Mojo - August 2011

Michele Bachmann and the Politics of Stonewalling

| Mon Aug. 8, 2011 6:20 AM PDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

The first rule of Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign: Don't talk about Michele Bachmann. Matthew Spolar of New Hampshire's Concord Monitor scored a sit-down with the Minnesota congresswoman and GOP presidential contender and reports that it ended abruptly when he asked her about the issue that definied her career as a Minnesota state senator:

Bachmann cut off an interview last week as she was being asked a question about gay marriage and emphasized that she is focused on rebuilding the economy and repealing federal health care reform.

"I'm not involved in light, frivolous matters," she said. "I'm not involved in fringe or side issues. I'm involved in serious issues."

This is a trend. Here's the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, similarly recounting how his one-on-one with the candidate came to end: He asked one too many questions about Bachmann's ideological mentor, the theologian Francis Schaeffer:

As I started getting deeper into a conversation with her about Schaeffer, she abruptly ended the interview. She said she had to leave for an appearance on "Hannity" but would try to set up another time to talk. I didn’t hear from her again. Her press secretary later told me that Bachmann "wasn't comfortable with the line of questions, and that's why there wasn't a follow-up conversation."

Here's Davenport, Iowa's WQAD, detailing how it and other local stations were blacklisted by the campaign after they asked Bachmann about her Christian counseling clinic's practice of "reparative therapy," which seeks to cure gay people of their homosexuality:

The reporter asked a question about Bachmann's clinic and her husband. At that point, McClurg says the staffer took the microphone off of Bachmann, tossed it to the reporter and said their interview was over.

Here she is last month at the National Press Club, in response to a question about whether she still believes homosexuality can be cured:

My husband is not running for the presidency, neither are my children, neither is our business, neither is our foster children, and I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for the presidency of the United States.

And here she is in June, dodging the same question from Bob Schieffer:

"You know, I firmly believe that people need to make their own decisions about that," she said. "But I am running for the presidency of the United States. I am not running to be anyone's judge. And that's where I'm coming from in this race."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 8, 2011

Mon Aug. 8, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

Ghazni, Afghanistan— Soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, the Afghan National Police, and the Afghan National Army’s 203rd Corps assemble for a recognition ceremony for Operation Maiwand. The operation was initiated and planned by the Afghan National Army and was carried out with the help of the ANP and Task Force Fury. Together they conducted security and military operations and delivered humanitarian aid in Ghazni Province to gain support from the Afghan people.
(U.S. Navy Photo/ Petty Officer First Class David M. Votroubek)

VIDEO: Tea Partiers Cheer the Downgrade of America's Credit Rating

| Sun Aug. 7, 2011 7:24 PM PDT

Is the tea party happy that Standard and Poor's, the credit rating agency, downgraded the United States' credit rating for the first time ever?

You'd think that was the case if you were in the crowd at a tea party rally in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, on Sunday morning. The Tea Party Express rolled into that northeastern city as part of its tour to bolster the six GOP state senators facing recall elections on Tuesday. But the most shocking moment of the event wasn't the vitriol spouted by tea party leaders, which has dominated news of the tour stops in recent days. Instead it was the cheers that erupted when one of the Tea Party Express' speakers described the recent downgrade as the tea party's fault.

Here's what happened: Midway through the Fond du Lac event, Florida talk show host Andrea Shea King took the stage. She told the audience that commentators were describing the downgrade of US debt to AA+ from AAA as the "tea party downgrade," laying the blame squarely on Congress' right-wing faction and its supporters. But rather than boo those who claim the tea party caused the downgrade, the 200 or so Wisconsinites in attendance cheered, sounding almost proud to be blamed for the downgrade.

Here's the video:

And here's the transcript:

SHEA KING: This week—I wrote it down—they are blaming the credit downgrade on the tea party movement.

CROWD: Yeah! [Cheers, clapping]

SHEA KING: They are calling it "the tea party downgrade." They are objectivizing [sic] us.

There you have it. At least here in Wisconsin, tea partiers are pleased that the full faith and credit of America took a knock, and are more than happy to take full credit for it.

Tea Party Leader: Liberalism Has "Killed a Billion" People

| Sun Aug. 7, 2011 9:19 AM PDT

Yesterday I reported that Judson Phillips, the founder of the Tea Party Nation group now touring Wisconsin to support the six GOP state senators facing recall elections on Tuesday, compared Wisconsinites who protested Republican Gov. Scott Walker to Adolf Hitler's Nazi storm troopers. The day before, Phillips claimed Democrats in Wisconsin wanted to "break the back of conservatives in Wisconsin" with the recalls.

But at an event on Saturday, Phillips amped up the vitriol and hate even more. As Politico reports, Phillips told a north Milwaukee crowd that "the left" and its beliefs have "killed a billion people in the last century." Here is Phillips' complete statement: "I will tell you ladies and gentlemen, I detest and despise everything the left stands for. How anybody can endorse and embrace an ideology that has killed a billion people in the last century is beyond me."

Phillips wasn't the only one spewing this stuff. From Politico:

Vince Schmuki, a leader of the Ozaukee Patriot tea party group compared the recall effort to a terrorist attack.

"This is ground zero," said Schmuki. "You remember what the term ground zero means? We have been attacked."

He continued, "Tuesday is going to be the beginning of our takeover. And we're going to follow it up the following week and then we're going to polish off the enemy in November 2012. Who's with me?"

I'm at a Tea Party Express rally in North Fond du Lac right now, so stay tuned for more fireworks this afternoon.

Tea Party Leader: Wisconsin Liberal Protesters Are Modern-Day Storm Troopers

| Sat Aug. 6, 2011 7:48 AM PDT

The Tea Party Nation is one of four right-wing groups touring Wisconsin this weekend in a last-ditch effort to bolster the six GOP state senators facing recall on August 9. It's anyone's guess if if the tour will make any difference—attendance at a Friday tour stop looked middling—but Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips won't let that stop him from stirring controversy.

Writing on Tea Party Nation's website Saturday morning, Phillips compares the Wisconsinites who recently protested Republican Gov. Scott Walker at the state fair (many of whom wore red t-shirts) to Adolf Hitler's storm troopers in Nazi Germany. That's right:

A few days ago, Governor Walker showed up to open the state fair. This was not a political event. It is one of those ceremonial events that a governor is obligated to do. His remarks were not political and in fact, consisted mostly of saying, "I declare the state fair to be open."

The Wisconsin Red shirts, the left's modern version of Brown shirts, were there to shout Walker down and generally ruin the fair for as many people as they could.

"Brownshirts" was the name given to the paramilitary wing of the German Nazi Party, known as the Sturmabteilung, or SA. The SA was founded by Hitler in the early 1920s. They earned their name because their uniforms were said to resemble those of Benito Mussolini's "Black Shirts," the armed squads who violently enforced Mussolini's fascist agenda. The brownshirts attacked Jews and non-Nazi Germans in the streets and suppressed any hint of opposition; their violent intimidation tactics helped fuel Hitler's ascent to power.

The liberals-as-Nazi-storm-troopers comparison wasn't Phillips' only attack in his Saturday missive, though it is his most incendiary. He also branded the people who protested the tea party tour as "not the brightest people," "paid union protestors," and as having "George Soros' money in their pockets." (Soros, of course, is conservatives' biggest bugaboo.) On Friday, Phillips accused liberals of wanting to "break the back of conservatives here in Wisconsin" through the recall process while also pushing Wisconsin toward financial ruin.

Amazingly, Phillips isn't the first to make this kind of comparison. In February, a posting on the site of Patriot Action Network, one of the four groups now touring Wisconsin, called the Service Employees International Union "Obama's brown shirts." And in March, Katherine Kersten, a fellow at a conservative Minnesota think tank called the Center of the American Experiment, asked in the pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune if the protesters at the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison were "Nazi brownshirts at work, busting up a meeting of political opponents in 1933 Germany?"

Don't (Completely) Trust the Polls in the Wisconsin Recalls

| Fri Aug. 5, 2011 5:22 PM PDT

Mike Tate, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, was positively sunny earlier this week in a call with reporters about the state of play in Wisconsin's looming recall elections. Against a slate of six GOP state senators, Tate said, internal polling showed Democrats leading in three races and neck-and-neck in the other three. But there's a big problem with any Wisconsin recall polling, Democratic or Republican: The Badger State is in uncharted territory.

The state has never before held nine recall elections in the middle of the summer. (Nor has so much money been showered on Wisconsin elections.) That means pollsters have no frame of reference to gauge what the turnout will be in the August 9 recalls, which target the six GOPers, or in the August 16 recalls, which target two Democratic senators. (One Democrat, Dave Hansen, already won his recall—more on that later.) That's a big deal, because in summer elections like these, turnout is everything.

Here's Greg Sargent quoting the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's pollster:

"We don't have a precedent for this," Mark Mellman, the well respected Dem pollster who is conducting recall polling for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, acknowledged to me. "The nature of the turnout is so uncertain that it really will make a huge difference. We’re dealing with big uncertainties."

Mellman said that three of the key races—though he wouldn't specify which—are so close that if turnout doesn't break the Dems' way, it could throw them to Republicans. He described them as "all very close races that could go either way."

Democrats understand this. At a Friday afternoon rally in the town of Waupun, Jessica King, a Democrat challenging GOP Sen. Randy Hopper in Wisconsin's 18th district, repeatedly urged the lively three-dozen or so attendees to ask at least one more friend, one more family member, one more somebody, to get out and vote on Tuesday. King knows how crucial turnout is: In 2008, she lost to Hopper by 163 votes out of more than 80,000. "It really comes down to who gets out the vote," she told the crowd.

One of the few available indicators of how the turnout will look next week was the re-election victory of Democrat Dave Hansen in mid-July, the first general recall election of the summer. Hansen cruised to victory, and the turnout neared 31,000—a figure suggesting an energized electorate in Hansen's Green Bay-area district. So the big question is: Can Democrats replicate that energy in six districts scattered throughout the state? Their hopes of snatching back the majority in the Wisconsin senate depend on it.

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Campaign Watchdogs Fire Back at Romney Super PAC's Mystery Donor

| Fri Aug. 5, 2011 1:20 PM PDT
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

On Thursday, NBC's Michael Isikoff broke the story about a mysterious, recently dissolved company that donated $1 million to a super PAC affiliated with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That company,  W Spann LLC, was formed in March, donated to the super PAC—called Restore Our Future—in April, and dissolved in July.

Now, the campaign watchdogs are barking back. Reuters reports that Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice on Friday asking the agencies to investigate the mysterious donation. The complaint alleges that the company, whose owners and true purpose remain unknown, violated FEC rules by falsifying the true nature of its identity.

But that’s not all. Democracy 21 and the CLC contend that the brief, wondrous life of W Spann appears to have had no purpose other than to raise a massive chunk of change for Romney. They allege that W Spann was an entity created primarily to influence elections, and note that it made more than $1,000 in campaign expenditures. If that's true, the watchdogs argue, then W Spann should have registered as a political action committee.

"If W Spann LLC itself meets the definition of a political committee, then it should've showed up at the FEC to tell the public and the world where it got its million," said Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the CLC. The argument has some merit: after all, the folks who brought us W Spann have yet to explain why the company existed for only a matter of weeks, or why its signature investment was in Romney's political future.

Democracy 21 and the CLC see the short life of W Spann as a direct result of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections. We won't know for sure whether any existing regulations were violated unless the FEC and DOJ decide to weigh in. But in the meantime, the watchdog groups' decision to push for an official investigation should send a clear warning to would-be W Spann copycats: following W Spann's lead might not be as easy, or as legal, as you think.

What the New York Times Got Wrong About Gay Nazis

| Fri Aug. 5, 2011 11:45 AM PDT

Ahead of Rick Perry's big prayer and fasting rally in Houston on Saturday, the New York Times' Erick Eckholm had an interesting piece Thursday on the newfound prominence of the American Family Association among social conservatives. But as Sarah Posner notes, there was a small problem:

The Times' handling of some of the AFA's most incendiary rhetoric is puzzling. Here's an organization whose most visible representative, radio host Bryan Fischer, spouts blatantly racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-gay rhetoric. But, hey, while some people call that hate speech, there's always two sides of a story, right? Like "Adolph Hitler was a homosexual and that the Nazi Party was largely created by 'homosexual thugs.'" That, in the Times piece, is a "disputed theory," rather than a conspiracy theory made up by anti-gay zealots.

For real. The Times quote in full reads: "Mr. Fischer trumpets the disputed theory that Adolph Hitler was a homosexual and that the Nazi Party was largely created by 'homosexual thugs'— evidence, he says, of the inherent pathologies of homosexuality." Fischer has since gone even further, stating that today's gay rights activists are "literally" Nazis, who are waging a SS-style campain to crack down on dissenters. That's no surprise because both of those theories stem from the same book, The Pink Swastika, which posits that gay rights organizations in the United States are the intellectual heirs to the Third Reich and are attempting to use Hitler's repressive tactics to advance their radical agenda.

The problem is that the facts do not support Fischer's theory, and so inasmuch as we care at all about facts, his theory has not been "disputed," it has been "rejected" or "debunked." Ron Rosenbaum has published a pretty thorough takedown of the "gay Hitler" thesis—but his takedown is targeted at a reputable, relatively disinterested historian—which the The Pink Swastika's authors are not.

In reality, gays were targeted for extermination by Hitler, not recruitment. Bob Moser, who notes that somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 gays were arrested during the Third Reich, finds this quote from Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's security chief: "That wasn't a punishment, but simply the extinguishing of abnormal life. It had to be got rid of, just as we pull out weeds, throw them on a heap, and burn them." That is literally what the Nazis did to about 10,000 gay men.

The much larger problem here is that the question of whether or not gays are Nazis—and whether or not that argument is worth condemning—has somehow become a partisan issue. When the Southern Poverty Law Center classified the American Family Association and a handful of other social conservative organizations as "hate groups" earlier this year (on account of their frequent promotion of such debunked charges) the reaction from high-profile Republicans was swift. Dozens of congressmen, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) signed on to a letter of support for the organizations:

This is intolerance, pure and simple. Elements of the radical Left are trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues that are being considered by Congress, legislatures, and the courts. Tell the radical Left it is time to stop spreading hateful rhetoric attacking individuals and organizations merely for expressing ideas with which they disagree. Our debates can and must remain civil - but they must never be suppressed through personal assaults that aim only to malign an opponent's character.

On the one hand, conservatives accuse gay rights activists of reprising the worst tactics of the Third Reich. On the other hand, liberal groups call them out on it. See, both sides do it!

Tea Party: Liberals Want to "Break the Back of Conservatives" in Wisconsin

| Fri Aug. 5, 2011 7:41 AM PDT
A tea Party Express bus at a rally for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

The tea party arrives in Wisconsin today, kicking off a four-day tour to rouse conservative voters and help protect the six imperiled Republican state senators facing recall elections on August 9. Spearheaded by the Tea Party Express, the "Restoring Common Sense" tour brings together four different conservative groups—TPX, Tea Party Nation, FreedomWorks, and the Patriot Action Network—and plans to hit nine cities in what the groups see as a crucial battle to keep the GOP senators in office, and thus prevent Democrats from jamming up Republican Governor Scott Walker's agenda.

On Friday morning Tea Party Nation blasted out a life-or-death missive to its members on the importance of the recalls. TPN's leader, Judson Phillips, accused liberals and Democrats of wanting to "break the back of conservatives here in Wisconsin" via the recalls and drive the state into bankruptcy. Referencing the winter labor upheaval in Madison, the state capital, Phillips wrote: "Liberal mobs attacked the capitol building and at one point trapped at least one Republican lawmaker."

He goes on:

The left lost. So they are fighting back. They have filed recall papers against 6 Republican Senators. If three of them lose, it will flip control of the State Senate back to the Democrats and the fiscally conservative Governor Scott Walker will be hard pressed to do anything to cut spending.

This recall election is setting the stage for next January when the left is going to try and recall Scott Walker. By law, January is the earliest they can do this. Millions of dollars from radical left wing groups has flowed into Wisconsin along with millions of dollars from Unions.

[...]

As we tour Wisconsin the next few days, we need your help. If you can make it to Wisconsin, join us for the tour. If you cannot, spread the word about the tour to anyone you know. Details about the tour are on the front page of Tea Party Nation.

Phillips' plea, not to mention the uniting of four different tea party groups for the bus tour, can only be seen as a sign of serious concern about how the six GOP senators will fare in next week's elections. And if recent polls are any indication, they've got good reason to worry.

Steve King Wants to Enlist Your Uterus

| Fri Aug. 5, 2011 7:00 AM PDT

Last month, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies advised that health insurers should offer birth control without a copayment, one of a list of recommendations it made for preventative health care services for women. As Jen Quraishi reported earlier this week, the Obama administration has adopted the recommendation and will require insurance companies to cover birth control at no cost.

Anti-abortion groups have been flipping out over whether emergency contraception, or the morning after pill, will be covered, since they believe that this constitutes abortion. But Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) found something even more sinister to be worried about: free birth control will mean no more babies. EVER. Here's his tirade from earlier this week, via ThinkProgress:

KING: They’ve called it preventative medicine. Preventative medicine. Well if you applied that preventative medicine universally what you end up with is you’ve prevented a generation. Preventing babies from being born is not medicine. That’s not— that’s not constructive to our culture and our civilization. If we let our birth rate get down below replacement rate we’re a dying civilization.

That's right ladies: it's your patriotic duty to get knocked up indiscriminately, at least according to Steve King.

King also doesn't support making sure women get paid equitably, which might help more women afford birth control in the first place. And don't think about having an abortion should you become pregnant, because King doesn't like those either. And when you have that kid, don't even think about applying for public assistance programs, because King thinks that will make you lazy.

Don't worry about any of that, though! Lie back and think of America!