Congress is out of session in August, which means that America's senators and representatives are touring their home states and districts, meeting with constituents at town hall forums. It is an American tradition of sorts, in which constituents attempt to make the case that Washington politicians are irresponsible, uncivil, and ill-suited for the task of governing—by yelling insults and shouting really loudly while other people are talking, sometimes at the behest of corporate astroturf groups. Democracy!
To wit: Josh Marshall flags this gem from Arizona Sen. GOP John McCain's event earlier this week:
Kelly Townsend, a Gilbert resident and member of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party, demanded that McCain apologize for a comment made last month on the Senate floor about "tea party hobbits."
As well he should; the more apt Lord of the Rings/debt ceiling analogy would have been to this scene. Continuing on:
Tea-party activists called McCain "out of touch" when the senator said he didn't know about United Nations "Agenda 21."One man described the initiative as a "takeover of the United States of America by taking over our farms."
"First, our firearms, then our farms," another man added.
McCain said no Congress would allow that to happen, but that didn't satisfy several in the room who subscribed to the theory.
As it happens, "hobbit" is an especially sensitive term for tea partiers for reasons that go well beyond name-calling (they prefer "halfling," I believe). As I explained last week, a not insignificant number of conservatives (including, to a certain degree at least, Michele Bachmann), believe that the federal government has basically handed over our future sovereignty to the United Nations through a treaty called Agenda 21. Never mind that the agreement, which broadly outlined a number of goals to promote sustainable development, was never ratified by Senate; the fear is that rural Americans will be booted from their land and forced to, as Bachmann put it, "move to the urban core, live in tenements, [and] take light rail to their government jobs." (David Samuels captured this fear quite well in his piece on the Montana bison reserve.)
So what would these urban dwellings look like? Some activists speculate that we will be forced to live in what London mayor Boris Johnson calls "hobbit homes." He means this is in a nice way, of course—ultra-sustainable dwellings that make use of the natural environment and would probably be quite comfortable, provided they’re built to scale; think some sort of combination of an Earthship and Bilbo Baggins' Bag End. But Johnson's description may have been a poor choice of words, and the anti-Agenda 21 activists have taken off with it. Unbeknownst to McCain, his use of the "h-word" hit a particularly sore spot for tea partiers.
Anyways, this all sounds kind of loopy—and it is—but it's worth keeping in mind that these views are entrenched among many on the far-right. Bachmann warned against Agenda 21 as a state senator; Glenn Beck brought the issue to Fox News; it's yet another way in which their ascendance marks a mainstreaming of the fringe.
Back in February of 2010, as he was cruising to a primary victory over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Governor Rick Perry was asked point-blank whether he would serve out his term if re-elected—or whether he consider throwing his 40-gallon hat in the presidential race. He was unequivocal: Nothing short of an untimely death could drive him out of Austin. "I have a lot of faith in the Lord I hope he's gonna let me live for four years and if he does I'm gonna serve out my governorship," Perry explained.
Rick Perry intends to use a speech in South Carolina on Saturday to make clear that he's running for president, POLITICO has learned.
According to two sources familiar with the plan, the Texas governor will remove any doubt about his White House intentions during his appearance at a RedState conference in Charleston.
It's uncertain whether Saturday will mark a formal declaration, but Perry's decision to disclose his intentions the same day as the Ames straw poll — and then hours later make his first trip to New Hampshire — will send shock waves through the race and upend whatever results come out of the straw poll.
The lesson, as always, is you should never trust anyone who "goes jogging in the morning packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow point bullets and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter’s dog."
More seriously, this announcement, which we've been speculating about for months, does stand to dramatically shake up the GOP race. Perry is the decade-long governor of the largest red state in the country and he's coming off a headline-grabbing revival meeting at a football stadium in Houston. His state's economy is less terrible than that of the rest of the country's and he should have access to the deep, deep pockets of folks like Swift Boat funder Bob Perry (no relation). There are many good reasons for why he might fall flat. But don't mistake the smirking, slow-talking governor for a—what's the word?—flake. Just ask Hutchison.
Ryan Lizza's excellent profile of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), which I mentioned earlier, frames the GOP presidential candidate as the product of a very particular brand of Christian conservative thought—one that extends far beyond the basic abortion–gay marriage axis. To wit: Lizza catches Bachmann touting the work of an historian who argued that the Confederacy was actually an Evangelical state that was raising blacks up from the depths of heathenism to a more even moral foundation. But the most interesting character in the profile is Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a theologian whose film, How Should We Then Live, Bachmann cites as life-changing.
As it happens, I've watched Schaeffer's movie (or at least much of it), and it's easy to see how various aspects of it rubbed off on Bachmann, then a student at Minnesota's Winona State University. The timing was fortuitous—America's heartland was emptying out and its urban cores seemed to be falling into disrepair. Schaeffer stepped in to make sense of the situation and prescribe a miracle cure: We could turn things around by learning from the mistakes of the past and getting back to our Christian roots. Take a look at the introductory segment, for instance:
That opening scene is scary, right? Those police sirens you hear are the sound of secular humanism in action. Schaeffer's arguing, essentially, that a relativistic society, built on a lesser belief system like that of the Roman gods, can do quite well when times are good and everyone's happy. But when things begin to head south, such societies lack the necessary fortitude to fight vice, and give in to their basest impulses—sex (Schaeffer goes on to discuss the "cult of the phallis" in Pompeii) and dependency (relying on government handouts).
As Lizza notes, things get downright conspiratorial: "In the sixth episode, a mysterious man in a fake mustache drives around in a white van and furtively pours chemicals into a city's water supply, while Schaeffer speculates about the possibility that the U.S. government is controlling its citizens by means of psychotropic drugs." That reflects an extreme level of distruct of government—but then, so does suggesting that we are locked in a United Nations plot to end resource extraction entirely, and warning that a moderate Democratic president will launch "re-education camps" for our children.
The first rule of Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign: Don't talk about Michele Bachmann. Matthew Spolar of New Hampshire's Concord Monitorscored a sit-down with the Minnesota congresswoman and GOP presidential contender and reports that it ended abruptly when he asked her about the issue that definied her career as a Minnesota state senator:
Bachmann cut off an interview last week as she was being asked a question about gay marriage and emphasized that she is focused on rebuilding the economy and repealing federal health care reform.
"I'm not involved in light, frivolous matters," she said. "I'm not involved in fringe or side issues. I'm involved in serious issues."
This is a trend. Here's the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, similarly recounting how his one-on-one with the candidate came to end: He asked one too many questions about Bachmann's ideological mentor, the theologian Francis Schaeffer:
As I started getting deeper into a conversation with her about Schaeffer, she abruptly ended the interview. She said she had to leave for an appearance on "Hannity" but would try to set up another time to talk. I didn’t hear from her again. Her press secretary later told me that Bachmann "wasn't comfortable with the line of questions, and that's why there wasn't a follow-up conversation."
Here's Davenport, Iowa's WQAD, detailing how it and other local stations were blacklisted by the campaign after they asked Bachmann about her Christian counseling clinic's practice of "reparative therapy," which seeks to cure gay people of their homosexuality:
The reporter asked a question about Bachmann's clinic and her husband. At that point, McClurg says the staffer took the microphone off of Bachmann, tossed it to the reporter and said their interview was over.
Here she is last month at the National Press Club, in response to a question about whether she still believes homosexuality can be cured:
My husband is not running for the presidency, neither are my children, neither is our business, neither is our foster children, and I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for the presidency of the United States.
And here she is in June, dodging the same question from Bob Schieffer:
"You know, I firmly believe that people need to make their own decisions about that," she said. "But I am running for the presidency of the United States. I am not running to be anyone's judge. And that's where I'm coming from in this race."
The Times' handling of some of the AFA's most incendiary rhetoric is puzzling. Here's an organization whose most visible representative, radio host Bryan Fischer, spouts blatantly racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-gay rhetoric. But, hey, while some people call that hate speech, there's always two sides of a story, right? Like "Adolph Hitler was a homosexual and that the Nazi Party was largely created by 'homosexual thugs.'" That, in the Times piece, is a "disputed theory," rather than a conspiracy theory made up by anti-gay zealots.
For real. The Times quote in full reads: "Mr. Fischer trumpets the disputed theory that Adolph Hitler was a homosexual and that the Nazi Party was largely created by 'homosexual thugs'— evidence, he says, of the inherent pathologies of homosexuality." Fischer has since gone even further, stating that today's gay rights activists are "literally" Nazis, who are waging a SS-style campain to crack down on dissenters. That's no surprise because both of those theories stem from the same book, The Pink Swastika, which posits that gay rights organizations in the United States are the intellectual heirs to the Third Reich and are attempting to use Hitler's repressive tactics to advance their radical agenda.
The problem is that the facts do not support Fischer's theory, and so inasmuch as we care at all about facts, his theory has not been "disputed," it has been "rejected" or "debunked." Ron Rosenbaum has published a pretty thorough takedown of the "gay Hitler" thesis—but his takedown is targeted at a reputable, relatively disinterested historian—which the The Pink Swastika's authors are not.
In reality, gays were targeted for extermination by Hitler, not recruitment. Bob Moser, who notes that somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 gays were arrested during the Third Reich, finds this quote from Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's security chief: "That wasn't a punishment, but simply the extinguishing of abnormal life. It had to be got rid of, just as we pull out weeds, throw them on a heap, and burn them." That is literally what the Nazis did to about 10,000 gay men.
The much larger problem here is that the question of whether or not gays are Nazis—and whether or not that argument is worth condemning—has somehow become a partisan issue. When the Southern Poverty Law Center classified the American Family Association and a handful of other social conservative organizations as "hate groups" earlier this year (on account of their frequent promotion of such debunked charges) the reaction from high-profile Republicans was swift. Dozens of congressmen, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) signed on to a letter of support for the organizations:
This is intolerance, pure and simple. Elements of the radical Left are trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues that are being considered by Congress, legislatures, and the courts. Tell the radical Left it is time to stop spreading hateful rhetoric attacking individuals and organizations merely for expressing ideas with which they disagree. Our debates can and must remain civil - but they must never be suppressed through personal assaults that aim only to malign an opponent's character.
On the one hand, conservatives accuse gay rights activists of reprising the worst tactics of the Third Reich. On the other hand, liberal groups call them out on it. See, both sides do it!