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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House of Pain: When Good Congressmen Go Bad

| Wed Nov. 24, 2010 9:28 AM PST

That man there on the left is Rep. Jonathan Cilley, a promising young Democrat from the great state of Maine. Or rather, he was a promising young Democrat, until his distinguished colleague, Rep. William Graves of Kentucky, a Whig, shot him in an 1838 duel. Like most duels, it was a little absurd; as the House website notes, "neither man had any known grievance with the other prior to the incident" (normally a deal-breaker). But Cilley had offended Graves' friend, and so Graves felt that it was only right—gentlemanly, even—to demand satisfaction on his behalf.

Never letting a good crisis go to waste, the House passed stringent anti-dueling legislation one year later in Cilley's memory, and then, in another timeless congressional tradition, totally ignored it. In 1860, six members convened for an epic 3 v. 3 gunfight in Maryland; that same year, one congressman challenged another to a battle with bowie knives.

And that was just the beginning. I dug up more than a dozen instances of our distinguished representatives in Washington beating the bipartisanship out of each other, police officers, and, occasionally, total strangers. Forget everything you've heard about how Washington is more polarized than ever before; armed confrontations are as much a part of the legislative process as backroom deals and motions to recommit. Check it out.

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Great Moments in Foresight (Andrew Johnson edition)

| Sun Nov. 21, 2010 10:31 AM PST

Over the weekend I was reading up on Andrew Johnson (don't ask) and stumbled upon what might be the least prescient editorial the New York Times has ever published. Context: Johnson has just taken the oath of office as Vice President visibly drunk, prompting critics to suggest that this might be indicitive of, say, a total lack of preparedness for the enormous challenges facing the nation. At one point during his address, he blanked on the name of the Secretary of the Navy and asked the audience; the man he replaced, Hannibal Hamlin, literally tugged on his coattails to get him to stop. When Johnson finally finished, he tried swearing-in the incoming class of senators, but "became so confused that he had to turn the job over to a Senate clerk." Cue The Times:

No man in this country has rendered, within his sphere, more substantial service to the Union cause, or earned more thoroughly the gratitude of the Union party than ANDREW JOHNSON; and we venture to predict that...he will abundantly vindicate himself from the slanders of his enemies, and the ungenerous misconstruction of some who have claimed to be his friends.

I demand a retraction.

Ron Paul: Abolish the TSA

| Fri Nov. 19, 2010 5:30 PM PST

Kevin Drum and Nick Baumann have already weighed in on the great-TSA-junk-groping-and-porn-scanner-freakout of 2010. Now, Texas Rep. Ron Paul has introduced legislation to fix the problem. Or simply fix one problem by creating a whole host of other problems; it's unclear, really. Thankfully, the bill is only 106 words long, which means that 1.) its opponents won't be able to dramatically wave a copy of the legislation on the House floor, and 2.) I can just copy and paste the bill below, in its entirety:

No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual's body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual's parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.

Paul might oppose physical violations of our civil liberties, but other liberties are fair game—which, as Adam Serwer notes, has sort of been the big elephino in the room during this whole debate. For instance, Paul told Fox News' Neil Cavuto afterwards that he supports profiling—so long as it's the privately owned airlines, and not the government employees doing the sorting. I wouldn't bet on the bill passing, but it should, if nothing else, make for a great campaign ad the next time he runs for president.

And if you haven't already, check out Nick's five-step plan for a saner TSA.

Ousted Texas Textbooks Czar: I Shall Return

| Fri Nov. 19, 2010 11:44 AM PST

Texas' textbook standards might not dictate the market like they used to, but the state still has a bigger public school system than just about any other state, so it's a pretty big deal when those standards encourage the teaching of, say, intelligent design or the collected works of Jefferson Davis. And for the last 12 years, the man who's done the most to lead the State Board of Education's rightward shift has been Don McLeroy, a dentist, Sunday school teacher, and board member who thinks liberals have taken the America out of American history and the God out of science.

Last spring McLeroy lost his primary and was thought to be just about done with public education. This week, McLeroy told the Texas Tribune, somewhat ominously, that he'll be back:

"I mean, golly, I love this stuff. You haven't seen the last of Don McLeroy," he says, noting that while he'll watch to see what happens during this legislative session's redistricting process, he'll likely run for his old spot on the board in two years.

Emphasis mine, obviously. But don't expect any fireworks from the Board's final lame-duck meetings. Members are set to discuss mathematics and fine arts, and while math has been subject of controvery in the past, McLeroy expects that debate to be "pretty blah," because—creeping Islamification of our textbooks notwithstanding—how can you politicize algebra?*

Islam Still a Religion, Tennessee Judge Rules

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 12:18 PM PST

Wednesday was judgment day in the Tennessee legal battle over a proposed Islamic community center in Murfreesboro. As I've noted before, the trial had been something of a circus, with the plaintiff's attorney, Joe Brandon Jr., asking local officials their views on pedophilia and spousal abuse, and warning that area Muslims are planning to, essentially, transform Middle Tennessee into Helmand Province. Here's his characteristically passionate closing argument:

"If this has been a circus, it's because they pitched a tent and brought the clowns," Brandon said. Brandon warned the court if they did not step in and stop the mosque that we might have another Waco on our hands. "Look at David Koresh. He had a religious institution until the government decided to load up their missile and blowed it up and killed everybody."

Terrifying. But also, ultimately, unpersuasive: after three months of testimony, chancellor Robert Corlew ruled that construction of the mosque could continue as planned, and that the city had acted properly in approving the project in the first place. Mischief managed! Or maybe not.

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