The world's largest straw man, if I had to guess, is most likely located in central North Dakota, somewhere near the world's largest Holstein cow and the world's largest sandhill crane. But this Washington Post column, from former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, certainly has to be a part of the conversation. It's a few days old, but it presents an argument that I imagine we'll be hearing pretty frequently over the next year or so: liberals are totally paranoid when it comes to the religious views of GOP presidential candidates. (To wit: Here are Ralph Reed and Lisa Miller making that exact point.)
Gerson, who is generally credited with applying an Evangelical varnish to Bush's every uterrance, takes on the argument—promoted to various degrees by Ryan Lizza, Forrest Wilder, Michelle Goldberg, and myself—that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are part of a movement to turn the country into a Christian state. Here's how Gerson summarizes that argument:
Perry admittedly doesn't attend a Dominionist church or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is "common in Reconstructionist circles."
The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.
Bachmann is prone to Tea Party overstatement and religious-right cliches. She opened herself to criticism by recommending a book that features Southern Civil War revisionism. But there is no evidence from the careers of Bachmann or Perry that they wish to turn America into a theocratic prison camp.
The Center for American Progress released a very comprehensive report Friday morning that traces the origins, extent, organs, and funding sources of the Islamophobia movement. The thesis is that there's no "vast right-wing conspiracy behind the rise of Islamophobia in our nation but rather a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts guiding an effort that reaches millions of Americans through effective advocates, media partners, and grassroots organizing." They pinpoint a handful of think-tanks and non-profits that are responsible for the intellectual (to put it generously) grist that's served as the basis for everything from mosque protests to lawsuits to legislation to hate crimes, and follow the money, revealing that a huge lump of the funding—$42 million over nine years—comes from just seven sources.
I'll be diving into this a bit more deeply later, but for now I just wanted to highlight this map, which is an updated/spiffier version of the one I created way back when:
Courtesy of CAP
Given the deep-seated religious tensions at play here, I think the Islamophobia movement goes a bit deeper than the report necessarily gives it credit for—plenty of pastors would be talking about "Clash of Civilizations" regardless of whether Frank Gaffney gets his check from the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation. But this map, charting the mushrooming of nearly-identical bills to ban Islamic law from being applied in American courts, shows the power that a small but dedicated network—led, in this case, by Arizona attorney David Yerushalmi—can have.
Snakes on the wane: The eastern diamondback rattler has lost 97 percent of its habitat.
Since the tea party movement rose to prominence in early 2009, the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag has been a ubiquitous presence at everything from health care protests to campaign stops. It features the Revolutionary War-era slogan, along with a coiled rattlesnake, because, as Benjamin Franklin explained, the rattler "never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders."
But the flag doesn't feature just any snake; it's a eastern diamondback rattlesnake—and despite what the flag says, lots of people seem to be treading on its natural habitat. According to a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity, the species could be nearing extinction unless the federal government intervenes. Scientific American reports that the CBD, along with Protect All Living Species and the delightfully acronymed One More Generation, have petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the eastern diamondback rattlesnake as an endangered species. The rattler is down to 3 percent of its original habitat, and according to the CBD, its population has fallen from 3 million to 100,000. From the report:
"The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a wildlife icon of North America," said biologist Bruce Means, president and executive director of the Coastal Plains Institute, in a prepared statement. Means was also one of the petitioners. "Africa has its lion, Asia its tiger, and we can boast of this marvelous 'Don't Tread On Me' snake. Like so many others, it's a wildlife treasure that we must not allow to go extinct. Remaining habitat for the snake must be preserved, and negative public attitudes toward these nonaggressive animals must be reversed."
But how will this sit with tea partiers? As my colleague Kate Sheppard has reported, many tea partiers view the Endangered Species Act as a tool of an overreaching federal government—if not something even more nefarious. In Florida, conservative activists are fighting to roll back manatee protection rules because they believe the regulations are part of a United Nations plan called "Agenda 21," which they fear will force humans to live in designated areas and turn the rest of the planet into protected biosphere reserves.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has written two books, but the roots of his political philosophy go much deeper.
When Rick Perry was asked by an audience member in Waterloo, Iowa, earlier this month what he would do to rein in spending on entitlement programs if elected president, the Texas governor had a quick response: "Have you read my book, Fed Up!? Get a copy and read it." Four days later, Perry's campaign had reconsidered its pitch; his communications director, Ray Sullivan, issued a clarification to reporters that Fed Up! was not intended to serve as a blueprint for the Perry presidency, and that the most radical ideas proposed within—the repeal of Social Security, Medicare, and the 16th Amendment—weren't meant to be serious proposals.
If you can't trust what he's written, you might do well to consider what he reads. Perry's reading list (cobbled together from interviews, tweets, and a little bit of guesswork), is a mix of tea party treatises, tracts on small government, paperback thrillers, and owner's manuals for life—some more literal than others. Here's a sampling:
President Barack Obama is secretly plotting to bring an end to "White America," according to one conservative activist.
Is President Obama allowing millions of Central Americans to live in the United States illegally as part of his secret plan to destroy "White America"? According to William Gheen of the group Americans For Legal Immigration, the answer is a resounding "yes." Gheen told a conservative talk radio show earlier this week that if things don't improve under "Dictator Obama," patriotic Americans may resort to possibly violent, "revolutionary means." (Gheen, as Media Matters pointed out, has been a frequent presence on Fox News and at tea party rallies). Here's what Gheen told talk show host Janet Mefferd:
What Janet Napolitano has spent most of her time doing in the last couple of months has been, one, preparing the new spy network that's available now, the new data-collecting, see everything you do online, beyond the normal terrorist list that they’re creating, they’re creating a much larger list now of people who might be troublesome here in the country. And putting out videos and propaganda telegraphing what I believe to be a conflict with White America they’re preparing for after they get another 10 or 15 million people in the country to back them up...
We're no longer referring to him as President Barack Obama, our national organization has made the decision and made the announcement we now refer to him as Dictator Barack Obama. That's what he is. And basically at this point, if you're looking for a peaceful, political recourse there really isn't one that we can think of, and I'm really not sure what to tell people out there than I guess they need to make decisions soon to just accept whatever comes next or some type of extra-political activities that I can't really talk about because they're all illegal and violent.
Gheen has since clarified (sort of) that he doesn't personally support violence as a political tool, but believes President Obama isn't leaving freedom-loving Americans with much a choice. (Gheen previously made news when he called Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) gay at a tea party rally and alleged that Graham's supposedly closeted lifestyle was being used as blackmail to force him to adopt more moderate stances on immigration.)
It's worth noting that Gheen's conspiracy theory, while extreme, isn't so far removed from what actual elected officials are saying. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who famously suggested that terrorists were smuggling babies across the border as part of a stealth jihad, revealed on Tuesday that Democrats were secretly planning to register undocumented residents to vote in the November elections. Gohmert, citing no one in particular, alleged that it would be part of a "quid pro quo"—"we allow you to stay illegally and make sure you go down and vote." ACORN!