Ringside

Rand Paul and Confederates: It's Complicated

When you have to come out and tell reporters, "I'm not a fan of secession," you're not having a particularly good day. That's what Rand Paul found himself doing today, in the wake of revelations that one of Paul's staffers, who co-wrote (or, let's be honest, probably ghost-wrote) Paul's 2010 campaign book, also spent years as a neo-confederate shock jock advocating secession, praising the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and urging whites to be proud of their heritage. Just how is it that Rand Paul, like his father before him, keeps attracting these people? It's a mystery. Interestingly enough, this latest episode in Rand Paul's struggles with race came about because of an article in a conservative online publication, The Washington Free Beacon . (To some, this is evidence of the neo-conservative faction of conservatism's opposition to Paul's isolationism. The Free Beacon is edited by Bill Kristol's son-in-law; make of that what you will.) And for the record, the aide, Jack Hunter—...

The First All-White Political Party

Back in 1964, in an interview with Ebony Magazine , the former vice president Richard Nixon—who had run for president in 1960 as a civil-rights moderate—warned that Barry Goldwater would transform the Republican Party forever if he managed to win his crusade for the GOP nomination. “If Goldwater wins his fight,” Nixon said, “our party would eventually become the first all-white political party.” Now, of course, Goldwater would win his fight, and four years later, Nixon would capitalize on post-civil rights resentment to win two presidential victories, the second, a landslide. But setting aside Nixon’s about-face on the question of African American voters, it’s worth noting that he was right. The current Republican Party—and its rejection of any government—flows directly from the beliefs embraced and pushed forward by Goldwater and his supporters. And not only has this GOP become a vehicle for white resentment, but in the last few weeks, it has begun to embrace the idea that it could...

The Forever War Sputters to an End

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, polls showed a remarkable nine in ten Americans supported the action. After all, we had just been attacked by an organization headquartered there, so it seemed only natural that our military would go in, hunt down the culprits, and punish them and those who helped them. But the years dragged on and on, and it eventually became clear that we weren't rooting out al Qaeda but trying to establish stability and democracy in a country that is a stranger to both. Meanwhile, over 2,000 American servicemembers have given their lives, and half a trillion dollars of our money has been spent on a war whose original purpose is all but forgotten. Barack Obama has pledged that our troops will be coming home from Afghanistan by the end of next year. But no one seriously believes that by then the Afghan government, such as it is, will have a firm hold over the country. Unfortunately, there's little to suggest that we could bring about that...

The Real Robert E. Lee

Today is the 150th anniversary of the final day of the Battle of ‎Gettysburg, and with that in mind, it’s worth remembering the particular actions of Confederate soldiers a week earlier, as they marched north into Pennsylvania. In the movement that culminated in Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee’s men kidnapped free blacks by the hundreds—men, women, and children. Up to a thousand were captured and forced into labor with the Confederate Army. And during the eventual retreat from Pennsylvania, they were sent South. Once in Virginia, they were returned to their former owners, or if born free, sold into slavery. What's key is that this wasn’t the work of bad apples or isolated units. It won approval from field commanders and leaders at the top of the chain. It was so widespread, in fact, that you could legitimately describe these raids as an objective of the campaign, especially given the time and manpower required to carry them out. So yeah, as we commemorate the lives lost at the battle of...

Solving (or Not) a Problem Like the Middle East

When George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address in 2005, a number of Republican members of Congress showed up with a finger colored purple, in solidarity with the Iraqi voters who were required to dip their fingers in ink upon leaving the polls. Iraq had held an election, the purple digits testified, and therefore invading two years prior had been a swell idea, the transition to democracy was on its way, and everything would turn out great. The triumphalism turned out to be a bit premature; thousands of Americans were still to die there, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and the country is riven by religious strife and violence to this day. As if we needed any reminder that an election does not a democracy make, Egypt's government now appears to be disintegrating, just a year after it held its first post-Mubarak election. Without strong civic institutions and no tradition of resolving disputes at the ballot box, the extended transition from dictatorship to...

Justice Scalia's Infuriating Hypocrisy

The opening lines of Antonin Scalia's dissent in United States v. Windsor —where a 5–4 majority of the Supreme Court overturned the 1997 Defense of Marriage Act on equal protection grounds—are straightforward: "We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation." For anyone interested in judicial restraint, it’s a compelling case. Too bad Scalia doesn’t fit that description. To wit, this unwillingness to strike down “democratically adopted legislation” was nonexistent just yesterday, when he joined John Roberts's opinion on Shelby County, Albama v. Holder . There, he agreed with the Chief Justice’s decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, despite the fact that it had been reauthorized by a near-unanimous Congress in 2006. What explains the difference between the two laws? Easy. Scalia (and Roberts, for that matter) don’t believe that racism is a problem anymore, so...

The Vanquished Voting Rights Act

Congratulations, America! Racial discrimination in voting is now a thing of the past. Or so the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court decided in their ruling issued today, overturning the preclearance formula of the Voting Rights Act, under which states with long histories of discrimination at the voting booth had to get permission from the Justice Department before changing their voting rules. Now they're free to do as they wish, and although one could still challenge blatantly discriminatory rules in court, states like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have been liberated from federal oversight. The National Review —which back in the 1950s opined that "the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally" by preventing black people from voting, because "the White community…for the time being…is the advanced race"— declared today's ruling "a civil rights victory." And they should know...

Texas' Last Minute Abortion Attack

When Republicans won sweeping victories in the 2010 elections, they decided to take advantage of the moment. They might be losing the culture war, but with control of many state legislatures, they could mount a frontal assault on women's reproductive rights. And so they did; in 2011, there were no less than 92 laws passed at the state level to restrict women's access to abortion. The next year saw a further 43 such laws passed (still more than any other year in history), and 2013 has already been a bad year for abortion rights. Yesterday, in an eleventh-hour move meant to come in under the deadline before the legislative session ends, the Texas House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to a bill that would make it almost impossible for women in the nation's second-largest state to get an abortion. The bill bans abortions after 20 weeks, and imposes restrictions on abortion clinics' ability to operate that, according to pro-choice advocates, would force the closure of 37 of...

The GOP's Endless Immigration Infighting

There was a time not long ago when liberals looked at their conservative counterparts with envy. The right was so disciplined, so unified, so well-coordinated, so good at devising and sticking to its talking points, while getting three liberals to agree on anything, much less act in concert, seemed all but impossible. It's amazing, though, how a couple of presidential election losses can rend a movement asunder. These days, the Republican party and the larger conservative movement is tearing itself apart over immigration reform, which, depending on which conservative you ask, is either the last best hope for the GOP to save itself from a slide into irrelevance, or a terrifying threat to America's territorial, legal, and spiritual integrity. Yesterday, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who has a long history of fear-mongering on immigration (he has favored the technique of finding a crime some immigrant committed, then giving it repeated coverage to give the impression of an immigrant crime...

The Fox You Rode in On

A few years ago, people joked that Fox new was running a jobs program for has-been, hoping-to-be-again Republican politicians dreaming of defeating Barack Obama in 2012. Among the personalities emploted by the network during Obama's first term were Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and of course, Sarah Palin. Palin had the best deal by far: a $1 million a year salary, a studio buily in her house so she wouldn't have to go anywhere, and a schedule of appearances so relaxed that she ended up getting paid more than $15 for every word she uttered on the air. And the thing of it was, she was terrible at it. She's always had some talents, but speaking extemporaneously on current affairs is most assuredly not among them. After one too many halting, inarticulate appearances on Hannity and The O'Reilly Factor , Roger Ailes quite reasonably cut her loose at the beginning of this year. Yet just a few months later, she's back. Fox has rehired Palin, lest the world be deprived of her...

The Boehner Ultimatum

Sometimes it's hard to tell which Republicans in Congress fear more: immigration reform passing, or immigration reform not passing. They need to help pass reform to show America's Latino voters that, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, the Republican party doesn't actually hate them. But their base doesn't actually like the idea of comprehensive reform, particularly if it involves a path to citizenship (even a long and painful one). What to do? In the Senate, where six-year terms allow for a longer view and members represent entire states, immigration reform probably has more than enough votes to pass, even over a filibuster. In the House, however, things are more complicated. It isn't that reform can't get the votes, because it can. But if it did, the majority would be made up of nearly all the Democrats and just some of the Republicans. And that would be a violation of the "Hastert rule," which calls for no bill to be allowed to the floor for a vote unless it has the...

Ringside Seat: Another Day, Another SCOTUS Decision

The story of voting rights in recent years has been largely about conservatives and legislators in Republican states working hard to restrict them, and progressives trying to counter those moves with legal challenges and organizing drives. The most prominent fights have been over voter ID laws, which are supposed to address the "problem" of voter impersonation, something that occurs about as often as two-headed sharks . Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld voter ID laws in 2008. But today saw an unexpected defeat for those who would like to make voting as difficult as possible, when the Court struck down an Arizona law requiring voters to prove their citizenship. Just as millions of American citizens lack photo IDs, millions don't have the ability to provide proof of their citizenship. The Court held that federal law—in this case, the "motor voter" law requiring only that voters swear under penalty of perjury that they are citizens—trumped the Arizona law. So for now anyway, it won...

Ringside Seat: The Family that Tweets Together

Being a politician requires a certain comfort with transparency. You have to accommodate yourself to being recorded all the time and accept that you'll have to be more open about your private life than most people. Not only will you have to parade your family before the cameras and worry that the girlfriend you dumped in college will tell her tale of woe to the local TV station, but you'll probably also have to make your finances public. And you'd better not forget to mow your lawn, lest your next opponent tar you as a bad neighbor who can't be trusted to keep America in tip-top shape. But now there's something else you'll have to worry about if you're an officeholder: Is that teenage son of yours a troglodytic moron? Because if he is, chances are pretty good he has expressed his unsavory views over social media. And if he has, there's an opposition researcher from the other party who's going to find out. So we've just gotten to know 16-year-old Joey Heck, son of Congressman Joe Heck...

Ringside Seat: The Metamucil Conspiracy

While there are a few foundations that give awards for service to the cause of liberalism, most of the cash prizes top out in the four figures. Which is why we might be just a tad jealous that our conservative friends, if they play their cards right, might grab themselves a Bradley Prize, given to those who have gone above and beyond the call of conservative duty; it comes with a check for a cool $1 million. This year's awards were given out last night, and one went to Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News, who certainly deserves it. Ailes did say he'd be giving the money to charity, which is nice, and given that his total compensation last year was $21 million, he can certainly spare it. In his speech blasting the Obama administration and liberals in general, the head of the "fair and balanced" news network took time to repeat one of the most oddly persistent conspiracy theories about the Affordable Care Act. "The federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce...

Ringside Seat: Breaking the GOP's Still Akin Heart

Republicans learned a number of lessons from the 2012 elections. They learned they need to reach out to Latinos. They learned that younger Americans aren't too fond of them. And they learned a lesson that was summed up in three words: "No more Akins." That would be Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate whose bid was torpedoed when he shared with the voters his colorful views on the likelihood of rape resulting in pregnancy (almost non-existent, he said, if in fact it's a "legitimate rape," because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down"). There was also, don't forget, the equally gynecologically insightful Richard Mourdock, who opined that if you're raped and become pregnant, "that is something that God intended to happen." One party strategist after another whispered frantically, "Ix-nay on the ape-ray!" to no avail. But they just can't help themselves. Today, the House Judiciary Committee was debating a bill to make all abortions illegal after 20 weeks,...

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