A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Category: conservatives

Huelskamps Gonna Huelskamp

by evanmcmurry

Tim Huelskamp (R-KA), basically the individual every invocation of “obstinate tea party wingnut congressman” refers to, thinks the ACA raised the uninsured rate in Kansas:

“It’s hard to get accurate numbers on anything,” the tea party congressman said. “But the numbers we see today is that — as I understand them — we believe there are more people uninsured today in Kansas than there were before the president’s health care plan went into effect. And I thought the goal was to bring more people into insurance.”

Of course, the national uninsured rate is falling, and fast, since the implementation of the ACA. But Huelskamp is being far more cynical than simple dissembling. Kansas rejected every provision of the ACA it could possibly reject: it didn’t set up a state exchange, and it didn’t take the federal government’s offer to expand Medicaid. Which is to say that Kansas went out of its way not to insure more of its residents, even on the federal government’s dime.

Sure enough, Gallup found last week that the uninsured rate is dropping three times as fast in states that embraced Obamacare than in states that did not*:

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To refuse any and all participation in the ACA and then complain that it didn’t lower your uninsured rate is pretty nasty—except that this complaint was the entire goal behind refusing the expansion. Tens of thousands of people, many of them low-income, were denied insurance, but Tim Huelskamp got a talking point out of it. As we know, Huelskamps are gonna Huelskamp.

* Note that the uninsured rate is still falling, even in states that stuck their heads in the repealing sand.

Live From the Frontiers of Knowing What’s in the Bill You’re Sponsoring

by evanmcmurry

Ohio’s version of Arizona’s religious liberty anti-gay bill is now being held up by—wait for it—some of the lawmakers who sponsored it. In this case, rather than fearing that the bill will hurt business or make the state look bad, the Ohio lawmakers (one of whom is a Democrat) seem to have been genuinely unaware of discriminatory aspects of their own law (portions of which were copied word for word from the AZ version).

It’s becoming clear that this “religious liberty” issue is really two issues: a) an explicitly anti-LGBT legislative issue, and b) a state legislator competency issue.

“The Law Works, So Let’s Get Rid of It”: The Right’s New One-Size-Fits-All Argument

by evanmcmurry

Pierce spots a winner in the argument against abortion clinic buffer zones, in which the fact that the buffer zones have prevented the incidents they were meant to prevent is evidence that they’re clearly not necessary:

Mark Rienzi, the Catholic University law professor who represents the protesters, said there has not been a documented case of violence at a Massachusetts clinic since the 1994 killings. “The idea that someone like that will be deterred by a painted line on the ground is nonsensical,” he said. “In the meantime, you shouldn’t be able to use that to stop women from being offered these other options. As a practical matter, that’s what happens.”

“The law works, so we should get rid of it” argument is identical to the one trudged before the Supreme Court against Sections Four and Five of the VRA—an argument SCOTUS bought. Here’s John Roberts, cashing in his ACA-is-a-tax chit:

Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, “[v]oter turnout and registration rates” in covered jurisdictions “now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.” Northwest Austin, supra, at 202. The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years. Yet the Act has not eased [its] restrictions or narrowed the scope of [the formula that determines which parts of the country that are covered]. Instead those extraordinary and unprecedented features have been reauthorized as if nothing has changed, and they have grown even stronger.

This is becoming a Thing on the right. Julia Ioffe caught Rand Paul doing the same backflip last summer, as he wondered at the necessity of environmental regulations when the air had gotten so much cleaner over the last century—thanks, you know, to those very same regulations:

In case you didn’t follow that: Government regulation of coal is bad and useless, and environmentalists talking about smoke stacks polluting the air are hysterical. The reason the former is bad and useless is that the air has been getting cleaner. The air has been getting cleaner because of government rules, which, so bad and useless otherwise, have here produced a result—cleaner air that gets increasingly more clean with time—which, again, is what makes the liberals and environmentalists look crazy. Which all, somehow, proves to Paul that regulation now, to deal with a different but similar problem—global warming or drowning polar bears—is not the answer, because regulation doesn’t work. Which is why the environmentalists are crazy for wanting it. Get it?

It’s no wonder this argument is attractive, as a) it’s portable, and b) it dovetails with a rational conservative view that government becomes <spooky>Big Government</spooky> somewhat via inertia. The state doesn’t just overreach through unnecessary laws, but through necessary laws that outlast their necessity.

But that falls apart pretty quickly. Voting, pollution, and clinic harassment are iterative issues. They don’t get “solved” or “cured.” If anything, the very people declaring these laws expired draw attention to the exact events—voter ID proposals, chemical spills in West Virginia or exploding plants in West, Texas—that demonstrate the danger awaiting a slackening of enforcement, let alone repeal.

The Revisionaries: How the Culture Wars Converged on Textbooks

by evanmcmurry

[ed note: reposted from Ology.com, where it originally appeared, and which no longer exists]

The Revisionaries, Scott Thurman’s debut documentary, focuses its lens on the fierce political and cultural battle waged by the Texas Board of Education over textbook content. Texas’ size makes it a huge textbook market, and the standards set by the Board about everything from evolution to Thomas Jefferson’s role in revolutionary thinking influence textbook publishing nationwide, a fact Christian conservatives have exploited by taking advantage of off-season, low-turnout elections to stack the fifteen-member board with right-wing candidates. Thurman, an agile and empathic director, follows both the most risible members of the Board and their most committed opponents through the two-year revision of textbook standards, and manages to turn this prolonged policy battle into an suspenseful, engaging and infuriating eighty-three minutes.

In the middle of this drama is Chairman Don McLeroy, he of the infamous statement, “Education is too important not to be politicized,” a line he clearly wants back more and more each time it’s repeated to him. McElroy, a dentist near College Station and a “young earth creationist” (read: humans and dinosaurs walked the earth together starting 6,000 years ago and no earlier) provided Thurman with a stunning amount of access, from which both he and the film benefited: far from the villain of these proceedings, McLeroy becomes their site of their moral investigation.

Loquacious, eager and effusive, McLeroy comes off as less a machinating conservative than a genuine social experiment: is it possible for a Christian conservative to effect a seemingly sincere desire to help the children of his state without completely polluting the education process with his beliefs? The answer’s no, but McLeroy is so open and intriguing that he gets you root for him to somehow overcome his ideology, and Thurman is smart enough to follow the dentist rather than demonize him, lifting The Revisionaries above voyeuristic predecessors like Jesus Camp, which have tended to gawk at their fundamentalist subjects rather than understand them.

That having been said: the answer is NO. The film’s first half follows the debate over teaching evolution. Creationism and intelligent design have both been roundly dismissed from science education, leaving creationists to sneak doubts about evolution into the curriculum rather than argue for outright inclusion of their substitute narrative. This portion of the film is more a fascinating exercise in political rhetoric than anything, as the initial language of “strengths and weaknesses” that sought to undermine evolution is thrown out—to the delight of Texas Freedom Network’s Kathy Miller and the sputtering dismay of McLeroy—only to be replaced with even vaguer and more porous terms.

The switcheroo happens courtesy the film’s real villain, Cynthia Dunbar, a sharp law professor at fundamentalist bootcamp Liberty University, who shrewdly picks the new language from the testimony of an anthropology professor, thus making it appear as if “the experts” had suggested it. Dunbar attended Pat Robertson’s university before teaching at Liberty, and Miller fingers her, not McLeroy, as the true crafter of the right’s long-term strategy. Endlessly dissembling, constantly conniving, Dunbar happily lives up to Miller’s description; whereas McLeroy’s amendments come off as conservative buffoonery, Dunbar cloaks her fundamentalism in the discourses of civics and history, until the moderates on the Board can’t critique her proposals even as they clearly suspect they’re being had. As the vote is still being taken, Dunbar, behind her smiling façade, is already drawing up plans for the next battle.

McLeroy, for all his repugnant ideology, is absent this longitudinal shrewdness, and it humanizes him. When he loses the “strengths and weaknesses” argument, the talkative man is rendered literally speechless, less out of anger than sorrow: he really thinks he’s let his constituents down. With no Dunbar-like mask to hide behind, his personal investment in the policy he’s impacting is laid bare.

It’s a telling moment that’s repeated when McLeroy checks the results of his next school board election and sees himself behind in the vote in every county, including his own. McLeroy shuts his eyes in what is clearly a brief prayer, and an unanswered one: McLeroy loses to a moderate conservative who ran against McLeroy on a campaign of “Can you believe this guy?” After a red-meat montage of McLeroy proposing amendments to eliminate references of hip-hop in favor of country music (the “can’t we teach both?” compromise goes nowhere fast), inserting language about the communist conspiracy of the 1950s, deleting sections on discrimination of women and minorities, shoehorning Phyllis Schafly and Newt Gingrich into a 1990s section, and enshrining Ronald Reagan as “restoring American optimism,” it’s hard to feel bad for McLeroy.

The Revisionaries does, though, and appropriately, in this viewer’s opinion. McLeroy clearly dislikes Kathy Miller, but Miller passionately believes in her version of education just as much as McLeroy does his. The jolly dentist’s real opposite is Dunbar, who is treating Texan children like pawns in a culture war, something to which McLeroy, whose profession of caring for children is impossible to doubt, would strenuously object if he ever even considered it.

Alas, after losing the election, McLeroy becomes something of a minor star on the tea party circuit, with each appearance sounding more politicized and melodramatic as the soft-spokenness that first made him appealing erodes. It’s tempting to view this acidic change as his true self finally burning through its affable exterior, but the film implicitly argues that this is instead McLeroy’s reaction to his own powerlessness, which he equates with being unable to help those around him. In the end, he still teaches Sunday School, and he still weighs with each sentence what he’s saying to the children in his classroom. Meanwhile, Cynthia Dunbar is long gone from the Board; having accomplished what she needed, she’s off to fight other fights. It’s too bad no camera will be on McLeroy to catch his quick prayer when he realizes that he and his students have been played.

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Now a note to current and future scorers of documentaries in the Lone Star state: not every Texas film needs to be backed by anodyne acoustic guitar, and not every documentary needs to sound like a poor man’s NPR segment. While the music composition received some nice marks from the audience, it seemed to this viewer to undermine the consequential events of the film, especially in the treacly melodies at the end: The Revisionaries closes on a note of “Bob McElroy Goes To Austin in A Major” that makes all the preceding politicking feel like a wondrous adventure rather than the ideological corruption of the Texas educational system. By the by, the joke’s on all of you: under Rick Perry’s budget, Texas public schools are being defunded out of existence, which will soon render all of these debates irrelevant.

Today in Confederate Flag Wrestling Masks and Abilities of Deduction

by evanmcmurry

What in the deep-fried fuck:

Sen. Paul had known that I used to wear a Confederate wrestling mask as part of an old radio shtick, and I still sometimes used the Southern Avenger moniker—it was my Twitter handle and appeared on my Facebook page. But he hadn’t known about the many stupid and offensive things I’d said.

Of course not. What about “conservative flag wrestling mask” or “southern avenger” would lead one to assume offensive or stupid views? That’s just silly.

Yer Lying Eyes

by evanmcmurry

Krugman, succinct:

Back to the evidence versus the orthodoxy. I can, in a way, understand refusing to believe in global warming — that’s a noisy process, with lots of local variation, and the overall measures are devised by pointy-headed intellectuals who probably vote Democratic. I can even more easily understand refusing to believe in evolution. But the failure of predicted inflation to materialize is happening in real time, right in front of our eyes; people who kept believing in inflation just around the corner lost a lot of money. Yet the denial remains total.

Losing is the New Winning, Ken Cuccinelli Edition

by evanmcmurry

The GOP’s conservative wing is defining victory down in Virginia:

If Cooch loses narrowly (the best bet right now; the final Quinnipiac poll has McAuliffe up six, and PPP has T-Mac up seven) you will hear voices from the Right saying that if he had stuck to a consistent “I’m psychotically obsessed with Obamacare” message he’d had “energized the base” more and stolen enough crucial votes from Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis to have won.

Combine that with isolating Chris Christie as a fluke victory for a non-conservative candidate, and you have the best possible takeaway of tomorrow’s elections* for a right wing that wants desperately out of the GOP’s rebranding effort (that isn’t happening anyway). Cuccinelli’s campaign learned zero lessons from 2012, and the above spin makes sure conservatives will learn none from Cuccinelli’s loss.*

* Cooch hasn’t lost actually yet.