Paul devoted almost none of his speech Wednesday at the historically black college in Washington, D.C., to explaining the GOP’s thorny relationship with black voters over the last fifty years, and most of it arguing that “the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights.” His history lecture focused almost entirely on the period before 1964, when the GOP began to champion the states rights arguments of southern whites. Echoing apopular conservative talking point, Paul repeatedly reminded the audience that Democrats passed Jim Crow laws in the south and that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, as were the first black legislators and the founders of the NAACP.

The talking point here is popular, however, it’s asinine as well. Somewhere along the line, Republicans who like to use it to excuse nearly a half-century of “benign neglect” of these issues forgot that it was a silly little propaganda line and started to think that it was actually something they could use to win arguments and persuade people. Michael Steele built his black outreach program around it. Bruce Bartlett even wrote a book about it, and he’s not an idiot! This is a problem because it isn’t very persuasive, especially not to present-day black people who are engaged enough in civic life to know what’s what, but it’s also dubious to anyone with a sense of history. Yes, Lincoln was a Republican, and so was Grant. Both had pretty good records on this stuff. Then came about six decades of mostly GOP governance in which nothing was done. And nothing much was done during the New Deal/Eisenhower era either. There is something of a myth that the GOP was pro-civil rights during this era, but it wasn’t really the case. Some individuals and groups were–the great Earl Warren, some Senators like Jake Javits and Margaret Chase Smith, and actually a fair number of Eisenhower staffers like Sherman Adams, Ike’s Chief of Staff, and Attorney General Herb Brownell, who together pushed Eisenhower to get serious about the issue despite his palpable lack of enthusiasm toward it. For the most part, though, Republicans of the time represented Midwest and Interior West states that had few black people in them, didn’t care much about the issue, and didn’t want to jeopardize their alliance with Southern Democrats over it. See Caro’s third LBJ book for more on this. Eventually, Republicans came around for political reasons, when they realized that Adlai Stevenson’s ties to Southern Democrats eroded black support for Democrats and saw an in to grabbing that support. Richard Nixon’s support for civil rights was entirely opportunistic, and it was discarded once going the other way was better politics. In any event, Warren, Javits, Smith, Adams, Brownell and all the rest of them were all stereotypical RINOs who would have been drummed out of the party sometime in the 1990s if they were our contemporaries.

Anyway, you know all this. But every once in a while someone talks about how Republicans will eventually flip on marriage equality and start to talk about gay rights as if they’ve always been for them, which doesn’t quite seem right to me. Republicans have, at various points, strongly supported civil rights as a party. Those points have happened to come at high points for the popularity of civil rights as an issue, so to the average person who is disposed to vote Republican, that record seems just about right–doing the important things, while avoiding the “excesses” like affirmative action and reparations and so on. This is why they’re able to get away with it. But Republicans have never been in favor of gay rights. There’s no real ambiguity there. The only thing I can possibly think of is that Reagan opposed the ballot proposition to forbid LGBT from becoming schoolteachers in 1978, but that’s awful thin, and Reagan’s own record is hardly positive in this area. You can’t posit Reagan as a hero of gay rights with that whole “not doing anything about AIDS” record. I guess you can add in Barry Goldwater’s support for LGBT to serve in the military, but Jesse Helms more than compensates for that. There’s no counternarrative to build here, really, and although there is some chunk of the GOP that supports civil marriage, the average person who is disposed to vote for the GOP thinks the party’s record on this stuff is just about right. That is, that full-scale opposition to marriage equality is the right thing in their opinion. The fact is that nearly all Senate Republicans voted for the 1964 CRA, and nearly all Senate Republicans voted for a Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2004. People who came of age during these times will always have “antigay” as a first impression of the GOP, and it will actually take hard work to reverse that.

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And I don’t mean logic this complicated…

The upshot of the scandal involving NY State Sen. Malcolm Smith is that it’s only half shocking. He chose a stupid, illegal avenue to try to become NYC Mayor, but his stupidity at least we knew about when he and a handful of Democrats decided to bolt their party’s caucus and join with the GOP.

Why was this stupid? Because it was such a short-sighted and illogical move. The State of New York was, until Al Smith and FDR, a reliably Republican state. Since then, it’s gone the GOP way in a competitive elections one time, in 1948, when there was a favorite son on the GOP ticket, and come on, it was 1948! Harry Truman won Utah. Still, realignments in US politics tend to go top down and take a long time to complete. In Texas, the state first broke with Democrats for Ike. Then they elected John Tower. Then came other statewide officials, governors, and an increasing number of U.S. Congressmen. Finally, the coup de grace occurred in 2002, when Republicans retook the legislature. It took, in other words, nearly fifty years for the state to go from completely Democrat to completely Republican, and it was entirely top-down. New York is one of the most Democratic states presidentially, hasn’t had a GOP senator since the late nineties, and the GOP has about a handful of Congresspeople left out of nearly thirty. The last thing they won statewide was in 2002, a decade ago. If you assume that George Pataki is the equivalent to Ann Richards here, then that means the GOP’s purchase on the legislature is essentially doomed, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s gone forever. And that does seem to be the case: you went from several decades of GOP control of the Senate, to a brief Democratic takeover in 2010, to a bare GOP majority in 2011 after the strongest GOP year since 1994 (i.e. as good as it’s ever gonna get), to a situation now where they don’t hold a majority and need a couple shortsighted turncoats to form a coalition. The trend here is not good for them, to put it mildly, and is driven by the fundamentals of realignment. To essentially screw over your own party in order to seize power that simple logic and history says will not last very long is really incredibly stupid. Additionally, the collapse of the GOP in the legislature has been delayed mostly by Michael Bloomberg’s generous help to State Senate Republicans for his own reasons–the government structure of New York State makes the City highly dependent on what happens in Albany, which he undeniably has an interest in participating in–but that help will likely stop flowing next year when he’s finally out of office. And then nature will take its course.

So, we knew that Smith was stupid to join the rest of the IDC, at least. Of course, other states have had bipartisan coalitions in recent memory, Alaska being one. But in Alaska, Republicans left their caucus because of the state’s legendary corruption. The Independent Democratic Caucus left the Democratic Caucus explicitly because of Smith, who ironically joined them. With his intelligence and awareness, he fit right in.

Jon Chait’s post on performance evaluations for teachers is correct on one level, and gets the best of Eugene Robinson there. If you’re attacking performance evaluation because people are cheating, then you’re attacking the means rather than the ends. The stronger argument is that, really, it’s really hard to evaluate what makes a good teacher. It’s a complicated skill set, much of it involves skills that can’t be quantified, and subjective evaluations would be unworkable to say the least. The stronger argument is, essentially, to question the premise of improving education through testing.

I’ve not seen convincing evidence that we have a widespread teaching crisis, certainly not of the sort that could benefit from some sort of Galtian billionaire principles to get everything running smoothly. However, I’m not ideologically opposed to modifying the terms of tenure. There are always some obvious cases that often come up when a teacher ought to be let go, and the extent to which tenure stops that is not so good. Then again, swapping tenure for performance pay is not a good trade, teachers tend to fight it tooth and nail (they certainly did under Michelle Rhee in D.C.) and I hardly blame them. It’s a bird in hand question: asking someone to drop a nonmonetary form of compensation in exchange for the possibility of some additional monetary compensation is politically sound, but ultimately it ain’t going to work because teachers can see that play. My (politically nonstarting) solution would be simply to pay teachers competitive rates for what they could expect to earn with their majors. Not in exchange for any concessions, just do it, and while you’re at it, sharply reduce all the extra hoops you have to go through to become a teacher. Limit student teaching to a few months at most, and streamline the credentialing process. This would have the effect of making teaching an incredibly attractive career option: competitive rates, good benefits, and job security. It would cost more money, of course, but it would also create a larger recruiting pool, which would lead to better teachers. In particular, every school district everywhere has a difficult time recruiting qualified math and science teachers because if you’re good at those subjects, you can earn a hell of a lot more in the private sector. Paying competitively (i.e. a lot more) would solve that. Might cause some tension between science and English teachers, for example, but that tradeoff is probably better than the temporary solutions that most school districts use to fill the shortage, or even worse choices. My sister’s junior high school has had a former P.E. teacher teaching math for the past ten years. This man has no degree in math and had no experience teaching it when he got the job, and is by all accounts still terrible at it. He’s the only one who teaches seventh grade math at the school.  The school–which is in a suburban district with ample funds–hasn’t been able to find an adequate replacement for the last decade. This is how sparse such teachers are, and there’s no way around it beside more money being spent.

The beauty of this is that, after instituted for a little while, the leverage on tenure would flip. Right now, teachers are paid less, but they get tenure. It’s a trade-off our political system decided to make, and if you try to change tenure you come up against a brick wall because tenure is seen as part of the bargain. Under the new system, the bargain would be different: teachers would be making competitive pay and they’d get tenure, which would mean a very different political reality, and would lead to greater leverage if an administrator wanted to dump the guy who just has his class watch videos all day. I doubt teachers give tenure up altogether, but the other side’s argument would be a lot stronger if they wanted to make modifications to get rid of the worst cases, or to rethink the entire system and turn it into, say, a requirement for “for cause” firing. There’s nothing inherent to unions and tenure as a concept–Chait mentions baseball, which is a sport but also a business where everyone’s unionized but there’s no tenure. It’s strictly an alternative form of compensation.

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To celebrate the season, Bill O’Reilly has published an article that goes well-beyond self-parody and seemingly into dementia, in a self-conscious attempt to replicate the “War on Christmas” fun over to its supposedly grander but ultimately kind of half-assed cousin, Easter:

There is no question that secular forces in America feel emboldened and are pushing the anti-religion envelopes as far as they can. They know the media are largely behind them, and they also have seen little pushback from Christian leadership. So why not demand that the Easter Bunny be rechristened? Why not attack public manger displays? What’s the downside?

While contemplating the resurrection of Jesus this week, American Christians might want to resurrect themselves. Because if the anti-Christian movement continues and does not see opposition rising up, in 20 years the spring bunny will be placing spring eggs into a spring basket everywhere. [emphasis mine]

The silliness here is achingly apparent, but I will make one concession. At the very least, there is a kernel of truth to the “War on Christmas” charges, in that lots of companies and government institutions try to avoid sending overtly religious messages during that time of year, and try to minimize the “Christ” part of the holiday. But this is because stores don’t get to select their clientele and don’t want to offend people of other faiths! Especially stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Sears, and so on, who are kind of the modern equivalent to general stores. A Christian bible store could CHRISTmas it up without much to worry about (quite the opposite), but Target couldn’t. They’d lose business. And government offices are bound by the First Amendment not to take sides anyway. There’s less a coordinated “war” there than a tension among conservative Christians who refuse to believe there’s a tradeoff between Christmas being a largely religious holiday for their own consumption, and being a holiday for everyone that can be celebrated in shops and offices, which is driven in turn by their inability to accept that their interpretation of religion simply doesn’t command broad public support anymore. Stupid as the conceit is, it is kind of interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The “War on Easter,” though, is just fucking stupid. A devout Christian like Bill O’Reilly ought to know this, but the Bible makes no mention of a bunny rabbit in association with Christ’s death. Most peoples’ association with Easter involves eating ham and candy, possibly also going to church for one of two times that year. That’s it. There aren’t (commonly) live recreations of Christ’s crucifiction. You don’t hear Easter songs on the radio months before it happens. In fact, it changes days and sometimes months on a yearly basis, to the extent that it always seems like a shock when it happens. On Christmas, people like to sit with their families and watch holiday movies. It’s A Wonderful Life and so on. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, wants to sit back with their families today and pop in a DVD of The Passion of the Christ. To a large extent, Easter simply hasn’t been commodified, packaged and sold as Christmas has, and part of the reason for that is that its essence defies such treatment. While the religious concept of Christmas can be phrased in ways that aren’t terrifying to secular types (hope, happiness, etc.), the idea that torture and death (cut with a touch of resurrection, to be sure) is as marketable as all that is mistaken. Simply put, Easter doesn’t have the level of ritual that Christmas does, and what it does have tends to have little to do with religion. How can there be a holy war when there’s nothing to fight? Also, it’s questionable to assert that Easter is a bigger deal to Christians than Christmas (Old Bill might be confusing this with the fact that Jewish people put more emphasis into Passover than Hanukkah, which is in fact true). It’s really kind of an ersatz Christmas, to be honest.

Nothing much else to say, except to address this:

But those same people would never intrude on Ramadan, because they fear reprisal. [ick] And you very rarely hear the anti-religious loons go after Jewish traditions, because the Jews have powerful organizations that will respond quickly to anti-Semitic behavior.

It just kills these people that other faiths are able to have their little celebrations, that there’s some little piece of the pie they don’t have. These traditions aren’t attacked because Muslim commentators aren’t writing about a “War on Ramadan”, and they’re not asking for the right to make everyone outside their religion feel alienated, not part of that “real America” that folks like O’Reilly cherish. They just want to celebrate their little traditions in peace, and nobody has a problem with that. Except for the O’Reillys of the world. Just retire already, you senile asshole.

Happy Easter!

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Just, what, yesterday, I opined re: my deteriorating ability to differentiate fact from fiction? Right? Well, screw that previous noise; the following takes the cake and the whole damn Sunshine bakery.

Via The Washington Monthly, here’s some snippets from KKK plans rally in Memphis Saturday to celebrate white peoples’ rights by Samanth Bryson, Scripps Howard News Service:

There is a lot to be angry about if you’re in the Ku Klux Klan.

As local leader of the Loyal White Knights, Edward the Exalted Cyclops organized a barbecue last month to make plans for Saturday’s demonstration to show that white people still have rights.

Edward curses sparingly, drinks rarely, and keeps his hair clipped short — his tribute to his old-fashioned Christian values. With a voice to match his hulking frame, Edward issues commands, not requests, and rarely bookends his sentences with “please” or “thank you.”


To Barker and Edward, the Klan’s agenda is pretty simple: Send the immigrants back where they came from, silence the homosexuals and the communists (known as liberals today), promote sobriety and abstinence, end abortion, and discourage the mingling of races in a way “God never intended.”

While Edward and Barker don’t dispute the Klan’s racist history, they deny they’re interested in harassing black people.


Eventually the talk turns to homosexuality, and Edward’s sister qualifies one of her statements by saying that they don’t necessarily hate gay people, just homosexuality. Edward rebukes her. Of course we hate ‘em, he says.

Somebody, please, tell me that article was a joke.

I’ve been feeling a little reflective today. I remember back when I started following politics seriously (’05-’06, roughly), the conventional wisdom went something like this: Democrats were well-intentioned bumblers who couldn’t stand up to the awesome super-charged, aggressive tactics of Republicans. It’s interesting how different the picture is now: Republicans are less a source of fear to today’s liberals than a constant source of irritation, annoyance, lack of comprehension and pity. The Democrats still have their bumblers–Harry Reid has his moments of brilliance but is to me sort of the most painful reminder of those days–but they seem on the whole a lot more formidable than they used to be, not to mention the other guys who seem to be unable to go a couple days without a politician committing a major gaffe or by self-inflicting damage on themselves politically.

I’m not at all hopeful that the Democrats will retake the House in 2014. I do think it’s possible the party will gain a couple seats in the House just because of how tight the gerrymanders in most states are, and the presence of low-hanging fruit in the form of a couple winnable seats that the DCCC botched last time. But I generally have a sense of where these things are headed, and I don’t really feel big losses next year. I doubt we’ll even lose more than 2-3 seats in the Senate, and pick up maybe a handful of governorships. I’m also guessing it will be a good year for state legislative elections that aren’t held every two years–a fair number of wingnuts from 2010 should be beatable, subjected to a less desperate electorate.

Anyway, what I’ve been wondering is: how long can a political party go on despite being so unpopular and mistrusted by the public? It’s quite true that gerrymandering saved their collective hides in 2012, but even maintaining that is going to rest, ultimately, on a party holding some level of public support. Party ID isn’t eternal and unchanging, it’s a fluid construct. Most of these gerrymandered districts are only winnable with support from independents and less-nutty, moderate Republicans. Apart and aside from inexorable demographic trends, one has to wonder how secure they should really feel at this point. My guess is that a strong Hillary Clinton 2016 win would probably also involve retaking the House for Democrats, but I seriously think that it shouldn’t be impossible regardless of the candidates. The reason why the GOP won’t change is because the people in charge won’t let it change, and the reason for that is that they’ve been told they can have everything they want without compromising. People don’t like this attitude, and it’s poison to actually getting things done. This is sort of one of those “fundamentals” think-piece sorts of things, but I’d be surprised if another four years of the same attitude, style and policy gets them very far.

A propos of nothing, I finally finished Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, which wound up becoming a six-month project, albeit an off-and-on one. There were stretches of weeks when I didn’t pick it up. The book was definitely well-written, but it’s less smooth than his LBJ books. Robert Moses is just such an unrelenting bastard that I couldn’t really build up a momentum reading it the way I could with the LBJ books, which have the benefit of a central character who has a more appealing balance of characteristics and is much more appealing to spend time learning about. (Also, Broker might just have more words than any book I’ve ever read. Fewer pages than, say, Les Miserables or War and Peace, but very little dialog and lots of long, dense paragraphs. That’ll slow you down too.) Aside from Moses being a complete bastard, the book was often pretty fascinating, seeing how this guy managed to get literally everyone who mattered behind him, and built an organization that functionally had no constraints on it, for decades. The downfall portion, too, is compelling, though flawed because Caro tries too hard to inject sympathetic interpretations into it, there’s some space for it but it goes just a little too far sometimes. It’s all too common a story, in which the tactics Moses had always used started to backfire on him, and he was too arrogant to think twice or consider his actions. It reminded me of the part in Gorenberg’s The Unmaking of Israel where he notes that the actions that initially bring about great successes are the hardest things to get people to reconsider. Just think of the generals fighting the last war, or the GOP itself for that matter. I’m appreciating that truth more and more these days.

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I thought TIME sank to a new low with its cover story claiming that cancer is now curable, but now they’ve really jumped the shark: