Conservatism

Whither Homo Economicus?

Jamelle Bouie

It's hard out there for a culture warrior. Every time an opponent of same-sex marriage does an interview these days, one of the first questions is, "Isn't your side on this issue doomed to failure?" They're even getting a cold shoulder from their own allies; after years of bashing hippies and wielding "God, guns, and gays" to great electoral effect, the leadership of the GOP would rather talk about anything else. And now it's Democrats who are happy to stoke the cultural fires, secure in the knowledge that the majority is on their side.

Not Fun to Visit, and You Wouldn't Want to Live There. But the Taxes Are Low!

North Dakota. Can you smell the freedom? (Flickr/Gadi Golan)

The Mercatus Center, an independently funded free-market think tank housed at George Mason University, just released its annual "Freedom in the 50 States" rankings, and the results, showing whether you live in a Randian paradise or a soul-crushing statist hellhole, are getting a lot of ridicule on Twitter. Liberals may laugh that this kind of thing is pretty silly, but it's conservatives who ought to find the results deeply unsettling. Because if "freedom" as conservatives define it really does determine the quality of one's existence, then they all ought to be packing their bags to move to the most free of all the states. Which, according to the Mercatus Center, is North Dakota. You can see the problem here.

Falling Through the Looking Glass

Flickr/majunznk

As I sat in the press gallery off to the side of the Supreme Court yesterday morning, waiting for the justices to file in and begin hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I had that sickly excited feeling that you get when the roller-coaster car is climbing the first hill. The day before was easier for me: I didn’t want the Court to take Perry, the Prop. 8 case, to begin with. I was relieved when very quickly we all could hear that the justices had no appetite for a broad ruling. But the DOMA case—and here please let me confess that I’m terribly human—the DOMA case is about my marriage. As regular readers will know, I’m married to my wife in Massachusetts, but because DOMA bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, I’m not married in the United States. The justices were going to discuss whether to end that split identity. This morning, it was very personal again, as it hasn’t been in awhile.

The Super-Sexy Case Against Gay Marriage

When I get that feelin', I need Supreme Court amicus briefs.

Three years ago, in a column titled "It's Not You, It's Me," I noted that a rhetorical shift had occurred among opponents of gay rights. In earlier times, there was lots of talk about the immorality of homosexuality and how depraved gay people were, but now those sentiments have become marginalized. For more mainstream spokespeople, the argument against same-sex marriage is not about gay people at all but about straight people. The problem with same-sex marriage, they say, is the effect gay people's marriages will have on straight people's marriages. What that effect will be, they can't precisely say, but they're sure it'll be bad. Similarly, when we argued (briefly) about repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, their claims were not about whether gay soldiers could do their jobs, but whether their presence would make straight soldiers uncomfortable.

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on cases challenging California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in the state, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. There's little doubt that at least three of the justices (Scalia, Thomas, and Alito), and maybe more, will be staunch defenders of the legal status quo. But it will be interesting to hear what kinds of arguments the lawyers on their side come up with, particularly under questioning from the liberal justices. The original Prop. 8 trial was something of a farce, as the law's defenders proved unable to provide any rationale for it that could withstand a moment of cross-examination. So what are they going to say at the Supreme Court?

Take That, Political Science!

AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson

This week, ten years after swearing to destroy Saddam Hussein and build democracy in Iraq, the United States took a step toward dismantling its investment in studying how democracy works. For more than 15 years, congressional Republicans have been trying to do away with federal funding for political-science research. Every time until now, political scientists successfully fought back. One reason they could: The pot designated for political science in the National Science Foundation was a tiny percentage of overall research money—about $10 million out of a $7 billion budget. That's less than two-tenths of a percent. But it's also the majority of total grant funding for political-science research. The field provides us with much of what we know about how democracies, including our own, function (and don't function). Political scientists study how and why opinions change on key issues, what motivates people to vote, and how public opinion influences elected officials. For a relatively small sum, the nation that loves to tout its democratic ideals has been funding projects to investigate how that democracy works (and doesn't).

Why the Republicans Should Go Ahead and Have Their Civil War

Flickr/Donkey Hotey

Watching gleefully while your opponents tear themselves apart is a bipartisan Washington pastime. For many years, Republicans were able to do much more of it than Democrats, for the simple reason that Democrats tend to bicker among themselves more, and nothing produces such bickering like lost presidential elections. But now, having lost two such elections in a row, it's the Republicans who are at each other's throats, and Democrats who look on with a smile. I always find these arguments interesting, not because I enjoy giving a Nelson Muntz "Ha-ha!" to the GOP (OK, maybe just a little) but because their outcome ends up shaping our politics in the coming years.

So I have a message for my Republican friends: Ignore the Democrats laughing at you about the infighting. Squabbling amongst yourselves is exactly what you should be doing right now.

Banks Are Too Big to Fail Say ... Conservatives?

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Members of the Federal Reserve don’t usually make the rounds at partisan gatherings. But amid the tri-cornered hats and “#StandWithRand” buttons of last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—the largest annual gathering of conservatives in the country—was Richard Fisher, President of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. In a Saturday morning speech, Fisher quoted Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry, who once said that while “Different men often see the same subject in different lights,” such quibbling had to be set aside in a time of “awful moment to this country.”

Stuck With Each Other

AP photo/David Goldman

Imagine you're a religious right activist, used to being a serious player within the Republican party, the kind of person candidates court and party chieftains huddle with. You've done well at making sure that just about every politician in your party has the right position on your issues. You may not always get everything you want as quickly as you want, but you know that you don't have to waste energy fighting rear-guard actions within the GOP.

But then bad things start to happen. We spend a couple of years talking about nothing but the economy and budgets, ignoring your favorite issues, and some in the party suggest that the real culture war isn't your culture war, it's an economic one. A couple of your favorite candidates get a little too candid with their views on rape, and end up losing at the polls, leading some influential strategists to suggest that the party needs to shift its focus away from your issues. Then one of your party's senators comes out in support of same-sex marriage, and even though it's only one senator, all the pundits agree that he won't be the last, and it's only a matter of time before your party abandons its insistence on "traditional" marriage entirely. Then some party bigwigs come out with a report on how the GOP can win future elections, and it says nothing about you and your issues. There's talk about how libertarian the party should become and how it can appeal to minority groups, young people, and women, but all that makes you feel pretty left out.

As McKay Coppins reports, that's leaving religious right activists more than a little peeved. But he puts his finger on a big reason that some in the party feel free to encourage a move in a leftward direction:

The Political Is Personal

AP Photo/Mike Munden

On Friday, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became the first Republican in the Senate to support same-sex marriage, explaining in a Columbus Dispatch op-ed that his change of heart came after his son told him he's gay. It was easy to be underwhelmed by Portman's announcement; as Michael Tomasky asked, "what if his son weren't gay?

The Boehner Rule

flickr/Talk Radio News Service

After months of Republican resistance, the House of Representative finally renewed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) late last month. What many casual political observers may not know is that there were always enough votes in the House for the bill to pass, but it couldn’t get a vote because of something called the “Hastert Rule”—an informal practice in the House by which only legislation supported by a majority of the majority party (in this case, Republicans) is allowed to come to a vote. How Speaker John Boehner got VAWA passed tells us a lot about what the next two years is going to be like in Washington.

The Dubya Albatross

When he was performing his Full Jeb of Sunday show interviews over the weekend, Jeb Bush got asked everywhere whether he's running for president, and each time he gave the same practiced answer (not thinking about it yet). He also got asked whether his brother's disastrous presidency, and the fact that Dubya left office with abysmal approval ratings (Gallup had him in the 20s for much of 2008) would be a drag on him. Jeb gave the answer you'd expect: history will be kind to my brother, I'm very proud of him, and so on. Of course it's true that Jeb, what with his last name and all, would have to "grapple" with his brother's legacy more than other candidates. But when we think about it in those terms, I think we overlook something important about how the Bush legacy will continue to operate on Republicans, not just Jeb but all of them.

Fake Prostitutes, Fake Terrorists, and the Trouble with Conservative Media

Remember this guy?

Just before the 2012 election, the Daily Caller, a web site run by Tucker Carlson, produced a blockbuster report claiming that New Jersey senator Robert Menendez had frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and they had the prostitutes' testimony to prove it. Bizarrely, mainstream media did not pick up the story, Menendez was re-elected, and to almost no one's surprise, the whole thing now appears to have been a slander cooked up by Republican operatives. How did such a thing happen? The answer is, it's ACORN's fault. Hold on while I explain.

Show Me the Policy!

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service

Republicans have been scrambling since the election to figure out what they need to improve their standing with the public and appeal to the electorate of the future. Despite trumpeting Marco Rubio and his immigration platform in a shallow attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters, things have only gotten more dire since November. In part because of the sequester fight, the GOP’s approval ratings have plummeted.

The Lone Star State Left Out To Dry

Flickr/Jmtimages

When the sequester deadline came and went last Friday, it was hardly a surprise. In Congress, Republicans had repeatedly made clear they would be willing to let enormous cuts to discretionary spending take effect rather than compromise with the White House on raising revenue. But cutting off their nose to spite their face hasn’t quite worked. As it turns out, the GOP may be defacing its figurehead: the State of Texas.

Yet Another Thing Guns Can't Solve

Flickr/ Texas Lightbox

The GOP is worried about women’s safety on campus. Or at least that’s what they’d have you believe of late, howling in protest at Colorado state Democratic representative Joe Salazar’s clumsy remarks about callboxes, and calling out the University of Colorado for teaching young women to vomit, pee, or tell an assailant they have their period in order to avoid rape

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