Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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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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The Right's Favorite Historian: Founding Fathers Opposed Darwin

| Thu Jun. 9, 2011 8:43 AM EDT

Talk to a prominent social conservative these day and the odds are pretty good that he or she is a fan of David Barton. Perhaps more than any other person, the Texas-based amateur historian has provided grist for the idea of American Exceptionalism—the argument that America's unique success in the world is divinely caused and due to its committment to core Judeo-Christian principles. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, the tea party champion and likely 2012 presidential contender, invited him to teach members of Congress about the Constitution; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says he learns something new every time he listens to Barton.

He's a pretty influential guy. So what, exactly, does he teach? On Wednesday, Right Wing Watch flagged a recent interview Barton gave with an evangelcial talk show, in which he argues that the Founding Fathers had explicitly rejected Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.* Yes, that Darwin. The one whose seminal work, On the Origin of Species, wasn't even published until 1859. Barton declared, "As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they'd already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you've got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!" Paine died in 1809, the same year Darwin was born. Here's the clip:

It's been said that James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were ahead of their times. But perhaps not that prescient.

In the same interview, Barton explains that one of the main reasons that the colonies wanted to break away from England was because it would then become easier to abolish slavery. Anybody who has studied the basics of the American Revolution knows that the issue of slavery was tabled in order to secure approval of the Declaration of Independence. (For the record, Britain abolished slavery in 1833—32 years before the United States.)

This is kind of nuts, but also illuminating. Barton has emerged as a force by bridging two sometimes disparate strains of conservatism—the Chamber of Commerce crowd with the Christian Coalition crowd. In his lectures, they become one: Jesus opposed the minimum wage; Jesus opposed the progressive income tax; etc. You can only imagine the fervor with which Jesus would have endorsed the Paul Ryan budget. When someone like Bachmann says, as she famously did earlier this year, that the Founding Fathers worked to abolish slavery, Barton is where it starts. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another potential GOP presidential candidate, says we need to return to our Biblical principles to escape from our current system of economic slavery (yes, he really said this), he's channeling Barton.

When it comes to the conservatives' alternative reality—from Jesus to the Founders to the HMS Beagle—Barton is the right's historian-in-chief.

*Update: A reader writes in to suggest that the headline for this post is less than accurate, considering Barton doesn't mention Darwin by name, and that there was a theory of evolution that existed at the time of the Founders, so it's not too far-fetched to think they would have been aware of that. Those are both fair points. But I think that's giving Barton too much credit. Barton is arguing against the teaching of today's scientifically accepted evolutionary theory by noting that, prior to the actual development of today's evolutionary theory, the Founders opposed evolution. He's conflating pre-Darwin and post-Darwin evolutionary theory in order to make a point about teaching Creationism in schools. My point isn't that he doesn't know the difference; it's that he doesn't mind blurring the difference.

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Herman Cain: I Will Only Sign "Small" Bills

| Wed Jun. 8, 2011 10:14 AM EDT

GOP presidential candidate and pizza baron Herman Cain was in the great Midwest earlier this week to talk to the Iowa Family Leader, a socially conservative organization that's leading the fight in the state against gay marriage. Cain wasn't there to talk about marriage, though; he was there to offer up a bold new plan to rein in the runaway bureaucracy: if elected president, he will only sign bills that are three pages or less. Per Think Progress:

"Don't try to pass a 2,700 page bill—even they didn't read it! You and I didn't have time to read it. We're too busy trying to live—send our kids to school. That's why I am only going to allow small bills—three pages. You'll have time to read that one over the dinner table."

This is a nice little applause line, but it's not going to help change the growing impression that Cain has no idea what he's talking about.

As this nice Eric Cantor photo-op illustrates, many bills passed by Congress are indeed very long. Sometimes, this is because they're very complex pieces of legislation with lots of moving parts that need to be enacted as a package in order to work. Sometimes this is because they're the congressional equivalent of listicles, long appropriations bills that basically just incorporate an endless number of approved projects and programs. (Cain might disagree with that practice, but often those listicles fund things he likes—it's one of the ways we fund the military.)

But in every case, the size of the bill is dramatically inflated by the fact that the Government Printing Office uses a huge font and enormous margins, of the sort that even a writer's bloc-afflicted ninth-grader would consider a bit too overt. In the case of the Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, Rep. Cantor's killer visual was artificially enhanced by the fact that he insisted on printing the bill single-sided. And as Ezra Klein noted last year, the amount of dull but necessary legalese in each bill further stretches the text out by about 500 percent.

Indeed, as Marie Diamond notes, even landmark conservative achievements that Cain undoubtedly supports, like the Bush tax cuts and the USA PATRIOT Act, would have been subjected to a big fat veto from the Godfather under his three-page limit. The same goes for Paul Ryan's budget—or any budget bill, for that matter. Cain is essentially pledging that, if elected president, he will not sign any bills of consequence. Although considering some of his other ideas, that might be the best Americans can hope for.

The Michele Bachmann Fact-Checking Challenge

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 11:37 AM EDT

CNN has an interview up today with Ed Rollins, the veteran conservative political consultant whom Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has tapped to run her presidential campaign. Rollins, who guided Mike Huckabee's campaign to a victory in Iowa in 2008, predicts that the Minnesota GOPer's campaign will take more or less the same approach. That's not surprising; this is surprising:

Asked about Bachmann's past controversial comments, Rollins said the congresswoman would "have a good team around her and we'll basically make sure that everything is 100 percent fact checked."

Fact-checking is all the rage these days; even Cosmopolitan is doing it! But it's also tedious and time-intensive; to give you a sense, it took me three weeks to nail down all of the details in this article about imported insects that eat invasive plants. If Rollins really wants to 100-percent fact-check everything his candidate says before she says it, that's fantastic. It would probably be a first in American political history—and given Bachmann's record, a Herculean task.

It's also unclear just which comments Rollins intends to fact-check. CNN's link to "past controversial comments," for instance, actually directs you to a Bachmann gaffe in which she says the American Revolution began in New Hampshire. That's wrong, but it's not "controversial." Controversial would be saying something like "almost all, if not all, individuals who have gone into the [gay] lifestyle have been abused at one time in their life, either by a male or by a female"—which Bachmann did say, in 2004, in the same speech in which she expressed the hope that a breast-cancer-stricken Melissa Etheridge would take advantage of her illness to quit being a lesbian.

And then there's the sheer scope of Bachmann's factually challenged statements, which, even in the political world, are in a category of their own. Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact, recently told Minnesota Public Radio that "we have checked her 13 times, and [found] seven of her claims to be false and six have been found to be ridiculously false." That's a pretty bad record, and according to Adair, Bachmann remains the only high-profile conservative politician to never have a statement ruled "true" by the outfit.

Bachmann could stop serving up apocalyptic, overheated rhetoric to socially conservative audiences. But as Rollins knows, that's no way to win in Iowa. Plus, with all the time and energy devoted to double-checking statistics, verifying quotes, and tracing everything back to at least one primary source, would there even be any time left to campaign?

Pawlenty's Economic Plan: Just "Google" It

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 9:22 AM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is set to deliver a major economic address at the University of Chicago this afternoon. There's a lot of the usual stuff in the prepared remarks, and one big idea. Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and everyone's second choice for the nomination, unveiled something called "the Google test" as a means to downsize government:

We can start by applying what I call 'The Google Test.' If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it. The post office, the government printing office, Amtrak, Fannie and Freddie, were all built for a time in our country when the private sector did not adequately provide those products. That's no longer the case."

The US Postal Service's problems are well documented, although it provides a public service that its competitors simply don't aspire to do—and a quick Google search for "Amtrak competitors" doesn't yield much of anything. But beyond that, Pawlenty's Google Test seems to have one very serious failing: you can find a lot of things on Google.

Here, for instance, is a very short list of goods and services that would also fail Pawlenty's Google Test:

Some of these are serious points of contention—Republicans governors are making a huge push in the direction of private prisons, for instance, and the debate over private school vouchers isn't going away any time soon. Some of them aren't. The point is that "can you find it on Google?" is really a pretty useless question to ask when you're evaluating the value of a government service.

In other words, the only Google-related story worth talking about in the 2012 race still involves Rick Santorum.

Top 11 Political Sex Scandal Apologies Other Than Weinergate [VIDEO]

| Mon Jun. 6, 2011 8:25 PM EDT

On Monday, following the release of shirtless photos by Andrew Breitbart's Big Government, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D–N.Y.) announced that he had sent lewd photos and text messages to six different women in the last three years—all of whom he met online. It was a bizarre scene, made all the more so by the presence of Breitbart, who seized the podium before Weiner's press conference to take questions about his site's coverage of the scandal. But where does it rank on the spectrum of recent political apologies? Here's a quick look:

1. Sen. John Ensign (R–Nev.)

Busted: Had extra-marital affair with the wife of a close friend (and aide). Had his parents pay off the couple to keep them quiet. Used his influence to land the husband of his mistress a job.

Strategy: "Take full responsibility," but don't actually take full responsibility. Ensign says there's nothing to the reports of possible ethics violations.

Did he resign? Yes, last month, when he faced expulsion from the Senate (the first since the Civil War) on ethics charges stemming from his cover-up.

Silver lining: Introduces the phrase "put your pants on and come home" into the lexicon.


2. Rep. Chris Lee (R–N.Y.)

Busted: Sent shirtless photos to a Maryland woman he met on Craigslist.

Strategy: Put out a terse statement, resign immediately.

Did he resign? See above.


3. Sen. John Edwards
(D–N.C.)

Busted: Cheated on cancer-stricken wife with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter. The National Enquirer publishes "spy photos" of Edwards holding Hunter's baby.

Strategy: Deny, deny, deny—and then eventually confess to the affair on Nightline: "I became, at least on the outside, something different than that young boy who grew up in a small town in North Carolina." Continue to deny paternity of the child, and then cave on that too.

Did he resign? Out of office. But he might go to prison now.


4. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho)

Busted: Arrested in a sting at the Minneapolis International Airport, Craig pled guilty to soliciting sex from an undercover cop in a men's restroom.

Strategy: Blame the local newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, for pressuring him into confessing even though he did nothing wrong. Blame the confusion over whether or not he was propositioning a cop by tapping his foot on a "wide stance." Oh, and just to be clear: "I am not gay, and I never have been gay."

Did he resign? Nope.

Is there a dramatic reenactment of the arrest that uses the police report as a script? Glad you asked.


5. Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.)

Busted: GOP rising star goes missing for seven days in early 2009, causing the state police to start looking for him. Told staff that he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail," then that he was in Argentina. Conducted long-distance with affair with Argentinian woman.

Strategy: Apologize to more or less everyone he's ever met: "I hurt her. I hurt you all. I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys. I hurt friends like Tom Davis. I hurt a lot of different folks. And all I can say is that I apologize. I —I —I would ask for your — I guess I'm not deserving of indulgence, but indulgence not for me, but for Jenny and the boys."

Did he resign? Resigned chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, but finished out his term in Columbia.


6. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)

Busted: Allegedly consorted with prostitutes in DC and New Orleans.

Strategy: Tell media to drop dead. Hold a press conference to apologize for "past failings," and then change the subject to local issues like a water resources bill and I-49 construction projects. Appear with wife at press conference, who says "I am proud to be Wendy Vitter." It's a good thing, too, because she had previously told the Times-Picayune, "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary" and that "If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

Did he resign? Nope.

Any way things could get worse? Yes. After apologizing once more at a later event, he ran over a stop sign in the parking lot.


7. Gov. Jim McGreevey (D-N.J.)

Busted: Appointed Israeli Defense Forces vet to position as homeland security adviser; had affair with said homeland security adviser.

Strategy: Come clean, come out. "At a point in every person's life one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world. Not as we may want to see it, or hope to see it, but as it is. And so my truth is that I am a gay American."

Did he resign? Spectacularly:


8. Rep. Mark Souder (R–In.)

Busted: Affair with a part-time staffer.

Strategy: Blame the "poisonous environment of Washington," apologize to his family, acknowledge sins, improbably attempt to regain the moral high ground: "I'm sick of politicians who drag their spouses in front of the cameras rather than confront the problems that they caused."

Did he resign? Yes.

Can't make it up: Souder and his aide also filmed a PSA advocating abstinence.


9. Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D–N.Y.)

Busted: Spent $80,000 on call girls as attorney general and governor.

Strategy: Confess to wrong-doing, keep it short, stand alongside wife.

Did he resign? Yes.

Scandal officially jumped the shark when... Call girl Ashley Dupre launched her own music career.


10. President Bill Clinton (D)

Busted: Had sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Strategy: Tell American people he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, but later come clean while calling on the nation to move on: "Even presidents have private lives. It is time to stop the pusrsuit of personal destruction and the prying into privates lives, and get on with our national life."

Did he resign? Nope—and he survives the impeachment proceeding too.

And? If you have nothing better to do, you can read the Starr Report in its entirety here. The 90s were so weird.


11. Rep. Eric Massa (D–N.Y.)

Busted: Groped male staffer and (in his own words) "tickled him until he couldn't breathe."

Strategy: No discernible strategy. Intitially fesses up to using "salty language" but denies any wrongdoing. Massa later resigns and goes on a media blitz and accuses a naked White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel of intimidating him in the Congressional gym. Massa calls Emmanuel the "Devil's spawn," and says the administration forced him out because he didn't vote for the Affordable Care Act.

Did he resign? Yes.

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