Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Bachmann on Teen Suicides: "Not a Federal Issue"

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 10:04 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

For months, Rep. Michele Bachmann has been conspicuously silent on the rash of teen suicides in her suburban Twin Cities congressional district. (The situation in the Anoka-Hennepin School District has gotten so bad that state public health officials have officially designated it a "suicide contagion area.") Activists have claimed the school district's "no promo homo" policy, which prohibits teachers from saying positive things about homosexuality, abetts anti-gay bullying in the area. Another possible factor in the epidemic is the activism of groups like the Bachmann-supported Minnesota Family Council, which has stated that gay teens who commit suicide bring it upon themselves "because they've embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle."

Now Bachmann's finally weighed in—sort of. Over the weekend, Bachmann was in Californa for a series of fundraisers, a campaign rally, and an appearance on Jay Leno. At a stop in Costa Mesa, she was asked what she would do about the bullying contagion in her district. Her response? "That's not a federal issue." And then she moved on. The Minnesota Independent notes that last week, activists brought a petition with 100,000 signatures to Bachmann's district office.

The problem with Bachmann's position is that, whether or not it's a federal issue, she's already made it a Michele Bachmann issue. In May, she keynoted a fundraiser for the Minnesota Family Council, which at the time was lobbying hard against any bulling legislation in the state legislature. And as a state senator, she fought anti-bullying legislation, asking her colleagues, "Will it get to the point where we are completely stifling free speech and expression? Will it mean that what form of behavior will there be, will we be expecting boys to be girls?"

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David Barton: Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings Affair Was Liberal Plot

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 10:41 AM EDT

Texas pseudo-historian David Barton, as we've reported previously, is something of a legend among Christian conservatives. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) invited him to testify before the Minnesota Senate and to lecture her Republican colleagues in Congress; Gov. Rick Perry courted his support earlier this month at a Hill Country retreat; Newt Gingrich has nothing but praise for him; Mike Huckabee says Barton's tracts about the Founding Fathers should be required reading for everyone in America. The New York Times calls him "a guiding spirit of the religious right." Barton's work has been pretty soundly repudiated by respected historians, but he tells conservatives what they want to hear—and makes a lot of money doing it.

But even we're a little surprised by his latest bombshell: Speaking at the ultra-conservative Liberty University last week, Barton explained that the now-historically and scientifically accepted narrative that Thomas Jefferson had children with his slave Sally Hemings was actually a liberal plot to distract the public from the horrors of the Clinton impeachment scandal. As he explained it, prominent liberal historians concocted the theory in order to put Clinton's improprieties in a more favorable light. Watch:

It's worth noting that this argument is, of course, total baloney. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which has a real vested interested in not repeating baseless Thomas Jefferson smears, acknowledges the affair on its website. And as Brian Tashman notes, Barton's narrative about the DNA testing is sort of the opposite of what happened. Joseph Ellis was not involved in the DNA testing, but he did eventually come around to the fact that Jefferson and Hemings had conceived children. So did uber-historian Annette Gordon-Reed, who literally wrote the book on the subject. The DNA tests Barton cites as discredited said that there was a 99-percent chance that Hemings had birthed children by either Jefferson or a very close male relative (of which Jefferson is really the only plausible option). Another problem: The Jefferson-Hemings thesis predated any rumblings of the Lewinsky affair.

h/t Right Wing Watch.

Meet John Boehner's Primary Challenger

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 10:14 AM EDT
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio)

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) is pretty aggressively anti-abortion. Under his watch last spring, the House pushed a "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion" bill that initially would have gone so far as to redefine rape, along with another measure that could have required IRS agents to conduct abortion audits in certain cases. Pretty anti-abortion in other words—but not anti-abortion enough for David Lewis of Cincinnati, who announced this week that he will launch a primary challenge against the most powerful Republican elected official in America.

Per his statement:

In his first nine months as House Speaker, John Boehner has had several opportunities to defund the largest baby killers in America – Planned Parenthood. But Boehner caved in to Obama, and gave Planned Parenthood taxpayer's hard earned dollars. Neither pro-lifers nor Tea Party activists should ever forgive John Boehner for lavishing our money on Planned Parenthood. It is clear from the facts that Planned Parenthood is not only the largest killer of unborn babies in America, but also that they have become a criminal syndicate covering up the crimes of rapists, sex traffickers, and pedophiles.

His website doesn't currently list any issues, save for this brief platform: "The Word of God, including the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, is the foundation that America and the Bill of Rights rests on." In March, Lewis was arrested at Boehner's district office, where he was protesting over the Planned Parenthood issue. As he told the Middletown Journal, "the only way to hold his feet to the fire...is to hold demonstrations like this one." Apparently, he thinks he's found another way.

Update: Right Wing Watch argues, somewhat comepllingly, that Lewis' campaign is basically an excuse to run graphic images of fetuses on local television stations.

Michele Bachmann's Gay Biblical Alter Ego

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) says she's a 21st-century version of Saul's son, Jonathan.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has a habit of breaking out Old Testament references when she speaks to religious audiences. She has previously compared her (increasingly) small but determined band of followers to the Men of Issachar, one of the 12 Tribes of Israel that helped ward off the Canaanite invasion in the Book of Judges. Like Bachmann's teavangelicals, the Men of Issachar were reclaiming their godly inheritance after the Israelites had lost their way. It's also one of the only instances in the Bible in which men are led into battle by a woman—Deborah.

But now, with her presidential campaign on the ropes, the Minnesota congresswoman seems to have picked a new Biblical alter ego; we're not sure she really thought this one through. Via MinnPost, this is what she told the conservative activists at RightOnline last week in June:

I want to call to mind in remembrance a hero of mine. And he's from ancient Israel. And from history we know, in the recorded annals of time, that this was someone considered more inconsequential, but to me he had an inspiring, powerful story.

His name was Jonathan. And it was in ancient Israel. His father was king. He was the first king of ancient Israel and his name was King Saul.

And there was another battle that Israel faced. And that battle was with a group of people called the Philistines. And the Philistines had a position of power. And they were up on a cliff during the time of this battle.

Then, as the story goes, Jonathan and a comrade scaled the cliff and defeated the entire Philistine army by themselves.

If the story ended there, that would be a fantastic metaphor for what Bachmann would like to accomplish as a candidate. The story of Jonathan does not end there, however. Given his lineage and heroics in battle, Jonathan was considered the front-runner to become the next head of state. But another, more charismatic (literally) rural farm boy came along and won over the base by killing a coyote with a Rueger killing a giant with a slingshot. Jonathan and Saul died tragically in battle on top of Mount Gilboa; David became king.

Goliath's severed head can only watch.: Wikimedia CommonsGoliath's severed head can only watch. Wikimedia CommonsBut there's another twist: Jonathan's mostly famous because of his very close personal relationship with David, with some scholars going so far as to suggest that they might have been lovers. Jonathan and David have been cited by gay rights activists as proof that gay rights are biblically enshrined, as well as by Oscar Wilde—at his trial for homosexuality. The Book of Samuel describes the relationship thusly: "The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." Their friendship led to a falling out between Saul and his son, after Jonathan pleads with the king to stop trying to kill David.

So were they actually lovers? It's hardly the mainstream view, but it's a theory that's out there: Dartmouth religion professor Susan Ackerman wrote a book about it. Here's how she synthesizes the "Jonathan and David were gay" (or at least bisexual) argument, seizing on the pair's falling out with Jonathan's father:

[A]s Schroer and Staubli particularly argue, the language Saul uses in his diatribe is extremely sexually charged, so much so that we may be meant to interpret it also in sexual terms; that is, to understand this charged language is used in Saul's insults because Saul perceives his son's misdeeds to be sexual as well as political. According, then, to Schroer and Staubli, Jonathan has not only engaged in "the political scandal of a royal son betraying father and kingdom for the sake of a stranger, but also the effrontery of homosexual love."

Bachmann, for her part, has described homosexuality as "personal bondage" and a "dysfunction" and alleged that gay marriage is an "earthquake issue" that could shake American society to its core. Given the way her campaign gone since Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race, though, perhaps Bachmann should have just gone with Job.

Front page image: Wikimedia; Davie Hinshaw/Charlotte Observer/Zuma

BREAKING: Supreme Court Halts Texas Execution

| Thu Sep. 15, 2011 9:41 PM EDT

The United States Supreme Court intervened at the eleventh hour to halt the scheduled execution of Duane Buck on Thursday, a rare move that will put the controversial execution on hold indefinitely until the justices can properly review Buck's petition for clemency. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a clemency petition from Buck's attorney on Monday, and petitions to Governor Rick Perry (and his deputy, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst) to grant a 30-day reprieve to re-evaluate the sentence went unanswered. Buck's attorneys filed a writ of certiori with the Supreme Court on Wednesday. (The order came about two hours after the execution window opened at 7 p.m. eastern time; as CNN reported, Buck had already eaten what was supposed to be his last meal.)

For Perry, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, the decision threatens to reinject not just the issue of capital punishment, but also race into a campaign that in recent weeks has grown more contentious.

Buck was convicted in 1997 on two counts of murder after a shooting rampage at his ex-girlfriend's apartment. The case, which we've written about in more detail previously, is somewhat unusual in that Buck's guilt is not a point of contention by anyone (Buck included). The issue instead is whether his race (he's black) played a role in obtaining the capital punishment sentence. At Buck's trial, a psychologist summoned by the defense went on to testify, under cross-examination, that Buck's race made him more likely to commit violent acts in the future. To obtain a death penalty sentence in Texas prosecutors must prove a level of "future dangerousness," and the psychologist's testimony (although not its specifics) were cited in the prosecution's closing arguments.

When a similar case, brought by Argentinian Hugo Saldano, came before the Supreme Court in 2000, a much different group of justices ruled that the sentence was unconstitutional as it amounted to race-based discrimination. That led Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), then the state's attorney general, to re-examine past cases in which the same psychologist had been summoned and cited race as evidence of future dangerousness. Cornyn found six cases that matched the description—and Buck's is the only one of those six that has not received a re-trial. Cornyn stated at the time that the case had been "improperly decided." Last week, one of the former prosecutors in the case wrote to Perry asking him to commute the death sentence.

It's unclear how the Supreme Court may rule on Buck's petition; at this stage, simply the stay itself can be seen as a victory of sorts. Perry has presided over 234 executions as governor, a modern-day record, including 11 this year alone. He has commuted 31 sentences, but 30 of those came only after intervention by the Supreme Court, in cases involving the execution of minors and the mentally handicapped. And in at least one case, the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, he ignored compelling evidence that the state had sentenced an innocent man to die.

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