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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Don't Talk About Welfare at Newt University

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 2:45 PM EDT

Newt University, the former speaker of the House's eight-hour, one-week Tampa lecture series on why America is really great, is a collaborative effort in which a host of GOP luminaries, businessmen, and industry groups talk about awesome things about America.

Gingrich is here today at the Wyndham Hotel in Tampa to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Harold Hamm, the billionaire oil baron who gave almost $1 million to the pro-Romney and—no hard feelings here—anti-Gingrich super-PAC Restore our Future, is here to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Sen John Hoeven (R-N.D.), is also here to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is here to talk about how North Dakota is…no, he's actually here to talk about energy independence.

The awesomeness of North Dakota isn't really why I'm here, though. I'm curious what Gingrich, the architect of the 1990s welfare reform push and more recently the man who accused Barack Obama of being a "food stamp president," thinks about the Romney campaign's roundly debunked attack on the president's welfare policies. Given that the charges are false, and Romney has followed up on his charge by accusing the president of wanting to "shore up his base" with handouts, some people think Romney is hoping to stir up historic animosity among white working-class voters.

There's a hitch, though. "There's no way in hell I'm letting you talk to him," says Gingrich's spokesman, R.C. Hammond.

So I asked West, the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, for his thoughts. No dice here, either. "You guys says there's a racial component for everything except when y'all attack me," he tells me when I ask about the welfare attacks. Twice, actually. "No, no, you guys say there's a racial component for everything except when you attack me. So don't even ask me about that silliness."

When Illinois Rep. John Shimkus (most famous for suggesting that God would protect the United States from climate change) finished his presentation at Newt U., I asked him what he thought about the racial implications of the welfare ads. "WHAT!? There's no increasing racial tone of this campaign." I asked him about the false claim, repeated in a recent ad, that Obama had eased welfare work requirements to "shore up his base."

"Does welfare only go to a racial population?" Shimkus asked. "I don't think so." At this point, Hammond, Gingrich's aide, piped in. "What's up with the Chris Matthews racism there?" he asks, a nod to the MSNBC host whom Gingrich has accused of being a racist for discussing the racial implications of the welfare attack.

"Come on, give me a break!" Shimkus said with a laugh, and turned away to greet an admirer.

The GOP's welfare evolution is Gandhi in reverse: First they fight you, then laugh at you, then they ignore you. No word yet on who wins.

Relatedly, here's my interview from Tuesday with Herman Cain, who is also adamant that there are no racial overtones in the welfare attack:

Barack Obama Did Sort of Run a Lemonade Stand

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 8:41 PM EDT

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte was reading from the GOP script on Tuesday when she told a mostly-full Tampa Times Forum that President Obama "never even ran a lemonade stand." It was a point the Republican party chairman, Reince Preibus, had made just a few hours earlier: "President Obama's never run a company," Preibus told the assembled delegates. "He hasn't even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand."

It's a compelling line designed to hammer home Mitt Romney's core message—the President has never worked a real job and he doesn't know anything about business. The problem is it's entirely false.

As Politifact detailed in 2009, in response to a similar allegation from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, Obama held a number of retail and food service jobs as a teenager in Hawaii—including scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, which technically doesn't serve lemonade but it does have a pink rasberry lemonade sorbet: 

1975 or 1976 — ice cream scooper, Baskin-Robbins — Honolulu — Obama claims to have lost his taste for ice cream during this, his first job, the duration of which is not publicly known.

Date unknown — deli counter clerk, business name unknown — Honolulu — Obama had a summer job at a deli counter in Hawaii, making sandwiches, his spokesman said during the presidential campaign.

1980 — gift shop sales clerk, business name unknown — Honolulu — Obama worked at a gift shop in Hawaii selling island souvenirs the summer after his freshman year at Occidental College in California.

As Politifact noted, Obama held private-sector jobs as an adult as well, including posts at a Chicago law firm and a New York City company that helped American companies do business abroad—exactly the kind of experience Romney is accusing Obama of lacking. It's a myth that hasn't received as much attention as Romney's debunked charges about Obama's welfare policies, but in accusing the President of being coddled and oblivious, it's no less pernicious.

At Anti-Abortion Bash, Todd Akin Is a Hero

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 5:10 PM EDT
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) speaks at a news conference in Chesterfield, Missouri, where he announced his plans to stay in the race for the Senate.

Social-conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly turned 88 two weeks ago, which, for the hundred or so anti-abortion activists gathered inside the front entrance of the Florida Aquarium on Tuesday, means it's time to celebrate with some treats—a five-foot-tall cake, a wall of vanilla cupcakes with chocolate bars on top, and a heaping platter of red meat.

Hosted by the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, the event in Schlafly's honor featured a cattle call of conservative luminaries—former Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, the Texas congressman famous for introducing the world to concept of "terror babies." Outside, Linda Pickering, a volunteer for a Florida-based group called All Pro Pastors, handed out "precious feet"—gold pins that purportedly replicate "the size and shape of a 10-week unborn baby's feet." Rep. Todd Akin's comments on "legitimate rape"  have thrown a wrench into the GOP's plan to win the Senate and earned stern rebukes from folks like RNC chair Reince Priebus. But at the aquarium, Akin's underwater campaign is nothing to be ashamed of.

"He's repeatedly apologized for it," said Gary Bauer, a longtime social-conservative activist and former GOP presidential candidate. "But I think if somebody's looking for extremism on the abortion issue, it's not an ill-chosen sentence in Missouri, it's the policies being promoted by the Democrats and the president, who favor all abortions with no regulations under any circumstance. That's the extremist position on abortion."

 

William Morgan, a delegate from Franklin, Tennessee, told me he'd seen a number of attendees proudly wearing Akin stickers on their jackets—"and none of them were from Missouri." As he understood it, Akin's comments were "dumb," but his main sin was being inarticulate. "By legitimate rape he meant rapes that are really rape," Morgan says, suggesting that women frequently make false accusations. "This was one dumb statement a politician that's been a congressman for 12 years," Morgan said. (Editor's note: Akin has said many dumb things in 12 years.) 

Precious feet."Precious Feet."

"The best statement I heard was one fellow who called into a radio show the other day and he said, 'I realized that the state motto of Missouri, we're the Show Me State. And Todd Akin has shown the voters of Missouri for 12 years he's the real conservative.'"

Still, even among the most ardent of pro-lifers, there's room for dissent. As the event was emptying out, I ran into Judy Wilson, a volunteer who was admiring a pamphlet declaring sonograms to be the "big guns" of the pro-life movement. Wilson thinks sonograms are tops; she works at an outpatient diagnostic center in the Tampa area and says in her 20 years there she's seen women break down and cry when they see the ultrasound. But she draws the line at Akin. "I don't think he speaks for very many people," Wilson said. "I consider myself pro-life, big-time pro-life, but I've got a window. And so my friends on the other side say I'm pro-choice, because I do have a window where I pick the lesser of two evils."

Herman Cain Goes Off (Video): "There are No Racial Implications" to Romney Welfare Ad

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 1:02 PM EDT

 

Herman Cain doesn't see what the big deal is about a roundly debunked Republican claim about President Obama and welfare. The charge, parroted in GOP talking points and a new Romney campaign ad (which a Romney strategist said Tuesday was the campaign's most effective one yet), is that President Obama issued an exemption allowing states to water-down the work requirements to receive welfare benefits. (The exemption, requested by Republican governors, actually did the opposite. It allowed states to adjust their work requirements, giving them the ability to make it harder to receive welfare benefits.)

The racial overtones of the welfare charge are not especially subtle (Newt Gingrich was accused of treading into equally racially-tinged terrain by calling Obama a "food stamp president" during the primary). With that in mind, I asked one of the GOP's most prominent African-American voices, former presidential front-runner Herman Cain, if he was troubled by the welfare ad. Answer: Hell no. Cain's aide said he was in a hurry to get inside the Tampa convention center, but when he heard my question he told his handlers to stop:

There are no racial implications! This is fabricated on the part of the Democrats. Man, I'm just sick of all this so-called racial implications. It is a fair ad that Governor Romney put out about welfare. And for the Democrats to continue to talk about racial implications, they are just trying to deceive people! I'm sick of it! There is only one color that matters in the American dream and that's green! And by the way, there are poor black people and poor white people, and poor Hispanics, so there are no racial implications. Thank you, I had to stop for that.

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