Mojo - August 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 16, 2011

Tue Aug. 16, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

US Army Spc. John "Rocky" Montoya scans his sector while on a combat patrol to sweep for roadside bomb triggermen in the Alingar district in Afghanistan's Laghman province, Aug. 7, 2011. Montoya is a M2 gunner assigned to the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team, which serves as a quick reaction force to respond at a moment's notice to unexpected incidents in the province. Photo by the US Army.

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Must-Reads: The Late, Great Molly Ivins on Rick Perry

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Humorist and author Molly Ivins, 1944-2007.

As Texas Gov. Rick Perry embarks on his Obama-bashing, evangelical-courting, tea party-outdoing campaign for the presidency, we miss Molly Ivins more than ever.

The late and celebrated liberal columnist was known as a writer of sparkling political commentary infused with a trenchant wit and copious shots of zero-bullshit humor. She was the consummate Texan, a ferocious populist critic of the American right wing, and a sorely missed Mother Jones contributor. Here's the C-SPAN footage of Ivins speaking at a Mother Jones fundraising event in 1992:

Ivins also had a special place in her heart for delivering blistering, bold critiques of Perry's track record as a governor, a poor thinker, and an even worse obfuscator. She was, after all, the writer who bestowed upon Perry the nicknames "The Coiffure" and "Governor Goodhair."

Here are a few highlights of Ivins tearing apart Perry's stances on the death penalty, creationism, and taking dirty money from Enron.

In this Nation article from the advent of the Bush years, Molly Ivins makes one of her first observations of just how damn good Rick Perry's hairdo is:

Bush was replaced by his exceedingly Lite Guv Rick Perry, who has really good hair. Governor Goodhair, or the Ken Doll (see, all Texans use nicknames—it's not that odd), is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But the chair of a major House committee says, "Goodhair is much more engaged as governor than Bush was." As the refrain of the country song goes, "O Please, Dear God, Not Another One."

During the "grand old slugfest" between incumbent Perry and the Democratic challenger, Tony Sanchez, Ivins highlighted Perry's misleading smear campaign against his opponent, as well as his eyebrow-raising deployment of the word "coincidental":

This, in turn, brings up the interesting role of coincidence in the life of Gov. Goodhair. Last summer, the Guv appointed an Enron executive to the state's Public Utilities Commission and, the next day, Perry got a check for $25,000 from Ken Lay. He explained this, to everyone's satisfaction, as being "totally coincidental."

When the next gubernatorial election cycle came around in Texas, Ivins had even more to say and write about Perry's inadequacies. In her crosshairs this time: the faux-swagger that characterized his debating style:

The Coiffure was in his usual form. As one opponent after another attacked his record, Gov. Rick Perry stood there proudly behind that 35 percent voter support he has so richly earned and simply disagreed. The Coiffure seemed to consider blanket denials a fully sufficient and adequate response.

Over the weekend, the Sacramento Bee published its own collection of Ivins's editorial digs at Perry first printed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Here is one excerpt, from an article originally published on January 12, 2006, in which Ivins rages against the governor's attempts at sleazy political sleight of hand:

The governor of Texas is despicable. Of all the crass pandering, of all the gross political kowtowing to ignorance, we haven't seen anything this rank from Gov. Goodhair since…gee, last fall.

Then he was trying to draw attention away from his spectacular failure on public schools by convincing Texans that gay marriage was a horrible threat to us all. Now he's trying to disguise the fact that the schools are in free-fall by proposing that we teach creationism in biology classes.

Now here's a droll, scathing one from June 24, 2001, on Perry's record on executing mentally handicapped inmates:

First, we Texans would like to salute the only governor we've got, Rick "Goodhair" Perry, the Ken Doll, for vetoing the bill to outlaw executing the mentally retarded.

We are Texas Proud.

Such a brilliant decision—not only is Texas now globally recognized for barbaric cruelty, but a strong majority of Texans themselves (73 percent) would prefer not to off the retarded.

Gov. Goodhair's decision—in the face of popular opinion, the Supreme Court and George W. Bush's recent conversion on this subject—is a testament to his strength of character.

Or something.

His Perryness announced, anent the veto, that Texas does not execute the retarded. I beg your pardon, Governor. Johnny Paul Penry, now on Death Row for a heart-breaking murder and the subject of two Supreme Court decisions, has an IQ between 51 and 60, believes in Santa Claus and likes coloring books.

And that's not counting the other six we know about for sure since 1990.

Michele Bachmann, Superstar

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is running a celebrity-style campaign for the White House.

The clearest sign yet that Michele Bachmann is not running a typical campaign for the presidency came at the end of her address Sunday night at the Black Hawk County GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner in Waterloo, Iowa. Speaking in her hometown, and taking the stage minutes after her newest, biggest competitor in the race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Bachmann had a surprise planned to celebrate her victory at the Ames Straw Poll.

"One thing I learned when I was little was if you come to say thank you to someone, it's a good idea if you can give them something," she said. "Have you ever been to Machine Shed restaurant? Well, I went to Machine Shed restaurant on my way here today, and I thought there is nothing more American than apple pie. And I brought the biggest, baddest, deepest apple pie that I could for you tonight."

Apple pie had already been served for dessert, which Bachmann missed because she showed up late and waited in the parking lot until Perry's speech was finished. But never mind that; she had the floor and she was rolling now. "I remember when I was a little girl at the mother-daughter banquet over at First Lutheran Church, one thing they'd always do, they'd put a piece of masking tape under a folding chair and then they'd look under your chair to see who wins the prize," she said. "Soooo—tonight this is how we're going to do it: I would like to give this apple pie to the oldest—if you don't mind—Republican mother in the room. So let's see, do we have anybody who's over 39?"

When it was all over, two standing ovations later, a 100-year-old Republican mother named Mary had come home with the biggest, baddest, deepest apple pie in Waterloo and the audience that had been so smitten with Perry moments earlier was reminded of what had made Bachmann such a political force in the first place. And Bachmann had one last treat for the crowd. "I've got some Sharpie pens," she said. "So if any of you are here and want some T-shirts and some autographs, I'd be more than happy to give them to you."

Politicians do not normally end campaign events by giving away prizes, daytime television-style, or inviting attendees to come up to the stage and ask them for their signature. That kind of thing tends to make you look like a celebrity, and "celebrity" is a dirty word among politicians, second only, perhaps, to "politician." Witness this memorable John McCain spot from 2008:

As Dave Weigel pointed out in Slate on Monday, though, celebrity has become the defining element of Bachmann's campaign in Iowa so far.

Bachmann's "Meet Me in Ames" tour was more like the blitz you see before an election. Over one week in Iowa, before the straw poll, I saw her speak five times. A stage was set up outside, where cameras could get good, sun-bleached shots. Voters were urged to stand close to the stage or behind it—also for good shots. As "Promised Land" played, Bachmann's bus came into view; during the second playing she exited it. She spoke for roughly 20 minutes. When her speech ended, she stayed on the stage to shake hands, sign autographs, and get buttonholed in very short "thank-you-for-what-you're-doing" conversations. Only once did I see her break the format, with a town hall meeting on Monday that featured five audience questions.

Likewise, when I waited for an hour along with more than 100 others at the Iowa State Fair to hear Bachmann speak on Friday, she showed up 30 minutes late, spoke for four minutes (out of the allotted 30), and left in a mob of state troopers, press, and campaign staffers. All of that speaks to just how tightly Bachmann's handlers are managing all aspects of her candidate's image—stonewalling on unfavorable questions and turning her events into miniature rock shows (she entered the Electric Ballroom with Elvis blaring in the background and insisted that the lights be changed before she would come on stage). That might not be a terrible strategy; if the number of supporters who left bearing autographed blue T-shirts was any indication, the "celebrity" tag is part of Bachmann's appeal.

Back in Waterloo, Bachmann finished off her night with a quick press conference, which, it turned out, was mostly an excuse for the candidate to get a few more quick photos of her holding a copy of Sunday's Waterloo Courier, her Ames victory splashed across the front page. In case anyone had forgotten, she announced her name and current occupation—"My name's Michele Bachmann, and I'm running for president"—and took three quick questions from preselected reporters. Then she stood on the steps of the bus, holding up the newspaper triumphantly once more, just as she had done on stage at the beginning of her speech, and spoke as if the gaggle of flip-cams and boom mikes and pens-and-pads were just another fawning audience holding out for some red meat.

"Thank you! Thank you!" she said, and vanished into the bus.

Michele Bachmann Wants it Both Ways on Gay Marriage

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 3:20 PM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is running for president.

I have a magazine story that's up on the site today tracing Michele Bachmann's political evolution from a born-again high school student to a Minnesota state senator. The headline more or less captures the thrust of the piece: "Crazy? Like a Fox." You can call her a flake or a loon or a black helicopter Republican (as her Senate colleagues did behind her back), but Bachmann has a coherent worldview that her opponents would do well to understand—it's what's made her political rise possible.

One of the key elements of her ideology, as I've noted previously, was the work of theologian Francis Schaeffer, whose film How Should We Then Live Michele and her husband Marcus watched together as Winona State University undergrads. Schaeffer's central premise—one that Bachmann has explicitly endorsed and adopted for her own ends—is that American society has been beset by moral relativism. Rome fell because it was built on a lousy foundation—a flimsy belief system whose gods themselves were prone to vice, not virtue. A consequence of that was a willing submission to humanity's basest impulses. Speaking amid the ruins of Pompeii, Schaeffer notes that the city was in the midst of a "cult of the phallus" just before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Fear of moral relativism helps to explain why Bachmann embarked on her crusade to combat gay marriage and keep homosexuality out of Minnesota public schools with such fervor. Being gay wasn't just an individual sin—it was symptomatic of a society in disarray. But  don't ask her about any of that now. Despite persistent questioning on the subject, she's still refusing to talk about her anti-gay views. Here's Michael Shear:

On ABC's "This Week," Mrs. Bachmann was asked about a statement she made in 2006 that being gay was the equivalent of "personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement."

Mrs. Bachmann declined to say whether she still believed those words, saying only that "I am not running to be any person's judge. And I give — I ascribe dignity and honor to all people, no matter who they are. And that's how I view people."

On "Meet the Press," she gave a similar answer to the same question.

"I don't judge them. I don't judge them," she told host David Gregory. "I'm running for the presidency of the United States."

Bachmann's best articulation of her go-to response to questions about gay issues was on "Meet the Press," when she said, "these kind of questions aren't what people are concerned about right now." That's true—unless you're among the millions of LGBT Americans directly affected by these issues. Or, for that matter, unless you're Michele Bachmann, who has now signed two pledges in the last month committing her to oppose gay marriage, and who makes her leadership on the issue part of her stump speech. In essence, Bachmann is arguing that gay marriage is a really trivial issue that's also an existential threat to the core foundation of American society, the family. Got that?

Anyway, read the piece if you've got a minute.

Rick Perry's Iowa Pitch: Vote American

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 12:28 PM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

When Rick Perry arrived at the Electric Ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa, on Sunday night, he was greeted like a soon-to-be conquering hero. The Texas governor and newly minted Republican presidential candidate was immediately mobbed—first by the press, and then by a crowd of well-wishers, all eager to meet the GOP's new savior, the man who can turn back the red tide of socialism next November and return the United States to its constitutional, Judeo-Christian roots. If nothing else, he's got a firm handshake. A very, very firm handshake.

It was day two of the Perry campaign—he formally kicked things off with a speech in South Carolina on Saturday—but the Waterloo visit was his first stop in Iowa, and, more to the point, his first stop in the city Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has made the centerpiece of her own presidential campaign. With Bachmann's victory at the Ames Straw Poll still fresh, the two front-runners for Iowa's first-in-the-nation 2012 primary shared the stage at a county GOP fundraising event and offered a glimpse of what the next four months (if not longer) might look like.

Perry's pitch depends heavily on driving a cultural wedge between himself and the current president. In fairness, there's a pretty wide gulf between the two. Perry talks up his hometown of Paint Creek, Texas, a pinprick of a town with "no zip code" where he met his wife at a piano recital when he was 8, earned a gold star in 4-H, and became an Eagle Scout. He segues from there to his career as an Air Force transport pilot, which, he says, taught him that America truly was God's exceptional nation. "I realized not everyone values life the way we do," he says.

Perry is from Paint Creek, and he is everything else he describes, too, but the larger point—the one Black Hawk County Republicans were supposed to hear—is that Perry has the kind of upbringing conservatives have never forgiven Barack Obama for not having. As Mike Huckabee put it, most Americans grew up with Boy Scouts and Rotary clubs, not madrasas (ignoring that Obama was, in fact, a Boy Scout). Perry went abroad to discover how much he loved America; Obama went abroad to discover his Mau Mau roots.

In his address in Waterloo, Perry identified the exact age—27—at which he fully understood the greatness of America, and then he brought things to the present day, jettisoning any pretenses of subtlety.

"One of your Iowans will be placed in God's green earth this Friday—one of these young Navy SEALs who lost his life in Afghanistan," he said. Then he put the loss in context: "One of the reasons—one of the powerful reasons I'm running for president is to ensure that every young man that puts on the uniform for this country respects entirely the president of the United States." (Read my colleague Adam Weinstein on the full meaning of this quote.)

Throughout all of this, as Perry discussed the urgent need for deregulation and lawsuit reform, he mixed his Texas folksiness (a humble swagger, if there is such a thing) with the controlling style of an executive. At various points in his remarks, he directed his statements at "Senator"—as in Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the other high-profile dinner guest—as if he were already a part of the Washington discourse he says he disdains.

"The idea, and you tell me whether this true or not, but one of my fellas told me if you drive a tractor from one side of the road to another, you're gonna have to have a commercial driver's license—I mean get out of here!" he said. He checked with Grassley to hear if that was the case and was relieved to find out that it wasn't. But the point stands.

When taken with his continued insistence that, for the last two years, he wasn't interested in going to Washington, Perry is framing his entrance as that of a modern-day Cincinnatus, a reluctant old soldier who put down his Ruger .380 with laser sights and hollow-point bullets and left behind the parched scrubland of Paint Creek to make things right.

"I hope nobody took that as being angry, because I have heard people tell me, you know, you tea party folks are angry. We're not angry; we're indignant," Perry said, to hollers from the audience. "We're indignant at the arrogance and the audacity that this administration is showing about the values that are important to the people of America." Perry's line of attack is cutting, but it is not new. He's simply adopting the tack that's been used by some of Obama's previous opponents—Perry, to use John McCain's line, is "the American president Americans have been waiting for." 

Update: Here's Perry talkin' about why he's he's indignant:

The Big Money Behind Congress' New Super Committee

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 12:18 PM EDT
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a member of Congress' new Super Committee to reduce the federal deficit.

The names are in, the roster filled out: Last week, Congressional leaders announced the twelve members of a new bipartisan "super committee," created by the debt ceiling bill, to find another $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. Those lawmakers are: Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Max Baucus (D-Mont.); and Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), and Jim Clyburn (D-SC).

These 12 lawmakers cover the ideological gamut, from the most hawkish fiscal conservatives to deep blue liberal Democrats, but they all have this in common: Their careers have been greased by the money of powerful lobbies and political advocacy groups. Using data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the folks at MapLight, a group focusing on money in American politics, have calculated the biggest donors behind the Super Committee.

The heaviest hitters are no surprise: lawyers and law firms (who often top lists of political donations), big banks such as Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, and political outfits including the lefty EMILY's List and the conservative Club for Growth. As the Super Committee begins debating further spending cuts and (maybe) revenue increases as part of a deficit reduction package due by November, it's worth bearing in mind, as with any big debate in Washington, that there are big donors behind the lawmakers at the bargaining table.

Here are the top 10 industries that have donated to Super Committee members:

Industry Total
Lawyers/Law Firms $31,529,149
Securities & Investment $11,221,416
Democratic/Liberal $9,647,264
Health Professionals $9,321,588
Real Estate $8,793,350
Education $8,568,460
Misc. Business $7,902,021
Business Services $6,563,524
Women's Issues $6,396,728
Insurance $5,693,595

Here are top ten political action committees or company employees who've given to Super Committee members:

Organization Total
Club for Growth $990,066
Microsoft Corp. $810,100
University of California $629,495
Goldman Sachs $592,684
EMILY's List $586,835
Citigroup Inc. $561,081
JPMorgan Chase & Co. $494,316
Bank of America $349,566
Skadden, Arps, et al. $347,356
General Electric $340,935

 

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Rick Perry Plays the "Military Respect" Card

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 5:03 AM EDT
A soldier at a dining facility on Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq, replaces President George W. Bush's photo with Barack Obama's seconds after Obama is inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009.

While speaking at a military tribute Sunday in Waterloo, Iowa, Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry tossed the crowd a red-meat ad-lib. Here's what he said, according to Politico's Ben Smith:

"One of the reasons that I'm running for president is I want to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States," he said.

The obvious implication is that America's roughly 3 million active-duty and reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines don't respect President Barack Obama—whose administration drew down their numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan, revamped the Department of Veterans Affairs, increased Pentagon funding, and oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. Is Perry for real?

How the Koch Brothers Backed Public-School Segregation

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

[UDPATE: In an August 16 letter to Brave New Foundation Robert Greenwald, Dallas Woodhouse, Americans for Prosperity's North Carolina state director, attacked the premise of Greenwald's film, saying it "falsely claims" AFP was involved in the 2009 Wake County school board elections. Woodhouse asserts that AFP "did not spend a single dime on those elections" nor did it engage in any get-out-the-vote or voter education efforts. "AFP played no role in the 2009 WCPSS election," Woodhouse asserts. Read his full response.

In its response to AFP, Brave New Foundation stood by its story. BNF pointed to several statements of AFP-NC's in support of its claims, including a 2008 blog post of Woodhouse's saying AFP-NC "is on record as supporting the parents of WakeCARES, through significant financial contributions as well as other support." In the fall of 2009, WakeCARES endorsed the four school board candidates who opposed Wake County's busing policy, and a former AFP-NC director later credited WakeCARES with paving the way for the four candidates' victories. BNF alleged AFP "funneled" financial support to the candidates through Art Pope, a wealthy Raleigh businessman and an AFP national director, who gave more than $15,000 to the Wake GOP which in turn spent nearly all of its political donations in 2009 on backing the four conservative school board candidates. AFP-NC's Woodhouse also told Newsweek in January that his group did voter education and mobilized volunteers for the school board election.]

At first glance, the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers and the Wake County, North Carolina, school board couldn't be more disparate. Charles and David Koch, the brains behind the massive Koch Industries conglomerate and the funders of so many right-wing political causes, are national figures, credited with (or accused of, depending on your political persuasion) launching the tea party movement and waging war on the Obama administration and its agenda. The Wake County public school board is, well, just that.

In reality, there are deep connections between the Kochs and Wake County, and it's all about the money. The latest installment in the left-leaning Brave New Foundation's "Koch Brothers Exposed" video series claims that a Koch-founded and funded outfit, Americans for Prosperity, fueled a campaign to "resegregate" the schools of Wake County, a prosperous area in central North Carolina that's home to the cities of Raleigh and Cary, among others.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 15, 2011

Mon Aug. 15, 2011 4:45 AM EDT

 

A boy waits for the return of his deployed Dad, Sgt. 1st Class Walter Butt, 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team, Indiana National Guard, during a welcome home ceremony in Indianapolis Aug. 10. Photo by the US Army.

Tim Pawlenty Quits the GOP Race

| Sun Aug. 14, 2011 11:50 AM EDT
Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota, announced Sunday the end of his presidential candidacy.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty finished a very distant third in the Ames Straw Poll on Saturday. He canceled an appearance on Hannity shortly after that, and now we know why: He told ABC's Jake Tapper on Sunday morning that he's dropping out of the Republican presidential race.

The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza tweets that the lesson here is that presidential candidates should just skip the straw poll entirely if they don't think they can win (obviously, that was a successful strategy for Mitt Romney, who did not drop out this morning). But at some point, whether it's in Ames, or later on at the caucuses, candidates do have to hit the stump and court voters—and Pawlenty was a flop on that front.

Here's Pawlenty's announcement:

I saw the Pawlenty's problems up close on Wednesday when I watched him address a room of (mostly) undecided (mostly) senior citizens in Denison who were still smitten by Herman Cain's appearance two days earlier. The ex-governor sounded better on Friday at the Iowa State Fair when he was joined by his wife, Mary, but even then he drew maybe half as many folks as Michele Bachmann. Iowa voters followed the same logic John McCain did when he passed over T-Paw for the vice presidential slot in 2008: He's a safe bet and could "get it done" (to borrow a line from his stump speech), but you only get one vote, so why waste it? Bachmann captures today's conservative id in a way that Pawlenty never could, no matter how hard he tried.

Tim Pawlenty will be fine, though—he's finally free to grow another mullet. The real tragedy here has more to do with what Pawlenty did to position himself as a presidential candidate. Once he set his sights on the next level, he became a different kind of governor—doing a 180 on climate change and leaving a famed Arctic explorer out in the cold; denying gay couples hospital visitation rights; promising his support for an anti-bullying bill and then vetoing it. It's always tough to identify what politicians do for principle and what they do for their future prospects, but to the extent that ambition changed Pawlenty's politics, it was for the worse.