(Photo from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah is the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which voted late Tuesday night to disapprove the District's Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act. H ere’s a riddle for all you students of the American political system: You are an elected representative, and you would like to curry favor in your home district among right-wing conservatives. One way to do this is to pass a local law sanctioning discrimination against LGBT citizens and women who choose to use birth control, under the guise of “religious freedom.” But you’ve recently discovered that such a law can backfire pretty spectacularly. Just look at poor Mike Pence, Republican governor of Indiana, regarded as presidential material not long ago. What other tactic, besides sanctioning religion-based discrimination, could you use? Well, if you’re a member of Congress, you’ve got the people of the District of Columbia to whom you can teach a thing or two; they’re not...
Then there was the news in The Washington Post that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the influential conservative state policy organization, was threatening legal action if activist groups continued telling all ALEC’s rich friends like Google and Facebook that ALEC denies climate change. This is a bit rich considering its work protecting the interests of fossil fuel industries (as Ari Phillips at ThinkProgress writes, “Whether the group acknowledges climate change is somewhat beside the point if it doesn’t want to do anything about it.”), but it did prompt Dana Milbank of the Post to say, “There is no denying it: Climate-change deniers are in retreat.”
That all might sound like great news for environmentalists—enemy retreat is a good thing. But science-deniers weren’t the only enemies of environmental regulation; they were just a convenient cover. On Tuesday, David Roberts at Grist offered a sobering analysis of the demise of the debate over climate science, saying the shift away from denying the broad scientific consensus that global warming was real was “not because any flood of solutions is forthcoming, but because the science fight has become a distraction from the real work, the important work, which is blocking solutions and protecting the interests of the wealthy.”
Roberts claims that conservative efforts to scare the public away from environmental regulation rely on the same government-is-evil arguments conservatives use on economic issues. It makes sense—with more young voters considering the anti-science wing of the GOP to be backwards and a little out of touch, it’s better to drop the denialism cover. Even Senator Rand Paul, in his quest to appeal to younger voters, voted for an amendment stating that climate change is real, and (partly! just partly) human-made. (Don’t worry, though; if elected, he’s probably not actually going to do anything about it.)
But it might be even easier than focusing on the anti-government-intervention argument, because it turns out you don’t have to actually say you think humans caused it—the necessary step connecting acknowledgment of climate change to public push for proactive environmental policy. And conservatives might be able to continue to get away with that because less than half of the country believes climate change is caused by humans, according to a statistical model from Yale and Utah State University, and only about a third of Americans believe that there’s agreement among scientists. In the researchers’ maps depicting this consensus (or lack thereof) by congressional district, it’s easy to see why real proactive legislation might not be in the immediate future.
It’s really an effective strategy: Just say you know there’s a problem, but a problem that was naturally inevitable, and then you don’t have to do anything about it because, well, what could you possibly do? You could even go so far as Republicans have in California (including possible presidential candidate Carly Fiorina), who are boldly saying that environmentalists are the real culprits behind the state’s drought.
And really, that could be how the debate about what to do about climate change manifests in 2016, specifically in the Republican primary. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both voted "no" on that climate-change amendment earlier this year, denying that people have anything to do with global warming. If a majority of Americans aren't going to tell them they should—or even can—do anything about climate change, appearing to be anti-science is unlikely to hurt their political fortunes.
With the news that presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz’s affiliated super-PACs have raked in $31 million in less than a week, it looks like Senator Rand Paul is going to have to sell a lot of beer koozies.
Paul, who announced his candidacy on Tuesday, is already facing skepticism from conservatives and libertarians alike. As Paul Waldman noted here last week, the senator is likely to lose his distinctiveness as he toes the standard GOP line in preparation for the primary—especially as fear of ISIS displaces lessons learned from the Iraq War and the conservative base gets more hawkish. With CNN already wondering whether Paul “missed his moment,” the Paul campaign—complete with logo that looks more like an energy company than a campaign button—needs to brand his candidacy with a distinctive look. And as The Wall Street Journal noted, Paul’s online campaign shop features some unique, Brand Rand merchandise.
There’s a $15 “RAND” webcam blocker for those who haven’t discovered tape; multiple iPhone, Macbook, and iPad cases for those who worship the brand of Apple; and a $35 set of 12 “freedom paddles” for those who want “the next leader of the free world on a stick” (and don’t have a printer or access to popsicle sticks).
But there’s also something distinctly collegiate about the curation of items, as well as the very un–J. Peterman-like copy: “Look good listening to your jams with Rand Paul.” “Here’s to a 6-pack of freedom.” And there’s a “Don’t Drone Me, Bro!” T-shirt that, as the description says, combines “the Rand Paul filibuster for privacy with an Internet meme of a person yelling at police, ‘Don’t taze me bro.’”
Apparel-wise, there are skull caps, hoodies, and burnout tees (the patterns on which I think are more likely to induce debates about aesthetic taste than about civil liberties). And of course, there are flip-flops. My own personal opinions about flip-flops aside (they are terrible and should only be worn at the beach), someone on the Paul campaign clearly figured out that the vast majority of college students consider these two pieces of plastic acceptable footwear for every occasion.
Paul wants to be the cool candidate, and the idea seems to be to tap into the same grassroots energy that propelled the cool Obama, with a record share of the 18-29 vote, to the White House in 2008. The models in Paul’s campaign store are young, and for sale are Rand beer koozies and beer steins displaying a sunglasses-wearing, American flag–holding Jack Russell terrier. And, of course, there’s the quintessential swing-state lawn game, cornhole. (Rand’s website refers to it as “bag toss,” clearly reluctant to mention the word “cornhole,” but I’m from Ohio and I’m not afraid to call it by its proper name.)
None of this millennial outreach, though, is surprising. In the Fall issue of the Prospect, Adele M. Stan noted that Paul is directing his message of liberty to a very specific slice of that generation:
But if you drill down to look at which part of the millennial cohort expresses a belief in smaller government, it’s mostly white people, and the percentage varies according to how the question is asked. A March report by Pew Research found that overall, some 38 percent of millennials, not half, favored smaller government and fewer services. But when looked at through the prism of race, 52 percent of white millennials did, while 71 percent of non-white millennials favored bigger government and more services—numbers that likely speak to just which segment of the millennial generation Paul is aiming for.
As Stan writes, Paul’s libertarian cast masks a states’-rights philosophy that allows semi-local majorities to decide on matters that millennials are liberal on, such as same-sex marriage—a philosophy he’ll likely hold onto in his appeals to right-wing conservatives. Of course, maybe us millennials won’t notice that if he can convince us he’s just a liberty-loving dude who likes lawn games and brews.
Perhaps my favorite part of the Brand Rand shop is the short, phoning-it-in copy for one of the cornhole sets: “Have fun, make a difference,” is all it says. If only it were that easy.
(Photo: Amanda Teuscher) Warren Shadd, the world's only African-American piano manufacturer, shows off the harp he designed for his line of grand pianos. “ No one gave me a million dollars,” Warren Shadd says from behind the nine-foot-three-inch concert grand piano he designed. “How do you do this with no money?” A million dollars is certainly helpful when starting any business. But if you want to be the first African American to manufacture products as capital- and labor-intensive as a line of pianos and don’t have that kind of money, it helps to have the mind of both an engineer and an artist, creative talent, an indelible work ethic, and a musical pedigree inherited from a family that was an integral part of Washington, D.C.’s mid-century jazz culture. Not to mention connections in the music business and a great ability to generate buzz. American popular music owes a lot—in some respects, nearly everything—to African Americans. So it may be surprising to learn that there are no...
"Plantacja" by A7nubis - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
It’s not like Representative Andy Harris didn’t warn us. When District of Columbia voters last month overwhelmingly passed Initiative 71, the ballot measure to legalize marijuana in the District, the Maryland Republican threatened to use “all resources available to a member of Congress to stop this action.” And when it comes to preventing D.C. from exercising home rule, the arsenal of available resources is quite well stocked. Harris, the origin story of whose marijuana vendetta must be a Maureen Dowd–style special-brownie overindulgence that left him shattered, has for the past year made it his personal mission to prevent the people who didn’t vote for him from getting what they voted for. His latest nefarious plot is a rider, attached to the 1,600-page budget deal released Tuesday night, which prohibits D.C. from using its funds to enact the legalization of marijuana. The bill also continues the amendment that blocks D.C. from using its own locally raised taxes to fund abortions for...