Protesters at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington, DC, in June 2010
The most controversial item on the Mississippi ballot this fall is not a politician but rather an idea. In November, Mississippians will vote on an amendment to change the meaning of the word "person" in the state constitution. Under the new language, human life would begin not at birth but at the moment of fertilization. If the amendment passes, it will outlaw abortion in the state entirely, even in cases of rape or incest. It might even leave some forms of contraception, and procedures such as in vitro fertilization, on life support.
Ballot Measure 26, the "Personhood Amendment," has drawn the endorsement of celebrities including Mike Huckabee and Brett Favre's wife, Deanna. The Tupelo-based American Family Association (AFA), one of the nation's leading social-conservative organizations, is teaming up with the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, to secure its passage. In mid-September, Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, announced his support for the measure.
But for all the momentum it has gained, the amendment is in large part the handiwork of one lesser known figure, an activist named Les Riley. A tractor salesman, former candidate for agriculture commissioner, and chair of the state Constitution Party, Riley is steeped in fringe politics. He founded the group Personhood Mississippi, drafted the amendment's language, started the signature drive that got it on the ballot, and promoted it statewide starting on June 2 with an inflammatory campaign called the "Conceived in Rape Tour."
According to the most recent polling from Public Policy Polling, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst currently holds a commanding 29-point lead over former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz in the GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). But maybe that will change after Texans watch this new attack ad from Cruz, in which he compares the state's second-in-command to the mythical chupacabra:
As a reporter covering the GOP presidential campaign, I follow all of the candidates' Twitter feeds as a matter of course. Their tweets are usually about as interesting as you would assume. But on the plus side, I was one of the first 2,415 people to know what Buddy Roemer thought about Gary Johnson's recitation of his friend's text message conveying Rush Limbaugh's joke about President Obama's stimulus package.
But when I tried to follow Texas Gov. Rick Perry, I hit a dead-end: Apparently, Perry has blocked me from following his tweets:
I can still read his tweets if I go to his Twitter page—"The Iowa countryside is incredibly green," he observantly mused recently—but they don't show up in my feed. As far as transparency violations go, this is pretty small potatoes; it pales in comparison to deleting all of your official emails after seven days, which is the Perry administration's official policy. (Perry, for his part, calls transparency "boring.") But as it turns out, I'm not alone. Perry has blocked a bunch of reporters and bloggers, including some from Texas papers like the Dallas Morning-News. In response to that paper's inquiries, a Perry spokeswoman said: "[I]t is the governor's personal account, so he manages it as he likes. He uses non-state resources."
Perry's scheme of blocking journalists is confusing not just because no other candidate does this, but because, as the Post's Alexandra Petri, put it:
All your account really says about you is that you really like Texas and enjoy the company of dogs. But if you are planning to post embarrassing personal revelations later that you don't want the press to know about, maybe you should reread the Twitter manual, because this isn't really the forum.
Yes, my coverage of the governor's record in Texas hasn't exactly been glowing. I previously reported on his slow response to systematic abuse at the Texas Youth Commission, his coziness with the private prison lobby, his shaky record on the death penalty, and the radical roots of his prayer rally in Houston, The Response. Most recently, I noted that his Florida straw poll co-chair believes that gay people are responsible for natural disasters. But here's an entire post listing good things that Perry has done that progressive might actually like.
Making things all the more confusing, Perry, at one point, was following me:
Maybe Mitt Romney's right—there really are two Rick Perrys.
But don't take it from us. After last night, even conservatives are starting to freak out about the Republican field. Here's Bill Kristol's special editorial at the Weekly Standard, one of the leading publications of the Republican establishment:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s official reaction to last night’s Republican presidential debate: Yikes.
Reading the reactions of thoughtful commentators after the stage emptied, talking with conservative policy types and GOP political operatives later last evening and this morning, we know we’re not alone. Most won't express publicly just how horrified—or at least how demoralized—they are. After all, they still want to beat Obama—as do we. And they want to get along with the possible nominee and the other candidates and their supporters. They don't want to rock the boat too much. But maybe the GOP presidential boat needs rocking.
The e-mails flooding into our inbox during the evening were less guarded. Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: "I'm watching my first GOP debate...and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!" As the evening went on, the craziness receded, and the demoralized comments we received stressed the mediocrity of the field rather than its wackiness. As one more experienced, and therefore more jaded, observer wrote: "I just thought maybe it's always this bad...they're only marginally worse than McCain and Bush."
Kristol goes on to suggest that Perry's performance was "close to a disqualifying performance." Before Kristol writes another epic poem calling for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to get into the race, though, it's worth noting that 1.) The debate started at 9 p.m., finished at 11 p.m., and was going head to head with Man, Woman, Wild on the Discovery Channel, and 2.) See point 1. Last night's debate was disspiriting for any number of reasons, but very few people watched it except for those of us who had to, and it likely did nothing to diminish Republicans' chances next November.
For the third consecutive GOP presidential debate, the audience stole the show. At the Reagan Library debate in California, attendees memorably broke into a spontaneous round of applause in support of Rick Perry's record on the death penalty. At last week's debate in Tampa, a handful of audience members cheered the prospect of a man without health insurance being left to die. And on Thursday in Orlando, a chorus of boos erupted when a gay Army veteran asked former Sen. Rick Santorum if he should still be allowed to serve the country in Iraq.
Santorum's answer was characteristic: Looking uncomfortable and stammering slightly, he said that the military was practicing "social engineering" by allowing gays to serve openly. He also effectively suggested that service-members should practice abstinence, stating that, "any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military." He declined to thank the questioner for his service, normally standard operating procedure for an American politician.
More disappointing than Santorum's answer was the fact that he was the only candidate forced to come up with one. Fox News' Chris Wallace grilled Santorum and then moved on to a new subject. But DADT is in the news right now, and it is a tangible policy that the next president, as commander in chief, will be in a position to act on. It speaks not just to social issues, but also national security. Will President Perry block gay soldiers from receiving benefits? Will President Romney move to re-implement DADT? Will President Cain (kidding) move to to create separate housing for gay soldiers and straight soldiers (as some social conservatives have suggested)? If the candidates don't like the current policy, what exactly are they going to do to change it?
Santorum got pegged with the question because he's considered a "social issues" candidate. But this question really deserved to be asked of everyone.