Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush stumbles over a question about superheroes, and conservatives take issue with a new right-wing villain in the “Captain America” comics
Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush stumbles over a question about superheroes, and conservatives take issue with a new right-wing villain in the “Captain America” comics
Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., was endorsed for House speaker by the conservative Freedom Caucus. As speaker of the state legislature in Florida, Webster gave the members more of a say, which is what conservatives in Congress want from their next leader.
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Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., is running for speaker of the House. His chances are not good, but a look at his career explains why he’s the choice of the House Freedom Caucus.
Those conservatives in the House say they want a speaker who will not be a top-down leader, but will give members more of a say in what legislation sees action on the floor and who controls committees.
Webster says that is the mode in which he ran the Florida House of Representatives when he was the speaker in Tallahassee from 1996-98.
“Are we going to just change the personalities in the speakership?” Webster said in a web video pitching his candidacy. “Or are we going to fundamentally transform the way we do business here in Washington, D.C?”
When the Food and Drug Administration approved the first abortion pill in the United States 15 years ago this September, the politics of the decision were so fraught that the agency wouldn’t even name the officials behind its decision. The pharmaceutical company making the drug—a pill called mifeprex—took pains to hide its address.
September 28 marks 15 years since the FDA approved mifepristone. And today, those fears seem misplaced. Since 2000, more than 2 million women have used the drug to have an abortion in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Twenty-three percent of women who have an abortion today get a so-called medical abortion—most of them, using mifeprex. The drug has radically reshaped abortion availability for rural women, and Danco, the drugmaker, is out in the open.
Violent anti-abortion vigilantes, in other words, are no longer standing between women and mifepristone. Instead, as with so many facets of abortion in modern America, abortion foes are going after the abortion pill with restrictive new laws. It is easy to see why abortion foes are gunning for telemedicine. When polled, patients say they appreciate the privacy afforded by the pill. (Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen, and the second course can be taken at home.) It is also less expensive than a surgical abortion. Linda Greenhouse, a legal contributor to the New York Times, called it “the ultimate in women’s reproductive empowerment and personal privacy.” But the 2 million figure belies a sustained, and in many cases, successful campaign by conservative lawmakers and activists to put mifepristone out of reach. A decade and a half after mifepristone came on the market, abortion foes are blocking its progress with a vengeance.
The attacks on mifepristone come in two varieties: those that ban telemedicine, and those that force women taking the abortion pill to spend more travel time and money.
Telemedicine is what has allowed mifepristone to be part of a sweeping change in abortion access for thousands of rural women. Ground zero is in Iowa, at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland: Several times a week, Jill Meadows, a Planned Parenthood physician, appears via video conference to patients in seven other Planned Parenthood clinics across the state. A nurse seats a woman in a room with a computer monitor. Meadows and the patient talk via video feed. The patient takes the mifepristone with Meadows watching. Then, with a remote control, Meadows opens a drawer next to the woman containing pills that will cause the uterus to expel the pregnancy. The woman takes those pills at home; essentially, she has the abortion at home.
“It’s not much different at all whether I’m in the clinic,” Meadows recently told Mother Jones. “It’s the same exact process,” albeit one that saves many women hours of driving.
In the 1960s, William F. Buckley tried to banish organized conspiracists from the conservative movement with his crusade against the John Birch Society, which tellingly organized itself secretively, just like the Communists that it believed were everywhere. In a 2008 article in Commentary, Buckley told the story of how he, writer Russell Kirk, AEI’s William Baroody, and Barry Goldwater met in 1962, and discussed “the need to excommunicate the John Birch Society from the conservative movement,” so that they wouldn’t derail a Goldwater presidential bid in 1964. As Buckley described Robert Welch, founder of John Birch Society:
His influence was near-hypnotic, and his ideas wild. He said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and that the government of the United States was “under operational control of the Communist party.” It was, he said in the summer of 1961, “50-70 percent” Communist-controlled.
It was not a winning message for a presidential campaign, but Goldwater lamented to Kirk that “Every other person in Phoenix is a member of the John Birch Society. Russell, I’m not talking about Commie-haunted apple pickers or cactus drunks, I’m talking about the highest cast of men of affairs.” And so they had to act craftily in concert, which they then proceeded to do over a period of years.
But it was only a cosmetic move, as far as the mass right-wing base was concerned. This can be seen by the massive sales of conspiracist books, far outselling Buckley and Kirk. John Stormer’s “None Dare Call It Treason,” promoted as detailing “the communist-socialist conspiracy to enslave America,” sold 7 million paperback copies, mostly during Goldwater’s campaign, at the same time that Phyllis Schlafly’s “A Choice, Not an Echo,”another multimillion-seller, gave the campaign its most memorable slogan, while promoting the conspiracy theory that the Republican Party was secretly controlled by members of the Bilderberger banking conference, who were also in cahoots with global communism. It was these us-vs.-them conspiracist narratives that pulled together the conservative movement on the ground. Given the media and political structures of the time, it was possible to hide this substantial mass of conspiracist belief, much as a iceberg hides nine-tenths of its mass underwater. But there’s no mistaking that it was there, and remained unshaken despite being kept submerged.
“It is the rear-guard action of people who believe that just because other people are coming in with different views, different interests, and different concerns, and aren’t willing to naturally accept the previous order of things, that all doom and terror and fire from the skies is happening,” John Scalzitells me.
We’re talking about the most recent skirmish in a larger war, a war for the soul of nerd culture. This one involves the Hugo Awards, a literary award ceremony, but it’s the latest iteration of a new battle that already feels ancient.
Scalzi is an award-winning, best-selling novelist, the author of enormously entertaining science fiction novels like Old Man’s War and Redshirts. If you’ve read his popular blog, you’ll know he’s a passionate individual, and he seems incredibly frustrated by those in the science fiction and fantasy community who have launched this “rear-guard action.”
It’s the latest iteration of a new battle that already feels ancient
Yet if you talk to the people on the other side — who have dubbed themselves the “Sad Puppies” — they will point to Scalzi as part of a larger problem within the community. Yeah, their rhetoric might be a little over the top, but they’re the ones saving the industry from political correctness and the “literati.”
These Sad Puppies are, depending on whom you ask, the saviors of the Hugo Awards from mediocre books, a bunch of bigots, or part of a cynically motivated awards grab.
Science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Awards are chosen by a fan vote at both the nominee and winner stages. However, the number of people who vote at the nominee stage is small enough that a concerted effort by a small group can have disproportionate payoff.
That’s what happened with two groups purporting to support traditional space opera science fiction and politically conservative authors, who initially made up 72 percent of all nominees. Once this happened, many accused both slates of supporting racist, sexist sentiments. These voters say — accurately — that they followed the rules.
The term Sad Puppies is used interchangeably to refer to a group of Hugo voters and a specific slate of works advanced by those awards. It’s also often — inaccurately — been used to refer to a completely separate campaign. We’ll get to the other campaign — the Rabid Puppies — in a moment.
More than a decade after being invaded by the U.S., Iraq is moving away from the democracy the West tried to establish in the country.
On the streets of Baghdad, and in other corners of Iraq where locals have endured almost unimaginable chaos and tragedy over the last decade, two popular phrases capture the complexities of modern life.
“We used to have one Saddam Hussein, now we have a thousand,” one saying goes. The other: “The patch is small, and the hole is big.”
The first adage helps personify what has become endemic corruption in Iraq, giving rise to massive protests against public officials’ exploiting their positions to steal money and the government’s failure to stop it. The second represents the inherent fear among Iraqis that no leader, particularly in the current government, possesses the vision to see beyond the country’s existing problems and come up with a proactive solution in service of Iraq’s future.
The sentiments reflect the concerns of demonstrators who have taken to the streets in recent days in frustration over the government’s inability to deliver basic services like a reliable flow of electricity at a time when summer temperatures have topped 120 degrees. The largely peaceful and nonsectarian protests, set against the urgency of war with the Islamic State group, prompted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to announce a bold set of anti-corruption reforms over the weekend aimed at making the government more effective. The seven-point plan attacks fraud and waste in key areas of the political, national security and leadership infrastructure where Abadi, a Shiite Muslim, sees some of the most flagrant abuses.
Some consider it the beginning of a labyrinthine path to actual reform. For others, it suggests a power grab by Abadi, who may have just laid the foundation to oust encroaching rivals, consolidate power and build his base of support.
Regardless, in a country defined by autocrats, the move almost certainly marks the official death of the model of democracy the U.S. attempted to impose over a decade of war.
“Iraqis in general blame the U.S. government [for choosing to] fund, train and support the present, corrupt Iraqi government,” says Kamal Jabar, an Iraqi-American human rights activist and journalist who recently returned to the U.S. from Baghdad and has been closely monitoring the tenor of the protests in and around the capital city. Many of the protesters on the streets celebrated the news, he says, but Iraqis have learned to temper their optimism.
Some of the main criticisms of the guidelines, conservatives voiced, were less emphasis on the founding fathers and more emphasis on slavery. The guidelines also included earlier American history that included violence against Native Americans and mentioned the growing influence of social conservatives. There were also complaints that World War II was not emphasized enough, but military victories will be given more attention in the new standards. Mentions of slavery will be “roughly the same” as previous standards, according to Newsweek.
Conservatives also took issue with the framework’s description of the term “manifest destiny.” The definition, according to The Daily Caller:
The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was based on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority, and helped to shape the era’s political debates.
AP American history courses in particular became a political battleground when the College Board released new guidelines in October 2012. According to Talking Points Memo, the public controversy started with Larry Krieger, a retired history teacher. Then The Republican National Committee noticed Krieger’s remarks and campaigned against the new framework. The RNC asked Congress to stop funding the College Board, saying it “emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”
After the issue picked up momentum, more and more state legislators got involved in decrying the new guidelines. An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to ban AP history class and Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) introduced legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” In Colorado, the Jefferson County school board intended to create a committee to review the AP history course. Students protested revisions to the new standards and soon after, the Jefferson County school board cancelled a review of the standards.
In September of last year, Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who is now running for president, said “most people” who take the course would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”
Coates objects to the cliché that blacks have to be “twice as good.” It’s closer to the truth that they, like all Americans, are in a much better position to succeed if they honor certain basic norms: graduate from high school; get a full-time job; don’t have a child before age 21 and get married before childbearing. Among the people who do these things, according to the research of Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, about 75 percent attain the middle class, broadly defined.
Conservatives like Rick Santorum have taken to using this factoid as definitive proof that structural factors behind poverty don’t matter, that people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and government action to help marginalized people is unnecessary. It does not prove that at all. If anything, it’s a useful reminder of the fact that poverty is mainly a problem of systemic failure, not personal failure.
The stat comes from a 2009 book by Haskins and Sawhill called Creating an Opportunity Society. Haskins and Sawhill analyzed income data from 2007 and broke down households based on whether the head of household followed three norms:
They found that only 2 percent of persons in families that followed all three norms were poor, whereas 76 percent of persons in families that followed none were poor, and 73.8 percent of those who followed all three were at least middle-class:
The supreme court’s ruling last month legalising same-sex marriage nationwide has left Americans sharply divided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that suggests support for gay unions may be down slightly from earlier this year.
The poll also found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47% saying that should be the case and 49% say they should be exempt.
Overall, if there is a conflict, a majority of those questioned think religious liberties should win out over gay rights, according to the poll. While 39%t said it is more important for the government to protect gay rights, 56% said protection of religious liberties should take precedence.
The poll was conducted from 9 to 13 July, less than three weeks after the supreme court ruled states cannot ban same-sex marriage.
According to the poll, 42% support same-sex marriage and 40% oppose it. The percentage saying they favour legal same-sex marriage in their state was down slightly from the 48% who said so in an April poll. In January, 44% were in favour.
Asked specifically about the supreme court ruling, 39% said they approve and 41% said they disapprove.
“What the supreme court did is jeopardise our religious freedoms,” said Michael Boehm, 61, an industrial controls engineer from the Detroit area who describes himself as a conservative-leaning independent.
“You’re going to see a conflict between civil law and people who want to live their lives according to their faiths,” Boehm said.
Boehm was among 59% of the poll respondents who said wedding-related businesses with religious objections should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples. That compares with 52% in April.
Also, 46% said businesses more generally should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, while 51% said that should not be allowed.
Claudette Girouard, 69, a retiree from Chesterfield Township, Michigan, said she is a moderate independent voter who has gradually become supportive of letting same-sex couples marry.
“I don’t see what the big hoopla is,” she said. “If they’re happy, why not?”
Girouard said local officials should be required to perform same-sex marriages, but does not think that wedding-related businesses should be forced to serve same-sex couples.
“If the official doesn’t like what he’s being asked to do, then quit,” she said. “But businesses are kind of independent, so if they have a strong belief against it, there are enough other businesses out there for someone to use.”
The poll found pronounced differences in viewpoints depending on political affiliation.
For example, 65% of Democrats but only 22% of Republicans favoured allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in their state. And 72% of Republicans but just 31% of Democrats said local officials with religious objections should be exempt from issuing marriage licences.
By a 64-32 margin, most Democrats said it is more important to protect gay rights than religious liberties when the two are in conflict. Republicans said the opposite, by 82-17.
The Supreme Court’s recent same-sex marriage ruling left many conservative Christians steamed, with some calling for new constitutional amendments and others urging resistance against America’s new legal reality.
But many leaders on the religious right accepted defeat quietly, embraced their new underdog status, and began coalescing around an invigorated crusade for “religious liberty,” with a strategy modeled on the very social movement that just beat them in court: gay-marriage advocates.
“Same-sex marriage has been the looming cultural issue of the moment,” said Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, an offshoot of the right-leaning Southern Baptist Convention. “Religious liberty issues are the next horizon.”
The religious right rose to prominence in American politics in the 1980s, under the banner of Jerry Falwell’s now-defunct “Moral Majority.” But now, Bethancourt said, conservative Christians have become a “moral minority” living in a “post-Bible belt” America that discriminates against them.
Justice Samuel Alito employed similar rhetoric in his same-sex marriage dissent, warning that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s sweeping decision will be “used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” Justice Clarence Thomas agreed, writing in his own dissent that the ruling could have “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”
“It seems like the oppressor is now taking on the mentality of the oppressed,” said Brandan Robertson, a self-described evangelical who supports same-sex marriage.
A number of Republican presidential candidates have echoed those arguments following the high court’s decision.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told Fox News that “already Christian businesses are facing discrimination if they don’t want to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their sincerely held beliefs.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee similarly warned in a USA Today op-ed of businesses “economically terrorized” for their beliefs and the ruling’s coming “collision with the First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.”
Similar worries about the plight of religious dissenters surfaced sporadically before the court’s decision — mostly in states with gay marriage and LGBT anti-discrimination laws or occasionally on a national scale, in reference to debates over abortion and contraception. But now, longtime evangelical leader Gary Bauer said, there’s widespread consensus among conservatives that “the next battlefield is protecting religious liberty,” with a particular emphasis on Americans whose religious beliefs prevent them from partaking in same-sex marriage ceremonies.
In the wake of the court’s decision, the religious right has already begun pushing new religious freedom laws and executive orders in state governments specifically targeted at preventing state agencies from penalizing businesses and individuals who refuse to participate in gay weddings.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback became the first Republican politician to take action, issuing an executive order Tuesday that forbids the state government from penalizing any religious leader or organization that refuses to participate in a same-sex marriage. In a statement accompanying the order, he cited a need to “protect against any infringement” of the “right to worship according to ‘dictates of conscience’.”
Unlike Indiana or Arkansas’ controversial religious freedom bills, which drew fire nationally for broad language that potentially extended to lawsuits between private individuals and businesses, Brownback’s order specifically dealt with government penalties for those who refuse to recognize gay-wedding ceremonies. The order made direct reference to Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision, as an “imposition” that “poses potential infringements on the civil right of religious liberty.”
And in Congress, more than 100 members have followed suit by cosponsoring the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent the federal government from revoking the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that do not recognize same-sex marriages. The bill speaks to fears fueled by President Obama’s own solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, who said during Obergefell’s oral arguments that non-cooperative religious organizations’ tax-exempt status is “certainly going to be an issue” for the court in the future.
A number of religious conservatives told POLITICO that the key to winning these upcoming legislative and legal battles will be employing tactics refined by the same-sex marriage movement that recently defeated them.
“[LGBT activists] did a good job of making the stories of peoples’ lives front and center and saying, ‘Look at how these people are affected,’” said Travis Weber of the Family Research Council. Groups like Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign used social media to promote popular gay and lesbian celebrities’ viewpoints and encouraged Americans to look to their LGBT neighbors asking for acceptance.
Conservatives should follow suit, Weber said, by highlighting the stories of religious individuals he said had been “demonized,” pointing to businesses like Sweet Cakes by Melissa, an Oregon bakery that was fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding wake for a lesbian couple, or the Odgaard family, who shut down their Iowa bistro after a legal battle over their refusal to host a same-sex wedding. These cases, he believes, can serve as the same sort of compelling hook that Justice Kennedy used by putting James Obergefell’s heartfelt story of losing his husband at the beginning of his decision.
Another cue conservative Christians are taking from their Obergefell defeat: Don’t focus too heavily on gay and lesbian peoples’ sex lives. Instead, focus on religious liberty issues that have nothing to do with the bedroom.
“When sexual liberty and religious liberty are at odds with each other, in our culture, oftentimes sexual liberty prevails,” Bethancourt said, noting that the same-sex marriage movement was ultimately successful in highlighting families seeking parental rights and access to loved ones in the hospital.
Bethancourt’s group wrote an amicus brief for the Supreme Court on behalf of a young Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie and Fitch on the presumption that she would not take off her head scarf during work. The case, he noted, was a clear-cut issue of religious liberty without an alienating sexual component, and it also allowed his movement to partner with other religious groups so that religious liberty arguments were no longer tethered to a particular denomination.
“People of faith have to stand together, they have to look out for each other,” Bethancourt said.
And there’s another lesson for religious conservatives: Build a diverse coalition. Bethancourt noted that progressive groups, from the NAACP to the ACLU, successfully expanded the base of support for marriage equality outside of traditional LGBT advocates.
But no matter how the Christian right evangelizes and markets itself, many same-sex marriage advocates see it as nothing more than bigotry in sheep’s clothing.
The religious right has employed the “language of apocalyptic impending doom” because “religious leaders realize they’re losing their base,” said Robertson, who characterized the right’s narrative as: “We’ve lost our position of influence in our country, we’re now a minority, and [thus] persecution is coming.”
“LGBT activists [were] saying, ‘Treat us the same as everyone else’ for a long period of time, and conservative Christians are [now] saying, ‘What we want is a carve out so we are exempt from parts of civil law,’” said Clyde Wilcox, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers: The Christian Right in American Politics.”
Whether the Christian right succeeds in securing new protections depends largely on how much the American public buys into their stories of persecution, said Michael Moreland, a former White House aide to George W. Bush.
“Each side is trying to lay claim to the language of discrimination,” which he said is “a very powerful tool” in American politics because it’s “deeply shaped by the civil rights movement.”
“Everyone’s kind of waiting now to see how this plays out. It could play out as race discrimination did, where understandably you had a national consensus come together very quickly about the intolerability of racial segregation,” he said. “Or it could end up being like abortion, where you have a constitutional right but a lot of exemptions,” earned through legal and political fights by a still formidable pro-life movement.
“A very narrowly crafted religious protections argument can be very successful,” Wilcox said, but overreach like in Indiana will push the public away. “Conservatives need to watch out.”