Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. 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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Weekly Standard on GOP Debate: "Yikes"

| Fri Sep. 23, 2011 11:08 AM EDT

As our post-circus wrap-up suggests, none of us here at MoJo Politics were particularly blown away by Thursday night's GOP presidential debate in Orlando. At various points, candidates trumpeted easily debunked conspiracy theories, declined to recognize the service of a military veteran, and went at each others' throats over the issue of allowing undocumented children to go to college.

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.

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GOP Contenders Get a Pass on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 11:07 PM EDT

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.

Rick Perry's Florida Co-Chair: Gays Cause Tornadoes

| Thu Sep. 22, 2011 10:20 AM EDT
Does this tornado look gay?

Earlier this week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his leadership team for the "Presidency 5" straw poll in Florida, scheduled for October. Although most of the other major candidates have decided to skip the event, Perry is hoping a strong showing there will give him a boost ahead of the state's important early primary. So what's his strategy for voter outreach? It looks a lot like The Response, the prayer and fasting festival he organized in August at a football stadium in Houston.

Take, for instance, his new co-chair: Pam Olsen, founder of the Tallahassee House of Prayer (dubbed the "prayer lady" in her home state for reasons that should be self-evident) and a leading anti-abortion activist in the state. As Right Wing Watch notes, though, Olsen also believes that gay marriage, and its increasing acceptance among American Christians, is causing destructive natural disasters across the country. Here's what she said back in July:

God is shaking. If anybody looks at the news and has just seen what's been happening recently with the floods, the fires, the tornadoes, God is shaking. Yeah I think you have God shaking, sure you have the Enemy shaking, you have both and I don't want to say oh that's the judgment of God or that's the Enemy. But the reality is God is judging us, and I think it's going to get worse.

It's somewhat unclear why Texas, whose governor supports criminalizing gay sex, would be punished with raging wildfires for having too high a tolerance for gay rights. But Olsen's view is wholly consistent with Perry's other allies on the religious right. The Response, you'll recall, featured a number of controversial pastors who believed that, among other things, 9/11 was God's way of punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and the blackbirds that died suddenly in Arkansas last winter were a harbinger of the End Times.

Troy Davis Executed in Georgia

| Wed Sep. 21, 2011 11:00 PM EDT

Despite evidence that threw into question the veracity of testimony that led to his conviction, pleas from a former president and the Pope, and even a last-minute review of the case by the US Supreme Court on Wednesday night, Troy Davis was executed by lethal injection shortly after 11 p.m. on Wednesday in Georgia.

Davis, whose case we wrote about in full detail here, was convicted on 1991 on charges that he murdered a Savannah police officer. Davis had put off eating his final meal in the expectation that he would be granted a stay of execution—as he had three times before in the past—but by Wednesday morning, he had exhausted all of his options, and a standing offer to submit to a polygraph test was rebuffed by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. The final lethal injection was delayed for more than three hours as the state waited to hear from the Supreme Court (which dismissed the appeal without dissent).

By now, you probably know the facts: Of the nine witnesses to the murder, seven have since recanted, and in doing so alleged that they were coerced into identifying Davis. Police tainted the identification process by pointing out Davis' face before he ever appeared in the lineup; new psychological research suggests that the officers went about identifying the suspect in exactly the wrong way. Ballistics evidence used to convict Davis has since been debunked. Another witness has since emerged as a plausible suspect in the murder trial. Three jurors on the case now say that if they knew then what they know now, they would not have voted to convict. Davis was quite possibly innocent, but that was hardly the point. As expressed by the popular Twitter hashtag, the problem was simply that there was #TooMuchDoubt.

Davis' case represented a perfect storm for death penalty opponents. He received support from world leaders and celebrities, including Pope Benedict XVI, Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, former FBI Director William Sessions, Salman Rushdie, and Kim Kardashian. R.E.M., in one of their last acts as a band, asked supporters to sign a petition for clemency. Unlike Duane Buck, the Texas inmate whose sentence was temporarily stayed by the Supreme Court last week, Davis' guilt really was really a matter of debate. Unlike Cameron Todd Willingham, whose 2004 execution was based on debunked forensic science, he had an otherwise clean record and was a reputable character. And perhaps just as importantly, he fit the prototype: Davis, who was black, physically embodied the racial disparities that permeate the criminal justice system, from capital punishment on down to drug sentencing. It was no accident that Amnesty International made him the face of its push to end the death penalty.

Davis' execution is a setback for death penalty opponents—and more broadly, death penalty supporters who know a broken system when they see one. It's also a reminder that for all of the fervor generated by cases like Davis', the overwhelming majority of Americans still support the death penalty, and tellingly, the majority of Americans who believe that innocent people are sometimes executed still support the death penalty. In ruling against Davis, the Supreme Court affirmed what Justice Antonin Scalia stated in 2009: "[T]his court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

Public policy can be improved (and lives saved) without wading into the furious culture war dispute over capital punishment itself. As the Willingham fiasco led to a reconsideration of the use of forensic evidence, reformers now have another opportunity in the wake of Davis' execution to push more scientific, disinterested witness identification. They can fight split-jury sentencing and raise the threshold required to send someone to death row. (Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal supports ending the requirement in his state that juries be unanimous to secure death warrants; Florida and Alabama are the only two states that don't require unanimity to obtain a death sentence.)

Either way, the debate won't die down any time soon. Next week, the US Supreme Court will consider what course of action to take on the Duane Buck case in Texas.

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