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Faux Concern

Hypocrisy on Privacy and The Pill

Birth control and data mining used to be things they believed in, now both are Big Government plots to be stopped.

I’m sure you chuckled at this weekend development as much as I did: At its winter meeting, the Republican National Committee, , passed a resolution condemning the NSA’s data-mining policy. The language about “unwarranted” government surveillance being an “intrusion on basic human rights” passed by voice vote, with only a few dissenters.

This is being read in the media as evidence for the party’s continuing turn away from war-mongery, Ari Fleischer-style, “watch what you say and do” Big Brotherism and toward a Pauline (as in Rand) libertarianism. And I wouldn’t deny that there’s something to that. The libertarian streak is very in vogue on the right, and neocons can’t seem to get Americans agitated about anything.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The passage of this resolution is mostly about the guy in the White House. If you want to try to tell me this was an act of principle by the RNC, then put Mitt Romney in the White House for a moment. Do you think the RNC would have considered such a resolution? Please. Reince Priebus would have had a stroke. He’d have quashed it in minutes. But with Barack Obama in the White House, the rules are different. The RNC passed this resolution to kick a little extra sand in Obama’s face.

This isn’t new of course, this rancid hypocritical sand-kicking, but it keeps getting worse, more comically transparent and more brazen. You may have read last week, for example, after Mike Huckabee’s birth-control throw down, that back in 2005 when he was Arkansas governor, Huckabee approved legislation requiring health-insurance plans in the state to cover contraceptive pills and devices. In fact, according to The Arkansas Times, Huckabee’s exemption for religious employers and organizations was narrower than the exemption in Obamacare.

‘Uncle Sugar’

Why Women Do Not ♥ Huckabee

What galaxy do Republican men live in? Apparently one where ladies who use contraception are ‘helpless’ and this potential 2016 contender could have been the fifth Beatle.

A few weeks ago, right after the dark clouds gathered over Chris Christie’s presidential prospects, some friends and I were having the usual Washington conversation of discussing the rest of the field. After we agreed that it was an awfully B-list bench, someone piped up: Hey, don’t forget Mike Huckabee! He’s losing all the weight!

Clearly, some of that vaporized body mass came out of his brain matter, based on his unhinged comments Wednesday at the Republican Party’s winter meeting. Discussing the GOP’s need to get more of the women’s vote, he said the Democratic Party tells women “they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.”

He said this, amazingly, in a speech that, in his mind anyway, was all about how the Republican Party is the true friend of women: “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.”

Here we go again. What galaxy do these right-wing men live in? So now contraception is like welfare? I’m reading him right, right? This is what he said—in essence, that birth control, provided by people who think women can’t control their libidos, makes women “helpless.” It’s the culture of dependency again, but this time transferred from the ghetto to the uterus. The Democrats, I guess, want women to go out and have unrestrained sex, so Democrats can then go out and destroy America by distributing these sinful contraceptive devices. So women, you see, are not human beings with agency and volition about their sexuality in Huckabee Land. They’re nothing more than the cat’s paws of the godless, baby-killing Democrats, who want to keep them on the Democratic plantation. The Pill, the welfare check, the Earned Income Tax Credit—all the work of Satan, propagated by the party of Satan.

Virginia, Same-Sex Marriage, Right Side of History

A Blue (Not a Red) Herring

Big news this morning to be filed under Yes, Elections Matter: The state of Virginia is changing its position today and endorsing same-sex marriage.

This is the announcement of the state's new attorney general Mark Herring, a Democrat. Herring told NPR's Steve Inskeep that he will stop defending Virginia's same-sex marriage ban and place the commonwealth on the side of the plaintiffs, two same-sex couples fighting for the right to be married in the state in a case called Bostic v. Rainey. "As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians' rights," Herring said. "The commonwealth will be siding with the plaintiffs in this case and with every other Virginia couple whose right to marry is being denied."

The former attorney general, of course, was Ken Cuccinelli, who was on the side of bigotry. Herring's Republican opponent, Mark Obenshain, made it clear that he was going to defend the state's ban if elected.

Herring himself waffled on the question, so he's no trailblazing leader on the issue. Eight years ago as a state senator, he was against letting gay couples marry. But to his credit, he switched during the campaign last year. He beat Obenshain by just 165 votes out of 2 million cast.

The GOP's Voting Math Problem

Looking at the electoral college map, it's clear that the Republicans need someone like Chris Christie to run for president. The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky joins MSNBC to explain.

Go Away

Vitter Slithers Back to Bayou

After surviving a prostitution scandal and a dead madam, the Republican wants to be the Bayou State’s next governor.

I was once shooting the breeze with a Democratic senator I knew fairly well. This was a few years ago, back when the toxic atmosphere wasn’t quite as hideous as it would become. Just on a personal level, I asked: Who on the other side is surprisingly nice, and who’s just a real prick? I don’t remember the surprisingly nice answers, but on the S.O.B. factor the senator’s response was immediate: David Vitter.

He’s a nasty piece of work, the junior senator from Louisiana. He doesn’t seem to like anybody. He loathes senior senator Mary Landrieu, he detests Governor Bobby Jindal, he despises the media. They all pretty much hate him back. And yet, by merely announcing, he immediately became the odds-on favorite to win the governor’s race in 2015. Why?

The announcement may seem surprising to those of us outside the state, but “this was the worst-kept secret in Louisiana,” a political operative with knowledge of the state told me Monday. Vitter has been holding a series of town-hall meetings and tele-town-hall meetings, signaling the obvious intention.

I’ll get to race handicapping in a few paragraphs, but first let’s deal with the only thing most people know about David Vitter (who has not, by the way, distinguished himself in the Senate in any way). I’ve always wondered: How in the world did he survive that hooker business? Not only did he admit he was a client of Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s escort service. She then went and hanged herself. Not over him personally. Over the whole mess, and staring at serious jail time. But still. Extramarital relations are one thing, with a staffer or a woman of accomplishment; politicians almost always slog their way through that. But here we had the guy calling on hookers, and the dead body of the madam. And Vitter skated through it and sailed to reelection two years later. How?

Desperate Times

The GOP’s Rising Christie Panic

Without the scandal-engulfed New Jersey governor, Republicans don’t have a candidate who could even come close to the votes needed to win the presidency in 2016.

Well, well, well, today is an interesting day: it’s Chris Christie’s re-inauguration day. It was just two weeks ago, a little more, that this was going to be a day of shimmering triumph. I was just reading this CNN dispatch, from January 6, that talks about how the governor is planning on starting his day at a black church (whose reverend presided over Whitney Houston’s funeral) and ending it at Ellis Island. There’s nary a word in it about bridges and subpoenas.

Back then, today was supposed to be the official beginning of the slow and ineluctable ascent to the White House. He didn’t have to do or prove anything in this putative second term. Lose a little weight, maybe. But otherwise, he was on the glide path to the GOP nomination, not that Rand Paul and others wouldn’t have something to say about it, but the party establishment and most of the big money all set to gather around Christie and make sure that he didn’t have to spend too much time crossing swords with the crazies.

Now? Things are a little different, aren’t they? I trust you’re enjoying the Christie panic among Republican establishment types as much as I am. That New York Times story on Sunday, with big boosters like Home Depot’s Kenneth Langone fretting publicly that he really must surround himself with better people (so it’s their fault!), combined with the cable damage-control efforts by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, really shows the extent to which the party big shots have been counting on Christie to save them.

What does the rest of the world think of Chris Christie?

Dark Days

Why Conservatives Hate Light Bulbs

You’ll have to pry incandescents out of their cold, dead hands. How one little-noticed new budget provision keeps alive the most ridiculous element of Republicans’ culture war.

You may not be following the budget debate wrapping up on Capitol Hill right now. Between Chris Christie and Bruce Springsteen and the Oscar nominations and the Justin Bieber cellphone controversy, it got kind of lost.

But one fact about this new budget is worth contemplation. It carries forward the culture war over light bulbs. Yes, light bulbs. And the reasons for the light-bulb culture war? Well, pretty much the same reasons for the rest of the culture war. Light bulbs became culture-war fodder about three years ago when they started to look like curly fries at Arby’s. They started costing more. They got… funny. And confusing. Now we had to learn about things like “lumens”—which sounds vaguely European, like some legume favored by those socialized-medicine-loving people of Scandinavia. Of course this happened after Obama became president. And, of course, libruls and gummint people started talking them up.

But it was George W. Bush’s Department of Energy that got this ball rolling, back in 2007, and the light-bulb industry immediately embraced the switchover to CFL bulbs (compact fluorescents—the squiggly spiraley ones) because they had the technology on hand to start making them and capture market share. They last far longer than incandescent bulbs and save enormous amounts of energy. If every American household replaced 15 old-style bulbs with 15 CFLs, or better yet LED bulbs (the ones that often have that kind of fan-like look on the narrow part of the body leading up to the bulb), we’d save an equivalent of more than 40 power plants’ energy output.

But as Groucho sang in Duck Soup, “Whatever it is, I’m against it,” and so it is with conservatives: If liberals are for it, they automatically turn anti. A study last spring by a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania found the following: She took two sets of liberals and conservatives and explained to them that CFL bulbs cost more upfront but saved money over the long haul and could reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. At this point, liberals and conservatives reacted with more or less equal enthusiasm. But then? As Grist reported it: “Slap a message on the CFL’s packaging that says ‘Protect the Environment,’ and ‘we saw a significant dropoff in more politically moderates and conservatives choosing that option,’ said study author Dena Gromet.”

Clash of the Titans

Clintons Timid Next to Christie

A Hillary ‘Hit List’? Sounds a lot like the way Christie plays ball. Except there’s no evidence at all that Clinton did anything to anyone.

Let’s say Chris Christie survives the bridge scandal and does go on to become the 2016 GOP nominee. It’s looking less likely, but let’s just say it for the sake of this column. And let’s say he does end up facing Hillary Clinton. A clash of titans. A death-match of icons. And most of all, given what we’ve just learned about Christie and what we’ve known about the Clintons for 20 years, a squaring off of two of the most ruthless political machines of our time. Right?

That’s what a lot of political journalists are going to write and a lot of hosts are going to scream on TV. And maybe it’s a just harmless way to get people not to change the channel. But let’s take a look at these mighty, terrible machines. We’ll see some important differences.

It turns out, according to a new book excerpted in Politico, that two Clinton aides kept an enemies list, comprised of the pols whom the Clintons had helped over the years who then went off and endorsed Barack Obama. The Clintons seethed, plotting their revenge. They, you see, will stop at nothing. You know the story, you’ve been hearing it for two decades.

There is a small problem, however, which is that the Politico excerpt, overheated as it is in certain passages, can’t muster a single allegation that the Clintons ever did anything with this list beyond read it. Actually, it doesn’t even assert that. So this whole list business may have been limited to aides. In any case nowhere does the excerpt allege that the Clintons ever tried to do political harm to anyone who crossed them.

Maybe Some Small Reforms?

The Charleston Water Saga

Some drinking water is safe in West Virginia. But will anything change now?

You can drink the water again in downtown Charleston and some outlying areas, but still not in large portions of the affected area extending into several counties. Here's a map.

You've probably read by now that the Freedom Industries facility that was the source of the spill had not been inspected by anyone since 1991. Today's Charleston Daily Mail (yes, Charleston has two newspapers, and more surprisingly still, they're both very good, though the Gazette's editorial page is more to my liking) has an excellent article from Capitol bureau chief Dave Boucher about why the state's Department of Environmental Protection has never had any jurisdiction over the plant and whether that might change.

The DEP has authority only over manufacturing or emission sites, not mere storage sites, as this one is. The DEP doesn't even know how many facilities there might be in the state like this Freedom Industries storage site, which housed 4 million gallons of the chemical. An inventory will reportedly get underway here in the near future.

Reports of inventoried chemicals are, under the state's Community Right to Know Act, supposed to be filed with the state's division of homeland security and emergency management. Boucher's report doesn't indicate explicitly whether Freedom has filed the appropriate paperwork but nevertheless suggests that it wouldn't matter because the paperwork required of facilities that store "hazardous" materials is so vague as to be meaningless.

The Radical Normal

How Radical Becomes Normal

Under George W. Bush, the GOP never balked at extending unemployment benefits, but that was then. Their newfound intransigence on this issue proves afresh that the party has been hijacked by extremists.

So this is showdown week in Congress for extension of unemployment benefits. Frankly, it looks bleak. No, it’s not that the public is against it. In fact far from it—58 percent support the extension in a new poll. But as I’ve written a kajillion times these last few years, it unfortunately doesn’t much matter what the people think. Republicans in Congress care only about the views of the more radical half of their party. And in that same poll, Republicans opposed the extension 54-42.

As long as that remains the case (and there’s no reason it’s likely to change), “UI,” as they call it on the Hill, seems a heavy lift. Republicans are insisting on cuts from elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for the benefits’ $6.4 billion cost. And Democrats are talking with them. But there’s no progress yet. In fact, it seems today that even the six Republicans who voted in the Senate last week to allow debate to proceed would not vote to extend the benefits just yet.

But let’s take a step back here, because introducing a little bit of historical context shows just how extreme the Republicans’ position is, and it shows us how, over time, what used to be crazy-radical becomes normal with the people.

When George W. Bush was president, noted Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Jim Lehrer’s PBS show last week, unemployment benefits were extended five times, “no strings attached any of those times.” So as long as it was a Republican president under whom their constituents were out of work, they were happy to vote to extend the benefits. The last extension under Bush, in late 2008, passed 368-28 in the House of Representatives. Remember, this was with no “pay-fors,” in the argot. This vote took place a month before Election Day, which may have partly motivated 142 Republicans to vote for it with only the real hard-shellers going against it.

Dry Times

West Virginia’s Toxic Disaster

How long can 300,000 people go without potable water? A chemical spill by a coal facility has left a big swath of West Virginia in an unthinkable state—with no end in sight.

I’ve almost always entered Charleston, W. Va., via I-79, which traverses the 157 miles from Morgantown (my hometown) down to the state capital. It’s a drive over the course of which you enter the “real” West Virginia—the mountains get steeper and more muscular, the accents a little thicker, more genuinely Southern than Appalachian-twangy; when I was a kid, it was down there where it seemed they did most of the serious hard labor that the rest of the country associates with the state.

I went to school with many miners’ sons and daughters, but overall, Morgantown, being a college town and built on a somewhat gentler terrain that isn’t isolated from the rest of the world in the way much of the state is, has a reputation down in the hollers for being soft. When I went to basketball camp, the boys from the real West Virginia would make fun of us effete Morgantown kids. We let ’em yap and did our talking on the hardwood.

Anyway, as you wind down I-79, you’re in the deep, deep country, and then you turn a certain corner and bam, there it is, Charleston, the only place in the whole state that has something you might generously call a skyline. It’s a very nice medium-small city. Like any state capital, lots of lawyers. A nice independent bookstore. A hideous looking 1970s basketball arena, where the high-school state tournaments are held every year. A steakhouse across the street called The Fifth Quarter, which is good but ain’t cheap.

But right now the Fifth Quarter is closed. Everything is closed. Since the chemical spill Thursday morning at the plant about a mile and half up the Elk River from downtown, residents can’t use the water for anything except flushing the toilet and putting out fires. No dishwashing, no showers, no hand-washing, no drinks from water fountains, no eating of any food that required water in the preparation process. This was a chemical that’s used in the coal-washing process, at what we call down home preparation plants. State officials warn that if you try to take a shower, you’re likely to find the results quite painful.

Not Stupid

Did Christie Turn a Blind Eye?

The New Jersey governor says he only discovered the truth about “Bridgegate” on Wednesday. He’s not stupid, so it must have been willful ignorance.

Well, that was a virtuoso performance by Chris Christie yesterday. For about 20 minutes. Unfortunately for him, he spoke, and spoke, and spoke, for about 110 minutes.

For the first 20, he had something to say—firing deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, announcing that his former campaign manager Bill Stepien would have no role going forward either in Trenton or with the Republican Governors’ Association. He summoned the requisite fake contrition and outrage. It all could have been a big recovery.

Then he just kept talking. Let’s put it this way. When you say toward the beginning of a press conference with some degree of dramatic flair that you’re going to go up to Ft. Lee to meet with the mayor, and then you end up talking long enough so that a chyron eventually appears at the bottom of the TV screen that says (I forget the precise wording) Ft. Lee Mayor Doesn’t Want to Meet With Christie, you’ve gone way past lights out. (They did meet in the end.) He was like Norma Desmond up there, still craving the spotlight after the spotlight had long since been dimmed.

In much of pundit land, “time” equals “candor,” as Christie is undoubtedly aware, so he surely knew that the longer he went on, the more some pundits would gush. But I think he started to repeat himself and become tiresome, and he left thousands of words on video tape that can someday be used against him.

Incident on 178th Street

Three Christie Possibilities

Now, we’re learning something that I’ve been wondering about for days: that emergency medical services were interfered with by the lane blockages at the GWB. Linh Tat of the Bergen Record reports today that an unconscious 91-year-old woman wasn’t reached by EMS technicians for the unusually long time of seven minutes because of the heavy traffic; she died at the hospital of cardiac arrest. Is it provable that this death can be laid directly on Bridget Kelly’s plate? Maybe not. But it and the other incidents are certainly enough to spark a criminal—not legislative; criminal—investigation.

Then, someone will surely crack. With regard to the governor, there are not just two possibilities—that he either knew or didn’t know. There are three:

1. He’s telling the whole and complete truth in yesterday’s statement, that this was the first he’d known that the lane closings were political;

2. He was in on it from the start and helped mastermind it or at least winkingly approved it;


Will GOP Govs Cave on Medicaid?

Several GOP governors turned down federal money to expand their states’ insurance for the poor. Now even some hard-core conservatives are about to take the cash.

When will some states that initially refused federal money to expand Medicaid for their poor citizens pull a flip-flop and accept it? Because it’s inevitable that some will—and as they do, the Republicans’ sabotage of Obamacare will be profoundly undermined, and people’s concomitant opposition to the law will start to vaporize.

This thought is occasioned by the publication yesterday by Theda Skocpol, the esteemed Harvard sociologist and political scientist and head of the excellent Scholars’ Strategy Network, of an eye-popping chart about how health-care coverage is proceeding so far in various states. Skocpol divides the 50 states into five categories: “full-go,” the 14 states that have accepted the Medicaid expansion and set up their own exchanges; “supporters,” the seven states expanding Medicaid and working within the federal exchange; “exchange partners,” the two states working with the federal exchange but not expanding Medicaid; “Medicaid only,” the four states expanding Medicaid but defaulting on the exchanges; and “just say no,” the 23 states that aren’t accepting Medicaid money or working with the exchanges


Scholars Strategy Network

In each of these five categories, what percentages of previously uninsured are gaining coverage? It’s about what you’d think, but it’s pretty astounding to see.

Profiles in....?

What Liz Cheney Should Say

My colleague Michelle Cottle does a great job today of capturing the Sturgesesque bathos of the Liz Cheney “campaign.” But I have a serious suggestion for La Liz, which is less Sturges than Sidney Lumet.

This campaign was a cynical farce from start to pathetic finish. And I think we’d all agree that nothing was more cynical than her denunciation of same-sex marriage. As her sister’s partner, Heather Poe, said at the time Liz made that statement, "to have her say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive,” because Liz had always supported the couple.

I’ll be perhaps more generous than one needs to be and grant that Liz is telling the complete and honest truth about this family medical situation, even though something tells me that if she’d been 30 points ahead in the polls instead of 30 points behind, she might have found a way to deal with this situation while still campaigning. But if I’m wrong and it is indeed something much more serious than that, then of course, as a parent myself, I can only wish her and child the best.

But one thing it seems pretty obvious she was not telling the truth about was her position on gay marriage. So why doesn’t she just come clean now?

About the Author

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Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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