American Times

by Erik Kain

Why the conservative movement chooses to lose

Posted on October 9th, 2013


A theory: the rise of the “conservative movement” has, at least for the past couple decades, not been about winning at the national level at all. It’s been about losing effectively.

If the GOP can be an effective obstructionist party at the national level, while pushing coordinated, but still piecemeal, legislation at the state level across the country, they can achieve two things:

First, they can push their agenda from the ground up rather from the top down while stymieing the agenda of their opponents.

Second, they can maintain the facade of being the aggrieved minority, standing up against the tyranny of the Democratic majority and president Obama.

The winner here is, of course, the conservative media machine. They make money and gain viewers (or listeners) regardless of who happens to be in charge. In some ways, they may even benefit more from a losing GOP—which raises an important question. Does the conservative media machine, which is the heart of the conservative movement, have conservatives’ best interests at heart?

I don’t believe so. What Fox News and talk radio have achieved is a gridlock for the GOP which requires moderate, electable Republicans to pander to the right-wing, adopt the language of modern conservatism and all of its hostility and grievances, running the primary gauntlet as far right as possible and dashing hopes at actually winning.

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, utilize gerrymandering and dubious voting laws to attempt to win House seats, which has so far been effective. But even with the House under GOP control, the party can only ever hope to be a minority. Which, if my theory is correct, fits nicely with the overarching plan.

A combination of obstructionism at the federal level and hard-right lawmaking at the state level means the Democratic agenda can be effectively thwarted, but it doesn’t mean the conservative agenda can ever truly be realized. Instead of the prudent, budget-minded government Republicans want in theory, we have a government shutdown. We have an inefficient, badly run government.

To be fair, this isn’t so different than when the GOP is actually in power in Washington. Republicans, at least since Ronald Reagan, have been big spenders while cutting taxes. The budget under Republicans has been a joke. Fiscal prudence is sacrificed on the altar of a sort of class warfare against the poor and middle class that prioritizes tax cuts above all else. Trickle-down economics is a farce, of course, but this is what passes as fiscal conservatism these days.

But that’s not the point. The GOP exists to serve the conservative movement now, and the conservative movement exists to make money.

Herman Cain’s ‘This is the economy on stimulus’ ad

Posted on March 2nd, 2012

So, I guess the economy not on stimulus is just a fish lying in the dirt with no water at all? Can we make a video where we get a fishbowl and drop the fish in it and say “This is the economy on a bigger stimulus suited to the actual size and magnitude of the crisis?”

The thing is, we haven’t really seen any stimulus in quite a long time now. So if you’re still sick of stimulus, you might want to find something more, uhm, stimulating to fixate on. Like Rick Santorum’s odd obsession with gay people.

It reminds me of LBJ’s ‘Daisy’ ad a bit:

Maybe Cain’s next ad can have a nuclear bomb eviscerate the goldfish. This is your economy on Herman Cain, bitches! 

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Is Ron Paul secretly working for the Mitt Romney campaign?

Posted on March 1st, 2012

Is Ron Paul going soft on Romney because of the money?

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and the likeliest explanation is usually the most straightforward and least complex. So when rumors started surfacing last month that Newt Gingrich’s Super PAC sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson was supporting Newt Gingrich in order to hurt Rick Santorum and help Mitt Romney it all sounded like too much 3-dimensional chess to me. Wouldn’t it just make more sense to back Romney? Why risk hurting Romney with negative ads – something that really did happen thanks to Gingrich’s rough-and-tumble South Carolina campaign – when you could use your money to prop up Romney’s campaign?

It doesn’t make sense.

But it’s just one billionaire with an agenda. That doesn’t make him a brilliant political strategist. It’s a fairly basic strategy all told – just point and shoot your money camera and hope something sticks.

The latest conspiracy theory is far more complex. Writing in The Exile, Mark Ames suggests that too many people in one of Ron Paul’s Super PACs have ties to the Huntsman and Romney campaigns for it to be a coincidence. I wrote recently about what I described as Ron Paul’s divide and conquer strategy. The Texas congressman has never attacked Mitt Romney in any of the GOP debates this election season, but he’s gone after just about every other candidate. Ames thinks something more sinister is at play:

Ron Paul’s SuperPAC, “Endorse Liberty,” is headquartered in Mitt Romney’s backyardSalt Lake City, Utah.

Moreover, the SuperPAC’s staff and founders include several former Romney supporters and Huntsman supporters. And one of the founding principals of Endorse Liberty, Ladd Christensen, is something of an oligarch in Utah: Christensen is the longtime business partner of John Huntsman’s billionaire dad. They founded Huntsman Chemicals together, as well as Hunstman-Christensen.

Huntsman endorsed Mitt Romney when he bowed out of the race—in fact, Huntsman has a history of stepping aside for Mitt Romney and playing his second banana, going back at least to the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, which John’s billionaire dad helped to fund on behalf of Mitt Romney.

So to repeat: Ron Paul’s SuperPAC is based in Salt Lake City, and one of the founders is Ladd Christensen, John Huntsman’s business partner in Huntsman-Christensen and Huntsman Chemicals.

A couple of quick points. First it’s Jon Huntsman. No “H” in there. Not to nit-pick, but c’mon.

Real life neo-Nazi runs for Congress in Illinois

Posted on February 29th, 2012

Somebody needs to make Santorum look good.

Art Jones wants to go to Washington D.C. but even as crazy as the Republican party has gotten, there’s no way it’s going to happen:

“As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews,” Jones said. “It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV.

“The more survivors, the more lies that are told.”

A member of the Nationalist Socialist Party in his younger days, Jones took part in the Nazis’ march on Chicago’s Marquette Park in 1978. While he doesn’t deny nor repudiate his “past affiliations,” he says he votes Republican “90 percent of the time.”

“Philosophically, I’m a National Socialist,” Jones said. “Officially, I don’t belong to any party except my own, the America First Committee.”

There’s really no lessons to draw from this, other than that free speech is an undeniable good. In other countries, hate speech and Holocaust denial are kept secret. They’re illegal, and so the perpetrators of these hateful ideas go underground. That’s dangerous for all sorts of reasons. In America, this stuff is kept in the light of day where it can be properly ridiculed. Rather than hide in the shadows, hatemongers are kept front and center in our public dialogue.

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A post I never published about rumors of the death of Mitt’s campaign being greatly exaggerated

Posted on February 28th, 2012

Better late than never (applies to me and Mitt in this case)

So in light of Romney winning in Arizona and Michigan, I just remembered that I’d never published this piece. I wish I had, since I was right. Oh well. If wishes were bagels. I’m a terrible blogger, I guess. Who just doesn’t post something???

Anyways, here it is:

According to the latest CBS News poll, Rick Santorum has a slight lead over Mitt Romney nationally. Poll results place Santorum atop the pile with 30 percent of GOP primary voters backing the former Pennsylvania senator. Clocking in at 27 percent, Romney runs a close second.

Jamelle Bouie is flabbergasted:

As recently as last month, I couldn’t have predicted that Rick Santorum would be leading national polls for the Republican presidential nomination. That’s not to say that I didn’t think about it, but it seemed unfathomable. Not only does Santorum have the dubious distinction of having lost a re-election race by 17 points, but he’s been synonymous with extreme social conservatism for at least a decade.


In a different primary, with a stronger frontrunner, an off-brand candidate like Rick Santorum would have remained on the outskirts of the race—a gadfly, of sorts. But because of Romney’s profound weakness as a politician, the former Pennsylvania senator has a slim shot at the nomination. Indeed, he currently leads in the crucial Michigan primary on February 28, which is a make or break state for Romney, whose father governed the state. What’s more, Super Tuesday is less than a month away, and it is something of a national primary, with ten states voting on the same day. If Santorum continues to gain steam, he could do very well.

Romney is certainly a weak candidate. The Republican base is angry and Romney has a hard time speaking the language of anger and resentment. I’m not sure he’s a bad politician so much as he’s just not the man for the times – a shoe-in but for the conservative mood.

Whatever the case, he is a weak player this primary season. He may be the presumed front-runner, but his position at the top remains tenuous at best.

The lack of conservative faith in Romney is why we’ve seen the rise of  Not-Romney in its various incarnations. Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry – these are all just different names for the same candidate, different manifestations of Not-Romney giving essentially the same pitch.

Americans don’t actually want to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act even if they say they do

Posted on February 27th, 2012

According to a new Gallup poll Americans are pretty much split evenly on whether or not we should repeal the new healthcare law. But as with any other government program, Americans are only against it in the abstract. Americans hate the mandate, largely because it’s called a mandate, but love parts of the bill that end pre-existing condition clauses. Of course, you can’t really have a system of private insurance that allows anybody to get a plan at any time without a mandate, so we’re stuck with the good and the bad.

The healthcare law is a mixed bag. It doesn’t go as far as many wanted it to go – something like single payer, preferably. It changes rather than expands the role of government in providing access to healthcare. It’s inefficient in some ways; in other ways it improves upon the status quo. One thing that sort of irks me about it is how politics forces us to make do with something as ad hoc as all of this. We have Medicaid – administered by the states – and Medicare – administered by the federal government – and now the ACA – administered by the states – and rather than just save tons of money and increase efficiencies enormously by combining all these programs into one federal healthcare program, we have to leave this expensive patchwork in place and then just build upon it (and the patchwork is much worse once you think about how the private insurance system is designed, and the entrenched inefficiencies baked into healthcare writ large including hideously opaque prices…)

In any case, take away the parts that people dislike about the bill and of course people suddenly love it. Talk about it being struck down, and most Americans still imagine that their favorite parts will remain.

If you took away all the fearmongering surrounding the bill, they’d probably be fine with it also. But a steady diet of death panels and threats about tax-hikes has everyone much more frightened than they would otherwise be about a bill that basically just opens up non-employer-based insurance exchanges so that people have just a tiny bit more access to reliable healthcare than they did before. It’s neither a panacea or a government take over. It’s just sort of a step in the right direction and a step in the wrong direction all at the same time, and better – certainly – than doing nothing.

The ACA hurts Obama in swing states, even if people like the bill in pieces; but as James Joyner notes, if Romney gets the GOP nod it may be a moot point anyways.

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Ron Paul wants to divide and conquer

Posted on February 27th, 2012

A new study of the GOP debates finds that Ron Paul has attacked all his Republican rivals save one: Mitt Romney. In no debate so far has Paul attacked Romney, but he’s gone after each of the other candidates. He’s also run ads attacking Romney’s rivals in states where Romney looked shaky. Why is this?

I don’t have a definite answer on this, of course, but it seems to me that Paul is attempting to subvert the playing field – divide and conquer by contrasting himself with the Not-Romney candidates rather than with Romney. Perhaps he assumes that people just know he’s 180 degrees the opposite of Romney and he wants voters to understand that in fact the others, like Santorum and Gingrich, are closer to Romney than they are to Paul when it comes to policy positions. At the same time he can force them to defend themselves against Romney and Paul, and not draw the ire of the Romney campaign. This leaves him on the offensive more and on the defensive less which costs less money and frees Paul up to keep getting his message out without having to deflect the big money that comes with any Romney attack.

In other words, Paul is killing at least two birds with one stone by pitting himself against nobody of consequence and distinguishing himself as the Not-Not-Not-Romney (or something) without risking any big Romney campaign backlash – yet.

It’s another example of Paul’s political acumen, and the cleverness of the people he’s surrounded himself with. A Paul victory may still be a long shot, but you have to admire the political maneuvering here. Of course, it may not be enough. If Paul helps knock out Santorum or Gingrich, it might make the remaining Not-Romney stronger, hurting Paul. We’ll see. I doubt very  much that we’re looking at Paul position himself for a VP slot on the Romney ticket – as hilarious as that would be.

Also, does anybody else wish we’d gotten a chance to see Ron Paul debate Sarah Palin?

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The Koch brothers and rightwing fusionism

Posted on February 27th, 2012

Charles Koch was fascinated by Murray Rothbard's libertarianism

The billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch are often painted by the left as anti-worker elites working in the shadows to undermine labor unions, the middle class, and the New Deal. This is only partly true. They are also major philanthropists whose political ideology hardly reflects on their good works, whether or not it’s your cup of tea.

Besides, that political philosophy contains many good things outside of workers’ rights issues. The brothers have bankrolled anti-war and anti-war-on-drugs writing and research. Publications like reason are a mixed bag for sure, but reason-style libertarians tend to be socially liberal and represent, at least in the mainstream, a more liberal-ish version of libertarianism than is found elsewhere. And some of the work at that magazine – namely the investigative work of Radley Balko – has been extremely important. It’s even saved lives.

In 2008, as the Ron Paul revolution was gaining serious momentum, reason writers Julian Sanchez and Dave Wiegel dug into the Ron Paul newsletters in an attempt to discover who had penned the various racist and bigoted screeds back in the early nineties.

This was interesting for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the willingness of the libertarian magazine to go after the one candidate in the entire race with any libertarian credentials to speak of was, in some ways, remarkable.

At the same time, the article and the ensuing debate over Ron Paul’s credibility underscored a divide between libertarians that extends back to the days when the Ron Paul newsletter first started publishing paranoid race-baiting and conspiracy theories.

Back then, the libertarian movement was nowhere near as vibrant as it is today. Some of the leading thinkers in the movement were the same men that reason later hypothesized were behind the newsletters: Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. At the time, Rockwell and Rothbard were championing what they termed “paleo-libertarianism” – an attempt to spread libertarian ideas by promoting a socially conservative, and at times downright nativist, narrative about government and society.

Rick Santorum hates religion but he hates puppies even more

Posted on February 26th, 2012

Santorum doesn't understand religious liberty, even if he pretends to.

What a silly over-the-top thing to say. It’s the sort of rhetoric that is ruining this country, damnit, and this is the greatest country on earth.

Why, it’s a little bit like saying that the whole separation of Church and State thing we have baked into our constitution is out-dated, like Rick Santorum said on This Week:

I don’t believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and visions of our country.

This is stupid on so many levels.

Obviously the church is just one of many special interest groups that really does have some say over matters of state. That’s simply a reality of representative government, whether we like it or not. But more importantly I really don’t think that Rick Santorum understands what he’s saying here, and the implications for freedom of religion.

It’s almost as though social conservatives think that religion and government were kept separate because effete liberal elitists wanted a hedonistic society unfettered by the moral constraints provided by religious institutions. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was the Baptists and Thomas Jefferson who really lobbied hard for the initial cleaving. They saw the political power of the Anglican Church as a real threat to religious freedom and decided that the best way to preserve that freedom was to keep government out of church business, and vice versa.

Fast-forward a few hundred years and you have guys like Santorum who apparently don’t understand the first thing about the point of keeping the two institutions a healthy distance apart from one another. This is either straight-up opportunism dressed in religious drag or it’s one of the dumbest things to have fled a politician’s mouth in, well, days.

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David Cross on the contradictory language of the right

Posted on February 22nd, 2012

A couple people have directed me to this clip (which I would embed if it were allowed.)

David Cross says what I was trying to say about the double-speak on the right much better – or at least much funnier – than I do.

This is more evidence that while the right is very good at talk radio, the left is much better at humor. Maybe this is why liberals can tackle pop culture better than conservatives.

Humor translates into mainstream pop culture better than anger and resentment. But anger and resentment and fear of change are perfect kindling for blustering talk radio or its doppelganger on Fox.

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America is one hell of a country, according to Rick Santorum

Posted on February 21st, 2012

“The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

~from Paradise Lost

“This is not a political war at all,” Rick Santorum told Catholic students at Ave Maria college. “This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age. There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.”

More of the transcript here.

Santorum’s 12th century rhetoric is par for the course when it comes to the conservative movement during culture war season. Blending religiosity and politics is as old as either, but one still can’t help but cringe a little when you listen to the former Senator from Pennsylvania and his alleyway doomsday sermons. Perhaps it’s because we’ve had such a long bout of fiscal conservatism that the emergence of good old fashioned culture war trash-talking is a shock to the system.

So I won’t talk about the culture wars. I’m more interested in the right’s incoherence than in its issue-arsenal at the moment.

What I don’t understand – what just baffles me endlessly – are these dueling notions of America as the greatest, most super-fantastic nation on Earth and America as an immoral, decayed society under assault from all sides. We are God’s people but we’re also so vulnerable to Satan himself that we need a super-hero, super-holy president like Rick Santorum to save us.

The cult of American exceptionalism is, perhaps unsurprisingly, comprised by the same people who make up the cult of American decline. There’s an insecurity about it that I think shines a little light onto the conservative movement and the Republican Party. The pretense of toughness; the rah-rah-rah nationalism; the sense of victimization, of being endlessly put-upon. These are all forms within the language of American conservatism, or at least mainstream movement conservatism, that give shape to the broader dialogue on the right.

The dumbest traffic sign you’ll see all day

Posted on February 21st, 2012

Via Radley Balko, who titles his post: Future Headline: Motorist Kills Half Dozen Fifth Graders While Trying To Read Speed Limit Sign

I guess having the speed limit change from say, 6AM to 9AM and from 2PM to 5PM is just too difficult. Instead motorists have to read very carefully to see whether they should be driving at 25mph or 45mph. Which is, of course, totally insane.

One thing I get from reading Balko’s blog and work is that the craziest government of all is local government. With police militarization, crazy local governments are given surplus military equipment so that they can be crazy and well-armed at the same time. But the real burdensome regulations out there tend to be at the local level.

Think of this speed limit sign as just a symbol of that onerous stupidity.

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The chicken nugget plot thickens…

Posted on February 17th, 2012

So Mark has updated his post on the chicken nugget scandal that just won’t quit:

[UPDATE II: 2/17 - Please see this piece of reporting from Glenn Beck's site The Blaze. Beck's reporter, Madeleine Morgenstern, has done what the original stories did not, and put together a reasonably well-sourced story that sheds a lot of actual light on what happened here. The story is not anonymously sourced, contains an actual copy of the letter at issue here, and fills a lot of the holes that the original story had. I admit, after reading Morgenstern's piece, this story looks really bad, though I have to emphasize that it very much appears to be a function of the particular program at issue here, which is indeed an opt-in program. Nonetheless, consider the below retracted to the extent that it is inconsistent with Morgenstern's article.]

Read The Blaze report here.

I do think it’s important to note that if indeed this is an opt-in program then…well then I just still fail to see how it’s so scandalous.

Can someone help me here? Perhaps it is a poorly run program. Maybe they’re trying too hard. Maybe they hired the wrong people. But form what I can tell, this is a program designed to help kids get healthy food that’s just been mismanaged. Which is lame, sure, but hardly earth-shattering.

What do you think?

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What are women for?

Posted on February 17th, 2012

I keep trying to better understand James Poulos. I like James a great deal, though we disagree pretty fundamentally on many things. I’ve been fascinated by his discussions of the Pink Police State (a conservative argument against panem et circenses.)

And yet postmodern conservatism has always been somewhat vague. It’s unorthodox in terms of American debate – not quite paleoconservatism, not quite neoconservatism. I’m not sure exactly. Like I said, I keep trying to understand Poulos, and I don’t always succeed.

So I walk with caution into his latest piece at The Daily Caller - a piece which was at once designed for controversy (and certainly titled for clicks) but which James has taken plenty of flack on already. I hate to be merely pile on.

I almost hate excerpting, but I will anyways. After mucking through the contraception debate a bit, James veers into a discussion of left orthodoxy and particularly what he sees as an inchoate take on “what women are for:”

Lip service is often paid to the impression that the point of empowering women is to empower them to do whatever they want, but much of the left stops well short of the more radical implications of that easy answer. The left’s culture of celebration is hamstrung by the very assertions of should and shouldn’t that contemporary women have inevitably come to make — as the ongoing debate over the advisability of marriage reveals. Reihan Salam has hinted that typically left-wing implications of academic theories like “erotic capital,” including mainstreaming prostitution, point in directions quite at odds with the dominant but failing framework of liberal sexual politics.

To the growing discomfort of many, that framework hasn’t come anywhere close to answering even the most basic questions about what women are for — despite pretty much universal recognition across the political spectrum that a civilization of men, for men, and by men is no civilization at all, a monstrously barbaric, bloody, and brutal enterprise. A few inherently meaningful implications about what women are for flow naturally from this wise and enduring consensus, but no faction of conservatives or liberals has figured out how to fully grasp, translate, and reconcile them in the context of our political life.

Ironically, one of the best places to look for a way out of the impasse is the strain of left feminism that insists an inherently unique female “voice” actually exists. That’s a claim about nature. Much good would come from a broader recognition that women have a privileged relationship with the natural world. That’s a relationship which must receive its social due — if masculinity in its inherent and imitative varieties (including imitation by quasi-feminized males of quasi-masculinized females!) is not to conquer the world.

I read this as an extension of James’s broader critique of libertarianism or perhaps libertinism. But I find the framing of the issue distracting at best, and unnecessarily inflammatory at worst. What are women for?

Darrell Issa’s all-male contraception panel

Posted on February 16th, 2012

Andrew Sullivan thinks that it’s ”hard to believe that the GOP has become so isolated from the American mainstream that they could not find and would not allow a single woman to testify in the Issa hearings today on contraception and religious freedom.” But is it? Is it really?

We’ve all been watching the Republican party deteriorate lo these past five, ten, twenty years. Should anything surprise us anymore?

I share Andrew’s flabbergastedness, even though I probably shouldn’t. One would think that after The Daily Show so effectively outed Sean Hannity’s own all-male contraception and religious freedom panel that the GOP leadership would be quick to change course but…well, let’s just say that women’s issues are not really the Republican Party’s forte. Best leave these things to the men.

Andrew writes:

Added to Santorum’s chief financial backer’s simply staggering and disgustingly sexist recommendation that the only birth control a woman should have is crossing her legs – with the implication that straight men have no responsibility for the matter – and we have really returned to the 1950s, as TPM has pointed out. But that’s who they are now backing: Santorum, the man who wants gays back in the closet and women in their 1950s reproductive place: beneath men without a condom, and denied an abortion thereafter.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

And of course, it will get worse before it gets better. All across the country, women’s access to healthcare is being threatened in one form or another. Virginia is just the latest in a long string of absurd moves by the right to expand government into the bedroom. Because government is only too big if it’s giving poor kids chicken nuggets. When it’s forcing women to have an ultrasound whether or not she wants one it’s no big deal at all.

This is not the right way to go about decreasing the rate of abortions. Universal access to healthcare, prioritizing education, and working toward prosperity for everyone will all lead to fewer abortions in the long run. Cultural and economic forces, not more prying authoritarianism, and yes contraception are more likely to slow the rate of abortion than forced ultrasounds.

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Santorum calls Foster Friess’s Bayer aspirin comment a “bad joke”

Posted on February 16th, 2012

Back in Foster's day they walked five miles uphill both ways just to get Bayer aspirin to put between their ladyfolk's knees.

Rosie Gray, writing at BuzzFeed, chatted up Rick Santorum about the unfortunate comments his SuperPAC backer, Foster Friess, made about contraception earlier:

Rick Santorum wasn’t very amused by his friend and super PAC backer Foster Friess’ comment today about using aspirin as birth control.

Today on MSNBC, Friess said “Back in my days they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives,” adding, “The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

Asked about the quote outside the Oakland County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner here in Novi, Santorum wasn’t at first aware of the incident — but when it was described to him, he told BuzzFeed “I’m not responsible for every bad joke one of my supporters makes.”

Friess will be appearing on MSNBC again at 10 tonight to “set the record straight” on his aspirin remark, he tweeted earlier.

Speaking with Lawrence O’Donnell this evening, Friess played dumb, saying: “Back in my days, they didn’t have the birth control pill, so to suggest that Bayer Aspirin could be a birth control was considered pretty ridiculous and quite funny. So I think that was the gist of that story, but what’s been nice, it gives an opportunity to really look at what this contraceptive issue is all about.”

Right, the part about putting the aspiring between girls’ knees had nothing to do with it.

“I have been blessed by contraceptives,” Friess went on, inexplicably. “It’s an important thing for many women. it’s allowed them to advance their careers and make their own choices. That’s what’s special about America. People can choose. That’s what’s so annoying about this idea that President Obama forcing people to do something that is against their religious beliefs and that’s what the issue’s about, where Rick Santorum, as I said earlier, you know what his position is, but yet he’s never had any attempts, in fact, has even funded contraceptives to fight aids in Africa.”

What an odd shuffle. It’s almost as though Santorum and Friess are coordinating their message, and when Santorum expressed his distaste for Friess’s joke, Friess backed away from it. Not surprising, really, given Santorum’s meteoric rise in the polls and his need to start appealing to larger swaths of the American public. One can only play the far-right social conservative card in so many settings. After a while you need to diversify.

The problem for Santorum is that he really can’t shake his social conservative bona fides. That’s his strength and his weakness. Despite what Politfact might say, a majority of Americans are not hardcore so-cons, and most Americans are pro-birth control. 2011 was the first year that most Americans voiced a favorable opinion about gay marriage, for that matter. Santorum’s politics are a dying breed.

I hope he wins the nomination, even though I’m pretty sure he won’t.

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Santorum benefactor Foster Friess tells women to put an aspirin between their knees to use as contraception

Posted on February 16th, 2012

I don’t know if Foster Friess, the billionaire supporter of Rick Santorum, is representative of all of Santorum’s supporters, but I get the feeling he is. Which is great, because if Santorum wins the nomination, that means that all Barack Obama has to do is role tape of this sort of bad crazy and he’s sure to win:

“Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed. We have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex. I think it says something about our culture,” Friess said. “We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are.”

He continued: “On this contraceptive thing, my Gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”


Friess’s ties to Santorum go back a few years. He donated to Santorum’s miserable 2006 campaign to no avail. I think his money is going down the drain this time around, too, but it’s his money and if he’d rather spend it trying to prop up a losing candidate with seriously antiquated ideas about sexual equality, he’s welcome to it.

For that matter, the culture wars represent a losing battle for the right, regardless of the money they burn to wage them. It’s a question of dying ideas and the dying demographics who hold them. I’m all for keeping an eye to tradition, and making sure that as society evolves we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but part of evolution is to cut off limbs. If we’re to really grow as a culture and a people, we have to get past the notion that somehow women are inferior or that they shouldn’t have control over their own destiny. And we need to get beyond the idea that sex is icky, too.

For conservatives or people like me who actually do value a certain brand of conservatism, this means keeping an eye on how to run a properly limited government – not extend ourselves so far overseas, not fall too deep into debt waging wars and locking up nonviolent offenders. It means modesty instead of hubris. There is much to be said for a conservatism of doubt and a conservatism that urges caution and skepticism toward power. That’s not on display on the right anymore, but it isn’t to say that it couldn’t be. Certainly Ron Paul strikes me as the most tempermentally conservative presidential candidate we’ve seen come out of the GOP in a long time.

Over at Forbes I talk about why women ought to be allowed into combat, by the way, contra Santorum. If Israel can do it, so can America.

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Contraception is pretty damn important to a woman’s health

Posted on February 15th, 2012


So our healthcare system is all screwed up for innumerable reasons like the fact that we have to get insurance from our employers. We have the whole thing rigged with middle-men and price controls and protectionism. On top of that it’s an unfair system that leaves too many people out in the cold. Maybe part of the problem here is the government getting involved in utterly ridiculous ways over the years – an ad hoc approach that has left a terrible tangle in its wake.

The other problem is that too many people think that we can get healthcare to people without government assistance, which I just don’t think is true. I’m fine with using markets to get the pricing mechanism working again, but I want the state to help people get basic access to care and to make sure nobody is without life-saving coverage and that nobody goes bankrupt.

It seems painfully obvious to me that a fundamental piece of a woman’s basic healthcare needs is her ability to have some modicum of control over her own body. Contraception is extremely important to many women (and their families) and having the ability to have access to contraception is a basic individual right in today’s world.

What about before there even was contraception? Well, women were much worse off in general back then, and the lack of an ability to have control over their own bodies was a big part of it (not long ago it was perfectly legal to rape your wife, for instance.) Women were also worse off before they had a right to vote – even when nobody had a right to vote. Rights are not always eternal. Sometimes they emerge with new systems of government, new notions about our humanity, new technologies. Sometimes people want to take them away.

That story about government agents forcing a kid to eat chicken nuggets instead of the lunch her mom packed for her? Yeah, that’s bogus

Posted on February 15th, 2012

Turns out the chicken nugget controversy is sound and fury.

Mark Thompson uncovers the truth behind the story about the little girl “forced” by “state agents” to eat chicken nuggets instead of her packed lunch:

One problem: the story is a load of bunk at worst, a non-story at best, standing for little more than the proposition that low-income children in NC’s low-income pre-K program whose parents don’t send them to school with enough healthy food will be provided with additional food to supplement what their parents send them to school with.

For starters, the context in which all of this occurred was a public school pre-K program run by the state popularly known as “More at Four,” but now called the generic name “NC Pre-K.”  In order to have a child enrolled in this program, which has a limited number of slots, the parents must actively choose to enroll, with priority going to “at-risk” children, to wit: special needs children and (importantly) low-income children.  Indeed, to even be eligible for the program, the child must either fit in one of those two categories or have a parent on (or about to be called on) active military duty.  Enrollment as an “at-risk” child means that the child’s enrollment is fully subsidized by the state, regardless of whether the day care is private or public.

These facts are critical because the “state agent” in this story turns out to be nothing more than a researcher from a program that grades the performance of pre-schools and operates out of the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It also does not appear that this institute has any actual authority other than to provide assessments, which the state then uses in making licensing decisions and in setting the fees it will pay the day care provider for subsidized care.

Notably, as the second-linked story above suggests, the mother’s main gripe here does not even appear to be with this “state agent,” but instead with the school’s teachers, who continue to give the girl milk and vegetables despite letters from the mother asking them not to.  Indeed, the notion that this “state agent” was going around inspecting every single lunch box brought to the school does not appear to have much basis, as the agent apparently ordered full school lunches for every single child in this program and was evaluating the school’s compliance with standards, not individual parents’ compliance.  Even if he was doing such an inspection, there’s a pretty obvious context-specific reason for it: this is an opt-in program for parents who largely can’t afford to provide fully balanced meals.

Her other major gripe appears to be that she is worried about being charged for the additional food being placed in front of her daughter based on a letter from the school purportedly saying that kids who did not bring a healthy lunch would be offered supplements and that parents “may” be charged for the supplemented portions.  However, as the second-linked story makes clear, no such charges have been issued nor apparently was there any actual chance that such charges would be issued.

The original story’s claim that the relevant regulation applies to all pre-schools is also false – to the contrary, it applies only  to pre-schools choosing to participate in (and eligible for) the subsidized program.

The original story further obscures that in no circumstance was this child – or any child, for that matter – being forced to eat the school-provided lunch, nor was this child -or any other child – deprived of her boxed lunch.  Instead, as the second linked story acknowledges, the child was just provided with additional food and given the option to consume that in addition to her boxed lunch.  In other words, the claim that the school “replaced” this girl’s turkey sandwich, banana, apple, potato chips, and juice with chicken nuggets is totally bogus.

So before we all go crazy talking about how awful the nanny state is to make this poor little girl eat chicken nuggets instead of her sack lunch, let’s all take a deep breath and, I dunno, spend some time researching the facts. I love a good knee-jerk reaction as much as the next guy, but when something sounds too awful to be true, chances are it is. With the very real problems in, say, our criminal justice system – no-knock raids, innocent people on death row, overfilled prisons, and so on and so forth, spending any time at all on this non-troversy is a waste of precious digital ink.

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