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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Is Newt Calling for a Literacy Test?

| Mon May 16, 2011 11:22 AM EDT

Last Friday, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich suggested to the Georgia state Republican convention that Barack Obama is our "most successful food stamp president in history," sparking the inevitable to-do over whether Gingrich was or was not playing to his base's basest racial fears. Newt says he wasn't, and that's plausible, for the simple reason that he has always hated food stamps, blaming pretty much all of society's ailments on the "corrupt welfare state." But this part of the speech, via Matt Yglesias, is also pretty controvesial:

You know, folks often talk about immigration. I always say that to become an American citizen, immigrants ought to have to learn American history [applause]. But maybe we should also have a voting standard that says to vote, as a native born American, you should have to learn American history [applause]. You realize how many of our high school graduates because of the decay of the educational system, couldn't pass a citizenship test.

The good news for Newt is that we already have laws that say that, if you're a child of school-going age, you have to go to school. And we also have curriculum standards that say that, if you attend public schools, you have to learn American history. So what Gingrich is really suggesting is some sort of system of literacy tests focusing on American history—which, per American history, are illegal.

But putting aside the racial element to all of this, what's the next step? What elements of American history does Gingrich believe are so essential that an improper understanding should automatically disqualify you from being able to exercise your constitutional right to vote? The Civil War was a pretty important event in American history, but if you asked Americans to name the primary cause, a good portion of otherwise civic-minded Republican primary voters would probably fail. Meanwhile, in his book Real Change, Gingrich writes that President Obama is "the most radical President in American history," and has elsewhere suggested that Obama will undo 400 years of American progress. That was all news to me, but it sounds pretty important. Should that be on the test too?

What Mitt Romney Doesn't Need to Say About Health Care

| Thu May 12, 2011 11:16 AM EDT

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is giving a major speech in Ann Arbor, Michigan today on what experts agree is the signature crisis of his candidacy: the landmark health care reform bill he signed into law in 2006, requiring all residents of his state to buy health insurance. The Wall Street Journal editorial board, as good a source as any for what the conservative establishment is thinking, calls Romney "Obama's Running Mate"; over at Politico, Kasie Hunt lays out the stakes:

For Romney, there's no getting around it. The perceived similarities between the two measures are a deal-breaker for the Republican base, which loathes the president’s plan. At the same time, the former governor can't afford to completely repudiate the centerpiece of his four-year-term without reinforcing the flip-flopping knock on him.

In an attempt to put the issue behind him—something he hasn't come close to doing yet—Romney will outline his health care plan in a PowerPoint presentation that is designed to explain his views on federal policy but also to distinguish the Massachusetts plan from the president’s in a way that is convincing to Republican primary voters.

Yeah, that is kind of awkward. But here's another way of looking at it: Mitt Romney's support for providing poor people with affordable health insurance is only a problem until the Republican establishment decides it isn't a problem. There are sincerely held conservative arguments against the Affordable Care Act, but the party's most fundamental objection to Obamacare is reflected in that nickname: President Obama signed it.

From there, the individual mandate follows naturally as an unconstitutional, un-American villain. But it wasn't considered toxic by Republican activists in 2006, when Romney signed the bill, or in 2008, when he ran on it—and won the endorsement of tea party ringleader Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.). In other words, there's an on–off switch to all the outrage. Romney can talk himself hoarse trying to explain why his health care plan is different than President Obama's; or he can just sit tight and hope the GOP establishment decides, once more, that an individual mandate really isn't that big of a deal.

Amarillo, Texas is as Normal as Ever

| Thu May 12, 2011 8:31 AM EDT

Faulkner once explained that he set most of his stories in Yoknapatawpha County because there was such an inexhaustible wealth of material contained within that one slice of Mississippi there was simply no reason to branch out. That's kind of the same way I feel about this 128-word AP news item:

A man who last year swiped a Quran from an Amarillo preacher planning to burn the scripture at a park was arrested at another event featuring the evangelist.

Police say 24-year-old Jacob Isom of Amarillo was planning to disrupt a David Grisham event Sunday that also featured the Rev. Terry Jones, a Florida preacher who gained notoriety last year for threatening to burn a Quran. Grisham, who is running for mayor, was holding a campaign rally.

You probably know Jones as the Quran-burning preacher from Gainesville. You may know Isom as the shirtless skateboarder-turned-Internet-meme who, while shirtless, broke up a planned Quran-burning in Amarillo by filching the Quran. You probably don't know David Grisham, but he was the preacher whose attempted Quran-burning was broken up by the shirtless Isom at a rally last August. Grisham is also the founder of Repent Amarillo, an organization devoted to waging spiritual warfare against strip clubs, gay bars, and the city of Houston. He also shot Santa Claus.

As you were.

Newt Gingrich's Lockheed Martin Love Affair

| Thu May 12, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

On Wednesday, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich kicked off his presidential exploratory committee with announcements on Twitter, Facebook, and Fox News. He's in it to win it: In 2009 and 2010, Gingrich raised more money than all of the other candidates combined. With his deep network of PACs and business ventures, the former Speaker has the resources to go along with the strong name recognition. But Gingrich still faces a serious adversary—his record. On everything from medical marijuana, to marriage, to Libya, Gingrich has a long history of making incendiary statements that bely his own actions. Take, for example, his campaign to weed out wasteful spending.

In his 2009 book, Real Change, Gingrich singles out Lockheed Martin and NASA for squandering taxpayer dollars on faulty equipment for the agency's Mars program. The ballooning costs and endless delays, he explained, were emblematic of the "kinds of waste and fraud that currently plague government programs." As he put it: "These cumbersome, bureaucratic companies can match the federal government's expertise in red tape... What matters is not the quality of their engineering, but the quality of their lobbying."

Rather than funneling money into a company operating with little oversight, Gingrich argued, we should let the marketplace place do the work, and hold prize competitions for new technologies.

It's not a terrible idea—in fact, it's similar to the plan put forth by President Obama two years ago. But there's just one problem with Gingrich’s framing: During his two decades as a congressman from Georgia, representing a district adjacent to a major Lockheed assembly plant*, there was no bigger advocate for the contracting giant's "cumbersome, bureaucratic" business interests than Newt Gingrich.

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