South Carolina: The GOP “Family Values” Hypocrisy Continues

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Republican voters in South Carolina, a state that still celebrates treason by flying the Confederate flag at the state capitol and having Confederate Memorial Day as a state holiday, further besmirched their state’s reputation by voting for Newt Gingrich in last Saturday’s Republican Presidential primary.  After weeks of the media treating Mitt Romney as a shoo-in for the GOP nomination, Gingrich surged in South Carolina in the past week and ended up winning by a 41% to 28% vote total, with Rick Santorum receiving 17% and Ron Paul receiving 13%.  With this victory behind him, Newt is now looking to catch up to Romney in Florida, which is holding its primary on January 31.

Newt’s victory comes on the 15th anniversary of Gingrich becoming the first Speaker of the House in US history to be reprimanded by his own colleagues.  The reprimand was the result of an ethics investigation stemming from the financing of a course that Newt taught at a local college, and Newt’s persistent misstatements to the investigators.  The reprimand and accompanying $300,000 fine were approved by the House on a 395-28 vote, with 196 House Republicans voting in favor of reprimanding Newt. Now, South Carolina Republicans have decided they want this paragon of ethics to be their party’s standard bearer in 2012.

Exit polling from the election revealed a number of interesting facts. First, it shows the continuing political hypocrisy of so-called conservative Christians.  In particular, 65% of the voters in yesterday’s primary considered themselves to be born-again or evangelical Christians. Those voters supported Gingrich over Romney by 44%-22%.  Newt, of course, is a serial adulterer who divorced his first wife while she was undergoing cancer treatment to marry his younger mistress, then divorced her in order to once again marry a younger mistress.  Despite his personal infidelities, Gingrich has the nerve to lecture others on personal morality, to attack the rights of LGBT Americans and women, and to pledge to advance a wide ranging conservative social agenda.  Winning Progressive typically does not care about the personal lives of politicians because what matters is how they would conduct their public lives.  But when a candidate’s public positions involve forcing others to adopt a particular version of personal morality that the candidate himself or herself does not follow, then it is entirely fair game to call out the hypocrisy.  And hypocrisy is exactly what Gingrich represents, and what “family values” conservatives who supported him in South Carolina demonstrated.

Another interesting bit of data from the exit polling is with regards to the views of South Carolina Republican primary voters on the economy versus the deficit. Republicans voting in a primary in South Carolina can safely be expected to reflect some of the most conservative elements of the GOP. Yet when asked to identify the issue that matters most, 63% of them said the economy as compared to only 22% that said the deficit and 3% that said illegal immigration. Similarly, 43% identified creating jobs even if it increases the deficit as a higher priority than cutting the deficit even if it limits job growth.  These numbers among conservatives in the South suggest a continuing high level of economic insecurity that needs to be addressed and could provide an opening for tamping down support for a GOP Presidential candidate who is more focused on deficits than on job creation.

A final interesting point from the exit polls is that the 45% of South Carolina GOP primary voters who identified the ability to defeat President Obama as the candidate quality that mattered the most voted for Newt Gingrich over Mitt Romney by 51%-37%.  While we think that President Obama can beat either candidate in a general election, we’ll leave it up to our readers to decide whether it is reasonable to think that Newt has a better chance of winning the general election than Mitt does.

No, Shariah Law is Not Being Imposed in the US

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Desperate to turn the political discussion away from economic issues they cannot win on, Republican Presidential candidates have latched onto the claim that Islamic Shariah law is somehow overtaking the US.  For example, serial adulterer Newt Gingrich has been quoted as saying that “Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States,” and that “the left’s refusal to tell the truth about the Islamist threat is a natural parallel to the 70-year pattern of left-wing intellectuals refusing to tell the truth about communism and the Soviet Union.”  Similar statements have been made by other GOP candidates, such as Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain, and much of the right-wing blogosphere is obsessed with the purported “threat” of shariah law coming to the US.  Thirteen states have seen legislation introduced to ban Shariah law, and Gingrich has gone so far as to propose a federal law banning Shariah law here in the US.

Conservative fear-mongering about Shariah law is absolutely ridiculous claptrap.  For one thing, there are numerous variants of Shariah law, from the most brutal and orthodox versions practices in Saudi Arabia and by the Taliban, to far more liberal and modern versions practiced in other Muslim countries.  Regardless, the only purported examples of Shariah law in the US that conservatives can point to is a single wrongly-decided trial court decision in a domestic violence dispute in New Jersey that was quickly overturned on appeal, and the City of Dearborn, Michigan, which is approximately 32% Arab American (most of whom are actually Lebanese Christians).  As Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly likes to point out, Dearborn is not run by Shariah law, a fact that is demonstrated by the presence of three strip clubs and a pork sausage factory within its borders.  No major organizations in the US are pushing for the establishment of Shariah, and even if such effort existed, it would have to run through the impossibly difficult gauntlet of religious liberty protected by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution and a Congress that has only a single Muslim member.   In short, Shariah law is not coming to America.

Normally, Winning Progressive would ignore such conservative distractions, as discussing them plays into the conservative attempt to divert our politics away from the serious issues facing our nation.  But in this case there are at least two reasons to address the GOP’s fear mongering.  First, you can draw a direct line from this fear mongering to a disturbing anti-Muslim bias in our society.  Incidents such as Lowe’s Home Improvement stores and other companies refusing to advertise on the television show All-American Muslim and the protests that erupt against proposals to build mosques suggest a growing, un-American objection to Muslim Americans being viewed as equal members of society here in the US.  And the flames of such exclusion are being irresponsibly fanned by GOP Presidential candidates making false claims about Shariah law.

Second, this issue presents yet another example of our media’s failure to play its role in providing the information that people need to be well-informed.  A good journalist would either dismiss the GOP’s claims about Shariah law out of hand or would provide the information the readers need to realize that the GOP’s claims are baseless claptrap.  Instead, we get he-said, she-said stenography in articles such as the New York Times’ one titled In Shariah, Gingrich Seems Mortal Threat to U.S. in which the reporter dutifully quotes the right-wing’s Shariah claims interspersed with references to various scholars and officials rejecting those claims:

Mr. Gingrich was articulating a much-disputed thesis in vogue with some conservative thinkers but roundly rejected by many American Muslims, scholars of Islam and counterterrorism officials.

. . . .

The idea that Shariah poses a danger in the United States, where the census pegs Muslims as less than 1 percent of the population, strikes many scholars as quixotic.

Even within that 1 percent, most American Muslims have no enthusiasm for replacing federal and state law with Shariah, as some conservatives fear, let alone adopting such ancient prescriptions as stoning for adulterers, said Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, who spent a year traveling the United States and interviewing Muslims for his 2010 book “Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam.”

The notion of a threat from Shariah to the United States “takes your breath away, it’s so absurd,” Dr. Ahmed said. He sees political demagoguery in the anti-Shariah campaign, which fueled rallies against mosques in the last two years from Manhattan to Tennessee.

Who is right about this?  Unfortunately, the article provides no basis for the reader to know.  Instead, after dutifully explaining that conservatives see Shariah as a major threat, while other people think it is not, the reporter then turns to a Muslim-American who was included in an anti-Islam film made by Gingrich:

One Muslim activist who is shown in the film calling for “separation of mosque and state,” Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, said he appreciated Mr. Gingrich’s support in an ideological contest with large Muslim advocacy groups in the United States that he believes have an Islamist slant.

The article then closes with a quote from Mohamed Elibiary, a former Newt Gingrich supporter, noting that the anti-Shariah campaign is “propaganda for jihadists” because it serves to demonize Muslim Americans rather than recognize them as fellow Americans.   What the article does not contain is any of the readily available facts that demonstrate that the GOP’s claims about Shariah are baseless fear mongering.  Instead, the reader is left having to decide for themselves whether they agree with the GOP candidates and Mr. Jasser, or whether they think that the handful of voices on the other side of the issue are correct.

The problem with this kind of reporting is that it enables the GOP to create these sorts of fake controversies with impunity.  And, unfortunately, in this situation, such reporting allows the GOP to fan the flames of anti-Muslim bias and create exactly the kind of “propaganda for jihadists” that Mr. Elibiary described.  Journalists should do better than that, and if we want a well-functioning democracy moving forward, we must demand that they do.

If you would like to respectfully let the reporter know your concerns about this type of he-said, she-said stenography, you can e-mail them here.

Sarah Palin for President?!?!? A Sign of Just How Pitiful Today’s GOP Is

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I’m sitting in an airport in Cleveland and for some reason Sarah Palin is back on television, with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer breathlessly talking about Palin as a potential candidate for President in 2012.  Besides reminding me why I no longer watch cable “news” (with the exception of Rachel Maddow, of course), Palin’s reappearance is a reminder of how sad today’s Republican Party has become.

Over the past few weeks, a number of potential Republican candidates for President have decided not to run including, most significantly, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.  On the flip side, not-so-stellar candidates such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have launched what are bound to be failed campaigns.  With no shining lights having announced so far, the field is looking about as hapless as the Chicago Cubs trying to win a World Series.

Given this situation, it is perhaps not surprising that the media has decided to try to revive Palin’s career.  Not only is she appearing all the time on CNN again, but even the New York Times and a Room For Debate feature about What a Palin Bid Would Mean For the GOP.   One of the five essays in that feature is entitled The Party Needs Her, and contends that:

Like a shot in the arm, Sarah Palin would enliven the presidential race and engage the Republican base as no one else could.

The thought that a Sarah Palin candidacy is what Republicans need pretty much says it all about the unseriousness and lack of ability to lead of today’s GOP.  Ms. Palin is a person who struggles to offer even a single coherent thought on policy issues, cannot name a newspaper that she reads, was unable to hack being Governor of one of the smallest (population-wise) states in the country for even one whole term, and couldn’t find it in her to offer even a smidgen of apology or contrition after a Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords – who Palin had targeted with violent imagery and language – was almost assassinated.

Our nation and world face serious issues that require serious adult leadership to address them. Ms. Palin is plainly not prepared to offer such leadership and the fact that the Republican base and conservative media chearleaders see Ms. Palin as a legitimate leader is yet further evidence that today’s Republican Party is not prepared to offer leadership either.