Tag Archives: Steve Benen

Numbers For The “Sage Of Wasilla”

Chris Cillizza and Jon Cohen at WaPo:

Sarah Palin’s ratings within the Republican Party are slumping, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a potentially troubling sign for the former Alaska governor as she weighs whether to enter the 2012 presidential race.

For the first time in Post-ABC News polling, fewer than six in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents see Palin in a favorable light, down from a stratospheric 88 percent in the days after the 2008 Republican National Convention and 70 percent as recently as October.

In one sense, the poll still finds Palin near the top of a list of eight potential contenders for the GOP nomination. The former vice presidential candidate scores a 58 percent favorable rating, close to the 61 percent for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and 60 percent for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and better than the 55 percent that onetime House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) received.

But Palin’s unfavorable numbers are significantly higher than they are for any of these possible competitors. Fully 37 percent of all Republicans and GOP-leaning independents now hold a negative view of her, a new high.

In another first, fewer than 50 percent of Republican-leaning independents — 47 percent — hold favorable views of Palin.

Andrew Sullivan:

But look behind the headlines and you find something more interesting:

“Strong” favorability matters in primaries, where motivation to turn out is an important factor. Among strong Tea Party supporters, strongly favorable views of Huckabee and Palin are highest, at 45 and 42 percent, respectively; strongly favorable views of Gingrich and Romney drop off in this group to 35 and 31 percent, respectively.

There’s a similar pattern in a related group, leaned Republicans who say they are “very” conservative. Palin and Huckabee (at 45 and 44 percent) again attract much higher strongly favorable ratings among strong conservatives than do Gingrich and Romney (30 and 28 percent).

In primaries, enthusiasm matters. And if Huckabee doesn’t run …

Jonathan Bernstein:

In response to the latest polling on the Sage of Wasilla, which show her continuing to lose support even among Republicans, I went looking through my old posts on her to see if I could claim a little told-you-so — if I had clearly said that if she continued to snub party leaders they would eventually turn against her, and if that happened (as it has) then the rank-and-file, or at least many of them, would follow, regardless of how popular she was with them back then. Yup! Hey, I’m wrong sometimes (and I’ll try to ‘fess up when I am), but I think I nailed this one.

I bring that up because I still don’t think it’s too late for Sarah Palin to turn it around, at least in large part, if she suddenly decided to play by the rules that normal candidates follow. Policy expertise can be bought and faked; party leaders, whether they’re national columnists, interest group leaders, or locals in Iowa and New Hampshire, can be schmoozed. It increasingly appears that either she is constitutionally incapable of doing those things or just has no interest in it, and even if she does them there’s no guarantee she would be nominated…but it is clear now, as it has been from the start, that the normal rules of politics apply to her regardless of what she or anyone else thinks.

One other thing that I did come across from last summer which still seems relevant now is the question of whether Republicans will campaign with Sarah Palin. I said then that given how few people, especially swing voters, are Palin fans — but also how many Republicans remain strong supporters — that it would make sense for Democrats to press their GOP opponents over whether they would campaign with her or not. Of course, skilled politicians know how to duck questions for which there are no good answers, but it can’t hurt to ask those questions.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

The obvious question is why? Chris Cillizza suggests Palin’s tendency to polarize, but I’m skeptical. For starters, she continues to score a high favorability rating among Republicans: 58 percent, compared to 60 percent for Mitt Romney and 55 percent for Newt Gingrich. Moreover, her views are within the mainstream of the GOP; on every issue, Sarah Palin is an orthodox Republican.

As far as I can tell, Palin’s fall from grace has less to do with ideology or popularity and more to do with her obvious disdain for Republican elites. Since 2008, she has been on a one-pol crusade against the activists and donors who represent important interests and elites within the GOP coalition. This was tolerable last year, when she was something of an electoral asset, but with the upcoming presidential election — and her stark unpopularity among everyone else — it’s less than acceptable. Conservative elites are gradually distancing themselves from Palin, and in all likelihood, this has trickled down to the grassroots.

This isn’t to say that Palin has lost her influence among conservatives — she continues to enjoy a devoted following — but it does put a damper on her presidential ambitions, if she ever had them (I’m doubtful).

Steve Benen:

It may be counterintuitive, but I actually think this is good news for Palin. She’s done nothing but bring shame and embarrassment to herself on a nearly daily basis for years, and she’s likely dropped about as far as she can with the GOP. And at this point, she still enjoys favorable ratings from a clear majority of Republican voters.

James Joyner:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: By presidential candidate standards, Sarah Palin is an ignoramus. That is, she’s “utterly lacking in knowledge or training about matters of public policy, law, or international affairs” one expects of someone contending for the presidency. That was my assessment more than two years ago and it has only been buttressed with the passage of time.

But the fact that she’s not particularly studious or intellectually curious doesn’t mean she’s unintelligent. I’m guessing she’s within swinging distance in terms of raw IQ to George W. Bush or, certainly, Mike Huckabee. And she’s enormously charming and good in front of a friendly crowd.

Bush the Younger was thought by many to be a lightweight at this point in the 2000 presidential cycle. Granted, he’d finished his term as Texas governor and was into his second by this time in 1999. And he had his MBA from Harvard, so people presumed he had at least passing knowledge with business and economic affairs. But, aside from perhaps Mexico, there was little evidence that Bush had any particular interest in foreign policy.

But Bush surrounded himself with smart people and studied. Recall the great “Saturday Night Live” sketch about the second debate with Al Gore, in which he gratuitously cited the names of various obscure world leaders in an attempt to shake off a weak performance in the first debate. It worked.

When this debate last mattered, during the 2008 general election campaign, Republicans who disagreed with me on Palin rightly pointed out that her resume favorably compared with then-candidate Barack Obama’s. Even Democrats who ultimately supported Obama, like our own Dave Schuler, were concerned about his lack of experience. But, by the time the debates rolled around, Obama had mastered the playbooks and could intelligently debate matters of domestic and foreign policymaking. Yes, there were some early stumbles. But few thought he was stupid or ill informed by the time it mattered.

Palin has the inherent talent to apply herself and win over skeptical Republicans and centrists. Many people really want to like her. But Bernstein is right: There’s no evidence thus far that she’s willing to do what it takes.

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The Dean Is Dead

Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post:

David S. Broder, 81, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post and one of the most respected writers on national politics for four decades, died Wednesday at Capital Hospice in Arlington of complications from diabetes.

Mr. Broder was often called the dean of the Washington press corps – a nickname he earned in his late 30s in part for the clarity of his political analysis and the influence he wielded as a perceptive thinker on political trends in his books, articles and television appearances.

In 1973, Mr. Broder and The Post each won Pulitzers for coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Broder’s citation was for explaining the importance of the Watergate fallout in a clear, compelling way.

As passionate about baseball as he was about politics, he likened Nixon’s political career to an often-traded pitcher who had “bounced around his league.”

He covered every presidential convention since 1956 and was widely regarded as the political journalist with the best-informed contacts, from the lowliest precinct to the highest rungs of government.

Joel Achenbach:

If there were a more decent and generous journalist in our business than David Broder, I’ve never met the person.

Broder (“David” to everyone in the hallway, the elevator, the campaign filing center, of course) remained the consummate collegial figure long after — decades after — earning the status of “dean of the Washington press corps.” He had no pretense in him. He was a big-name pundit, but, most of all, he was a thing we used to call “a newspaper reporter.” He knocked on doors to the very end of his career, interviewing voters, getting to know the local political organizers, never promoting himself to a rank too exalted to conduct shoe-leather reporting or pound out a deadline story in a cold gym in some remote corner of New Hampshire or Iowa.

Who am I kidding: He loved those gyms! And the tighter the deadline, the better.

He could turn his analytical eye on his own reporting: Read this story by Broder, in which he expresses doubts about his influential report of Ed Muskie becoming tearful in the snow outside the Union-Leader office in the 1972 New Hampshire primary. Maybe it was just melting snow!

Steve Benen:

Regular readers know that I was often critical of Broder’s columns, but my critiques were driven in part by high expectations — the man was a giant of political journalism.

And even when I disagreed with his analysis, it was impossible not to respect his tenacity and his decency.

Best wishes go out to his family and friends.

David Weigel:

Last September, I traveled to Delaware to interview Rep. Mike Castle and his challenger, Christine O’Donnell, about a soon-to-be-infamous primary election. Castle and I talked for a long while he shook hands with voters outside the Arden Fair.

“This is becoming a pretty big deal,” Castle said. “You just missed David Broder. He came up here to interview me about the race.”

Broder, at that point, was about to turn 81 years old. He hadn’t just beaten me to the story, he’d beaten me by a month, traveling up to Delaware to interview Castle and introduce readers to Chris Coons, a “worthy match” who could actually win. After Castle lost the primary, the political press — myself included, reluctantly — spent countless pixels covering O’Donnell. But Coons won. If you had read Broder’s reporting, you would have expected that.

I can think of nothing more satisfying than doing what you love, doing it well, and making your readers more informed about the world because of the information you’re gathering. I’m deeply grateful to Broder for doing that for so many people over such a long time.

Philip Klein at American Spectator:

Broder was working up until the very end, and anybody who covers politics for a living has probably bumped into him at one point or another. I remember covering the Rudy Giuliani campaign during a cold weekend in New Hampshire in November 2007, and Broder, then in his late 70s, was touring along. I noticed him at one event, standing in the back, his hand slightly shaking as he took notes the old fashioned way while younger reporters were running around with digital recorders and scrambling to upload video on their laptops.

I wondered whether I’d still find the campaign trail so alluring when I reached that age.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

A few quick facts about David Broder:

  • He was only a car or two behind President Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963. He was proud of his ability to show no human emotion during this traumatic episode for the country. This is probably how he secured “dean” status, by preventing himself from writing with any sort of sadness or sympathy during the assassination of a golden-boy president several yards away.
  • He hated the Clintons and led the moralistic Beltway howl against President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was the angriest he’d ever been in his life, when he heard about Bill Clinton getting a hummer from Monica Lewinsky.
  • He liked compromise and bipartisanship as ends in themselves, had no real interest in analyzing specific pieces of legislation, and was an original proponent of many other familiar Washington media traits, like “both sides do it.” For more, google High Broderism.
  • He was an important figure in 1972’s The Boys on the Bus, one of the earliest media-centric books showcasing the depravity of “pack journalism” on the campaign trail.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

The phrase “Broderism” became a signifier in the blogosphere for a certain type of self-regarding faux-centrism which always seemed to side with deficit peacocks over everyone else, and defaulted to the position that the midpoint between any two issues was always the wisest course.

Broder’s book “The System,” about the failure of the Clinton health care plan in the 1990s, is actually a highly regarded work. But for many years, he seemed to have been writing the same column over and over, attacking the extremes of political debate in favor of the sensible center.

Nevertheless, Broder had a very strong pull on national politics, and was considered within Washington as the dean of the national press corps. So his death changes that landscape, however subtly

 

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The Politician And the Movie Star

Michael D. Shear at NYT:

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a potential 2012 presidential candidate, has been getting lots of press recently for his comments on radio shows. The latest? This week, as first reported by Politico, he went after Hollywood star Natalie Portman.

“People see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts, ‘we’re not married but we’re having these children and they’re doing just fine,’” Huckabee told conservative radio host Michael Medved Monday. “I think it gives a distorted image. It’s unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out-of- wedlock children.”

Katrina Trinko at The Corner:

In framing the question to Huckabee, Medved had noted that Portman had said during her acceptance speech that she wanted to thank the father of her child for giving her “the most wonderful gift,” and argued that Portman’s message was “problematic.”

“I think it gives a distorted image that yes, not everybody hires nannies, and caretakers, and nurses,” Huckabee said. “Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can’t get a job, and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care. And that’s the story that we’re not seeing, and it’s unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.”

“You know, right now, 75 percent of black kids in this country are born out of wedlock,” he continued. “Sixty-one percent of Hispanic kids — across the board, 41 percent of all live births in America are out of wedlock births. And the cost of that is simply staggering.”

Laura Donovan at Daily Caller:

During Portman’s Oscar acceptance speech Sunday, she thanked Millepied, saying he gave her “the most important role” of her life.

Medved responded that Millepied “didn’t give her the most wonderful gift, which would be a wedding ring!”

People Magazine reported at the end of last year that Portman and Millepied were engaged. Us Weekly revealed Portman’s engagement ring photos at the beginning of this year. They’re currently still engaged.

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite:

Here’s one humble suggestion. Maybe there would be fewer out-of-wedlock pregnancies if there were more sex education, including abstinence and safer sex. Even Bristol knows that.

Also, stop calling it “wedlock.” Sounds like something you get from stepping on a rusty nail.

Steve Benen:

But in the larger context, hearing about Huckabee’s criticism reinforces the notion that we really are stuck in the 1990s. After all, are there any substantive differences between what Huckabee said yesterday about Natalie Portman and what Dan Quayle said about Murphy Brown in 1992? Other than the fact that Brown was a fictional character, the remarks are remarkably similar.

Indeed, I feel like this keeps coming up. What do we see on the political landscape? Republicans are talking about shutting down the government and impeaching the president; Newt Gingrich is talking about running for president; a Democratic president saw his party get slammed in the midterms; the right wants a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; conservatives are falsely labeling a moderate health care reform plan “socialized medicine”; and some national GOP leaders are preoccupied with Hollywood and out-of-wedlock births.

Andrew Sullivan:

The general point about the importance of two parents and marriage for children in poverty is well taken. But using Portman as an object of scorn? A woman who is in a loving relationship, is engaged to be married, and who publicly called her impending motherhood “the most important role of my life”?

She seems an unlikely culture war target. And a hopelessly tone-deaf one. Huckabee seems unready to me, or unwilling, to enter the race. And if he doesn’t, we all know what that means …

Robert Stacy McCain:

BTW, in case you didn’t notice, Mike Huckabee badmouthed Natalie Portman. Dude. How stupid is that?

Everybody loves Princess Amidala. Luke Skywalker’s mom, for crying out loud! And why would a conservative trash a woman who just called motherhood “the most important role of my life“?

Oh, wait. I forgot.

Mike Huckabee isn’t a conservative. Just ask Ann Coulter.

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We Got Numbers On What The Public Thinks…

Michael Cooper and Megan Thee-Brenan at NYT:

As labor battles erupt in state capitals around the nation, a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions and are also against cutting the pay or benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Labor unions are not exactly popular, though: A third of those surveyed viewed them favorably, a quarter viewed them unfavorably, and the rest said they were either undecided or had not heard enough about them. But the nationwide poll found that embattled public employee unions have the support of most Americans — and most independents — as they fight the efforts of newly elected Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio to weaken their bargaining powers, and the attempts of governors from both parties to cut their pay or benefits.

Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent. While a slim majority of Republicans favored taking away some bargaining rights, they were outnumbered by large majorities of Democrats and independents who said they opposed weakening them.

Those surveyed said they opposed, 56 percent to 37 percent, cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits, breaking down along similar party lines. A majority of respondents who have no union members living in their households opposed both cuts in pay or benefits and taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Paul Krugman:

The new poll reported in this morning’s Times will, I suspect, come as a shock to many political commentators. Quite a few news analyses of the assault on public-sector workers have simply assumed that the move was a political winner, with little if any thought given to the possibility that the general public wasn’t actually ready to go along. But whaddya know: while people don’t necessarily love unions — hey, I personally don’t necessarily love unions — most people apparently see them as having a legitimate role.

Again, I’m having Iraq flashbacks: there was a prolonged period when the inside-the-Beltway view was that only crackpots believed that Bush had misled us into war, even as polling indicated a substantial fraction, and eventually a majority, of the public already believed just that

Allah Pundit:

Fully 62 percent of independents (and 70 percent of Democrats) oppose weakening collective bargaining. As usual, the question provides no background on PEUs and why they present a unique problem for state budgets, especially when there’s a Democrat in the governor’s office:

On the other hand, the question about cutting public workers’ pay does explicitly mention state budget deficits — and there’s still heavy majority support for workers:

A near majority (49 percent) also supports letting cops and firefighters retire after 25 years with full pensions even if they’re in their 40s — which, in some cases for people of average lifespans, would mean more pay during retirement than while they were on the job. CBS, which co-sponsored the poll, asked Chris Christie for reaction. Quote:

Christie, who has been critical of teachers’ unions in his state, said the collective bargaining story was “entertaining,” though he said it wasn’t an issue in his state or most states. He then told a CBS News reporter that he was “sure you worded the poll in a way that kept [the story] going.”

“I’m the governor, I think I’ve got a better idea on public opinion in my state than CBS News does to tell you the truth,” he said. “If not, Katie Couric should run for governor of New Jersey.”

That’s cute, and I’m sure some will quibble with the sample (36D/26R/36I and 19L/37M/36C), but even if you tweaked it to add a few more Republicans, these numbers wouldn’t shift dramatically. And why should they? Remember this graph from Pew’s poll on America’s budget crunch a few weeks ago?

Up and down the line, not a single item draws a clear majority in favor of cuts. And what about this one?

Even tea partiers go wobbly when it comes to cutting spending on education and Social Security. For whatever reason — misinformation or simple denial — the public isn’t remotely serious yet when it comes to making painful choices on spending. When asked if budget cuts are a good thing in the abstract, they’re plenty supportive, but start identifying specific programs and industries that’ll have to make do with less and those cold feet start turning icy. If you can’t even get 50 percent to say they’re prepared to cut foreign aid, how on earth will you get 50 percent to support cuts to the “working man” in the form of public employees?

I don’t know what it’ll take to build popular support for greater austerity. Maybe nothing. Maybe we’re going to have to elect a bunch of Republicans who are fully prepared to sacrifice their careers by taking tough but necessary votes on the budget. Here’s Christie from yesterday’s “Face the Nation” gently reminding viewers that collective bargaining rights aren’t inscribed on the Mt. Sinai tablets.

Steve Benen:

The poll closely mirrors the results from Gallup last week, but offers more details about public attitudes. In this case, nearly all of those details suggest the arguments from the right are failing badly.

Indeed, one result in particular may cause heart palpitations in some GOP circles: “Asked how they would choose to reduce their state’s deficits, those polled preferred tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers by nearly two to one.”

That’s probably not what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wanted to hear.

What’s more, people in every income group oppose compensation and benefit cuts for public employees. Cuts had the most support from those making more than $100,000 a year, and even within this group, a plurality opposed cutting pay or benefits.

If Walker and his allies assumed Americans would rally behind them, these Republicans badly misread public attitudes.

Postscript: And in case that weren’t quite enough, a new survey from the Pew Research Center found Americans siding with workers over Wisconsin’s Walker, 42% to 31%.

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason:

Forget the pitiful polling performance, the shucking of friendly legislators, the phone punk that will live in infamy. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s greatest gift to the left is hidden in plain sight: He managed to turn a consensus position based on straightforward math into what looks like a partisan issue.

Just two weeks ago, the crisis of government employee pensions was an issue for Democrats. If you look closely at states around the country, it still is. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, California Gov. Jerry Brown, even Rahmbo himself, all are engaged to varying degrees in open campaigns to roll back compensation packages for government employees. In the Nutmeg State, Gov. Dan Malloy is seeking billion-dollar cuts in public sector compensation spending in his next budget. These Democratic executives and candidates are not alienating their union donors out of limited government principle; they’re doing it because they see the logarithmic cascade of pension liability as a threat to public parks, environmental programs, rail transit, and other budget items Democrats like.

All that has now been lost in a fog of Republocrat positioning. You’d think everything was going swimmingly until the meddlesome voters gave Republicans the upper hand in so many states.

It was probably inevitable that the government employee unions would find some Republican villain to be the foil for a George Lakoff-style reframing of the state fiscal crisis — and what do you know, here’s great Lakoff himself to suggest a new conceptual framework in which public employees’ unions, by seeking the maximum payout from taxpayers, are “raising deeper issues in which wealthy corporations and individuals play a huge role.”

But Walker’s angle of approach has allowed this national issue to bog down in sniping between people who think there’s a difference between the two parties. I can’t blame Walker for trying to use this moment to weaken the political power of government employee unions. (Though it’s not totally clear that collective bargaining is the decisive factor in fat government worker contracts or government employee political clout; some of the most crushing burdens — including California’s SB 400 — were accomplished legislatively rather than at the bargaining table.) But as Arnold Schwarzenegger found out with his failed ballot initiatives of 2005, directly targeting union political power is a great way to get your ass kicked. And Walker seems to have even less finesse than Arnold.

The problem is that once you’ve moved this national issue into the realm of left-right politics, you open the floodgates of horse pucky. Sure enough, The New York Times now would have us believe most Americans want to increase their own taxes and save less for their own retirements so that so that higher-paid cops, firefighters, and teachers can retire earlier with better pensions and benefits. Public Policy Polling claims Republicans in the Badger State are turning against Walker.

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Laughter Is Sometimes Not The Best Medicine

Blake Aued at Athens Banner-Herald:

At Rep. Paul Broun’s town hall meeting on Tuesday, the Athens congressman asked who had driven the farthest to be there and let the winner ask the first question.

We couldn’t hear the question in the back of the packed Oglethorpe County Commission chamber, but whatever it was, it got a big laugh. According to an outraged commenter on the article, the question was, when is someone going to shoot Obama?

I’ve asked Team Broun whether that was indeed the question and haven’t gotten an answer. The commenter accurately described the questioner and the circumstances, and no one has disputed his account.

Update: Broun’s press secretary, Jessica Morris, confirmed that the question was indeed, who is going to shoot Obama? “Obviously, the question was inappropriate, so Congressman Broun moved on,” she said.

Here was Broun’s response:

The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president. We’re going to have an election next year. Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative, limited-government president that will take a smaller, who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

He then segued into Republicans’ budget proposal.

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite:

During President Obama’s January State of the Union address, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA 10) became the closest thing to a “You lie!” moment, tweeting during the address “Mr. President, you don’t believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.” Broun became embroiled in another controversy when, at a Tuesday town hall meeting, he was asked “who is going to shoot Obama?” and responded with stunning nonchalance

Ryan J. Reilly at TPM:

Witnesses tell TPM that Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) laughed when an elderly man at his town hall meeting this week asked “Who’s gonna shoot Obama?”

Mark Farmer of Winterville, Georgia went to the meeting on Tuesday to ask a question about Social Security reform, and said in an e-mail to TPM he was “shocked by the first question and disgusted by the audience response.”

“I was gravely disappointed in the response of a U.S. Congressman who also laughed and then made no effort to correct the questioner on what constitutes proper behavior or to in any way distance himself from such hate filled language,” Farmer wrote.

Reporter Blake Aued, who was at the town hall and originally reported on the incident confirmed to TPM that Broun was “chuckling a little bit.”

Greg Sargent:

However, one group who took this seriously is the Secret Service. According to Ed Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, the situation has been looked into.

“We’re aware of the incident and the appropriate steps were taken,” Donovan told me. “At this point it’s a closed matter.”

A law enforcement source confirmed that the Secret Service interviewed the constituent and determined that he or she was an “elderly person” who now regrets making a bad joke.

“In this case this was poor taste,” the source says. “The person realized that.”

Now there’s the small matter of whether Broun regrets not condemning the comment. My understanding is more will be forthcoming from his office on this soon, so stay tuned.

UPDATE, 11:50 a.m.: In a new statement Rep Paul Broun appears to admit he should have condemned his constituent:

Tuesday night at a town hall meeting in Oglethorpe County, Georgia an elderly man asked the abhorrent question, “Who’s going to shoot Obama?” I was stunned by the question and chose not to dignify it with a response; therefore, at that moment I moved on to the next person with a question. After the event, my office took action with the appropriate authorities.

I deeply regret that this incident happened at all. Furthermore, I condemn all statements — made in sincerity or jest — that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the President of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated.

Steve Benen:

I certainly give Broun credit for the condemnation. I hope it’s sincere.

But at the risk of sounding picky, I have a couple of follow-up questions. First, when Broun argued he “chose not to dignify” the question, why do local media accounts have him offering a response?

Second, if Broun believes such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated, why did it take him three days to issue a denunciation? Is it just a coincidence that the congressman felt compelled to condemn the assassination “joke” after the media started covering it?

Ann Althouse:

If the crowd was so big, and it was a planned event, where’s the digital video? Don’t tell me the crowd was too noisy for anyone to record it AND that the crowd heard it.

Now, as is widely known, it’s a serious federal crime to threaten the life of the president, which makes it less likely that the words are as reported in the pseudo-quote. It also makes it less likely that a person of the left was trying to make trouble for Broun (a theory I see some righties are propounding). If it was said, it was said by someone who was both malevolent and stupid. Why would a whole crowd of people give a big laugh when they found themselves in the presence of someone malevolent and stupid?

Flashback to spitgate. I say, as I said then: Produce the video.

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Talkin’ Bout South Dakota House Bill 1171

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:

A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus—a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. The Republican-backed legislation, House Bill 1171, has passed out of committee on a nine-to-three party-line vote, and is expected to face a floor vote in the state’s GOP-dominated House of Representatives soon.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state’s legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” that person’s unborn child or the unborn child of that person’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one.

Greg Sargent:

I just had a spirited conversation with the bill’s chief sponsor, State Representative Phil Jensen, and he defended the bill, arguing that it would not legalize the killing of abortion doctors.

“It would if abortion was illegal,” he told me. “This code only deals with illegal acts. Abortion is legal in this country. This has nothing to do with abortion.”

Jensen’s defense of the bill, however, is unlikely to make abortion rights advocates any happier, since he seemed to dismiss as irrelevant the possibility that the measure could inflame anti-abortion fanatics to violence.

Jensen insisted that the bill’s primary goal is to bring “consistency” to South Dakota criminal code, which already allows people who commit crimes that result in the death of fetuses to be charged with manslaughter. The new measure expands the state’s definition of “justifiable homicide” by adding a clause applying it to someone who is “resisting any attempt” to murder of an unborn child or to harm an unborn child in a way likely to result in its death.

When I asked Jensen what the purpose of the law was, if its target isn’t abortion providers, he provided the following example:

“Say an ex-boyfriend who happens to be father of a baby doesn’t want to pay child support for the next 18 years, and he beats on his ex-girfriend’s abdomen in trying to abort her baby. If she did kill him, it would be justified. She is resisting an effort to murder her unborn child.”

Pushed on whether the new measure could inflame the unhinged to kill abortion doctors, as some critics allege, Jensen scoffed. “You can fantasize all you want, but this is pretty clear cut,” he said. “Never say never, but if some loony did what you’re suggesting, then this law wouldn’t apply to them. It wouldn’t be justifiable homicide.”

Asked whether he was conceding that the law could conceivably encourage such behavior, Jensen pushed back: “You could cross the street and get hit by a car. Could happen, couldn’t it?”

David Weigel:

This is how Jensen has previously characterized it; as Sheppard pointed out, the state’s criminal code does does define murder in the first degree as “perpetrated without authority of law and with a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or of any other human being, including an unborn child.” But there’s that “authority of law” part. It’s legal to perform abortions. And this is why the Jensen bill wouldn’t legalize the killing of abortion doctors. It just looks like it does, right now. It would legalize of abortion doctors if abortion became illegal.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

Miriam Perez at Feministing:

It’s clear this bill likely has the goal of inciting violence–murder–of abortion providers. But I think this logic can actually be taken a step further, to include the murder of a pregnant woman herself.

Often one connection between anti-choice legislation that isn’t talked about is how it affects the rights of pregnant women who do want to parent. I’m talking about the rights of pregnant women to decide what kind of medical treatment they will seek–and not necessarily abortion.

There is an incredible battle going on around the country about the rights of pregnant women to refuse certain types of medical care (as the rest of us are legally entitled to do). In numerous cases, women have been forced against their will to have c-sections or other medical procedures in the name of the protecting the fetus.

This proposed legislation takes that logic to it’s extreme–not only is it okay to super-cede the autonomy and rights of pregnant women in the name of the fetus–you could actually justifiably murder her in pursuit of this as well. In addition, of course, to doctors performing perfectly legal and constitutionally protected abortions.

Amanda Marcotte:

You can smell the rationalization built in to say this isn’t about terrorism, because most people who have successfully killed abortion providers didn’t actually know any patients of theirs.  But obviously, it’s an invitation to kill abortion providers, especially in light of how much the larger anti-choice movement is trying to encourage men who are bitter because an abortion allowed a girlfriend to leave them. In other words, men who are angry because they couldn’t trap a woman with pregnancy.  Let’s be clear that any man who thinks it’s appropriate to trap a woman with pregnancy is a man who deserves to lose his relationship, full stop, but anti-choicers tend to romanticize and celebrate controlling, abusive men. I’ve seen anti-choice websites encourage men who’ve impregnated women to stomp into abortion clinics and try to remove her forcibly (though this is often portrayed in romantic terms, because hey, you’re showing her that you want to keep her around, and any woman should be slobberingly grateful that a man will have her). And of course, there’s the oldie-but-a-goodie of Jill Stanek applauding men beating women to punish them for thinking they can say no to incubating the manly seed. After describing the scene in “Godfather II” where Michael Corleone—a cold-blooded murdering gangster—slaps his wife after she admits an abortion, Stanek said (man, this never gets old):

That spontaneous slap was the reaction of a real man who a woman had just told she aborted his baby. Compare that to the modern day cowardly male response, “It’s your choice. Whatever you decide, I’ll support you.”

Straight from the “pro-life” mouth: Real men use violence to control women.  Cowards believe women own themselves.

In the real world, it’s not unknown for abortion clinics to have to go to great lengths to keep domestic abusers from harming their partners or the health professionals in a clinic trying to provide abortions.  Many abortion clinics just don’t let male partners past the waiting room, even though that means that women who want support from loving male partners often have to go it alone.  It’s just a safety precaution, though.  Unfortunately, domestic abusers are just the sorts to wait until the procedure is about to start to start throwing shit and breaking things, in order to get the maximum impact on the victim.  That’s kind of how these things work, and clinics have to work around that.

If this bill passes into law, a wife beater whose wife is trying to abort for the entirely sensible reason that you don’t want babies with a batterer could walk into a clinic, shoot the doctor to prevent the abortion, and plead justifiable homicide, with the blessing of the South Dakota legislature and presumably the anti-choice movement that lobbied them.

Steve Benen:

For all the ridiculous paranoia on the right about creeping “sharia law,” here we see a Republican plan at the state level to make it legal to assassinate medical professionals as part of a larger culture war.

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Filed under Abortion, Legislation Pending

We Just Broke The Land Speed Record For Sex Scandals

Maureen O’Connor at Gawker:

Rep. Christopher Lee is a married Republican congressman serving the 26th District of New York. But when he trolls Craigslist’s “Women Seeking Men” forum, he’s Christopher Lee, “divorced” “lobbyist” and “fit fun classy guy.” One object of his flirtation told us her story.

On the morning of Friday, January 14, a single 34-year-old woman put an ad in the “Women for Men” section of Craigslist personals. “Will someone prove to me not all CL men look like toads?” she asked, inviting “financially & emotionally secure” men to reply.

That afternoon, a man named Christopher Lee replied. He used a Gmail account that Rep. Christopher Lee has since confirmed to be his own. (It’s the same Gmail account that was associated with Lee’s personal Facebook account, which the Congressman deleted when we started asking questions.)

By email, Lee identified himself as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist and sent a PG picture to the woman from the ad. (In fact, Lee is married and has one son with his wife. He’s also 46.)

David Weigel:

“Days Since a Sex Scandal” Sign Outside Congress Set Back to Zero

Not the best of days for Rep. Chris Lee, R-NY, a second-termer from a relatively safe seat. He did not sleep with a woman he sent a shirtless picture to, after seeing her Craigslist ad. He merely lied about his job, age, and marital status.

Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic:

Married Rep. Chris Lee resigned Wednesday afternoon three hours after the publication of allegations in Gawker that he sent flirtatious photos — including one where he was naked from the waist up — to a Washington-area woman he contacted through the Craigslist personals section.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness,” Lee said in a statement.

“The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately.”

He earlier declined to comment on the story, telling Fox News Wednesday afternoon, “I have to work this out with my wife.”

Allah Pundit:

Here’s Gawker’s post laying out the evidence, replete with shirtless pics and the obligatory nod at “hypocrisy” because Lee supports DADT and opposes federal funds for abortion and is therefore guilty of “publicly scrutinizing others’ sex lives.” If you’re wondering whether this means the seat will flip to the Democrats, probably not: His district has a Cook PVI of R+6 and has been represented by a Republican for all but 16 years dating back to … 1857.

Between this, the “revolt” over Paul Ryan’s spending proposal, and last night’s Patriot Act debacle, this hasn’t been Boehner’s best week, huh? And guess what: It gets worse.

Update: Why did Lee resign when more prominent Republicans, like Vitter, have survived infidelity scandals? Did he simply feel duty-bound? Or was it the fact that that photo of him with his shirt off is so goofy that it would follow him around forever if he hung on?

Ann Althouse:

There must be a lot more below the surface, and the quick resignation was to get us to move on. I’d like to know what inspired the desperation. Or was it that he got no support from his GOP colleagues in Congress. Perhaps he was told, quite clearly, that they didn’t want to burn any political capital defending him. If so, I think that was probably an excellent choice. They can’t want him as the torso face of the party for the next month.

Steve Benen:

The developments were more than a little surprising, not only because of Lee’s spectacularly dumb actions, but also because he resigned so quickly — Republicans, especially those caught up in sex scandals, generally don’t step down.

Indeed, if we’re measuring controversies on the Scandal Richter Scale, Lee’s story doesn’t seem nearly as serious as some of his Republican colleagues. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) got caught with prostitutes, refused to resign, sought re-election, and won. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) carried on a lengthy extra-marital relationship with one of his aides, who happened to be married to another one of his aides. Ensign’s parents tried to pay off the mistress’ family, and the senator arranged lobbying work for his mistress’ husband. He refused to resign, and he’s running for another term, too. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) got caught seeking sex in an airport bathroom, and even he didn’t resign.

Lee’s story is certainly sleazy, but based solely on what we know so far, it pales in comparison to some of these other Republicans’ scandals.

So, why’d he resign while the others didn’t? It’s speculative, of course, but it’s possible there was far more dirt, and Lee quit to avoid further humiliation. Maybe Republican leaders who tolerated the previous controversies didn’t want any distractions, so they demanded Lee’s resignation.

Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that we live in an era when images have more of an impact than than anything else. Vitter, Ensign, and the like were at the center of ugly controversies, but there’s no single photograph to be aired over and over again, the way there is with Lee’s topless photo of himself.

Visuals, in other words, resonate.

As for the month-old 112th Congress, David Dayen had this eye-opening observation: “Number of House resignations this year: 2. Number of pieces of legislation signed into law: 0.”

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Filed under Political Figures