Challenging the Myths of the Libertarian Right

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

The emergence of Rand Paul as a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination marks an important turning point: Extreme libertarianism has entered the mainstream of American politics.

This shift has been coming for 30 years, a period of growing attacks on government as "the enemy" combined with extolling the laissez-faire idea that the free market can solve all our problems.

These attacks have not emerged out of thin air. Billions of dollars have been spent by corporations, foundations, and wealthy individuals to fund a large conservative policy and media infrastructure on the right, led by think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute.

Six Charts that Explain Why Our Prison System Is So Insane


When Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he would be issuing instructions to federal prosecutors that could result in fewer mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, it wasn't the risky policy change it would have been only a few years ago. With crime on a two-decade-long downward arc, politicians and policymakers don't have to worry as much as they used to about being tagged as "soft on crime." In fact, there's so much toughness already built into our criminal-justice system that unless we start lopping off thieves' hands, it couldn't get much tougher. Though the change Holder announced would affect only those convicted of federal crimes, it has brought renewed attention to our enormous prison population.

And just how enormous is it? What follows are the details.

God Was My Freshman Roommate

flickr/Illinois Springfield

Later this week, Troy University, located 50 miles south of Montgomery, Alabama, will open its first-ever faith-based dormitory. The brand-new building—which cost $11.8 million—will house nearly 400 students, and is already at the center of a debate about whether faith-based dorms represent a violation of the separation of church and state at a public university.

To live in the dorm, students must maintain “an active spiritual lifestyle and maintain an active engagement in a campus faith based organization.” Maintaining a GPA of at least 2.5, refraining from drug and alcohol use, and participating in community service projects are also requirements for living in the cushy new quarters. The building will also include a Catholic ministry—which is being leased to the nearby Catholic archdiocese of Mobile by the university—a chapel, and an office for a local priest. Three Catholic and three Baptist residential assistants will live in the dormitory with the students.

Threat of Terrorism Still Making People Stupid

Save us from this man.

When you're a partisan, you have a certain obligation to be, well, partisan. That means that you have to put the things your side does in the best light and the things the other side does in the worst light. Their motives are always suspect while your are always pure, and if anything goes wrong it was obviously their fault, while if anything goes right they had nothing to do with it.

But just how far does this obligation extend? How far beyond the borders of logic and reason can you ride it? The unfortunate answer is, pretty darn far.

The Misguided Silliness of "Libertarian Populism"

Things are tough all over.

In case you missed it, the new Republican watchword is "Libertarian populism," which is quickly being embraced by people who are neither libertarians nor populists. But it's a shorthand for an impossibly inane attack that Republicans are trying out, seeing if they can make any hay by charging that President Obama is only interested in helping rich people at the expense the rest of us. Okay, the rest of you, I guess, because these are Republicans we're talking about, and they're not part of that "us," but you get the idea. All of sudden, people like Paul Ryan are out there saying, "The president claims his economic agenda is for the middle class. But it's actually for the well-connected. There's no doubt that it works well for them. But for the rest of us, it's not working at all."

You can actually make an argument that Obama hasn't done enough to reverse growing inequality in this country, but it's a little hard to make that argument and then claim the answer is to cut food stamps, prevent more people from getting Medicaid, and give tax cuts to the wealthy. You see, consistency in and of itself isn't the real problem here. The problem is that economic populism actually requires you to talk about policies and how they affect people at different levels of income, which is about the last thing Republicans ever want to do.

It isn't as though they haven't tried to be populists before, but in previous incarnations, it was almost always a cultural populism, not an economic one.

Charles Krauthammer Is Making Sense! Almost.

If you asked a hundred conservatives which opinion columnist they most admire, I'm pretty sure Charles Krauthammer would come out on top. Unlike, say, George Will, Krauthammer is free of even passing heresies against conservative dogma. Unlike, say, Cal Thomas, Krauthammer doesn't paint conservative culture warring in explicitly religious terms, allowing everyone to join in the smiting of sinners. And, they'll tell you over and over again, he's brilliant!

I can't say I've ever seen it that way—Krauthammer may not be a numbskull or anything, but I've never read anything he's written and said, "Wow, that's a really smart argument—I'm not sure how I'd counter it." And if you've seen him on television, you know that he's a particularly grim figure, usually looking like he's vaguely bored with whatever he's talking about and displeased with the fact that he has to be wherever he is. His columns, furthermore, are often driven by a particularly venomous attitude toward Democratic politicians and liberals in general that may be cheered by his ideological compatriots but is hard to get past for anyone else.

So it was with some surprise when this morning I read him offer Republicans some advice that I found not only practically wise but on target analytically as well.

Will North Carolina's Abortion Restrictions Backfire on the GOP?

Jenny Warburg

In the days since North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a restrictive new abortion bill into law, directing state officials to regulate abortion clinics like surgical centers, the first-term Republican has gotten a sharp taste of abortion-rights advocates’ wrath. Only one clinic in the state currently meets the new regulations; the rest will have to undergo expensive renovations or face closure. On Monday, dozens of protesters held a 12-hour vigil outside the governor’s mansion as they waited to hear whether McCrory would sign the law. Returning the next day, after they learned that McCrory had approved the measure, the protesters wore Mad Men-style shirtdresses and old-fashioned lace gloves to emphasize the law’s regressiveness. They waved signs and chanted slogans, encouraging passing motorists to honk in support of their cause. In a nod to the motorcycle safety bill that contained the restrictions, motorcyclists circled the mansion. (No one crashed.)

Christian Identity Politics on Fox

Reza Aslan is surprised to find himself stranded in Stupidtown.

I try, with only partial success, to avoid spending too much time on the "A conservative said something offensive!" patrol. First, there are plenty of other people doing it, so it isn't as though if I don't draw people's attention to the latest outrage then no one will find out about it. But second and more important, most of the time there isn't much interesting to say about Rush Limbaugh's latest bit of race-baiting or Bill O'Reilly's latest spittle-flecked rant or Louie Gohmert's latest expectoration of numbskullery.

But let's make an exception for this interview Reza Aslan did on Friday with Fox News to promote his new book called Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. You've no doubt seen Aslan on television multiple times in the last decade, and maybe even read something he's written. In the post-9/11 period, he became a go-to guest on shows from Meet the Press to The Daily Show as someone who could explain Islam to American audiences. Young, good-looking, smart and articulate, Aslan could be counted on to put events like the sectarian civil war in Iraq into historical and religious context in ways viewers could understand.

This interview is really something to behold, because the Fox anchor, one Lauren Green, obviously not only didn't read Aslan's book (not a great sin, given that she probably has to interview a few people a day), but instead of asking him about it, decided to spend nearly ten minutes challenging whether Aslan has any right to write a book about Jesus, since he's a Muslim. Seriously:

GOP Circular Firing Squad Locked and Loaded

Karl Rove is not concerned. (Flickr/JD_WMWM)

Apparently, it's Republican circular firing squad week here in Washington. Item 1: David Corn of Mother Jones got hold of the proceedings of a secret group of conservatives scheming to take hold of American politics and shove it where it needs to go:

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and "clueless" GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks.

I have to commend Corn for getting these documents, but unfortunately, Groundswell isn't exactly the right-wing A-Team. It's more like the C-Team. Members include Ginny Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas; anti-Muslim zealot Frank Gaffney; religious nutball and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; and some reporters from "news" outlets like the Washington Examiner and Nevertheless, despite their lack of actual influence, it's interesting just to see what these kinds of folks do when they get together and try to conspire.

Is Obamacare a Republican Job Creator?


AP Photo

Almost 50 years ago, Congress passed and Lyndon B. Johnson signed the law establishing Medicare. It was, soon, wildly popular—so much so that to this day Republican opposition to the program can only be expressed in terms of  “saving” Medicare from supposed instability.

Liz and Dick

With the help of her powerful father, Liz Cheney is running for Senate and setting off the next round of an intra-GOP fight over foreign policy. 

AP Images/Cliff Owen

It’s not much of a surprise that Liz Cheney has decided to run for office, as she announced yesterday. With the help of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and access to his considerable network of donors and supporters, she’s been building a national profile herself, mainly on national security issues, for several years.

Three Things You’ve Got Wrong about the Filibuster

AP Photo/Columbia, File

AP Photo/Henry Griffin

With the Senate showdown on executive branch appointments—and eventually filibuster rules—moving towards the moment of truth, it’s a good time to revisit some of the myths surrounding one of the hallowed chamber’s most perplexing procedures. Here are three:

Ending Minority Rule

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

The first test vote that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to bring before the Senate this morning is that of Richard Cordray, President Obama’s pick to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Reid decided to lead off with Cordray for a very good reason: The Republicans’ insistence on filibustering him makes clear their real intent is to throttle the Bureau. They are using a filibuster of an appointment to effectively repeal legislation they don’t otherwise have the votes to repeal. Nothing could better make Reid’s case that the filibuster has been twisted into a vehicle for minority rule.

In the South, the GOP Is A-OK with Being the White People Party

A "Moral Monday" protest in the North Carolina legislature against Republican moves to restrict aid to the poor, voting rights, and access to abortion. (Flickr/David Biesack)

We've been talking quite a bit about the split between House Republicans, safe in their own districts and opposed to immigration reform, and elite/establishment/national Republicans, worried about how the GOP will fare if it can't reach out to growing minority voting groups. But there's another group of Republicans that hasn't gotten as much attention, one that really makes up the anchor of the party: the Republicans who control state legislatures and governorships, particularly in the South. While we in Washington have been talking about the GOP's dire straits, things are very different down there. If you're a Republican in North Carolina, for instance, you aren't spending time worrying about the GOP's standing among Latinos. You're too busy running amok, fulfilling the legislative fantasies you've had for years, because now you control the legislature and the governor's office. These are the boom times.

How the Conservative Media Are Eating Up the Zimmerman Trial

George Zimmerman during his interview with no-nonsense journalist Sean Hannity.

George Zimmerman's trial in the shooting of Trayvon Martin is coming to a close. For what it's worth, I think he'll probably get acquitted, since 1) the lack of any eyewitnesses leaves room for doubt, and 2) my impression is that in Florida it's perfectly legal to pursue somebody, confront them, and then when the confrontation turns physical and you begin to lose the fight, shoot them in the chest. You know—self defense.

In any case, conservative media are feasting on the Zimmerman trial (as are some other media). Their basic storyline goes like this: Trayvon Martin was a thug. George Zimmerman's gated community was beset by roving gangs of vicious black teen criminals. Zimmerman was in the right. And most critically, this whole thing is being drummed up by racial provocateurs, most especially Barack Obama and Eric Holder, to continue their ongoing war on white people, who are the real victims of racism in America today.

Let's take, for instance, this little story...