Kevin Drum - 2012

Today's Dilemma for Conservatives

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 9:26 PM EST

This cracks me up:

Florida’s poor can use food stamps to buy staples like milk, vegetables, fruits and meat. But they can also use them to buy sweets like cakes, cookies and Jell-O and snack foods like chips, something a state senator [Ronda Storms] wants stopped.

....[Her] bill would also require the state to launch a culturally sensitive campaign to educate people about the benefits of a nutritious diet. Supporters say it would help recipients follow healthy eating habits and prevent taxpayer funds from being used to purchase luxury foods like bakery cakes when they can whip up a cheaper box mix.

What a dilemma. On the one hand, this bill promotes the exact same nanny-state behavior that Republicans howl about when Michelle Obama or Michael Bloomberg starts nattering on about salt consumption or fatty foods. On the other hand, it punishes welfare recipients, something that's always good for a round of applause from right-wing audiences. What's a conscientious conservative to do?  

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Bernie Goldberg on Conservative Bigotry

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 4:24 PM EST

I missed The O'Reilly Factor on Monday — I was probably in the middle of fighting with Expedia over some travel arrangements — but Bob Somerby tells us we missed a good one. Bernie Goldberg, the liberal-turned-conservative who's a regular guest, had something to say about the conservative campaign to get Ellen DeGeneres fired as a spokesman for JC Penney:

GOLDBERG: There's something that needs to be said, no matter how uncomfortable it makes some people listening to us. There is a strain of bigotry — and that's the word I want to use — running through conservative America.

It doesn't mean all conservatives are bigots or even that most conservatives are bigots. That's not what I'm saying. But there is a strain of bigotry, and it goes against gay people, for instance.

Ellen DeGeneres did nothing wrong. She's gay. Right? There is — reasonable people may disagree on gay marriage. That's fine. But to, but to call on somebody's dismissal to be fired, to lose her job because she's gay is bigotry. And I don't care how many people listening to us right now don't like that.

O'REILLY: Well, I mean, the argument though—

GOLDBERG: Let me say — let me say one other thing briefly, Bill. In the middle of the last century, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was another strain of bigotry on the right, and it was against black people. That has to leave the conservative movement.

I used to be a liberal. I became a conservative because liberals were a little too crazy for me. A lot too crazy for me, actually. But you know what? I am immensely uncomfortable with the bigotry on the right, and I don't care how many people don't like it. I am sick of it.

Bob thinks it's counterproductive to throw around charges of bigotry too casually, and I suppose I agree. At the same time, he was happy to see Goldberg say this on the air, and so am I. That's because the problem here isn't so much that there's a strain of bigotry on the right — there are strains on the left and the center too — but that conservative leaders are too tolerant of it when it wells up and conservative media are too willing to stoke it in order to goose ratings. That's the real crime, so it's nice to see Goldberg and O'Reilly call it out. I wish they'd do it more often, but good for them for doing it even occasionally.

Which reminds me: Bob is doing some fundraising for his site right now. I find him a huge pain in the ass on a bunch of levels, and I disagree with him about as often as I agree. That said, I also read him every day because he routinely talks about stuff that no one else on the left pays much attention to. It may not be obvious from my writing, but his site helps keeps me honest. He's worth donating a few dollars to if his stuff is up your alley.

Chart of the Day: Homegrown Terrorism Has Shrunk to Minuscule Proportions

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 2:16 PM EST

Today's chart comes from Charles Kurzman of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. It shows the steady decline over the past decade in indictments for support of terrorist attacks in the United States:

The number of violent plots carried out by Muslim-Americans was also down substantially in 2011, and virtually all of them were disrupted early. From the report: "Of the 20 Muslim-Americans accused of violent terrorist plots in 2011 only one, Yonathan Melaku, was charged with carrying out an attack, firing shots at military buildings in northern Virginia. Nobody was injured."

This comes via Dan Drezner, who notes some recent remarks by a Pentagon official that we might have been overestimating al-Qaeda's capabilities all along. Then some snark:

Now, I'm sure that the reason for this lull is that Al Qaeda's remaining assets in the United States are focusing their energies on getting all turkeys to become halal or something. That said, I'm going to continue to insist that the United States faces a much less threatening threat environment now than it did fifty years ago. Oh, and that I don't need to listen to Representative Peter King when he opens his mouth on national security issues.

Nobody is suggesting that the threat of homegrown attacks is zero. But it's very much a manageable, garden-variety law enforcement problem at this point. It's way past time for everyone to dial down the panic.

Today's Shopping Tip: 3D Clip-Ons

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 1:10 PM EST

And now for something completely different: a shopping tip. This is for my readers who wear glasses and like going to the movies. A few weeks ago I bought a pair of 3D clip-ons, and I'm here to tell you that they're great. More and more movies are being released solely in 3D — which means we're getting to the point where it's hard to avoid 3D even if you don't like it much — and trying to wear those clown-size theater 3D specs over your usual prescription glasses is a huge pain. The clip-ons are far more comfortable and unobtrusive, which makes them a great investment, especially since they only cost four bucks. And I suppose they can even double as ordinary clip-on sunglasses if you're into such things. Highly recommended.

Everybody Loves Drones

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 12:55 PM EST

The Washington Post has a new poll out that asks about drone attacks on suspected terrorists. Everybody loves them. What's more, two-thirds of the country likes them even if the targets are American citizens:

Greg Sargent says these numbers are even more depressing than they seem:

The number of those who approve of the drone strikes drops nearly 20 percent when respondents are told that the targets are American citizens. But that 65 percent is still a very big number, given that these policies really should be controversial.

And get this: Depressingly, Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35. Those numbers were provided to me by the Post polling team.

OK, that's depressing. But I guess I'd still like to dig into this a little further. How many people approve of these attacks on American citizens if they understand that there's no court judgment involved, no finding of guilt, no warrant, no nothing? Just the executive branch unilaterally deciding they need to be killed. It would be tricky to phrase this in a neutral way, but without it I don't think we really have a clear picture here. Most people, when they hear a question like this, aren't primed to think about any of these things, and probably don't give them any thought. They might feel differently if they did.

The Month of Santorum

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 12:13 PM EST

So Rick Santorum won three states last night. Does this mean we all have to pretend to take him seriously for the next three weeks? I'm feeling a little queasy over the possibility already.

At the same time, I'm getting ready to concede that my valiant efforts to show that Mitt Romney isn't really all that strongly disliked were misguided. Republican voters just don't like the guy, do they?

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The Hypocrisy Trope That Won't Die

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 8:37 PM EST

President Obama has publicly condemned the Citizens United decision and has publicly opposed the role of super-PACs in campaign finance. Recently, though, he signed off on a plan to actively support Priorities USA Action, a leading Democratic super-PAC that's had trouble raising as much money as its Republican counterparts. "We're not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back," explained Obama's campaign manager. "With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can't be unilaterally disarmed."

Is this hypocritical of Obama? For the thousandth time, no, no, no. The playing field is the playing field, and once a public policy has been legally put in place you'd be a sap not to play by the same rules as everyone else. If you oppose the mortgage interest deduction as a matter of policy, you still have every right to take the deduction as long as the rest of the country keeps it in place. If you're a Republican governor who objects to the stimulus bill, you'd be actively irresponsible not to take your share of the money once it's there. If you oppose earmarks, you still have an obligation to your district to take them as long as they exist.

This trope needs to go away. Seriously. Just deep six it. We should never hear this nonsense again.

Catholics Do Not Have a Deep Moral Objection to Contraception

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 7:50 PM EST

Should secular Catholic institutions (such as hospitals and universities) be required to abide by federal rules that say healthcare plans have to cover contraception? Or should they receive a conscience exemption from this rule, as churches themselves do?

Two new polls today shed some light on this question. The first one, from the Public Religion Research Institute, asked if all employers should be required to offer healthcare plans that cover contraception:

  • All Americans: broad agreement, 55%-40%
  • Catholics: broad agreement, 58%-37%

But maybe respondents weren't specifically primed to think that some employers are churches that have theological objections to birth control. So the second survey asked the general question first (getting similar results to the PRRI survey) and then asked specifically if Catholic hospitals and universities should be included:

  • All Americans: broad agreement, 57%-39%
  • Catholics: broad agreement, 53%-45%

In both cases, the numbers are much higher for Democrats and Independents. It's really only Republicans who object much, which strongly suggests that most of the objection is rooted in ideology, not religious conscience.

Now, there's obviously no reason that churches should be bound by opinion polls, but here's why this matters anyway: as I mentioned in passing a few days ago, it's important to understand whether contraception is truly a matter of contention in America. It's arguably reasonable, I think, for the government to tread carefully in areas where there's substantial, highly-charged controversy, such as abortion. But contraception just isn't one of those areas. Catholics agree with the new policy on healthcare plans at the same rate as other Americans; what objection there is, is mainly ideological, not religious; and as a much-cited Guttmacher survey shows, 98% of sexually-experienced Catholics use active methods of birth control. The takeaway from all this is pretty clear: conservatives may oppose the contraception requirement for ideological reasons (which is fine), but it's plain that contraception is simply not a moral hot button for Catholics. To put it plainly, it's not a matter of conscience. It's a matter of conscience only for a tiny number of men in the formal hierarchy of the Catholic church. That's it.

My position on this is plain: the church hierarchy's objection to birth control is medieval and barbaric. All those Catholic pundits raising hell over the new contraception regs should spend their time instead raising hell with their own church over a policy that's caused incalculable pain and misery for millions of women around the globe. Instead, they're all claiming that although they don't have any problem with contraception, they think the government should be more sensitive toward those who do. But it turns out there's practically no one who does. They're all pointing their fingers toward a group of people that barely exists.

When there's a societal consensus in a secular country, religious institutions have to accept that, and in America there's a virtually unanimous societal consensus on contraception. Americans don't have any problem with contraception. American Catholics don't have any problem with contraception. And on a public health basis, requiring healthcare plans to cover contraception is common sense. No one — almost literally no one — thinks there's any problem with it. It's a non-issue.

Chrysler is Just Trying to Sell You a Car, Okay?

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 4:24 PM EST

Matt Yglesias on the Chrysler Super Bowl ad that seems to have Karl Rove and the right-wing outrage machine in an uproar:

Apparently Clint Eastwood is personally upset that some people took Chrysler's "halftime in America" to be a positive commentary on the Obama administration.

This seems totally untenable to me. Whether Eastwood or Chrysler executives like to talk about it, the company—currently enjoying double-digit sales growth—would not currently exist today if not for the Obama administration…Whether you like what he did or not, there's no denying its impact. The automobile industry of the upper Midwest is still with us specifically because Team Obama chose to ensure that it would remain there.

I don't get this. It's yet another one of those things that I see, think nothing of at the time, and then subsequently learn has become a cause celebre.1 To me, this just seemed like an ad for Chrysler, very much in line with their campaign of the entire past year, which revolves around the "comeback" of Motor City and the grit and hard work that made it possible. I don't know if that's a good advertising theme or not, but it's the one they chose.

To say that Chrysler's ad is a commentary on Obama because Chrysler got bailed out is to say that every Chrysler ad is implicitly a commentary on Obama. Ditto for every Citibank ad and every AIG ad. That's crazy. They're ads for cars, bank accounts, and insurance policies. I think Jon Cohn probably has the right take here:

I have no idea whether Rove really believes Chrysler produced that ad in order to do President Obama a political favor.2 But the fact that he and other Republicans are so worked up could mean that they are scared—not of the advertisement itself, but of the themes it contains.

Those themes are optimism and national pride. As Salon's Joan Walsh noted on the Ed Show Monday evening, Republicans have basically owned those themes since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan won an election with them. But lately President Obama has been the one making the case that it's morning in America or, at least, just before dawn. He did it in the State of the Union and he's done it in a series of major speeches since.

…If the recovery continues, Obama will have a pretty powerful claim to reelection: That his economic policy choices, made in the face of fierce Republican opposition, are paying off. Rove knows this as well as anybody. I suspect that's the real reason he's so angry.

Yep. I suspect so, too.

1For the record, this happens to me nearly as often on the left as on the right.

2Actually, I think we do have a pretty good idea. He doesn't.

It's Almost Time to Boost the Economy. Almost.

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 3:16 PM EST

Ben Bernanke told Congress today that the long-term deficit is indeed a problem, but it's a problem for the long term. The best way to address it is to combine future budget tightening with present-day budget loosening, which will boost the economy and produce lower deficits in future years:

Bernanke raised concerns that a sharp, immediate push to reduce the deficit could harm the recovery in the upcoming months. In January 2013, he pointed out, the Bush tax cuts will expire, and the major spending reductions triggered by the Budget Control Act will take effect, absent any further action by Congress. As a result, “there will be sharp change in fiscal stance of the federal government. Without compensating action, it would indeed slow the recovery,” Bernanke told the committee members.

However, Sen. Pete Sessions (R-Ala.), the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, pressed Bernanke to answer whether the country’s current deficit was itself holding back the recovery and discouraging key market players. “They’re not reacting to the current level of debt. What they’re attentive to is the process,” Bernanke said, pointing to the political dysfunction that led to the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the US credit rating last year.

Roger that. But it's still a little too early, I think. If Congress takes action right now, it risks having an effect this year, thus helping President Obama. Better to wait until summer, when a sudden conversion to Keynesian pump priming will be timed perfectly to help the economy in early 2013, when a Republican might inhabit the Oval Office. Timing is everything in politics, after all.