Conservatism

Let Them Eat Dignity

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Flickr/Gage Skidmore Representative Paul Ryan A few days ago, Paul Ryan got caught repeating a little fib in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. It was of a not-uncommon type, in which a vivid anecdote somebody hears from somewhere gets told and retold in a game of political telephone in which the facts get mangled and the story from elsewhere becomes something the speaker claims happened to her. We can forgive Ryan for repeating it, since the falsehood didn't originate with him. But the real power of the story lies in its revelation of the cruelty that underlies the way contemporary American conservatives look at the poor, and the wispy veil they try to pull over that cruelty in the hopes we won't see it for what it is. To start, here's the story Ryan told, about Eloise Anderson, who directs the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families: She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government...

Can We Make Environmentalism a Centrist Issue?

Flickr/Manos Simonides
Flickr/Manos Simonides F or decades, thinkers on the left have wondered why the working class regularly votes against its own interests, upending what Marx believed would be an inevitable march from democracy to socialism. In his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? , Thomas Frank argued that social issues obscure economic motives, and indeed the most salient non-economic one has always been race, at least in this country. In America, conservative politicians have exploited racism to their own benefit, first to disempower blacks with Jim Crow, then to undermine the union movement, and more recently to undercut support for welfare programs, as Ian Haney Lopez recently documented in Dog-Whistle Politics . Nixon’s “law and order campaign” played on racial fears, as did Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens.” Republicans played at race to win solid majorities for decades while actively working against the interests of the majority of Americans. The left has much to learn about this...

Daily Meme: Love, Tolerance, and CPAC

For the millions of American reality-show junkies who just can't wait for the return of 2012's most outrageous hit show—the Republican presidential debates—this week's Conservative Political Action Conference has offered a tantalizing sneak preview. Just about every potential 2016 cast member was in D.C.—and everybody had something to prove. For Chris Christie, excluded last year but invited back now that he's being "attacked" by the media—instant conservative cred!—had to show he could get the 'wingers on their feet. Which, Christie being Christie, was a snap, especially with guaranteed-to-please counterfactuals like this one about Democrats: “They’re the party of intolerance. Not us.” (And hey, if you doubt for a second that Republicans are indeed the lonely beacons of open-mindedness in this land, check out the instantly famous photo of the near-empty conference room where they held their minority outreach panel on Thursday .) Bobby Jindal, who's trying to prove that being detested...

CPAC’s Second-Class Gays

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
*/ AP Photo/Susan Walsh Texas governor Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual conference in National Harbor, Maryland this morning. W atching gay conservatives try to make their way in the GOP is like having a friend in an emotionally abusive relationship. Despite the victim's best attempts to placate the abuser, tensions mount until there's a big blowup. Your friend denounces the guy, packs their bags, and resolves to leave. But next you hear, suddenly everything's fine; the abuser has apologized—he's been under a lot of stress lately—and getting out was a bad idea anyway. At this week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), gays and the GOP are in another one of their reconciliation phases. After raising hell for being knocked off the list of sponsors in 2011, the leadership of gay Republican group GOProud is back to keeping up appearances. "The relationship between GOProud and the American Conservative Union has been frayed in the past...

Conservatives Have All the Best Talismans

Gaze upon me holding this fire stick, you easily mollified rubes.
Mitch McConnell is the GOP's shrewdest politician, but he's not exactly beloved by the party's base; he's got a Tea Party challenger in his re-election race this year, and he's regularly pilloried by hard-right conservatives as an establishment sellout. So he'll take whatever opportunity he can to do a little strategic outreach to that great grumbling mass that is, to paraphrase Howard Dean, the Republican wing of the Republican party. Fortunately, that yearly ritual of spittle-flecked rage, breathtaking extremism, and passionate theological debates about how many Reagans can dance on the head of a pin known as the Conservative Political Action Conference is going on right now. And when it was his turn to speak, Mitch made quite an entrance. Check this out: OK, so he doesn't exactly look like a rough 'n ready cowboy. But I'm sure the display was greeted with many chuffs and snorts of approval. Which got me thinking: Liberals really lack any talismanic physical objects they can display...

The Last Rural Abortion Clinics in Texas Just Shut Down

AP Images/Pat Sullivan
S ince November, the last abortion clinics in East Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, some of the poorest and most remote parts of the state, have been hanging on by their fingernails. The two clinics, both outposts of a network of abortion providers called Whole Woman’s Health, stayed open with slimmed-down staffs while their owner, Amy Hagstrom Miller, struggled to comply with the first chunk of HB2—the voluminous anti-choice law passed by the Texas legislature last summer—which requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Today, after weeks of failed negotiations with nearby hospitals, Hagstrom Miller announced that both clinics are closing their doors. The clinics in Beaumont, about an hour east of Houston, and McAllen, just north of the Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, were the last rural abortion providers left in Texas. Between July, when HB2 passed, and November, when the admitting privileges requirement went into effect, nearly half of...

Why Does the National Media Get Texas So Wrong?

AP Images/Eric Gay
T uesday, as Texas primary voters headed to the polls, Politico published an article titled, “ The Texas tea party’s best days may be behind it.” Below the headline were photographs of Governor Rick Perry, the state’s junior U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Steve Stockman, who had decided to wage a last-minute, barely visible campaign again Texas’s senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn. The article focused on the Cornyn-Stockman race, and it mentioned a congressional primary in which incumbent Pete Sessions faced a Tea Party challenge from Katrina Pierson. To anyone familiar with Texas politics, the article was baffling. It made no mention of the state’s most-watched (and most important) GOP primary, the race for the lieutenant governor nomination, and it made only a passing reference to the attorney general race, even though both contests featured bloody fights between so-called “establishment” and Tea Party candidates. The state’s hardest-right election force, the Empower Texans...

Paul Ryan: A Poor Man's Savior of the Poor

AP Images/Charlie Neibergall
AP Images/Charlie Neibergall W isconsin Republican Paul Ryan, chair of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, spent the fall touring poor neighborhoods in an effort to rebrand the GOP as the true saviors of the poor. It was both an effort to mark the 50 th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, and to salve the wounds his party felt after its 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney put on a monocle and proclaimed the nation to be full of moochers while giggling maniacally over vichyssoise at a fancy dinner party. (OK, he didn’t do that, but he did do this .) Monday, Ryan released a report on the federal programs meant to help low-income Americans. He means it to be a critique of most of those programs, and use the report as a platform from which to argue for reform. If his previous budgets are a guide, he wants to turn most federal programs into block grants for the states. If our history with welfare reform tells us anything, block grants would mean funding for,...

Conservatives Condemn Weak Weakness of Weakling Obama

If Obama started on the Charles Atlas program, no one would kick sand in America's face.
Am I the only one seeing a new sense of purpose in the old neoconservative crowd, an almost joyful welcoming of a good old-fashioned Cold War showdown with the Russkies? Nobody's saying they don't love the War on Terror, but let's be honest, it's getting a bit old. Best to forget all about Iraq, and Afghanistan isn't much better. That jerk Barack Obama ended up getting Osama bin Laden, which was—well, let's be kind and call it bittersweet. But this Ukraine thing is just like old times. It's us against them, a battle of the big boys! Well, sort of anyway. So now is the time for action! Aren't there some missiles we can move into Turkey or something? Ukraine is providing a great opportunity for the muscle-bound manly men of the right, who are totally not overcompensating so shut up, to demonstrate how tough and strong they are. Action!, they demand. Not words! We have to show Putin who's boss! He thinks we're weak! Obama is weak! We must be strong! Strong strong strong! One big problem...

The Revolt of the Elites

Arizona governor Jan Brewer. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
For the longest time, Democrats were the party of infighting and disunity, whose squabbling never failed to find its way into the news. It's a grim inside joke among liberals that the most common headline in the political media is "Democrats in Disarray." But it hasn't been that way for a while. In fact, perhaps the most important political dynamic of the current era is the conflict within the previously monolithic Republican party. Not that there wasn't always tension between the Republican establishment, whose primary concern was laissez-faire economics, and the conservative foot soldiers spread across the country, who cared much more about social issues. But open warfare between the two was rare. Not these days, though. And after a couple of years of the establishment running scared, today they can celebrate (if that's the right word) a momentary victory. Yesterday, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill passed by the legislature there that would have made it legal to deny...

Platinum-Level Citizenship

AP Images/Robert F. Bukaty
A sk a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you're likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a "war on religion" since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there's little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind. In the process, they have made a rather spectacular claim, though not explicitly. What they seek is nothing short of a different definition of American citizenship granted only to highly religious people, and highly religious Christians in particular. They...

Arkansas's Medicaid Folly

AP Images/Brian Chilson
On Tuesday, the Arkansas state legislature failed to renew a bill authorizing its expanded-Medicaid plan, an innovative approach to Obamacare that allowed the state to use federal funds to purchase private insurance for the state's low-income residents. Arkansas's unique plan was a compromise between the state's Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, and the Republican-led legislature, and made the state one of the few ultra-conservative ones to bother expanding Medicaid. In the 25 states that didn't expand, many of the poor are still doing without insurance, because the federal subsidies weren't designed to kick in until people made above a certain threshold. If Arkansas doesn't renew its Medicaid program, more than 87,000 people who've gotten insurance this year will suddenly lose it again. Opponents are complaining that the plan is expensive. To begin with, the entire cost is paid for by the federal government until 2016, and after that the state will never chip in more than 10 percent...

Conversations with My Mother

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin
L ast week I had lunch with my mother. At 86 going on 66 she’s remarkable, alert and energetic, in generally high spirits; in the last decade she’s found the church, which I figure is fair enough for anyone who knows they must be somewhere near the end. Now this enters her conversation more, which I accept as well as someone can who has a higher opinion of God than of religion. Mom and I used to talk about politics a lot, something that always unnerved my wife, who didn’t understand how our contentiousness could be so good natured. But starting with the Iraq War, which made me madder than anything in my political life (including the Vietnam War, when I was a potential draftee), and moving into the Age of Obama, we’ve tiptoed around the subject of politics, for reasons that became clear at last week’s lunch when we skirted the subjects of Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly’s Super Bowl interview with the president, health-care reform, and the weather. Mom is an O’Reilly fan; she requested a...

When Culture Eclipses Class

AP Images/Erik Schelzig
A merica is where class struggle gets derailed by culture wars. It’s happened throughout our history. It happened again last week in Chattanooga. For more than a decade, the ability of the United Auto Workers to win good contracts for its members—clustered in GM, Ford, Chrysler, and various auto parts factories across the industrial Midwest—has been undercut by its failure to unionize the lower-wage factories that European and Japanese car makers have opened in the South. Daimler, BMW, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen—all of them ventured to the non-union South to make cars on the cheap for the American market. All these companies have good relations with the unions in their homeland, but by going south, they signaled they had little to no intention of going union in the U.S. It wasn’t just that Southern states had those wonderfully misnamed “right-to-work” laws that meant that even if the unions won collective bargaining rights, workers didn’t have to pay dues to the union for raising the...

The Death of Dog-Whistle Politics

Flickr/Theron Trowbridge
If you go over to Politico right now, in the "Hot Topics" listed at the top of the page, along with Obamacare, immigration, and the Olympics, is the name Monica Lewinsky. Which might strike you as odd, given that Lewinsky has been rather quiet in the decade and a half since her affair with Bill Clinton became public and led to his impeachment. But aged though it may be, the Lewinsky scandal is back. This is a story about intramural Republican party competition, the GOP's inability to learn from its mistakes, and the death of dog-whistle politics. The problem for the Republicans is that they don't seem to have realized it's dead. The latest round of Lewinsky-mania started when the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication that defines its mission as "combat journalism" ("At the Beacon, we follow only one commandment: Do unto them."), went through the papers of Diane Blair, a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and found notes that described Hillary's words and...

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