Tim Murphy

Congress, As Only Congress Can

#dysfunction | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A reflection of the U.S. Capitol, 17 February 2012. (Detail of photo by Kevin LaMarque/Reuters)

This is what it is—

At last count, one member has stepped down for health reasons (Mississippi’s Thad Cochran), one member resigned to seek a statewide office (California’s Xavier Becerra), four members gave up their seats to serve in the Trump administration (Georgia’s Tom Price, South Carolina’s Mick Mulvaney, Kansas’ Mike Pompeo, and Montana’s Ryan Zinke), five resigned under a cloud of scandal (Arizona’s Trent Franks, Michigan’s John Conyers, Pennsylvania’s Tim Murphy, Minnesota’s Al Franken, and Texas’ Blake Farenthold), and two stepped down because they didn’t feel like being in Congress anymore (Ohio’s Pat Tiberi and Utah’s Jason Chaffetz).

A recent FiveThirtyEight analysis noted, “If that feels like a lot, that’s because it is; it’s the most people who have resigned from Congress through this point in the session in at least 117 years.”

(Benen)

—but does not account for three U.S. Senators and thirty-three Members of Congress who are simply not running for any office, nor nineteen leaving their House seats in search of statewide office.

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The Mike Huckabee Experience (Christian Hatedown Remix)

In this April 18, 2015 file photo, former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks at the Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua, NH.  Huckabee is set to announce he will seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.  He has an event planned for May 5 in his hometown of Hope, Ark., where former President Bill Clinton was also born.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

This is a look ahead, toward some difficult times.

On Tuesday, Mike Huckabee made it official. The former Republican Arkansas governor and Fox News host launched his second bid for the White House in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas, vowing to stop the “slaughter” of abortion and calling for the protection of the “laws of nature” from the “the false God of judicial supremacy.”

Tim Murphy reports, for Mother Jones, the “Mike Huckabee you may not remember”, and it’s just as foul a history as you might imagine.

Huckabee, then a Baptist pastor who operated a small television station out of his Arkadelphia church, made sex and morality the centerpieces of his ’92 campaign—and he preached as fiery a message from the stump as he did from the pulpit. The novice politician let loose with eyebrow-raising tirades that occasionally put him to the right of the most fire-breathing conservatives. He endorsed quarantining AIDS patients, condemned efforts to shield homosexuals from discrimination, and called for the death penalty to be imposed on big-time drug dealers. He attacked Bumpers repeatedly as a libertine who supposedly supported giving condoms to 12-year-olds, sanctioned gay throuples, and voted to use taxpayer funds on “pornographic” art.

Serrano, Piss Christ (detail)Huckabee’s 1992 platform was an artifact of the Moral Majority’s high-water mark. In interviews and on the stump he explained that the nation had strayed toward “selfishness and sensuality” and had been “savaged by radical groups bent on a moral and social agenda” at odds with Judeo-Christian values. “When I was in school, they passed out Gideon Bibles—today, they pass out condoms,” he said at stop after stop on the trail. In the new liberal order, Huckabee warned his hometown paper, the Hope Star, a family would consist of “three homosexual men living together.”

The gay agenda, he believed, was influencing and restricting the nation’s response to the AIDS crisis. He endorsed quarantining AIDS patients from the rest of society—a radical view even among conservatives at the time—while arguing that the severity of the epidemic had been exaggerated because gay people wielded so much political clout. The federal government should spend less money on AIDS, he insisted, and more on diseases that the afflicted had not brought on themselves, such as cancer.

“I realize a lot of people have received AIDS through blood transfusions, but AIDS is basically a lifestyle disease, and when the lifestyle is changed, the disease risk goes significantly down,” Huckabee said in one interview. AIDS advocates themselves, not taxpayers, should pony up: “Elizabeth Taylor went before Congress and made a big pitch that we needed more federal funding for AIDS. If Elizabeth Taylor would take one of the rings off her finger and sell it, she could get more money for AIDS research than the average Arkansan will make in two years of hard work. If she’s really serious about it, she’s got assets that she could dispose of. Why should she make me take money from my children’s future, and take it right off my table when she needs to cough up some of her own coin for that.”

It is worth noting that in this time when American Christians lament that they are, in various ways, under some sort of siege―from gays, women, television, even basic reality―it probably won’t help anyone to have so many Republican candidates rushing to proclaim hatred in Jesus’ name.

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The Dignity of the Great State of Texas (and Other Notes)

Texas

See, the thing about Texas ....

It is, actually, a difficult proposition to pick on a whole state. After all, no population is monolithic. Still, though, there is a reason why one might note, as Tim Murphy of Mother Jones did last week, that—

As a Texas state senator, Dan Patrick has conducted himself in a manner consistent with the shock jock he once was. Patrick—who is now the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor—has railed against everything from separation of church and state to Mexican coyotes who supposedly speak Urdu. He’s even advised his followers that God is speaking to them through Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.

—and others will simply nod and mutter to themselves something about how that sounds right. Nor will those folks be surprised to find that the article only goes downhill from there.

And it is true that we see this over and over again, and while it is not some rarified view from an emerald tower to the far horizon, it is a difficult calculation to express just what it is they are doing wrong. Like art and obscenity, though, sometimes it is just plain apparent.

Whether it’s advocating violence against journalists, offering women money to abandon babies, tinkering with history in textbooks, trying to cram small government between women’s legs, showing his tolerance through intolerance, something about coyotes speaking Urdu, denigrating migrants, touting his own piety in order to be seen by other men, breaking Senate rules in order to try to force a bill through because, well, you know, God, mocking Asians, or arguing against the separation of church and state, there really isn’t anything about Murphy’s profile of the shoe-in to what is described as the most powerful office in Texas that doesn’t “sound Texas”.

One of the things about states’ rights is that in our democratic society, how our majority votes is one of the most apparent projections of what our society believes. It’s kind of like wondering what the Joni Ernst campaign means as an expression of Iowa values. Does any of this embarrass supporters?

And Texas? Come on, we saw Rick Perry in the 2012 primary. And it is still hard to explain the two presidential terms of George W. Bush. But for all the miserable disaster about Perry or Bush, or Ron “Legitimate Rape” Paul? Really? Does none of this embarrass the Texans who support these people?

Take Rep. Vance McAllister. The Republican from Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District is best known as the “kissing congressman”, and sure, it’s not the worst thing in the world for a member of Congress to be caught cheating on his wife. And some would make the point that, hey, it was just a kiss, you know? But what was really, really embarrassing about that episode, what seemed so unreal, was the back and forth about whether he would resign, or maybe simply not run for Congress again, and, well, now he actually trails the lone Democrat in a six-way race otherwise rated Safe Republican. Still, the only people annoyed by the controversy seem to be his opponents. And in truth, it is hard for outsiders to comprehend the context of Times-Picayune political reporter James Varney’s recent explanation of the race for LA5CD:

Is McAllister this bad? Does he actually have a chance of being re-elected?

Well, as for the first question, maybe not. He’s a veteran, for one thing. And he earned all that money through savvy personal business moves, for another. In addition, as his campaign stresses, he holds a bunch of excellent positions: he’s against amnesty; he thinks Obamacare is terrible.

So, taken all in all, McAllister is the sort of guy who could have kept his seat in Congress and a Robertson family duck blind forever if he could have simply resisted his married staffer.

Whether he has a chance or not is hard to determine. The Robertson clan, maintaining the Old Testament stance that jibes with their unshaven look, is backing and bankrolling a relative, Zach Dasher. Dasher, a political rookie, is also supported by outside groups like the Club for Growth.

It’s a crowded Republican field, too. The third candidate most people familiar with the field identify as a guy with a shot at the runoff is Ralph Abraham. Abraham holds both medical and veterinary degrees so he’s overqualified for the job. There isn’t a whole lot of daylight between the three men on the issues.

There’s also a Democrat in the race and, somewhat surprisingly, he’s reportedly got a shot at a spot in the runoff. There appears to be little reliable, objective polling data on the race. More than a month ago The News-Star in Monroe had McAllister leading the race with 27 percent followed by the Democrat, former Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.

At some point, it seems as if we are reading a satire on Poe’s Law, which essentially asserts that at some point it becomes impossible to discern between satire or even parody to the one, and reality to the other. And when this sort of question was largely restricted to internet arguments about anything under the sun, it was whatever it was. As a particular notion was explained to me in 1995, “Remember, this is the internet. Any moron with a connection can have a soapbox.” To what degree the surfactant has permeated the social discourse is a complex question, of course, but there does come a point when it seems almost impossible to dismiss the simple fact of certain results. Dan Patrick and Rick Perry in Texas? Vance McAllister in Louisiana? “Fangate”, for heaven’s sake? Really, it sounds like a cruel joke, “America’s Wang”, except that, well, it’s Florida, so one nods and mutters, “Sounds about right.”

In the end, it’s not that we hate these people in these states, because we don’t. And we might hope that despite the general contempt they show the rest of American society they don’t actually hate us. But, damn it, what kind of friends, family, or neighbors would we be if we stood by, watching them denigrate and even hurt themselves, and simply say nothing?

Sometimes people embarrass themselves. And, yes, sometimes it’s really, really funny. But the point is to be able to look back on this, someday, and laugh. These aren’t storts of things we should be laughing at, though. The implications are serious. And when the history is written, and the damage is tallied, the indictments will be hideous. At this point, simply admitting there is a problem might be a generational process for some of these states.

And we can complain about the media all we want, but in the end, the only way to change it is to stop paying attention to what the stenographers journalists say. And in truth, not everybody is suited to read the news backwards, to start from the editorials and work back to the sources. Sometimes this proves fruitful, such as when one hears conservative commentators ranting about liberal judicial activism on the Supreme Court, and then finding the case they are talking about, and it turns out all the Court actually did was refuse to overturn the opinion of one of the most conservative state supreme courts in the nation.α To the one, however, it is a laborious process, and sometimes source documents can be hard to find. To the other, there are some people who simply do not seem to understand how government works. And those would be the sort who would complain about the Supreme Court imposing its will on the states, but then be unable to figure out that had Missouri not pushed its losing cause in front of the Supreme Court, it would have stayed in the states. In this case, though, Missouri really, wanted to execute someone, demanded the Supreme Court’s attention, got it, and then failed to make the case. And if you put the question to certain people—How did the Supreme Court impose its will by leaving a state supreme court decision to stand?—it seems somehow incompatible with whatever is going on in their minds to understand that had the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the outcome would have been the same. Strangely, the dissonance of the complaint against liberal judicial activism creates an argument whereby the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting and overturning a state supreme court is the only outcome that would not constitute an imposition of will.

No, really, think about it. The three potential outcomes of Roper: (1) SCOTUS refuses to hear appeal, state supreme court decision stands; (2) SCOTUS hears appeal, upholds state supreme court decision; (3) SCOTUS hears appeal, overturns state supreme court decision. By the complaint of liberal judicial activism against the second possibility above—the one that came about—the first is similarly indicted for arriving at the same result; the third, technically, remains a mystery, but in this context of imposing against the states, the outcome that sees SCOTUS reject the state supreme court becomes the only one that does not impose the federal judiciary’s will on the states. The difference is in what part of a state one is looking at. It was the Missouri judiciary that imposed its judgment against the will of the state’s executive branch. And since the U.S. Supreme Court did not impose its will against the state judiciary, it imposed its will against the state executive branch. If it seems like a complicated accommodation for the executive branch of Missouri having asked the Supreme Court of the United States to impose its will? Well, right. That’s the problem with the rhetoric we hear from cable news commentary. And, really, considering what we know or believe about the “average voter”, who the hell has time to figure all that out? About everything?

And while all of this might seem a long and winding road from seeking divine inspiration in Duck Dynasty, we might hope to illustrate a larger issue. American society is lowering the proverbial bar for this crowd. And everybody selling something has a reason to play along. Simplistic sensationalism draws a news audience, which attends to the money biasβ. Simplified issue dynamics make for an appearance of greater efficiency and potency for campaign operations. And the candidates themselves have fewer details and quandaries to manage. In truth, the only losers in such a marketplace are the consumers, i.e., voters.

Stupidity is both simple and spectacular.

So, yes. We look to the low end of the data set, to what is dragging down the averages, and this is what we see? Yeah, the question persists: Aren’t they even a little bit embarrassed by all this?

It would be reassuring to believe they are.

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α That decision would be Roper v. Simmons (2005), in which the Supreme Court declined to overturn the Supreme Court of Missouri. In this case, reading backwards from the editorial complaint about liberal judicial activism, we find the underlying accusation to be that the Supreme Court of Missouri is apparently too liberal and activist. And, frankly, if the Supreme Court of Missouri is too liberal and activist, one wonders what the threshold actually is.

β You know that phantom liberal media conspiracy we hear about from time to time? It has always been about money, and part of the appearance of disparity in coverage is that while both sides indeed have their clowns, not all clowns are equal. What is the other side’s version of a Ted Haggard or George Rekers? Or Sarah Palin? Or Bryan Fischer? Or Ted Cruz? Really, if one asked about the other side’s John Boehner, it would be historically inaccurate to point to Nancy Pelosi. And there are reasons for this, and no, not all of them are moral or ethical indictments of conservative politics; much of it is just the fact of accelerating societal transformation and the resulting destabilization of prevailing cultural standards. That is to say, while conservatism itself is not inherently evil, there are reasons why it has come to this. That, in turn, is a larger discussion of its own.

Murphy, Tim. “Man Who Believes God Speaks to Us Through ‘Duck Dynasty’ Is About to Be Texas’ Second-in-Command”. Mother Jones. 21 October 2014.

Bowman, Bridget. “Poll Shows McAllister Race Is Wide Open”. Roll Call. 7 October 2014.

Everett, Burgess. “The passion of the ‘kissing congressman'”. Politico. 20 October 2014.

Varney, James. “Is Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., a big, fat slob or just a cheater?” The Times-Picayune. 21 October 2014.