Herman Cain's presidential campaign is all but over. The latest Des Moines Register poll puts his support in the critical early caucus state at just 8 percent—down 15 points from last month. Also: He's been accused of various forms of misconduct by a bipartisan coalition of five different women, ranging from alleged sexual assault to an alleged 13-year extramarital affair, somehow managing to make Newt Gingrich look like a family man in the process.
On Thursday night, Cain told Sean Hannity that he would decide whether or not to quit the race by Monday. On Friday, he decided the timing was perfect to launch a new website, "Women for Herman Cain." This is the logo:
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 is not a subject that Newt Gingrich likes to talk about on the campaign trail. For the new GOP front-runner, the episode also marks a notable exception to his record as a social conservative: the time when Gingrich took on his own base to keep the web open for pornography. Here's how it happened.
With a few exceptions, the web was something of a foreign concept to Congress in 1995. (Gingrich, the lower chamber's biggest web booster, didn't even use email.) But the internet was quickly earning a reputation, especially on the right, as a den of immorality, awash in smut and sexual predators. Congressional leaders decided they needed the Communications Decency Act, which was folded into a must-pass Telecommunications bill.
Sen. Jim Exon compiled an album of images he'd found on the web—including one of a man engaging in intercourse with a German shepherd—and invited his colleagues to take a look.
"Barbarian pornographers are at the gate and they are using the internet to gain access to the youth of America," warned Sen. Jim Exon (D-Neb.).
To fend off the barbarians, Exon introduced an amendment to the Communications Decency Act criminalizing the transmission of "indecent" materials over the internet. In case any stone remained unturned, it went after internet service providers as well: Email or distribute nude photos—or even just type one of the "seven words you can't say on television"—and you could face a $100,000 fine or up to two years in prison.
To illustrate the danger of internet porn, Exon compiled an album of graphic images he'd found on the web—including one of a man engaging in intercourse with a German shepherd—in a blue binder with a red "caution" sticker, and invited his colleagues to take a look.
Exon's measure passed the Senate with 86 votes. The appeal was clear: No elected official wanted to be seen as voting for smut. The Contract With America—Republicans' promise to voters in advance of their landslide win in the 1994 elections—had even contained a provision vowing to crack down on child pornography.
That's where Gingrich came in.
To the House speaker, the debate presented a clash between his desire to prepare America for the 21st century and his conservative values. Gingrich, by his own description, was a "conservative futurist." He envisioned honeymoons in space and laptops in every classroom; the Exon amendment, by casting such a wide net, threatened that future.
Newt's preferred web-surfing policy: Don't ask, don't tell. Newt Gingrich/FacebookGingrich was right that Exon's bill was extremely broad. As Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pointed out in a particularly inspired floor speech, the law could even have criminalized the online distribution of Gingrich's first novel, 1945, in which a "pouting sex kitten"—who is also a Nazi—seduces a White House aide in order to extract classified information. It would also have prohibited most non-Will Smith forms of hip-hop.
"[The amendment] is clearly a violation of free speech and it's a violation of the right of adults to communicate with each other," Gingrich said at the time. "I don't agree with it…" In an interview with British journalist David Frost, he elaborated on his position. "I think there you have a perfect right on a noncensorship basis to intervene decisively against somebody who would prey upon children. And that I would support very intensely. It's very different than trying to censor willing adults."
With Gingrich's support, Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) and Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) crafted an alternative proposal that eschewed punitive measures for online wardrobe malfunctions and expletives, and instead emphasized private, parental education initiatives. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly.
Gingrich "talked out both sides of his mouth," says Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.
Although the Senate's version was part of the law that eventually passed, it was overturned by the Supreme Court the next year in Reno v. ACLU. What remained was Gingrich's language, a piece of legislation sufficiently ahead of its time that Jerry Berman, founder of the Center for Democracy and Technology, says it should be called the "Communications Democracy Act."
Gingrich's support for a hands-off approach set a precedent. Under his watch, the federal government opted against creating the equivalent of an FCC for the internet, helping it grow into what it is today. According to a report published last year by the IT security company Optenet, 37 percent of the internet consists of porn.
It also wasn't the last time that Gingrich stood up for the internet's biggest business: In 2009, his organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, briefly named adult-film titan Pink Visual the "entrepreneur of the year" and invited the company's CEO to a reception at DC's Capitol Hill Club. Gingrich's spokesman said at the time that Pink Visual had been honored "inadvertently."
The speaker may have been an ally in the fight against the Exon amendment, but that hardly makes him a free speech icon. Gingrich "talked out both sides of his mouth," says Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. The free-speech activist (who currently has a $1 million reward for dirt on Rick Perry's sex life) took on Gingrich at length in his book Sex, Lies, & Politics and hasn't changed his views in the ensuing decade. "I wouldn't vote for him for dogcatcher."
Build the danged fence: The US-Mexican border at Santa Elena Canyon, Texas.
On Thursday, GOP front-runner—yes, front-runner—Newt Gingrich signed a pledge from the North Carolina group Americans for Securing the Border. Per the terms of the pledge, the former House speaker has committed himself to completing a fence along the Mexican border by the end of his first year in office. As Gingrich put it in Des Moines, "We haven't been able to build a fence on the border because we have not been a serious country."
But as the Los Angeles Timesnotes, the pledge has an important caveat: It explicitly states that the Department of Homeland Security should determine which parts of the border need a fence. Under that criteria, Gingrich would only need to extend the fence by two miles to finish the job America has been too unserious to complete.
Although the border fence mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for a 700-mile stretch of fence, the Department of Homeland Security later urged Congress to modify the law. That's because only a fraction of the border actually stands to benefit from having a physical barrier; the billions of dollars it would take to construct a barrier through Texas' Santa Elena Canyon (see above) could be much be better spent doing pretty much anything else. As Border Patrol chief Michael Fisher told Congress in October, "we have now constructed 650 miles of fencing out of nearly 652 miles where Border Patrol field commanders determined it was operationally required along the Southwest border." By that standard, Gingrich's work is pretty much done.
There is a difference between "operationally required" and "optimal," of course. If Gingrich decided he wanted to spend an unlimited amount of money and completely ignore environmental concerns, he could probably expand the length of the fence even more. The ASB pledge also calls for the existing fence to be doubled, so that you'll have to go through two fences to get across. But if you can hop over one fence, the second one just seems superfluous. The point is that the current perimeter parameters have already been defined by the agencies Gingrich's pledge defers to.
Give Gingrich some credit, though: His new plan would cost tens of billions of dollars less than Herman Cain's proposal to build a 2,000-mile electrified fence.
Now that Newt Gingrich is offically a serious Republican presidential candidate, everything he's done in his 68 years is up for scrutiny. His trip to the Harrisburg, Pa. city hall as a young boy to ask the mayor to open up a zoo reflects pretty well on him; his support for a bill calling for global population control in the name of global warming might not go over so well with the conservative base. It's not entirely clear how his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen character Ali G will play, but here you go:
The look of total spite on Gingrich's face as he explains how to properly pronounce his first name is fantastic.
America had a good laugh at Rick Perry's expense on Tuesday after the Texas Governor told students at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire to vote for him next November—but only if they're over 21. Zut alors! Le gaffe! The federal voting age is 18, not 21; 21 is the legal drinking age. Perry also managed to get the date of the election wrong.
But maybe he had a point. In Perry's Texas, as in various states across the country, Republicans have made a concerted push over the last half decade to make it harder and harder for certain Democratic-leaning constituencies—namely young people, senior citizens, and minorities—to vote. It's an attempt to suppress voter turnout in the name of cracking down on voter fraud (Ari Berman can explain it all for you).
Texas' new voter I.D. law, signed into law by Perry this summer, is a great example of that strategy. The law accepts concealed handgun license permits as a valid form of identification, but not student identification cards issued by state universities. The Department of Justice has blocked implementation of the law out of concerns that it discriminates against specific groups:
Democrats countered that there is no evidence of voter impersonation in Texas and that the bill simply was an effort to make voting more difficult for low-income Texas, students and the elderly, who typically vote for Democrats.
The new law would require voters to show a Texas driver's license, a Texas concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, citizenship papers, or a military identification card before they could cast a ballot.
Student ID cards issued by state universities, out-of-state driver's licenses, or ID cards issued to state employees would not be accepted.
Really, Perry's gaffe was that he asked college students to vote.