Dear Lord, Where Do They Find These People?

According to Rep. Tom McClintock, there simply is no such thing as white-collar crime.

At a town hall meeting in El Dorado Hills, California on Tuesday, a constituent asked McClintock for his “stance on Wall Street criminal practices.” The congressman responded, “Well first of all, for a criminal practice there has to be a gun. It’s pretty simple.”

I think we know what’s simple, and it isn’t the Congressman’s intriguing theory of what it takes to constitute criminal behavior.

Every day, it seems we meet a new officeholding whack-a-doodle.

This week it was Lee Bright calling Lindsey Graham a “community organizer for the Muslims.” Last week, Steve King explained that for every young immigrant who was a valedictorian, there were a hundred others with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” Before him, Paul Broun insisted that evolution and climate change were “lies from the mouth of hell.” Rand Paul insists that  black people have no trouble voting–and that despite his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and any and all measures to lift people from poverty, he’s all for equality. And of course, almost every week there’s some new insanity from Louie Gohmert, who Charles Pierce memorably called “perhaps the dumbest mammal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse.”

There’s a new one just about every day. Michelle Bachmann hasn’t even taken her crazy eyes into retirement yet, and literally dozens of her fellow Republican Congresscritters are contending for her title of  “least securely tethered to reality.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so terrifying.


Pants on Fire

The interminable GOP debates continue to offer entertainment, if not enlightenment. Michelle Bachmann continues to display total ignorance of the Middle East (as Pierre Atlas notes, she clearly has no clue that there are differences between the Shia and Sunni–but then, she has little comprehension of the US Constitution, either). And in the most recent debate, Mitt Romney claimed that Obama’s policies have been the most costly of any President–a clear “liar, liar, pants on fire” statement that may have played well to the debate audience, but is wildly untrue.

As a helpful graph in the New York Times makes clear, George W. Bush’s “policies” cost 5.07 trillion dollars. Obama’s, by contrast, have cost 1.44 trillion.

But what is more revealing by far is what that money bought. Bush waged wars he didn’t pay for–one of which was an unnecessary and ruinous war of choice. Obama’s spending was primarily on the stimulus–to prevent the economic depression that Bush’s policies would otherwise have ushered in–and health care reform. And if the health economists I know are correct, the initial costs of health care reform will eventually be recouped as the reforms force efficiencies and savings in our patchwork, bloated “system.”

Faced with the stark differences between the two administrations, I can understand why Romney might duck the issue entirely. But he is apparently unable to refrain from pandering–even at the expense of the truth.

Commentators continue to puzzle over the “anyone but Romney” attitude of the Republican base. It may have something to do with this pandering, which is painfully obvious. The current base wants authentically crazy, not just pretend.

Gender Matters

Back in 1980, when Republicans were members of a political party and not a religion, I was the Republican candidate for Congress from Indiana’s (then) eleventh district. In 1980, it was still comparatively unusual for either party to run a woman, and I had plenty of opportunity to grit my teeth over the tendency of reporters to focus on what I was wearing rather than what I was saying. My Washington-based consultant advised me to “look tough,” so that my gender would not be read as feminine softness–advice that, in retrospect, probably just made me look unpleasant.

In the 30+ years since that campaign, women have arguably made considerable progress–but we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think  sexism still frames political contests. Gender bias remains, but it manifests itself more subtly. In 2008, Sarah Palin tried to sell herself as a conservative version of a feminist, but that claim rang hollow to real feminists for many reasons, not the least of which was that much of her support was based upon her undeniable good looks. I am firmly of the opinion that neither Palin nor Bachmann would have achieved political prominence had they looked like Janet Reno.

Which brings me to an intriguing, if depressing, study recently reported in the Journal of Religion and Politics.

The authors were investigating the oft-noted tendency of today’s religiously conservative candidates to use “dog whistles”–phrases that don’t register with the more secular among us, but that signal to the extremely religious that the candidate is one of them. (George W. Bush was a master at this.) They found, however, that this tactic was more effective when used by male candidates that when it was used by females.  As the authors noted, “The code functioned as a highly sophisticated, closed-circuit cue for Evangelicals regarding male candidate acceptability…the code does not work in the same way for female candidates.” While reluctant to draw conclusions, they raise a pertinent question: “What if the Republican ‘advantage’ in using religious appeals is based on an inherent characteristic–gender–of those making the appeals?”

Whatever the answer to that question, if we have learned anything about politics during the past decade, it is that–for good or ill–race, gender, religion and sexual orientation continue to frame our responses to those who run for office.


Rapture Me Up, Scotty

Well, I see that Saturday is the big day–all the saved” Christians will evidently be leaving the rest of us (aka me and all of my friends) as they are Raptured. I know this because my email is filled with messages about “Rapture cocktails” and post-Rapture looting parties, and because a Facebook friend posted helpful information about a site that–for a relatively modest fee–will take care of your pet after you leave.

News accounts have taken note of the true believers who have given away all of their worldly goods in anticipation of their imminent departure.

Not being a biblical literalist, I have some lingering questions: for example, will self-identified “bible-believing” Christians like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Michelle Bachmann be leaving us?  If not, can we send them to the Afterlife anyway?  What should we do with all the tacky lawn ornaments True Believers will leave behind? And most important of all, what kind of dreadful world will the rest of us create? How will we know who to despise?

What will we do without the elect to tell us how to live and who to love? How will we know who Jesus doesn’t want us to tax?

Come to think of it, I am sure I’m one of the damned, because a post-Rapture world sounds heavenly to me.