Values Voter 2013: War, War, Everywhere, and Not a Stop to Think

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

When Senator Rand Paul took the stage at last weekend's Values Voter Summit, it was clear he needed to up the stakes. Alongside a handful of other 2016 presidential contenders, Paul was auditioning for the far-right’s support in a speech to the annual conference of Christian conservatives hosted by the Family Research Council at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Making his task far more difficult was that fact that one of his rivals had just hit a home run.

Perverting the State of Our Union

AP Images/David Goldman

The profound truth that’s been lost in the desperate effort to end the federal shutdown is that, more than any time since the 1850s, a significant portion of the current government is hostile to what the rest of us call “union.” Well-meaning talk about doing what’s in the best interests of the country has about it a kind of heartbreaking naiveté.

De-Kochifying the Dance

AP Images/Javier Galeano

The three buildings arrayed around the central fountain at New York’s Lincoln Center are, north to south, Avery Fisher Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, and the David H. Koch Theater. Avery Fisher was a radio and sound reproduction technologist who amassed a fortune from his hi-fi ventures in the mid-20th century, and donated a vast sum of money to the New York Philharmonic, which today performs in his eponymous auditorium. The Metropolitan Opera is the Metropolitan Opera. And David Koch is the same David Koch who is financing the destruction of the United States as we know it.

Good News About the Debt Ceiling May Mean Bad News About the Shut-Down

John Boehner apparently will let the debt ceiling rise, even if he has to rely on Democratic votes to do it. This is both good news and bad news.

It’s good news because we won’t have a global financial panic in two weeks time. Boehner apparently got Wall Street’s message loud and clear: If you make the United States government default on its debts, you take responsibility for a worldwide economic catastrophe.

The Cruelty of Republican States in One Chart

Click through for exciting full-size version.

Many people are talking today about this article in today's New York Times, which focuses on the particularly cruel doughnut hole created when the Supreme Court allowed states to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act. The problem is that if you live in a (mostly Southern) state run by Republicans, you have to be desperately poor to qualify for Medicaid under existing rules. But it isn't until you get to 133 percent of the poverty level ($31,321 in yearly income for a family of four) that you're eligible for subsidies to buy insurance on the exchanges, because when the law was written the idea was that everyone under that income would get Medicaid. When all those Southern states decided to refuse the Medicaid expansion in order to shake their fist at Barack Obama, they screwed over their own poor citizens. So millions of people will be caught in the middle: not poor enough to get Medicaid, but too poor to get subsidies on the exchanges. But when we say "not poor enough," what we're actually talking about is people who are, in fact, extremely poor. And you'll be shocked to learn that in those states, the poor are disproportionately black. Could that have anything to do with it? Heavens, no!

In any case, I thought it might be worthwhile to lay out in one handy chart how, state by state, this will affect people. Under pre-ACA law, each state sets its own eligibility level for Medicaid. In more liberal states, these levels are fairly high; for instance, Massachusetts gives Medicaid to families up to 133 percent of poverty, New York up to 150 percent, and Minnesota up to 215 percent. But in conservative states, the levels are far stingier; as someone in the Times article says, "You got to be almost dead before you can get Medicaid in Mississippi." In addition, in most states childless adults can't get Medicaid no matter how poor they are, but under the ACA it will no longer matter whether you have children. This is just one more way conservative states that forego the Medicaid expansion (for which the federal government is picking up almost the entire tab, by the way) are harming their own citizens.

On to our chart...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to the Tea Party

Newly famous Rep. Marlin Stutzman, seen here at left playing dress-up with other members of Congress. (Flicrk/SpeakerBoehner)

I'm always reluctant to make too much of any particular off-the-cuff statement a politician makes, to play that game where people on the other side say, "Aha! You have revealed yourself to the be the scoundrel we always knew you were, and this is the proof!" But sometimes, politicians do say revealing things, particularly in a situation like the one we're in now, where the outcome of a controversy that is already affecting millions of people and could threaten the entire economy is dependent on things like hurt feelings and the desire to feel like you won.

So the quote of the day comes from this article in the Washington Examiner, in which a Tea Party congressman sums up nicely the fight over the government shutdown:

"We're not going to be disrespected," conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

And there you have it.

Outrage-Based Media and the Specter of False Racism Charges

Sadly, life does not embody the harmony of the black and white cookie. (Flickr/

I've often wondered how conservatives can tolerate a steady diet of the likes of Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and Hannity. I don't mean why they find those kinds of programs appealing, because there are many reasons for that. I mean as a steady, long-term part of your daily routine. Doesn't the steady stream of outrage just become overwhelming after a while? Can you really shake your fist at the TV and sputter with rage every single night without making yourself crazy? That's not to say there aren't liberals with similar rhetoric, but there are fewer, and they aren't as successful. Keith Olbermann did it for a while, and Ed Schultz isn't that far off. But it does seem that liberals' taste in talk runs more to people like Rachel Maddow, who delivers her outrage with a smile and a joke, or the wonkishly thoughtful Chris Hayes. People on the left aren't averse to getting mad, but they don't want to be mad all the time.

Which brings us to this very interesting paper by Sarah Sobieraj and her colleagues, which sought to examine "outrage-based political opinion media" from a sociological point of view. That is, they talked to both liberals and conservatives who tune in to these programs about what they get out of them. Since the article is paywalled, all I have to go on is a description of it in Pacific Standard, so it's possible that some or all of my questions are discussed in the article itself. In any case, their main point is that these programs provide a kind of no-risk community, where people can feel a connection to others without the potential pitfalls that come from talking about politics in other contexts like work.

I'd add that there's a particular kind of emotional interaction going on when you watch one of these programs. The host—someone who is almost certainly more articulate than you (that's why he has a job talking for hours on the radio and TV, and you don't)—mirrors the emotions you feel about current events and controversies back at you in a way that's satisfying on multiple levels. He assures you that you're right, and he offers you clever arguments you can use to convince yourself (or others) that you're right. He usually tells you your side is going to prevail. And he validates your feelings by giving them back to you in a heightened way. Are you mad at Barack Obama? Well watch this: I'll give you the thunderous rant you wish you could deliver right to that jerk's face. You think he's a liar? Let me tell you all about his lies.

What Happens to Conservatism When the Obamacare War Is Over?

Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

When we look back decades from now, one of the keys to understanding this period in our political history will be the story of how a set of market-based health insurance reforms that started as a proposal from the Heritage Foundation and then was successfully implemented by a Republican governor who later became the GOP presidential nominee, ended up being viewed by virtually all conservatives as not just an abomination but the very essence of statist oppression. Liberals have often expressed wonder or exasperation about the way conservatives changed their opinions about this particular brand of reform. But now that it's driving a government shutdown (and soon a potential default on the debt), we have to acknowledge that it's more than just a policy conservatives hate. The Affordable Care Act is far, far bigger than that. It has become the most important definer of conservatism in America circa 2013. It isn't that conservatives don't still want to cut taxes for the wealthy, or slash the social safety net, or liberate corporations from pesky regulations on worker safety and the environment, because they still want all those things. But Obamacare has swallowed conservatism whole.

This Madness Will Never End

AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander

I wish I could write something optimistic as we begin the government shutdown. I wish I could, but I can't. In fact, this morning I can't help but feel something close to despair. It isn't that this shutdown won't be resolved, because it will. It will be resolved in the only way it can: when John Boehner allows a vote on a "clean CR," a continuing resolution that funds the government without attacking the Affordable Care Act. It could happen in a week or two, whenever the political cost of the shutdown becomes high enough for Boehner to finally find the courage to say no to the Tea Partiers in his caucus. That CR will pass with mostly Democratic votes, and maybe the result will be a revolt against Boehner that leads to him losing the speakership (or maybe not; as some have argued, Boehner's job could be safe simply because no one else could possibly want it).

But the reason for my despair isn't about this week or this month. It's the fact that this period in our political history—the period of lurching from absurd crisis to absurd crisis, with no possibility of passing a budget let alone legislation to address any serious problems we face, with a cowardly Republican leadership held hostage by a group of insane political terrorists who think it's a tragedy if a poor person gets health insurance and it's a great day when you kick a kid off food stamps, a period where this collection of extremists and fools, these people who think the likes of Michele Bachmann and Steve King are noble and wise leaders—this awful, horrific period in our history, when these are the people who control the country's fate, looks like it will never end.

Why the Tea Partiers Think They'll Win

Their fearless leader. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Way back in the days when bloggers carved their missives out on stone tablets (by which I mean 2005), Digby noted, in response to the nascent trend of conservatives deciding that George W. Bush wasn't a conservative after all, wrote, "Get used to hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren't true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets." We've seen that a lot in the years since—the interpretation of every election Republicans lose is that they weren't conservative enough, and if they had just nominated a true believer or run farther to right, victory would have been theirs.

There's already a tactical division within the Republican party about the wisdom of shutting down the government in an attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. The members who have been around a while understand that no matter what happens, Barack Obama is not going to bend on this one. He won't dismantle his greatest domestic policy accomplishment, and he won't delay it for a year. He just won't. The members who are newer, particularly Tea Partiers who got elected in 2010 and 2012, think that if they just hold fast, eventually Obama will buckle.

And there's another difference between the two groups.

John Boehner Has Speaker Tenure for Life—If He Wants It

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Don’t worry about John Boehner. Yes, there seem to be near-constant rumors and suspicions of a revolt against him, and Republican members of the House have been conspiring with Texas Senator Ted Cruz. It’s very unlikely to actually cost him his job. He’s probably going to survive and remain as speaker of the House just as long as he wants to. At least, as long as divided government and the Republican House majority last.

Have Too Many Cooks Spoiled Obamacare?

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

It's safe to say that if Americans don't understand the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by now—and they don't—they never will. The slightly better news is that consumers don't have to understand it in order to benefit from it, but even so, almost all the problems the ACA has encountered or will encounter are a result of the law's enormous complexity. That complexity grew out of early decisions made by Barack Obama, but along the way Congress added their own layers of complexity in order to pass it, then conservatives on the Supreme Court added some more. There were reasons, most of them perfectly good, for each of these decisions; everyone thought they were responding to reality or doing what was in the best interests of the country. But as full implementation of the law is upon us, we should acknowledge how much damage has been done by all this complexity.

Virginia Is for Lovers of Politics as Usual

AP Photo/The Washington Post, Linda Davidson, Pool

Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, was immediately sucking for air as last night's debate in Northern Virginia began. It took his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe—former Democratic National Committee chair and Clinton World stalwart—just a few minutes and a few lines about how he'll bring business to the state before he was able to smoothly segue into this attack:

My opponent has spent most of his career on a social ideological agenda. He has pushed personhood legislation which would outlaw most forms of contraception, would make the pill illegal in Virginia. He bullied the Board of Health that would shut down the woman's health centers. Women are 50 percent of the workforce of the United States of America.

Why "Duck Dynasty" Became the Latest Conservative Cultural Touchstone

In a 21-hour speech full of weird moments, few were weirder than when Sen. Ted Cruz abandoned all talk of health care, Nazis, and freedom to talk for a while about Duck Dynasty. "This is a show about a god-fearing family of successful entrepreneurs who love guns, who love to hunt, and who believe in the American Dream," Cruz said. "It's something that according to Congress almost shouldn't exist." He then spent the next four minutes reciting a seemingly random collection of quotes from the show, along the lines of "You put five rednecks on mower, it's gonna be epic." It seemed as if one of his staffers, searching for things Cruz could talk about to pass the time, grabbed the list from a website somewhere.

But it wasn't just like reading the phone book, because Duck Dynasty has become for conservatives an island sanctuary in a roiling cultural sea of liberal dangers. In case you're some kind of commie or you live in a monastery, Duck Dynasty is one of the most remarkable American cultural phenomena of the last few years. It's not only the highest-rated show on cable, it's also an endless font of best-selling books, wall calendars, T-shirts, and all manner of other cultural paraphernalia. The show is the most successful of a reality TV format one friend calls "wacky family has interesting business"–maybe they make cakes, or build custom motorcycles, or track down fugitives. In the case of the Robertson clan, they made millions manufacturing duck calls, but retained their homespun charm and (for the men) spectacular beards.