Kevin Drum

Kevin's Three Laws of Political Speech

| Sun Nov. 29, 2015 7:21 PM EST

Following the attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic on Colorado, we are having the usual spats over what kind of political speech is and isn't appropriate. Apropos of that, here are three things I believe. These are not universally fashionable at the moment, but I suppose that's all the more reason to lay them out yet again.

Nazi analogies are OK. Most Americans are not great students of history, and Nazi analogies are often just the most accessible way to make a historical point that you know everyone will get. Generally speaking, comparing a bit of behavior to the Third Reich doesn't mean you're literally accusing someone of being Hitler, and everyone knows it. We should all stop pretending otherwise. What's more, sometimes the comparison is actually apt. For example, pro-lifers claim to believe that abortion is murder, which makes comparisons to the Holocaust perfectly reasonable.

Obvious caveats: Don't be an asshole. It's easy to go overboard and trivialize Nazi horrors. This is both insulting and tedious. It also makes you look like an idiot, so have a care. Not everything deserves to be compared to Hitler.

There's nothing wrong with politicizing tragedies. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire prompted a sea change in views of workplace safety, and I think that was just fine. The 9/11 attacks increased public support for the invasion of Iraq, and I assume conservatives think that was just fine. More generally, what's wrong with politicizing tragedies? That's when people are paying attention, which means it's often the best time to mobilize public support to address the issues underlying the tragedy. That's what politics is for, isn't it? If liberals want to use the Planned Parenthood attack to raise public awareness of gun violence and access to abortion, they should go right ahead. If conservatives want to use it to raise public awareness of the number of abortions performed every year, they should feel free to try.

Obvious caveats: Don't be an asshole. Wait until we actually know what happened. Show some respect for the victims and their families. Don't lie. Never even hint that the tragedy was in some way deserved.

Talk is not responsible for extreme acts, especially by the mentally ill. Political speech is often fiery. It's often supposed to be fiery, and there's always a risk that a few unhinged listeners will react in extreme ways. That's a chance we have to take. If we rein in political speech to a level where there's literally no risk of anyone reacting badly, we'll have nothing but pabulum. Robert L. Deer might very well have been motivated to attack Planned Parenthood because he heard about them selling fetal tissue, but that doesn't mean it was wrong for activists to bring this to the public's attention.1

Obvious caveats: Don't be an asshole. If you're doing the verbal equivalent of hoisting a pitchfork and telling people to storm the Bastille, don't pretend to be surprised when they storm the Bastille. Directly inciting violence is both legally and morally wrong.

1It was wrong to lie about it, but that's a whole different subject.

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Ben Carson and the Conservative Grift Machine

| Sat Nov. 28, 2015 3:15 PM EST

In the LA Times today Joseph Tanfani and Maloy Moore have a great piece about the American Legacy PAC and its 2014 Save Our Healthcare campaign. It was fronted by Ben Carson, who starred in a video denouncing Obamacare and told viewers, "If you want to hold Washington accountable and truly save American health care, join me and sign our petition today." Needless to say, when you called the toll-free number, it turned out that Carson wanted more than just your John Hancock. He also wanted your Benjamins:

When Juanita McMillon saw his name, she was eager to get out her checkbook. “I think he is sincere, and I think he is honest, and I think he is exactly what we need,” said McMillon, 80, from the small town of De Kalb in northeast Texas. She gave $350....American Legacy raised close to $6 million in 2014 — and spent nearly all of it paying the consultants and firms that raised the money. Just 2% was donated to Republican candidates and committees, financial reports show.

“I’m really careful who I give money to, but I guess I did not read it close enough,” McMillon said, adding that she had never heard of American Legacy. “I prefer to give money to individuals, and I assumed, I guess, that Dr. Carson was getting my money.”

Though American Legacy didn’t raise much money for Obamacare-hating Republicans, it was a success at something else — finding people willing to give to Carson....When Carson entered the race, the campaign tapped those donors again. Donnell gave another $250 to the campaign, and McMillon another $450. Of the more than 4,000 donors to American Legacy, more than 25% also ended up giving to the Carson campaign, a Los Angeles Times analysis showed.

This is good reporting, but so far there's nothing all that new here. Conservatives have turned grifting into a high art, and Carson is just the flavor of the month. What makes this piece great is the response from Doug Watts, Carson's campaign spokesman:

Watts defended the American Legacy effort and offered assurance to donors. “I would say to those people, you did give to Dr. Carson,” Watts said. “They participated in the building of a list” of donors for the campaign.

Booyah! By giving money to Carson's anti-Obamacare campaign, you identified yourself as a soft touch who would give Carson even more money later on. And that's a big help. Of course, these elderly donors thought they were helping Carson fight Obamacare, because, you know, that's what Carson actually said. But what's the difference? Tomayto, tomahto.

Anyway, read the whole thing if you've got the stomach for it.

Republican Candidates Are Too Busy This Morning to Denounce Attack on Planned Parenthood Clinic

| Sat Nov. 28, 2015 11:55 AM EST

When I went to bed last night, none of the Republican presidential candidates had said anything about the horrific shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. But that was ten hours ago, and it's now nearly noon on the East Coast. Anything new?

As near as I can tell, no. No tweets, no statements, nothing on Facebook. On Twitter, Donald Trump is still blathering about how much he loves the disabled. Jeb Bush is tweeting about football. Ted Cruz hasn't put up anything new in over a week.1 Marco Rubio was "sickened" by the killing of Luís Diaz in Venezuela a couple of days ago, but is busy promoting his cold-weather bundle of Rubio gear today. Ben Carson is burnishing his foreign policy credentials by talking to refugees in Jordan. Carly Fiorina has been quiet since Thanksgiving.

But it's a holiday weekend, so maybe they've turned off the news to spend more time with their families. All 14 of them. Still, I know they're all resolutely opposed to terrorism and adamantly in favor of law and order, so I'm sure they'll issue uncompromising condemnations sometime soon. After all, we can't allow depraved attacks against health clinics on American soil to be met with silence that could easily be interpreted as backing down in the face of hate. Right?

1Oops. I was fooled by the fact that Cruz has his demand for President Obama to insult him to his face permanently at the top of his feed. But Cruz did indeed tweet something this morning. Here's the full version of his statement on Facebook: "My and Heidi's prayers are with the loved ones of those killed in Colorado Springs, with those injured, and with the first responders who bravely got the situation under control." Not exactly a stirring condemnation of violence, but I guess it's a start.

Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment

| Fri Nov. 27, 2015 6:50 PM EST

As you surely know by now, the latest round of Republican campaign cretinism came a few days ago when Donald Trump mocked a reporter with chronic arthrogryposis, which restricts the movement of his arms and hands. Today Josh Marshall posted a brief but spot-on explanation of why Trump is not only not apologizing for this, but going on the offensive over it:

If you're surprised that Donald Trump isn't apologizing for mocking a reporter's physical handicap and doesn't seem to be paying any price for it, let me help. Half of rightwing politics is about resentment over perceived demands for apologies. Apologies about race, about fear of Muslims, about not being politically correct, about not liking the losers and the moochers, about Christmas, about being being white. This will hurt Trump about as much as going after Megyn Kelly did. Remember: his biggest applause line at the first GOP debate came for calling Rosie O'Donnell a fat slob.

About half the juice of far-right politics in this country is rooted in refusing to apologize when 'elites' or right thinking people reprove you for not being 'politically correct.'

The thing about Trump is that he talks as if he's sitting at home with a couple of his buddies. In settings like that, lots of us make casually derisive remarks that we wouldn't make in public.1 But Trump does say it in public, and to his supporters that's great. He's finally saying the stuff that they're quite sure everybody says in private.

The giveaway was this bit from Trump about Kovaleski: "He should stop using his disability to grandstand and get back to reporting for a paper that is rapidly going down the tubes." That's what Trump's fans think is going on all over the place. The blacks, the Hispanics, the disabled, the immigrants, the poor: sure, they've got problems, but who doesn't? They're just making a big deal out of it in order to gain sympathy and government bennies that the rest of us have to pay for. And the worst part is that you know what everyone else is already thinking about this claptrap, but you get in trouble if you say it. Republican candidates have tapped this vein of resentment for years, but usually in coded ways that won't get them in too much hot water. Trump just dives in. Other politicians may have paved the way, but it's Trump who's finally figured out how to turn it into electoral gold.

1Yes, I do it too, and no, for obvious reasons I'm not going to tell you what my sore spots are.

Friday Cat Blogging - 27 November 2015

| Fri Nov. 27, 2015 2:13 PM EST

I am an idiot. Yesterday, in a fit of bad timing, my camera chose to tell me its memory card was getting full. I had already transferred all the photos to my PC, so I went ahead and deleted everything on the card. Today, I went looking for a terrific Thanksgiving-themed picture of Hilbert that I took a couple of weeks ago, and....I really don't have to finish this story, do I? It turned out I had transferred everything except for about 50 pictures taken two weeks ago. For some reason, I missed those. File recovery restored a bunch of deleted photos, but not the Hilbert pics.

It was a really great picture, too. But I guess you'll never see it. Luckily, my sister-in-law came up for dinner yesterday and brought her dogs. So today you get a very special edition of Friday catblogging starring Rupert the dog. Isn't he cute? There are no Thanksgiving pictures of the cats available because they were both upstairs hiding under the bed. They're such brave little furballs.

The Fabulous Memory of Donald Trump

| Fri Nov. 27, 2015 1:20 PM EST

Donald Trump on the reporter he mocked a few days ago:

Serge Kovaleski must think a lot of himself if he thinks I remember him from decades ago — if I ever met him at all, which I doubt I did.

Serge Kovaleski on Donald Trump:

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Kovaleski said that he met with Mr. Trump repeatedly when he was a reporter for The Daily News covering the developer’s business career in the late 1980s, before joining The Post. “Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Mr. Kovaleski said. “I’ve interviewed him in his office,” he added. “I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at The Daily News.”

Donald Trump again:

I have the world's greatest memory. It's one thing everyone agrees on.

Donald Trump yet again, during the third Republican debate on October 28:

BECKY QUICK: You had talked a little bit about Marco Rubio. I think you called him "Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator" because he was in favor of the H-1B visas.

 DONALD TRUMP: I never said that. I never said that.

In fact, Trump had said exactly that in his own immigration plan six weeks earlier. There are legions of examples like this. Perhaps Trump's memory isn't quite as infallible as he thinks? Or maybe his memory is great but he's a serial liar? Decisions, decisions.

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My Annual Black Friday Post — This Year With Global Updates!

| Fri Nov. 27, 2015 8:00 AM EST

According to the retail industry, "Black Friday" is the day when retail profits for the year go from red to black. Are you skeptical that this is really the origin of the term? You should be. After all, the term Black ___day, in other contexts, has always signified something terrible, like a stock market crash or the start of the Blitz. Is it reasonable to think that retailers deliberately chose this phrase to memorialize their biggest day of the year?

Not really. But to get the real story, we'll have to trace its origins back in time. Here's a 1985 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

[Irwin] Greenberg, a 30-year veteran of the retail trade, says it is a Philadelphia expression. "It surely can't be a merchant's expression," he said. A spot check of retailers from across the country suggests that Greenberg might be on to something.

"I've never heard it before," laughed Carol Sanger, a spokeswoman for Federated Department Stores in Cincinnati…"I have no idea what it means," said Bill Dombrowski, director of media relations for Carter Hawley Hale Stores Inc. in Los Angeles…From the National Retail Merchants Association, the industry's trade association in New York, came this terse statement: "Black Friday is not an accepted term in the retail industry…"

Hmm. So as recently as 1985 it wasn't in common use nationwide. It was only in common use in Philadelphia. But why? If we go back to 1975, the New York Times informs us that it has something to do with the Army-Navy game. The gist of the story is that crowds used to pour into Philadelphia on the Friday after Thanksgiving to shop, they'd stay over to watch the game on Saturday, and then go home. It was the huge crowds that gave the day its bleak name.

But how old is the expression? When did it start? If we go back yet another decade we can find a Philly reference as early as 1966. An advertisement that year in the American Philatelist from a stamp shop in Philadelphia starts out: "'Black Friday' is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. 'Black Friday' officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing."

But it goes back further than that. A couple of years ago I got an email from a Philadelphia reader who recalled the warnings she got from the older women at Wanamaker's department store when she worked there in 1971:

They warned me to be prepared for the hoards of obnoxious brats and their demanding parents that would alight from the banks of elevators onto the eighth floor toy department, all racing to see the latest toys on their way to visit Santa. The feeling of impending doom sticks with me to this day. The experienced old ladies that had worked there for years called it "Black Friday."

"For years." But how many years? Ben Zimmer collects some evidence that the term was already in common use by 1961 (common enough that Philly merchants were trying to change the term to "Big Friday"), and passes along an interview with Joseph Barrett, who recounted his role in popularizing the expression when he worked as a reporter in Philadelphia:

In 1959, the old Evening Bulletin assigned me to police administration, working out of City Hall. Nathan Kleger was the police reporter who covered Center City for the Bulletin. In the early 1960s, Kleger and I put together a front-page story for Thanksgiving and we appropriated the police term "Black Friday" to describe the terrible traffic conditions. Center City merchants complained loudly to Police Commissioner Albert N. Brown that drawing attention to traffic deterred customers from coming downtown. I was worried that maybe Kleger and I had made a mistake in using such a term, so I went to Chief Inspector Albert Trimmer to get him to verify it.

So all the evidence points in one direction. The term originated in Philadelphia, probably sometime in the 50s, and wasn't in common use in the rest of the country until decades later. And it did indeed refer to something unpleasant: the gigantic Army-Navy-post-Thanksgiving day crowds and traffic jams, which both retail workers and police officers dreaded. The retail industry originally loathed the term, and the whole "red to black" fairy tale was tacked on sometime in the 80s by an overcaffeinated flack trying to put lipstick on a pig that had gotten a little too embarrassing for America's shopkeepers. The first reference that I've found to this usage was in 1982, and by the early 90s it had become the official story.

And today everyone believes it, which is a pretty good demonstration of the power of corporate PR. But now you know the real story behind Black Friday.

UPDATE: Last year, the future of Black Friday was global domination. This year, the future of Black Friday is....better decorum?

Last year, British retail chains embraced Black Friday as a way to get a jump-start on the holiday shopping season. What followed was, as the Brits would say, a shambles....Now, retailers are following a different tack. Some are simply abandoning the shopfest. Others will still do Black Friday, despite the frenzy, because shoppers will be buying....But the day will be a bit more subdued. More refined. More, well, British.

Walmart’s Asda chain was among the first British merchants to adopt Black Friday in 2013, and it’s leading the retreat. Its decision to drum up publicity at one London store last year backfired spectacularly when camera crews filmed hordes of shoppers barging through the doors and fighting over an inadequate number of cheap smartphones and video games. To prevent a repeat of the unseemly drama, Asda canceled Black Friday this year and will spread its discounting from November into January. “Black Friday in its current guise has gone,” says Asda Chief Executive Officer Andy Clarke. “It will be interesting to see how many retailers continue it next year.”

I feel certain this is just a temporary setback. America may lead the world in displays of unfettered greed, but it's a universal human aspiration. It's just that it takes a little while to get used to an annual spectacle based on huge mobs of people trampling widows and orphans in order to get good deals on smartphones. But the Romans got used to it,1 and it helped them forge an empire.

Elsewhere, the American tradition of post-Thanksgiving shopping mobs is being imported as Vendredi Noir, Viernes Negro, and plain old English Black Friday. It has now made its way into Colombia, Bolivia, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, South Africa, Nigeria, Lebanon, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Australia, India, and Mexico. Its foothold is still tentative, possibly because in these countries today is just another Friday. It's not even a day off work, as God intended. But fear not. Like Halloween, Black Friday is yet another vulgar American holiday that will soon wrap its clammy tentacles around households throughout the world.

1Though in their case, it was mobs of people rushing the Mercatus Traiani for Saturnalia deals on dormouse pie with oyster sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving!

| Thu Nov. 26, 2015 11:53 AM EST

Aren't they cute when they're asleep? In reality, of course, they're just storing up energy for later. They will strike when all the humans are sated with turkey and don't have the energy to fight back.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And remember: no shopping today. Tomorrow is soon enough. Fight the power.

A Stunning Series of Screw-Ups Led to October's US Strike on an Afghan Hospital

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 3:29 PM EST

The Pentagon has completed its investigation of the US attack on a hospital in Afghanistan operated by Doctors Without Borders, and it paints a grim picture. Gen. John Campbell, the top commander in Afghanistan, delivered a summary of the investigation today:

According to the military's investigation, the special operations gunship had sought to attack a building suspected of being used as a base by Taliban insurgents, but the plane's onboard targeting system identified the coordinates as an open field. The crew decided to open fire on a nearby large building, not knowing that it was the Doctors Without Borders hospital.

....When the gunship flew closer, its targeting system "correctly aligned" with the intelligence building, not the hospital, but the crew ignored the system, he said. The AC-130 aircraft had launched more than an hour early "without conducting a normal mission brief" or receiving a list of locations that it was barred from attacking, including the hospital, he said.

....A minute before the gunship started firing, the crew transmitted the coordinates of their target to their headquarters at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, giving the accurate location of the hospital, Campbell said. The headquarters "did not realize that the grid coordinates for the target matched a location on the no-strike list," he said.

In summary: the gunship crew left without getting briefed. Their targeting system malfunctioned, so they decided to open fire on the nearest large building instead. When the targeting system later found the right building, the crew ignored it. And when they sent coordinates to headquarters, nobody there matched it up with their no-strike list.

If this is the whole truth, it's a pretty stunning series of screw-ups. If it's not the whole truth, then something even worse happened. We may never know which.

Why Did Democrats Lose the White South?

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 1:48 PM EST

Modern conservatives are oddly fond of pointing out that it was Democrats who were the party of racism and racists until half a century ago. There's always an implied "Aha!" whenever a conservative mentions this, as though they think it's some little-known quirk of history that Democrats try to keep hidden because it's so embarrassing.

It's not, of course. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, and Republicans were the face of Reconstruction and voting rights for blacks after the Civil War. Because of this, the South became solidly Democratic and stayed that way until World War II. But in the 1940s, racist white southerners gradually began defecting to the Republican Party, and then began defecting en masse during the fight over the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But wait: the 1940s? If Southern whites began defecting that early, then partisan changes in racial tolerance couldn't have been their motivation. Right?

But it was. The Civil Rights movement didn't spring out of nothing in 1964, after all. Eleanor Roosevelt was a tireless champion of civil rights, and famously resigned from the DAR when they refused to allow singer Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall in 1939. FDR was far more constrained by his need for Southern votes in Congress—and it showed in most New Deal programs—but the WPA gave blacks a fair shake and Harold Ickes poured a lot of money into black schools and hospitals in the South. In 1941 FDR signed a nondiscrimination order for the national defense industry—the first of its kind—and he generally provided African-Americans with more visibility in his administration than they had ever enjoyed before. After decades of getting little back from Republicans despite their loyal support, this was enough to make blacks a key part of the New Deal Coalition and turn them into an increasingly solid voting bloc for the Democratic Party.

From a Southern white perspective, this made the Democratic Party a less welcoming home, and it continued to get less welcoming in the two decades that followed. Harry Truman integrated the military in 1948, and Hubert Humphrey famously delivered a stemwinding civil rights speech at the Democratic convention that year. LBJ was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1957, while Republican Dwight Eisenhower was widely viewed—rightly or wrongly—as unsympathetic to civil rights during the 1950s.

In other words, Southern whites who wanted to keep Jim Crow intact had plenty of reasons to steadily desert the Democratic Party and join the GOP starting around World War II. By the early 60s they were primed and ready to begin a massive exodus from the increasingly black-friendly Democratic Party, and exit they did. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP nominee, refused to support the Civil Rights Act that year, and influential conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley were decidedly unfriendly toward black equality. This made the Republican Party more and more appealing to Southern white racists, and by 1968 Richard Nixon decided to explicitly reach out to them with a campaign based on states' rights and "law and order." Over the next two decades, the Democratic Party became ever less tolerant of racist sentiment and the exodus continued. By 1994, when Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich won a landslide victory in the midterm elections, the transition of the white South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican was basically complete.

This history is what makes the conservative habit of pointing out that Democrats were the original racists so peculiar. It's true, but it makes the transformation of the party even more admirable. Losing the South was a huge electoral risk, but Democrats took that risk anyway. That made it far more meaningful and courageous than if there had been no price to pay.

Despite all this, conservatives still like to argue that the surge in Southern white support for the Republican Party was driven not by racism, but by other factors: economic growth; migration from other regions; and by the evolution of Democratic views on redistribution, free speech, abortion, and other issues. Unfortunately, it's hard to find quantitative data that can settle this dispute.

But a couple of researchers recently found some: Gallup poll data starting in the late 50s that asks if you'd be willing to vote for a qualified presidential candidate who happened to be black. Respondents who answered no were coded (quite reasonably) as racially conservative. They then looked at differences between the Democratic Party ID of Southern whites who were and weren't racially conservative. Here's their conclusion:

We find that except for issues involving racial integration and discrimination, whites in the South and elsewhere have indistinguishable preferences on both domestic and foreign policy in the 1950s....We find no evidence that white Southerners who have negative views of women, Catholics or Jews differentially leave the Democratic party in 1963; the exodus is specific to those who are racially conservative. Finally, we find no role for Southern economic development in explaining dealignment.

The charts on the right show one specific data point: JFK's televised civil rights speech of June 11, 1963. Among Southern whites, approval of JFK plummets right at that moment (top chart). And in the Gallup polls, racially conservative Southern whites leave the party in droves (bottom chart). This is not a steady decline. It's a sharp, sudden exodus at a specific moment in time.

So: why did Democrats lose the white South? For the reason common sense and all the evidence suggests: because the party became too liberal on civil rights, and racist white Southerners didn't like it. Southern white flight from the party began in the 1940s, took a sharp dive in the early 60s, and continued to decline for several decades after as Democrats became ever more committed to black equality. This might not be the only reason for Southern realignment, but it's surely the most important by a long stretch.

For more on both this study and the Southern Strategy of the Nixon era, Wonkblog's Max Ehrenfreund has you covered.