The Idiocy of the "Pajama Boy" Witch Hunt
When I was in college, I sort of knew this guy named Ethan. He was the editor of the Madison Misnomer—UW–Madison's version of the Onion—when I was editor of one of the college papers. A couple of months ago, I saw that Ethan was in a pro-Obamacare ad. "What a weird coincidence!" I thought to myself. Then I promptly forgot about it.
This week, Ethan debuted in another Obamacare ad, and as "Pajama Boy" he became the Shiny Media Object of the Week. This is not to say I didn't also try to capitalize on the story—I did reach out to Ethan to see if he'd talk about the blowback he's been facing as Pajama Boy, but his employer isn't letting him give interviews.
The meme-ification cycle concluded today with what I like to call political transferrence, where media outlets try to dig up any information they can about someone who's completely inconsequential to a policy aside from having his face associated with it. The Washington Examiner published some of Ethan's (decidedly mundane) Instagram photos—scooplet! BuzzFeed tracked down a blog post of Ethan's in which he lightly criticized Obama's 2012 campaign strategy—scooplet! The website Naked DC claimed to have found Ethan's parents' house in the Chicago suburbs—scooplet!
So, what have we learned from these tatters of information?
1) Ethan Krupp is a human being.
2) Ethan Krupp is a human being who lives in Chicago.
3) Ethan Krupp is a human being living in Chicago who works for Organizing for Action.
4) Despite working for OFA, Ethan Krupp has had critical thoughts related to the Obama campaign.
5) Ethan Krupp is a human being living in Chicago who works for OFA and who appears to enjoy the taste of bacon.
Are you seeing the whole house of cards crumble around your ears yet? It's a shame Linda Taylor didn't have an Instagram account to be so thoroughly psychoanalyzed. Unlike during the Reagan era, Taylor's misdeeds would have been discovered within 24 hours, and heaven knows they would have been much more interesting than a filtered photo of bacon. And unlike Taylor, Ethan Krupp is effectively getting called a pansy, not for actually doing something wrong, but for letting his employer associate his face with a policy people don't like.
Poster children have been the subject of persecution before—Michelle Malkin had Graeme Frost back in 2007, and the left had Joe the Plumber as its collective punching bag during the 2008 election. What these stories ignore is that trying to glean some relevant information about a policy from its respective human talisman is always, always a horrendously stupid idea.
By trying to market Obamacare toward the demographic they need the most, the administration has invited some insanely petty acts of journalism at best and privacy invasion-cum-clickbait—er, sorry, scoopage!—at worst. But Obama's team is playing the long con—more people know about the ad now than if conservatives had simply let Ethan sip his damn cocoa in peace.
Ted Cruz and the Quran-Burning Guy Are Right About Duck Dynasty
Perhaps the Feiler Faster Thesis can explain why our usual December tradition, the War on Christmas, has been supplanted by a daily Internet outrage about something new. Phil Robertson, one of the stars of Duck Dynasty, participated in a fun GQ profile about his family and the show. He said, at one point, that gay sex was sinful and that he had never personally seen mistreatment of black people in the South. "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there," he said. "Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."
As far as I knew, Duck Dynasty was a show about loveable Southern stereotypes who had adventures. Why people were surprised that a 67-year-old white Southerner would be disapproving of homosexuality—look, I have no idea. But A&E pulled Robertson from its show, and conservative politicians immediately took umbrage. Ted Cruz was one of the first with an opinion.
If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job. In a free society, anyone is free to disagree with him--but the mainstream media should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they disagree.
Someone named Sarah Palin, who I believe was governor of a state for a while in the last decade, also weighed in, but it was Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones who got me interested.
If a homosexual expresses his opinion, he is praised. When Muslims demand that we appease them in their religious traditions, our country bends over backwards to do that. When people are in our country illegally, they demand benefits that they should not have and do not deserve, again we appease them. And when a United States citizen exercises his first amendment rights, he is immediately condemned by the political system and the news media, with the goal of silencing him, thus stopping him from exercising his first amendment rights.
Apart from the usual fallacy about "the First Amendment" protecting anyone from any consequences for what they say, ever, isn't that basically right? The Duck Dynasty cast was a little island in the great culture war ocean, a collection of white Southerners whom liberals could love. They were even invited to the 2012 White House Correspondents' Dinner! They didn't sign up for this on the condition that they moderate their beliefs. But they got punished anyway, and presto, yet another semi-enjoyable aspect of life becomes tinder for culture warfare and fundraising. First chicken sandwiches, then duck calls—what next?
Video: Brian Schweitzer, in Iowa, Hits Dems Who Voted for the Iraq War
Scott Conroy appears to be the one national reporter with the sense to follow former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to Iowa, where he gave a speech to happy progressives. The highlight, for internal Democratic Party warfare purposes, was a none-too-subtle rip of Hillary Clinton, the one 2012 contender who voted for the Iraq War. "George Bush got a bunch of Democrats to vote for that war," mourned Schweitzer. "I was shaking my head in Montana." And what would such a Democrat do during the next crisis?
“Now maybe we’re going to make the right decision, or maybe we’re just going to go to war again,” he said. “And the reason why I’m in Iowa, in part, is I’m asking you to pick the leaders who are not going to make those mistakes.”
That comment garnered one of Schweitzer’s few applause lines in his unscripted address, which otherwise focused on homespun anecdotes about his life and public service in Montana, including his efforts to enact education and prison reform.
“No more war for oil,” Schweitzer said at the conclusion of his speech.
The good people at Rising Response have clipped the video:
Nope, not really veiled. Clinton's far more popular among Iowa Democrats than she was in 2008, and even then, in polls of caucus-goers, she won the voters concerned with "experience" and rattled by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Another problem, if Schweitzer wants to weaponize this: The reason he's so ready to end "war for oil" is that he's aggressively pro-fracking, and wants to turn America into "the Saudi Arabia of natural gas." Even in this newsy speech, you can see the flaws that make him a suboptimal progressive champion.
But there are worse things than being suboptimal! For all the attention paid to Elizabeth Warren and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, few people have noticed that the PCCC was all-in for Schweitzer when he was pondering a Senate race. PCCC set up a "Draft Schweitzer" campaign to convince the former governor that the left base would be there if he ran. That's not because of shale. That's because, in part, of Schweitzer's support for a single-payer health care reform to replace Obamacare.
If Hillary's moved to the left in 2014 and 2015, I'd bet for the issue to be single-payer. Not inequality. Certainly not Iraq. Like the saying goes: What difference does it make at this point?
Marion Barry's Deep Thoughts on D.C. Gentrification
And speaking of navel-gazing in the nation's capital, we see that D.C. Councilman/Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry has weighed in pithily on the problems of gentrification.
? of gentrification is who gets a slice of American apple pie.Gentrifiers say them b/c they have $ & shd displace poor frm their own table— Marion S. Barry, Jr. (@marionbarryjr) December 19, 2013
But there is a God, who is more powerful than money, who will make the last, first and the weak, strong. And that day is coming for America.— Marion S. Barry, Jr. (@marionbarryjr) December 19, 2013
Barry, who left the mayor's office for the last time in 1999, now represents one of the city's poorest and least gentrified wards, a heavily African-American section of the city's untouristed Southeast.*
*Correction, Dec. 19, 2013: This post originally misstated that Marion Barry left the mayor's office for the last time in 1995.
The Ultimate Hate-D.C. Essay of 2013
The consensus among Acela Corridor journalists on Twitter is that former Reuters reporter Sam Youngman, who now works for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, has written "the best thing you'll read today." In "Take This Town and Shove It," one of the lengthy confessional first-person essays that Politico Magazine has been specializing in recently, Youngman tells his colleagues to "get out of Washington" because "it's messing you up more than you know."
(Disclosure-that-sounds-like-a-brag: I know Youngman and like him, honest, and when he was tired of his last D.C. job, I encouraged him to follow his bliss somewhere, though I didn't give him as much time as I should have.)
It's the perfect epistle for a year that D.C. gave up on itself. I've been here since 2004 (in the city proper since 2006), and there's never been such a cloak of shame over the place. Long gone is the optimism of 2006, when it looked like an election loss for George W. Bush would change the course of the Iraq War (it did), or 2009, when ... I shouldn't have to repeat the whole Obama story, or even 2011, when a class of post-Bush conservatives arrived to cut spending.
No, it's worse now. The year started with Annie Lowrey's piece about the D.C. building boom financed by the ever-growing government, continued with Mark Leibovich's condemnation of "America's gilded capital" and its political class, and wrapped up with a National Book Award for George Packer's book about how America's middle and lower classes were collapsing and the NYC/D.C. elites didn't care.
It's horrible. I'm with you. It's awful how members of the media in D.C. obsess over trivia and act like Stanley in the Congo when they travel to strange places like Iowa or New Hampshire. Reporters should get out of D.C. as much as possible. If Youngman's essay lights a fire under 'em, fantastic, what took them so long?
Here's a secret: D.C.'s what you make of it. If you want to be a callous climber, you can do so, just as you can do so in Dallas or Los Angeles or Atlanta or wherever else Real Housewives are grown. Youngman's essay is written to be bulletproof, so everything that reads mean ("Washington hot, which is a step above rehab hot and two levels below jury duty hot") is chased by something that makes the reader empathetic ("When I returned from my 28 days in rehab"). He sounds like he's still making up his mind about how much to blame D.C. for its effect on people and how much to blame himself. Well, there do seem to be a few million people in the D.C. area who do not work in media but build middle-class or working-class lives similar to the ones you see in other cities.
Apart from the parties and mindless hook-ups (which Youngman feels the humble-braggy need to apologize for, as if women can't possibly enjoy mindless hook-ups), what are the D.C. maladies identified in the piece? Youngman lists a few: "relying on polls instead of talking to voters. Building analysis based on the conventional wisdom of other reporters, who are probably guessing. And quoting experts doing the same."
These are mostly bad habits that you can avoid, easily. They do not vanish when one leaves D.C.—see how often local political scientists are quoted in local papers to say something obvious. And one of them's not even a bad habit. The reporter who eschews polls in favor of talking to voters would have been blindsinded in 2012 when Barack Obama, with his poll leads, beat Mitt Romney, whose team was tweeting excitedly about crowd size.
To survive in D.C., and to not waste his reader's time, a reporter absolutely needs to be aware of the place's pretense. Absolutely he shouldn't be dazzled by the pomp of the White House or Congress—these guys are renting the places. That doesn't mean he's going to become a narcissist with no interest in stories about poverty or war, any more than someone who works near a bakery needs to develop diabetes.
Did 17 Illegal Voters in Ohio Steal the 2012 Election?
The headline from Fox News is chilling, especially at this moment when most Americans regret putting Barack Obama back in the Oval Office. "Non-citizens caught voting in 2012 presidential election in key swing state," reports Eric Shawn. What are the gruesome details?
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday that his office found 17 non-citizens illegally cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election -- and has referred the case for possible prosecution... Husted also found that 274 non-citizens remain on the voting rolls. President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Ohio by just 2 percentage points in November 2012.
Did you catch that, how Shawn pivoted from the number of total votes to the percentage of votes? Why would he do that? Without reading his mind, I'd guess it's because the actual Ohio margin between Obama and Romney last year was 166,272 votes, and Shawn wants to keep his readers as ignorant as posssible. Seventeen votes represents 0.0003 percent of the total of ballots cast for either Obama or Romney in the state, and 0.01 percent of the margin.
Reporters who are brighter and less dishonest than Shawn have come away from the Husted data with a different take. There was, according to Husted, no plot to steal votes or fake votes in the 2012 election. The noncitizens who voted had driver's licenses, so basic voter ID laws wouldn't have stopped them. That's not surprising, given that Husted's last update in the voter fraud investigation, in May, revealed a total of 135 possible fraud cases.
It's been a bad week for investigations like these. In Iowa, Jason Noble reported that a two-year fraud investigation had come up with 16 cases worth looking into. That was proportionately lower than Husted's original finding in Ohio, and both investigations found many, many fewer suspicious ballots than there are ballots spoiled for some reason in any election. One count of Ohio's ballots in 2004 found that 239,127 were spoiled somehow—missing chads, errant ink marks, etc.
The situation's improved since then, but there remain many, many more votes lost because of flawed ballots or attritition from long lines than votes canceled out out by the confirmed ballot of a noncitizen. And a great deal of legal work has come up dry in the hunt for the mythical "buses of illegal voters" being spirited in from cities or campuses to stuff the polls.
But if you just read Fox, you've learned that the voter fraud problem is very real.
Four Aftershocks of the Max Baucus-to-China News
1) Max Baucus is giving up the gavel of the Senate Finance Committee after years of working on/being undermined on tax reform. For a short while, it looked like his retirement announcement and the enthusiasm of House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp would combine, somehow, and push through the elusive 1986-style reform that everyone in the Senate claims to want. Within months, the momentum had faded, and Baucus was proposing ad hoc reforms to foreign earnings and energy taxes. Maybe he'd get another crack at at full reform in 2014? No. Now, he won't.
2) Next in line to run the Finance Committee is West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, another old bull who's retiring—and who already heads the Commerce Committee. After Rockefeller there's Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a nearly 20-year Senate veteran who has dreamed up his own, less lobbyist-influenced versions of tax reform. Does Wyden take the gavel? My sources say he's inclined to. But Wyden's got five years on the next Democrat in the queue, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, and as quixotic as Wyden can be, the left's got to prefer his brand of politics to Schumer's mind meld with the financial industry.
3) Like I said, Baucus was already giving up his seat. Montana's current lieutenant governor, John Walsh, got into the race to replace him, on the prodding of national Democrats. The LG once removed, John Bohlinger, stayed in the race anyway, running to the left on health care (single-payer now!) and privacy (a constitutional amendment to bar mass domestic surveillance). Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, could appoint Walsh and give him seniority to run on, but that risks the appearance of favoritism. Plus, the argument can be made that Walsh, the former National Guard commander in Montana, is a better candidate as a pure outsider than as a senator who has to—shudder—vote on things.
4) This hardly matters, but the Baucus news steps on headlines former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer might have gotten for his speech to Iowa Democrats. Schweitzer, one of the most quotable men with "D" after his name, has kept up a steady schedule of media interviews that usually involve him browbeating Hillary Clinton or the city of Washington for being "corporatist" or generally horrible.
The Budget Just Turned into a Campaign Ad Against Democrats
The joint committee's budget is about to pass the Senate, and that's all well and good if you want to avoid Christmas Eve political showdowns. But as our elected representatives vote, let's welcome the birth of a new talking point.
When Patty Murray and Paul Ryan stepped before TV cameras to announce the first bipartisan budget deal since the Reagan years, they led with the pain. The painful bits of the budget were the bits that made it look real. Washington's pundit class wanted to know whether Ryan and Murray had cut any automatic spending. Well, they had—they proudly announced $6 billion in cuts, over 10 years, to military pensions and $6 billion in cuts to the pensions of other federal workers.*
Most House Republicans voted for that. Most Senate Republicans voted against it. They had a little more time to debate the budget, and led by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, they used it to denounce those cuts to the Hard-Earned Pensions of Our Brave Veterans (TM). Sessions, who people often forget is the ranking member of the Budget Committee, proposed scrapping the cuts to pensions but cutting $4.2 billion in other benefits.
That didn't go anywhere—and a political issue was born. Twice in two days, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown has teased the reporters who expect him to run for sSenate in New Hampshire by denouncing incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's vote. (Well, not literally, but you can make the leap.)
Senate Budget deal unfairly cuts benefits for veterans, all senators should stand up for our military by voting against this bill."— Scott P. Brown (@SenScottBrown) December 17, 2013
Feeling for our military due to US Senate failing to repeal the cuts to military & vets last night in budget deal.— Scott P. Brown (@SenScottBrown) December 18, 2013
Former Rep. Allen West is denouncing this, too. "The mid-term elections are coming," he writes, "and for those who turned their backs on the military, you shall indeed reap what you have sown." In no time at all, a budget cut that was being sold as responsible is being spun into a slam on our veterans, whose pensions are absolutely inviolate. The only people vulnerable to this attack in 2014? Four or five incumbent Democratic senators.
*Correction, Dec. 18, 2013: This post originally misstated that the Murray-Ryan budget included $6 million in pension cuts to nonmilitary federal workers. It also misstated that Jeff Sessions proposed cutting $4.2 million in benefits.
Filibuster Reform 2.0, Coming Soon to the Senate
The Senate rule change that allowed D.C. Circuit judges to beat filibuster votes really did make it easier to confirm most nominees. It did remove a tool that Republicans had been using to stop the most important lower bench in the country from being filled up with Democrats. But it didn't take away their ability to block nominees to other courts.
And so, below the radar, Republicans have started boycotting the hearings that allow the nominees to start down the road to confirmation. It happened again today, when a Judiciary Committee hearing on nominees to fill slots in Kansas, Maine, Maryland, and California was canceled. It's possible for a senator to "blue-slip," or hold, a nominee from his state. But Maryland and California are represented by Democratic senators only. The majority party saw this as an act of aggression.
Cue Pat Leahy, committee chairman and Senate president pro tempore.
Just last week, Republicans prevented the Judiciary Committee from holding an executive business meeting to consider 18 highly qualified nominees, including two Texas U.S. Marshals. Those two nominees should have been approved by the Committee last month, but Republicans failed to attend the meeting to report their nominations. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I have consistently shown my commitment to work with all Senators to process nominations. This obstruction sets back the bipartisan cooperation we have seen in recent weeks on such legislative matters as the budget, the defense authorization bill, and the Farm Bill. If this obstruction continues with respect to judicial nominees, I will be forced to reconsider long-held policies that have upheld the rights of the minority party in this process.
Democrats paid basically zero political cost for the first round of filibuster reform. What's to stop another round?
Jonestown Reference Upgraded From "Barb" to "Gaffe"
The power that Politico holds over the Washington "narrative" is tough to compare to any other media-coverage area relationship. ESPN and the world of sports is perhaps the closest analogue. The whole life cycle of a story, from gaffe to controversy to apology, can occur within the Politico biodome. And so it did today, after Glenn Thrush, the site's fantastic White House reporter, published a lengthy story on the White House's planned 2014 relaunch. Thrush had been talking to John Podesta before he was brought into the administration. It was one of those interviews that poroduced this quote.
Podesta, whose official mandate includes enforcement of numerous executive orders on emissions and the environment, suggested as much when he spoke with me earlier this fall about Obama’s team. “They need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress,” he told me.
If you were naive, you'd think that Podesta's admission that the White House will have to start diving over the heads of John Boehner and Darrell Issa was the "news" here. Wrong. The news was that Podesta had referenced the mass suicide in Jonestown. On Twitter, and then Drudge, and then from the Boehner press shop, the great Wurlitzer of Outrage began to blare. "For those who’ve forgotten," said a Boehner spokesman, "a Democratic member of Congress was murdered in Jonestown and a current one, Rep. Jackie Speier, was shot five times during the same incident." Podesta quickly apologized.
Did he FORGET Jonestown? I doubt it. Instead, I bet he assumed that an offhand reference to the Kool-Aid-drinking cult was not going to be a problem. A cursory check of news from the past few years finds that people love to use (and overuse) the Jonestown reference, and that only rarely do they back down from it. Four examples:
1) Haley Barbour, 2009, on Obamacare.
if the Democrats wanna do something to help Republicans, I can't improve on this. I've been looking for Jim Jones and where's the Kool-Aid. This is awful, awful policy for our country — and the people know it.
Did he have to apologize? Not really. Rep. Speier issued a blistering statement, saying that Barbour "should be ashamed of himself, but shame is as foreign a feeling to that man as common sense and intellect." But he didn't say anything.
2) Vermont state Sen. Hilda Miller, 2011, on a proposed single-payer health plan.
I haven’t drunk the kool-aid. I don’t care if it costs me my re-election.
Did she have to apologize? No, but she decided not to run in 2012.
3) Iowa Rep. Steve King, 2013, on amnesty.
It appears some of my Republican colleagues in the House have drunk the Kool-Aid—they’re determined to pass the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform – or what people outside the DC beltway more accurately call amnesty.
Did he have to apologize? No.
4) Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 2013, on gun control legislation.
This is a president who has drunk the Kool-Aid.
Did he have to apologize? No, Democrats critized him but didn't need a fainting couch.