’t your typical politician—he's a progressive fighter who puts people first. Will you stand with us by making a small contribution to his grassroots campaign right now?

There's a reason I'm standing with Al. You see, I'm not just Woman Picking Out Fruit In Supermarket. I am also an actual woman worried about the right-wing attacks on my access to health care.

And when Republicans tried to put my boss in charge of what health care treatments I can and can't get, Al stood up and fought back— just like he did when Republicans tried to destroy Planned Parenthood, and just like he has every time Republicans launch an attack on my rights.

Al's a Senator I can count on to stand up for all women—whether they're walking a golden retriever in the park, pointing at a chart in an important meeting, or simply staring into the camera.

Your contribution will help keep Al's campaign strong so he can keep fighting for us—click here to give today!

I hope I can count on you for a contribution. After all, the rights to stock photos aren't cheap. And neither is the actual grassroots organizing Al’s team does every day, fighting to keep progressive values -- and the middle class -- alive and well.

And whether you're a Tattooed Guitar Player, a Guy Wearing Hard Hat, or an Elderly Couple Sitting At Kitchen Table, there's no better way to show your support than by making a contribution today.

Thanks for standing with Al.

Sincerely,

Woman Picking Out Fruit In Supermarket

Co-Chair, People in Stock Photos for Franken (PSPF)

P.S. As someone who eagerly reads every email I get from Al, I have to be honest: I don't really understand why he's under the impression that adding an "extra ask" in the P.S. of every message is helpful. But I asked my friends Scientist Looking At Line Graph and Doctor With Stethoscope Hanging Around Her Neck, and they both agreed it works. So: Would you click here to make a contribution of $5, $10, or $25 today?

Since halting his work as a satirist to run for Senate, Franken's gone to great lengths to cultivate an image as a serious policy wonk. It's good to see that career change hasn't caused any lasting damage to his sense of humor.

Tennessee congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik.

If you live in Middle Tennessee, get ready for another four months of overheated rhetoric about Islam. On Thursday, tea partier and anti-Shariah activist Lou Ann Zelenik announced that she's challenging incumbent Rep. Diane Black (R), setting up a rematch of a 2010 GOP primary that focused heavily on the question of whether Muslims in Murfreesboro should be allowed to build a new mosque.

In that campaign, Zelenik lashed herself to the mosque issue, speaking at a march to protest the construction, and accusing Black of being soft on Shariah. As she told Talking Points Memo, "This isn't a mosque. They're building an Islamic center to teach Sharia law. That is what we stand in opposition to." Zelenik feared that a new mosque in Murfreesboro would be a stepping stone to a more sinister end—the encroachment of radical Islam into Middle Tennessee. It wasn't a winning issue, it turned out, but Zelenik's argument resonated in the city. Later that year, a handful of residents filed a lawsuit to block the construction of the mosque, arguing that Muslims weren't protected by the First Amendment because Islam is a totalitarian political system, not a religion (the Department of Justice was forced to file an amicus brief noting that, yes, Islam is a religion).

Although Black took a relatively moderate stance on the mosque when she ran for Congress, promising to respect Tennesseans' freedom of religion, she has an anti-Islam history, too: as a state Senator, she sponsored Tennessee's 2010 law designed to ban Islamic law from being enforced in state courts.

The added wrinkle here, which should give the primary an added degree of out-in-the-open animosity, is that until two weeks ago, Zelenik was being sued by Black's husband. The suit centered on an ad Zelenik ran during the 2010 pointing out that then-state Sen. Black had steered contracts to her husband's forensic science business. Black and his company, Aegis Sciences, considered this charge defamatory, but the court ruled that Zelenik's spot was accurate, and in this case the truth was the only defense necessary. So: drama.

One quibble, though: The Murfreesboro News-Journal notes that Zelenik will step down from her job at the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, "a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization that has been instrumental in sounding the alarm over the growing Islamic movement in America and the threat of Sharia Law." That's not quite accurate, as there is no real threat from Shariah law in the United States. More accurately, TFC has been instrumental in running around stirring up fears over a phantom menace. This would be a small point, except that Murfreesboro is ground-zero for the Islamophobia movement, so it's something the local newspapers really ought to get right.

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