Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


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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Rep. Steve King: Minority Students "Feel Sorry for Themselves"

| Wed Aug. 22, 2012 8:00 AM EDT
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) came this close to following in his Missouri colleague Todd Akin's footsteps on Tuesday, when he told a local news reporter that he didn't know any women who had become pregnant from statutory rape or incest. (King's spokesman clarified that the congressman meant that he didn't personally know women who had gotten pregnant from rape, but understood, contra Akin, that it is biologically possible.)

But that doesn't mean he's off the hook. Facing his toughest-ever re-election fight against Democrat Christie Vilsack, King has only doubled down on the nativist rhetoric that's been his bread-and-butter in Washington. On Tuesday, trackers from the super-PAC run by the progressive phone service provider CREDO grabbed footage of King at a town hall meeting in Le Mars lamenting that minority students are falling for a communist victimization narrative promoted by student organizations. 

King, who recently sponsored a bill to make English the national language, launched into an extended rant on the perils of multiculturalism—which was only reinforced by a visit to Iowa State University, where he says he encountered 59 different student groups rooted in the idea. Merlin's pants! As he put it, "It started with Asians and it ended with Zeitgeist. So from A to Z. And most of them were victims groups, victimology, people that feel sorry for themselves. And they're out there recruiting our young people to be part of the group that feels sorry for themselves." 



Obscure Italian communist*: check. Karl Marx: check. Saul Alinsky: check check check. King has for years faced only token opposition in his rural western Iowa district, but in 2012 he faces a Democrat with serious upset hopes in Vilsack, the wife of the former governor-turned-Agriculture-secretary. King, who has previously flirted with birtherism and lamented America's emphasis on diversity, is banking that come November, his nativist ravings will be an asset, not an albatross.

*Update: By obscure I just mean that Antonio Gramsci is not as well known among conservatives as Marx and Alinsky, who need no introduction.

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Americans Find Online Political Ads Really Creepy

| Fri Aug. 17, 2012 11:59 AM EDT

It's never been easier for political campaigns to stalk you online. Visit a campaign website and you'll invariably find yourself swamped in fundraising pitches and web videos after you leave; talk about politics in your Facebook profile and you might find a Barack Obama ad the next time you log in. Microsoft and Yahoo are selling users' personal data, and political campaigns are buying it so they can better track you on the web. As Pro Publica's Lois Beckett notes, the Obama campaign maintains the right to collect  "information about how you use the campaign website, such as what you click on and which pages you view; data about how you interact with campaign email messages; and personal information you submit as part of blog comments, interactive forums or contests and games on the campaign's websites." Equipped with an ever-expanding trove of personal information, political ad buyers are able to send voters increasingly targeted messages.

But how do voters feel about this? According to a new University of Pennsylvania study (pdf) that examined voter attitudes toward online micro-targeting, the answer is "pretty queasy." Here's the takeaway:

We conducted this survey to determine what Americans say. We found that the percentage who do not want "political advertising tailored to your interests" (86%) is far higher than the still- quite-high proportions of the population who reject "ads for products and services that are tailored to your interests" (61%), "news that is tailored to your interests" (56%), and "discounts that are tailored to your interests" (46%). Moreover, we found that the rejection of targeted political ads is unrelated to political-party affiliation or political orientation. It also cuts across gender and age, and it while does vary with race and ethnicity the numbers opposing tailored political advertising are high across the board.

Likewise, the study found that 64 percent of adults said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate they knew was tailoring ads based on personal information (as most serious campaigns do), and 77 percent of voters said that if they knew a website was giving data to political advertisers, they'd stop visting the site. As the authors explain, "It's hard to escape the conclusion that our survey is tapping into a deep discomfort over behavioral targeting and tailored advertising when it comes to politics."

Those numbers should give political campaigns pause. But I'd add a caveat: Just because voters say something will affect their decision doesn't mean it actually will. For instance, voters tell reporters and pollsters all the time that they're sick of political campaign ads, but campaigns still run them non-stop because they think they work.

"Part of it weighing the cross-benefit," says Joseph Turow, the study's lead author. "If I find out that the Obama campaign is tracking me—which they are—does that mean that I'm not gonna vote for Obama, I'm gonna vote Romney? It's a cost-benefit." The larger point, though, is that "people are annoyed and upset about this, and they feel that it shouldn't be part of the political system, and they feel that the people themselves should have control over the breadth and depth of what information they get from politicians."

As of now, there's no real push for new privacy standards for political campaigns. But Turow's study suggests one possible explanation: Voters don't realize the extent to which their identities are already being mined. Most of the policies the poll respondents identified as potential deal-breakers are already standard operating procedure.

Anyways, I've got a piece in the next issue of the magazine (for which I interviewed Turow) that touches on this issue of political privacy, in the context of the Obama campaign's data-mining and mico-targeting operations. You should subscribe.

Insurgent Veterinarian Ted Yoho Beats Top Planned Parenthood Foe in Florida Primary

| Tue Aug. 14, 2012 11:30 PM EDT
Florida congressional candidate Ted Yoho (R)

Updated, 12:38 a.m., 8/15/12: Although Politico initially declared Stearns the loser, the incumbent has yet to concede. But he trails Yoho by 829 votes with 100 percent of the precincts reporting.

Update II, 1:27 p.m., 8/15/12: It's official: Stearns has conceded. Yoho will face Gaillot in November.

On Tuesday, in perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2012 cycle to date, Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns, a well-funded 12-term incumbent, lost his Republican house primary to Ted Yoho, a little-known large-animal veterinarian with no political experience. Stearns had expanded his profile over the last year by instigating a congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood, and held a 16 to 1 campaign cash advantage.

So how'd Yoho do it? Rumors of an FBI investigation into Stearns' conduct (for allegedly bribing another candidate to get out of the race) probably had some effect. Yoho also had some tea party support, although his platform—fighting "socialism," cutting taxes, curbing spending—didn't really distinguish him from the competition. In the wake of Tuesday's result, Yoho's only television ad—in which three men in suits (representing big government) eat out of a pig trough—has been the focus of most of the press attention:

The "Pigs" ad is something of a mixed metaphor, since tea partiers' qualm with Washington isn't that congressmen are pork; it's that they vote for it. For that reason, Yoho's earlier pitch, in which he talks with an actual George W. Bush impersonator about an upcoming fundraiser, is much more effective:

If that doesn't work, here's a song about Yoho's campaign—released by Yoho's campaign:

Now that he's won the nomination, Yoho's path to Washington is relatively smooth. The third district is solidly Republican, and the new Democratic nominee, J.R. Gaillot, has barely updated his campaign website (the "issues" page contains mostly dead links, although Gaillot tweets that he'll update it soon). Still, progressives can rest a little easier knowing they won't have Cliff Stearns to kick around any more.

Why the Romney VP App Wasn't a #Fail

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 12:25 PM EDT

Gawker's Louis Peitzman makes a claim I've seen a lot, especially from progressives, in the wake of Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate: The campaign kind of blew it. Not on the substance, mind you, but on the rollout. "I'm not saying this was a complete fail on the Romney campaign's part, but to pretend that they announced Paul Ryan exactly as they'd said they would — via smartphone app, and then in a joint public appearance — is just silly," Peitzman writes. "Instead of admitting they botched their plan to obfuscate, the Romney campaign is pushing a Hardy Boys narrative..."

Peitzman is missing something really important. The real purpose of the Romney VP app wasn't to break the VP announcement. Sure, that's how they pitched it. But the Romney folks (probably) aren't so delusional as to think they'd be able to keep a secret all the way up to the roll-out.

The VP app served the same purpose the Obama campaign's 2008 promise to text its supports its VP pick did: It was an excuse to collect your data. Although it was predictably scooped by the New York Times and CNN, Team Obama was able to collect 2.9 million phone numbers using this gimmick. Those numbers were used for fundraising and organizing efforts later in the campaign. (The downside: A glitch prevented half of Obama's text-message subscribers from receiving the announcement text.) Download the Romney VP iPhone app and it informs you that "By using this application, you may be placed on Romney for President Inc.'s contact list to receive campaign updates… Romney for President's regular Privacy Policy shall apply." Romney doesn't want you to be the first to know about his personnel moves; he wants your email and mailing address.

Since we don't know how many people signed up for the VP app—70,000 people have downloaded Romney's other app—it's too early to call it a rousing success for Romney. But it's not right to call it a #fail.

Ryan and Romney's Really Awkward Moment

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 10:53 AM EDT

Awkward. On 60 minutes, Ryan talks eliminating tax shelter loopholes as Romney tries not to look horrified. 

Mitt Romney and his newly anointed running mate Paul Ryan didn't make much news in their first joint interview of the campaign on Sunday on 60 Minutes. But one exchange stood out: When asked about the fairness of his tax plan by CBS's Bob Schieffer, Romney fought back against the suggestion that his policies would disproportionately favor the most wealthy. Here's what Romney said:

Fairness dictates that the highest-income people should pay the greatest share of taxes, and they do. And the committment that I've made is we will not have the top income earners in this country pay a smaller share of the tax burden. The highest-income people will continue to pay the largest share of the tax burden, and middle income payers under my plan get a break. Their taxes come down. So we're not going to reduce taxes for high income people and we are going to reduce taxes for middle income people.

Ryan went on to explain that he and Romney would make the system more fair by shutting down tax loopholes that exclusively favor the rich. (In other words, the kind of tax loopholes Romney has taken advantage of.)

There's a nugget of truth in Romney's claim that high-income earners won't pay a smaller share of taxes. He has not proposed replacing the progressive income tax with a flat tax (say, 20 percent for everyone), nor has he proposed giving the highest-income people a lower income tax rate than middle-class people. Under Romney's plan, many rich people will still pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than poorer Americans will.

But the larger point is way off. Contrary to Romney's assertion on 60 Minutes, Romney's tax plan would amount to an enormous tax cut for the highest earners while raising taxes on the middle class, the working poor, and everyone else in the bottom 95 percent. That's according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Here's how it works:

Tax Policy Center dataTax Policy Center data

Those changes are on top of current policy, which includes the Bush tax cuts. (Ryan's budget, as I noted earlier, would likewise raise taxes on the lowest earners while disproportionately boosting the uber-rich and cutting Romney's personal tax rate to just 1 percent of his income by phasing out capital gains and dividend taxes.) If Romney's new message is that he's still going to make top earners pay their share, it might be his most audacious spin yet.

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