Month: June 2015

Mike Huckabee Solidifies Asshole Status

There are a lot of reasons to not like Mike Huckabee if you’re a progressive. He’s an extreme social conservative who’s terrible on subjects like reproductive justice and marriage equality. His understanding of the separation of Church and State is that he doesn’t like it and it shouldn’t exist. He continues to insist that climate change isn’t a real thing. That’s really only the tip of the iceberg. Like I said, lots of reasons.

But if you’re a progressive who makes an effort to be an ally on issues of race, gender, and more, you should be equally enraged that when it comes to attacks on neurodiversity, Mike Huckabee is an unapologetic jerk. As USA Today reports:

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee came under fire Monday for using a disparaging reference to mental illness in describing a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The criticism came from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which took issue with a comment the former Arkansas governor made Friday on Des Moines radio-host Jan Mickelson’s conservative talk show.

Huckabee said Chief Justice John Roberts “apparently needs medication for schizophrenia” for his allegedly inconsistent opinions in two prominent cases last week.

Only an emotionally dead and illiterate tool would make such a statement. For starters, it shows a gross misunderstanding of what, exactly, schizophrenia is, based on factually incorrect stereotypes promoted in media and propped up by colloquial use of the term. Most frequently, it’s used to disparage someone with labile moods and seemingly divergent or rapidly shifting perspectives. This characterization would be laughable if not so inappropriate. As advocacy group Mental Health America explains:

Schizophrenia is a serious disorder which affects how a person thinks, feels and acts. Someone with schizophrenia may have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary; may be unresponsive or withdrawn; and may have difficulty expressing normal emotions in social situations.

Contrary to public perception, schizophrenia is not split personality or multiple personality. The vast majority of people with schizophrenia are not violent and do not pose a danger to others. Schizophrenia is not caused by childhood experiences, poor parenting or lack of willpower, nor are the symptoms identical for each person.

This isn’t the punchline to a joke. Individuals with schizophrenia comprise more than a third of America’s homeless population. Their symptoms can be so terrifying that they are sent into a deep depression that is too often fatal. As Schizophrenia.com points out:

People with the condition have a 50 times higher risk of attempting suicide than the general population; the risk of suicide is very serious in people with schizophrenia. Suicide is the number one cause of premature death among people with schizophrenia, with an estimated 10 percent to 13 percent killing themselves and approximately 40% attempting suicide at least once (and as much as 60% of males attempting suicide).

You’re not laughing now, are you? That’s because jokes like the one Huckabee made aren’t funny. They’re offensive, and more importantly, they’re dangerous. When mental illness is cast as something worthy of mockery, is it any surprise that people don’t seek out health? Is it really all that shocking that our leaders don’t take it seriously enough to fund the public health initiatives we so desperately need when diagnoses make such convenient political barbs? Can we blame the neurodiverse for feeling shame and despair as they try desperately to find their way to stability and fulfillment when we’re laughing at them for their courageous efforts?

Mike Huckabee is an asshole. And if you can’t understand why, then you are too.

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The Bully Steps Up to the Pulpit

He’s in. At a high school suffering from the more than $1 billion in educational budget cuts pushed through by his administration, Chris Christie announced that he is gunning for the GOP nomination in the 2016 presidential election. It wasn’t unexpected, but all eyes were on New Jersey today, looking to see how he’d frame his campaign.

If you watched the speech, there’s no denying the man has charisma. He meandered casually about the stage with the intensity that’s become his trademark, his delivery as direct and energetic as ever. The refrain wasn’t unique. Most of his speech echoed what we’ve already heard from other GOP candidates. Arguably, most of it was fluff.

And then he actually said he was running. Suddenly, angry Chris Christie was back in full force. He railed against social safety nets, proclaiming their very existence a form of institutionalized theft. He spoke passionately on the importance of American hegemony, sneering contemptuously at Obama’s attempts to cultivate soft power through diplomacy. You could see him struggling to reign in the rage. The faltering composure and fuming rhetoric hardly aligned with his intermittent insistence that leaders needed to learn to work together.

Still, love him or hate him, Chris Christie is definitely a firebrand. But does he stand a chance? If we’d asked that question four years ago, it might be a different story, but things have changed dramatically for the governor since then. As Andy Kiersz wrote for Business Insider:

Many Republican donors urged him to run against President Barack Obama in 2012. His popularity soared in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And he cruised to a blowout re-election as governor in 2013.

But over the past year and a half, different elements have pummeled his image in and out of his home state. There’s the Bridgegate scandal, to which he was never directly linked but which clearly damaged his reputation as an executive. Then there’s the economic story under his governorship: He has endured nine credit downgrades under his watch and has had continual problems with his state’s budget.

These problems have taken a toll on his approval ratings. The most recent polls put him at an all time personal low, with only 30% of New Jersey voters believing he’s doing a good job in office. Indeed, the local media has skewered Christie, warning the nation of what his presidency might look like. Some of it, like an editorial claiming Christie would launch America into WWIII, comes off as just as full of bluster as Christie himself, but others have been more sobering, like veteran journalist Tom Moran’s thorough account of the governor’s dishonesty from the inception of his career to today. He pulls no punches, writing:

Most Americans don’t know Chris Christie like I do, so it’s only natural to wonder what testimony I might offer after covering his every move for the last 14 years.

Is it his raw political talent? No, they can see that.

Is it his measurable failure to fix the economy, solve the budget crisis or even repair the crumbling bridges? No, his opponents will cover that if he ever gets traction.

My testimony amounts to a warning: Don’t believe a word the man says.

The article is as much a worthy read as it is a nauseating reminder of what passes as presidential material among GOP voters. But even if the approval ratings don’t matter, even if his track record doesn’t ruffle feathers, even if his lies don’t hurt him, the fire that gained him national attention may be his undoing in the end. Christie is well known for being a bully. As the Washington Post pointed out last year:

The reason Chris Christie is so good at this is that Chris Christie is actually a bully. That doesn’t mean he’s not also a nice guy who cares deeply about his family and his constituents and his country. It doesn’t mean he’s not an unusually honest politician who’s refreshingly free of cant and willing to question his party. There’s a lot about Christie that’s deeply appealing. But there’s one big thing that’s not: He’s someone who uses his office to intimidate people and punish or humiliate perceived enemies.

Watch this video of him screaming at a guy on the New Jersey Boardwalk. Watch him stalk toward the man, flanked by security and aides. Listen to what he actually says. “Keep walking. Keep walking.”

That’s not typical behavior for an adult. It’s definitely not typical behavior for a national politician. But it’s typical behavior for a bully. In fact, it’s not even very creative bullying. Anyone who’s ever been a boy in an American middle school has heard “keep walking!”

What makes Christie unusual is that he’s a bully with power. That can be a dangerous combination.

It can indeed. It also gives his opponents ample opportunity to talk about just how ill-suited he is to hold the highest office in the land; Rand Paul started with that last November. Put him on a debate stage, let his temper flare, and things could get ugly in a hurry for Christie. There’s only so much negativity that the electorate can stand.

Then again, Donald Trump’s racism pushed him within 3 points of Jeb Bush in New Hampshire. Who knows? Maybe a bully is exactly what Republicans want — capabilities and character be damned.

Rand Paul and Offending… Almost Everyone

Rand Paul is a self-proclaimed libertarian, and most of the time, his policy platform reflects this. He’s not a fan of government interference in private lives. He loathes the NSA. He’s far more isolationist than his peers in the race. He favors simplifying the tax code down to a flat rate. And, much to the delight of stoners everywhere, he’s a fan of legalizing marijuana. While many of the GOP contenders shy away from the subject, not wishing to offend traditional members of the base nor isolate Millennials, Rand Paul has no problem standing loud and proud in the name of weed. As the Denver Post reports:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s trip to Colorado this week includes a first for a presidential candidate: a fundraiser with the marijuana industry.

The Republican is raising money Tuesday at the Cannabis Business Summit in Denver in what an industry trade group is billing as a history making event. “Never before has a major-party presidential candidate held a reception at a cannabis industry event, and NCIA is proud to host Senator Paul,” the National Cannabis Industry Association said in an email promoting the event, which was first reported by Yahoo News.

The minimum donation to attend the Tuesday event is $2,700, according to organizers.

Taylor West, the group’s deputy director, said the private “VIP reception” is designed to let marijuana insiders hear from Paul, who supports legislation to legalize medical marijuana and give the pot industry access to banking.

Paul’s position may be popular with young voters and consistent with a libertarian worldview, but it’s another example of the uncomfortable demographic straddle he’s facing. Scaling back on practices associated with a police state and legalizing marijuana are incredibly appealing to younger voters, but on issues like access to abortion, he’s way out of sync. Apparently when he says small government, he means small enough to fit in my uterus.

And then there are issues where adherence to a libertarian philosophy of governance makes him unpopular with the majority of the electorate on both sides of the aisle. Paul’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality is the perfect example of this. While the rest of the GOP field issued condemnations that ranged from curt to incendiary, Paul had to take it a step further, arguing that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether.

There are certainly good reasons to keep the government out of marriage. After all, preferential treatment in the tax code on the basis of relational status is arbitrary and unfair to those engaged in alternative relationships, and arguably cheapens what marriage is intended to mean. But in his op-ed for Time, Paul manages to offend basically anyone with an opinion on the matter, affirming his support of “traditional” marriage before going on to state:

The government should not prevent people from making contracts but that does not mean that the government must confer a special imprimatur upon a new definition of marriage.

Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.

Talk about stepping in it. For those who oppose marriage equality for religious reasons, Paul’s characterization of marriage as a matter of contract law is an offensive minimization of what they view as a holy union. For those who believe in marriage equality, his steadfast commitment to the whole “marriage is one man and one woman” way of thinking is narrow-minded, antiquated, bigoted. And frankly, when considering historical context, it’s a classic, transparent form of marginalization that dates back to the days of separate but equal — a work around for those who oppose same sex marriage but don’t want to be accused of intolerance. Plus, while it might treat all potential unions the same, it also serves to reinforce class-based privilege. As Amanda Marcotte writes for Slate:

Paul’s plan to privatize marriage rather than share it with gay people is reminiscent of how segregationists reacted to Brown v. Board of Education. Rather than allow their children to go to school with black students, white people throughout the South started private, often religious schools, nicknamed “segregation academies.” It wasn’t just schools, either. As my colleague Jamelle Bouie explained recently, the decline of the public pool is also a symptom of this reactionary urge to privatize an institution rather than share it with people who conservatives consider undesirable. That the same logic is being whipped out by Paul is no big surprise. This is a man who famously opposed the Civil Rights Act that made the “privatize instead of share” goal harder to achieve.

But although this strategy has a lengthy conservative pedigree, it’s hard to imagine it really taking off as a way to shut gay people out of marriage. If the government really did stop issuing standard marriage contracts and couples were forced to write their own contracts, all that would do is make marriage a privilege of those who can afford lawyers. It wouldn’t preserve marriage as a right for straight people—it would just turn it into a benefit for the wealthy.

This is the challenge Paul faces as a Libertarian. When he sticks to his guns, he turns off the Conservative base AND alienates social issue voters on the left. It’s also representative of the dominant problem with Libertarian ideology. While the “hands off” approach to governance is appealing in theory to both small government enthusiasts and “live and let live” progressives, it doesn’t work in reality. Greed guides business. Privatization serves as a proxy for discrimination. Self-interest leaves the most vulnerable among us to fend for themselves on an uneven playing field. We don’t live in Utopia, which is why government intervention is often necessary, if imperfect.

Paul is unlikely to abandon his Libertarian ideals anytime soon. Unfortunately for his presidential bid, that leaves him in a precarious position with the electorate. But who knows? Get the nation stoned enough, and maybe he’s got a chance.