By now you've read about Florida GOP Rep. Allen West's unhinged email rant, in which he told Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who represents his neighboring congressional district, that "you have proven repeatedly that you are not a lady." (He also called her "vile, unprofessional, and dispicable.") West has since either apologized or not apologized, depending on whom you talk to, but one thing is indisputable: He and his opponents are going to milk this baby for all its worth.
On Wednesday, West fired off a fundraising email to supporters, painting himself as the target of the Democratic attack machine; Democratic groups like EMILY's List did their best to capitalize on the moment as well.
West says stuff like this all the time though, which raises the question: Is his crazy talk a political asset, or a liability? As it happens, Case Western Reserve University political scientist Justin Buchler has released a study (PDF) that answers almost that exact question:
[T]his paper proposes a measure of infamy for Members of Congress based on the frequency with which their names are used as internet search terms paired with epithets attacking either their intelligence or their sanity. Using that measure, the paper examines the statistical predictors of internet infamy. Not surprisingly, the results suggest that ideological extremism increases the likelihood of a legislator attaining such infamy, as does a leadership position in Congress...
The results in this paper suggest that infamy is more electorally harmful than beneficial. While infamous legislators raise more money than their lower-profile colleagues, their infamy also provides a fundraising boon to their opponents, and in House elections, infamy appears to have a direct negative effect on vote shares, at least for Republicans. Most surprisingly, these results are robust even controlling for ideological extremism.
A while back we told you about Rep. Michele Bachmann's longtime friendship with Jan Markell, the host of a radio show devoted to interpreting current events through the lens of Biblical prophecy. Bachmann has been a regular on Markell's program, where she's discussed topics like "one-world currency," an issue that adherents of Biblical prophecy believe to be a catalyst for the Antichrist.
Bachmann also attended and wrote a testimonial for one of Markell's annual conferences, where she praised another speaker who explained that natural disasters are God's punishment for betraying Israel. (Bachmann herself has said that the US will be cursed if it turns away from Israel.) Despite all of this, Bachmann has denied any knowledge of Markell or her ministry. According to Markell, though, the two have known each other for 30 years.
Now, in an interview with the American Family Association's OneNewsNow, Markell offers a personal endorsement for Bachmann: "This woman is a wonderful Christian; she is as pro-Israel as they come. I cannot speak highly enough of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and her stand on all things righteous."
Meanwhile, here's an excerpt from the most recent newsletter from Markell's ministry. It's written by another minister, Heidi Swandler, but Markell includes a statement saying that she endorses Swandler's prose. It includes this passage:
"The New Age is upon us and we are witnessing the birth pangs of the new culture and the new civilization. This is now in progress. That which is old and undesirable must go . . . The spirit has gone out of the old faiths and the true spiritual light is transferring itself into a new form which will manifest on Earth eventually as the New World Religion." So said occultist Alice Bailey (1880-1949) while under the influence of her spirit guide, Djwal Khul. As I wrote in an article last March, Bailey and her demonic counterpart actually laid the foundation for the New World Order. The New World Religion piece of that coming global order is advancing successfully on at least three fronts.
The author goes on to pinpoint Oprah Winfrey as a leading advocate of the New World Order and a global religion. (That explains her new cable network!) Kooky as this might sound, it's a pretty common view. One of the first orders of the business for the Antichrist in the bestselling Left Behind novels is to create a new world religion. Not coincidentally, he also goes about converting the world—the "Global Village"—to a single, global currency. In that context, Oprah's support for New Age spirituality is seen as an existential threat, and helps to explain why some people think she's a harbinger of doom.
Anyways, given the prevalence of that line of thinking, it would be somewhat extraordinary if Bachmann was not aware of the loaded connotation of "one-world currency" when she went on Markell's Biblical prophecy radio show in 2009 and used that exact phrase. It would be all the more so considering Markell herself mentioned the Antichrist in their interview. Was it a dog-whistle, or reflective of the congresswoman's beliefs? So far Bachmann has dodged such questions, but with 17 months to go before Election Day, it's hard to see that lasting.
The Dallas Morning-News reports that Texas Governor Rick Perry is distancing himself from some of the participants and organizers of The Response, his August 4th prayer and fasting festival in Houston. As the likely GOP presidential candidate explained, "Just because you endorse me doesn't mean I endorse everything that you say or do."
That's a pretty standard politician defense, and there's usually a little bit of truth to it. But this kind of misses the point. Sure, the event's organizers hold some wacky views (which we've written about here and here) but the larger point is that Perry is, by holding a rally at the organizers' behest, is consciously aiding a religious movement that has a clear and consistent purpose to bring the "seven mountains"—family, religion, education, business, arts, media, and government—under the dominion of Christians. For the uninitiated, the Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder has a must-read piece on the New Apostolic Reformation—the religious movement behind The Response:
The movement’s top prophets and apostles believe they have a direct line to God. Through them, they say, He communicates specific instructions and warnings. When mankind fails to heed the prophecies, the results can be catastrophic: earthquakes in Japan, terrorist attacks in New York, and economic collapse. On the other hand, they believe their God-given decrees have ended mad cow disease in Germany and produced rain in drought-stricken Texas.
Their beliefs can tend toward the bizarre. Some consider Freemasonry a "demonic stronghold" tantamount to witchcraft. The Democratic Party, one prominent member believes, is controlled by Jezebel and three lesser demons. Some prophets even claim to have seen demons at public meetings. They've taken biblical literalism to an extreme. In Texas, they engage in elaborate ceremonies involving branding irons, plumb lines and stakes inscribed with biblical passages driven into the earth of every Texas county.
That's a sampling. Perry, who has presented himself as a Moses figure leading Americans out of slavery at the hands of "Pharaoh" (i.e. big government), worked with movement leaders to plan The Response, and as Wilder explains, uses much of the same language when he talks about his goals. He's not accountable for specific pastors' views, on, say, Oprah (one participant believes she's a forerunner to the Antichrist). But his involvement with the group goes much deeper than standard guilt by association.
"Knock-knock." "Who's there?" "Would you like to donate to Rep. Bachmann's campaign?"
In November 2008, Michele Bachmann was in trouble. The incumbent Minnesota congresswoman was facing a Democratic wave and the backlash from comments she made questioning Barack Obama's patriotism, and polls showed her neck-and-neck with her challenger, former state transportation commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg. But at the last minute, some unlikely reinforcements arrived to give Bachmann a boost: kids.
Over the last week of the campaign, nearly six-dozen home-schooled students, some flown in from out of state, joined the Bachmann campaign, knocking on doors, sending out mailers, and making thousands of phone calls. The kids, all between the ages of 12 and 19, were members of GenJ Student Action Team, part of a national organization called Generation Joshua, which trains home-schooled students to become political activists. When the votes were counted, Bachmann held on to her seat in a squeaker—and she credited her child army with pushing her over to the top.
"We often hear that there aren’t young people in the Republican Party," she said in her victory speech. "I'm here to tell you that couldn't be further from the truth."
If Rick Perry runs for president—as looks increasingly likely—it'll be on a platform of small-government fiscal conservatism. As Texas' Governor-for-life (10 years and counting) he's reined in out-of-control government spending and made the Lone Star State an economic oasis through his business-friendly tax code. That's Perry's argument, anyway, but there are just a few holes. For one, there's the fact that as governor, Perry created a structural deficit—that is, Texas is guaranteed a $10 billion deficit at the start of every two-year legislative session because his administration miscalculated the amount of revenue Perry's new franchise tax would bring in. He's also been less than heroic in how he's gone about closing those deficits. Last month, Perry and his allies closed the state's $27 billion deficit through, as the AP put it, "accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013." You know, tough choices.
Perry has long promoted the state's fiscal record as a model for the country and a key to why Texas has weathered the recession better than most other states. He has opposed new taxes and been vehemently anti-Washington, and his message is drawing interest among Republican primary voters nationwide.
Yet before the latest one, the Texas budget had consistently grown during Perry's time as governor, with total spending rising faster than inflation and population growth, state data show.
What's more, spending through 2011, adjusted for population and inflation, rose more on average while Perry has been in charge than it did under his predecessor, George W. Bush, according to a Star-Telegram analysis.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Given the kinds of services Perry has cut, you could make a pretty good case that he should have pushed for much larger budgets. And as the story notes, the budget increase mostly comes from federal funding—like the stimulus—rather than state-specific policies (which have decreased). But that's a far more nuanced picture than the anti-Washington, anti-spending small-government ideology he trumpets.