Santorum Lurks

Rick Santorum

In case anyone was worried that Rick Santorum had taken his Republican primary election loss, or the GOP’s presidential election blow-out too much to heart, they need fear no longer.

RealClearPolitics reports that, undeterred by the now undeniable shift away from his socially regressive, paternalistic, authoritarian positions on just about all social issues, he is laying the groundwork to run for the Republican nomination once again in 2016.

Scott Conroy from RealClearPolitics writes:

The main event during Santorum’s impending return to Iowa will be his keynote speech in Urbandale at the annual spring fundraising dinner for the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a Christian conservative group that holds deep influence among evangelical caucus-goers in the state. He also is slated to participate in a Des Moines luncheon on behalf of a pro-life medical research group.

In both appearances, Santorum is expected to defend what he has called the “soul of the Republican Party” against forces within it that are increasingly eager to downplay or reconsider longstanding aspects of its platform.

His eagerness to remain on the front lines of this intra-party fight comes after Santorum spent much of the 2012 campaign defending his hard-line positions on social issues while also aiming to expand his appeal by touting his blue-collar credentials and economic populism.

Apparently, Rick Santorum is particularly eager to ensure that the GOP does not follow in the footsteps of Senator Rob Portman and others, and continue to “evolve” on those social issues where they are increasingly at odds with public sentiment:

But well before the 2016 GOP field begins to take shape, Santorum’s paramount political priority is to push back against the winds of change within the party. In particular, he’s focused on a de-emphasis — and in some cases an evolution — of stances on social issues in order to attract more moderate voters in general elections and acknowledge shifts in the broader electorate’s views.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register this week that set the stage for his upcoming visit, Santorum was asked about the recent avowals of support for gay marriage made by Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Santorum dismissed the growing notion that further movement within the GOP on the issue is inevitable, given polls showing a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

“The Republican Party’s not going to change on this issue,” he said. “In my opinion, it would be suicidal if it did.”

I suppose one must admire Santorum’s consistency. He doesn’t believe that the GOP should evolve politically in terms of their stance on gay marriage, just as he rejects the notion of biological evolution in nature.

Two universal truths of politics in the United States of America – Iowa will continue to play a disproportionately large role in vetting and selecting presidential candidates given it’s sparse population and lack of relative real importance in the union; and Rick Santorum will remain thoroughly uncompromising on all matters social and “moral”.

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Politico The Prude

Politico reports that John Stewart has been criticising the Democratic legislators and mayors who have been bullying and threatening Chick-fil-A over the position on gay marriage taken by that company’s CEO, mocking them on The Daily Show:

Comedian Jon Stewart ripped Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino on Thursday night for pledging to block Chick-fil-A from opening new restaurants in their cities, siding with those on the right who say such a move would be unconstitutional.

“Pretty sure you can’t outlaw a company with perfectly legal business practices because you find their CEO’s views repellant. Not sure which amendment covers that, but it’s probably in the top one,” Stewart said. “I think maybe the mayors hadn’t thought this thing through.”

Very true. I have already written about the hypocrisy and illiberalism of those people who, like Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino, want to punish individuals or groups not for their actions but their beliefs.

Unfortunately, we then get this:

Stewart mocked the chicken chain’s supporters, too, using sexual innuendo in a joke about “the million mouth march.”

“And what better way to stand up and say, ‘I oppose gay people’s rights to get married,’ than to head down to a Chick-fil-A, grab a hold of two buttery buns, split down and gobble down some of that hot, greasy…” Stewart said before saying a certain synonym for chicken that also refers to the male anatomy.

I think the word they are grasping for is “cock”. That’s C-O-C-K.

Could you find a more tortured way of not to say “cock” than to write “a certain synonym for chicken that also refers to the male anatomy”?

And “the male anatomy”? Is even the word “penis” out of bounds these days?

It irritates me when news organisations refuse to use certain words when they are central to the story or quote under discussion. Sometimes this is due to tortured political correctness or oversensitivity – if there is a story about racism, for example, we will hear lots about the offender uttering “the N-word”, for example. Sometimes it is due to squeamishness or prudishness, such as talking about someone who lets “the F-word” slip. And sometimes it is due to willful ignorance, such as when the New York Times refers to waterboarding as “torture” when it is carried out by a foreign country, but “enhanced interrogation” when committed by the United States.

In this case, it doesn’t really matter. The article is a light-hearted piece about a parody news show. At other times and with other stories it does matter though, and failing to report a quote accurately, or use the correct term, can have damaging or insidious consequences.

The only time that offensive words have the power to harm is when they are put on a pedestal and only referred to in roundabout, opaque ways. News organisations and journalists make themselves look silly when they falsely ascribe such power to a harmless arrangement of letters.

SEMI PARTISAN SUMMARY

Twitter Logo

CULTURE

Free speech continues to be squashed in Britain as a teenage Twitter user is arrested for sending mean-spirited and hurtful tweets to British driver Tom Daley. In a wonderful piece of journalism, the BBC neglect to tell us the precise wording of the tweets in question, saying only that “the 18-year-old received a message telling him he had let down his father”. Unhelpful, BBC. They go on to report: “A 17-year-old boy was arrested at a guest house in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications”. Apparently this is a crime in Britain, now. It goes without saying that mocking an Olympic athlete and making insulting reference to his late father is reprehensible and in very bad taste; equally it should go without saying that it should not lead to arrest, criminal charges or incarceration

Email may be king for most of us these days, but in Japan the humble fax machine is still alive and well, and in frequent use, both in the workplace and at home. This is partly attributable to the aging population – with one in five Japanese being over 65 years of age, many of these older citizens are more comfortable with the familiar fax technology. Also a factor is the perceived impersonality of the email as a medium for communicating with valued clients, or sending time-critical messages.

An extremely valuable Stradivarius violin was left on a train in Switzerland by an absent-minded musician. This makes me feel slightly better about losing my bank card last month.

At the conclusion of his Beethoven symphony cycle with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the BBC Proms, Daniel Barenboim gave a moving impromptu speech thanking the audience and the organisers for the opportunity. In his remarks, he said: “Our gratitude to the BBC who gave us this wonderful, unique opportunity to be here and play all the Beethoven symphonies – and in every concert one, and sometimes two, works by Pierre Boulez – and have all that televised. Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, we travel a lot, there is no country in the world that would do that for music and for culture”. Barenboim is not my favourite musician in the world, but the work that he is doing here is priceless.

Following the sad death of author Gore Vidal at age 86, The Guardian has assembled a selection of 26 of his most memorable quotes. My personal favourite: “I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television”. Or perhaps: “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise”.

 

BRITISH POLITICS

The BBC reports that many disabled people feel that media coverage about benefit cheats has worsened attitudes toward them. The article states: “When asked what could be contributing to such hostility, 87% singled out people claiming disability benefits to which they are not entitled. And 84% highlighted negative media coverage about benefit cheats”. Based on these numbers, you might be forgiven for thinking that the thing that would make the most improvement for genuine claimants would then be to crack down harder on illegitimate claimants. But apparently 84% trumps 87%, and what we actually have to do is have the government tone down its rhetoric about fraudulent claims, and have the media stop reporting about it. Who knew?

The Labour Party was forced to apologise and disassociate itself from comments made by supporters, eagerly anticipating the death of the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The Telegraph reports: “Last night, Louise Mensch, the backbench Conservative MP, called on Labour to respond after being sent a message by a follower who claimed to have worked for the Party inviting her to a party following Lady Thatcher’s death”. Labour responded, saying “Language like this has no place on politics or civilised society. No one should be wanting to celebrate the death of anyone.”

 

AMERICAN POLITICS

We have it all wrong, according to Rush Limbaugh. Mitt Romney’s overseas trip to the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland was actually not a complete disaster. We just think that it was because the US press pool travelling with Romney are deliberately harassing him (by this, I think he means asking him questions at press conferences) and trying to trick him into making mistakes. Like Sarah Palin’s famous “gotcha questions”. Says Limbaugh: “They’re trying to create gaffes. They’re working on behalf of Barack Obama. They are attempting to carry forth the meme that Romney’s foreign trip is a disaster, that it’s one gaffe after another. They’re trying to do this in the mainstream. And the fact of the matter is Romney is having a home run of a trip”. Well, that’s good, then. Insulting your best ally on day 1, fawning to appease the views of one particular Israeli party (despite promising not to create new foreign policy as a candidate travelling abroad) and being rebuffed by the Polish Solidarity movement are all good things, in Limbaugh’s world view. Of course, if you want to make the argument that these things don’t matter because the only important thing is the perception of the trip back home, as Romney’s aides are trying to do, it might help if the candidate actually spoke with the US press pool that are travelling with him.

Tim Stanley, writing in his Daily Telegraph column, comes late to the Chick-fil-A party but essentially agrees with the view taken by Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, many others and myself, that attempts by local politicians to bully Chick-fil-A by withholding permits to open new outlets as punishment for the views of their executives is unseemly, unwise and unconstitutional. He does close with a good point though, aimed at Rahm Emanuel: “Someone should explain to Rahm Emanuel that gay rights was supposed to be about guaranteeing privacy, abolishing legal discrimination and defending the dignity of the individual against the prejudice of the mob. It wasn’t supposed to be about creating a new standard of acceptable opinion and enforcing it with the muscle of the state. Liberalism without a profound respect for difference is just fascism by another name.”

Mark Oppenheimer, writing in The Nation, has an interesting profile of Canadian/American conservative thinker and former Bush Administration aide, David Frum. I’m quite an admirer of Frum’s (though we would disagree strongly on some issues), particularly since he penned the famous “Waterloo” piece criticising the Republican tactics opposing US healthcare reform, which got him fired from one of the jobs that he held at the time. This long-form piece looks in some depth at the evolution in Frum’s thinking, showing the areas where he has moved (gay marriage, tax policy) and those where he has definitely not moved (foreign policy). In an interesting aside, the author characterises David Frum’s new position thus: “Frum has found a new synthesis, according to which a moderate welfare state stabilizes the United States so that it can remain internationally strong. A little liberalism at home helps keep us neoconservative abroad.”

 

MISCELLANEOUS

What happens when an electricity grid failure knocks out power for half the population of one of the most populous nations in the world? Well, apparently, the story gets buried deep down at the bottom of the BBC News homepage. I did not know that it was possible for a technical fault or excessive consumption to cause such a widespread failure, but given that it is, I hope that the British and American governments are taking suitable precautions to guard against a similar failure, perhaps caused by malicious intent rather than technical fault.

In another bold signal of intent, China has announced plans to land an unmanned probe on the surface of the moon next year, as part of their wider project to land a man on the moon at an unspecified time. China has already achieved significant milestones in terms of human spaceflight, recently including their first spacewalks, first manual docking manoeuvre and first female astronaut.

The Last Word On Chick-Fil-A

Glenn Greenwald says it best:

Obviously, it’s perfectly legitimate for private citizens to decide not to patronize a business with executives who have such views (I’d likely refrain from doing so). Beyond that, if a business is engaging in discriminatory hiring or service practices in violation of the law — refusing to hire gay employees or serve gay patrons in cities which have made sexual orientation discrimination illegal — then it is perfectly legitimate to take action against them.

But that is not the case here; the actions are purely in retribution against the views of the business’ principal owner on the desirability of same-sex marriage.

Yes. This is why it is so disconcerting to see supposedly “enlightened” liberal politicians in the US calling for more severe sanctions against Chick-Fil-A, including the refusal by cities and municipalities to grant the fast food chain permission to open more outlets. Such bullying tactics have no place in a democracy, least of all one that claims to place such a premium on the right to free speech.

Greenwald goes on to say:

It’s always easy to get people to condemn threats to free speech when the speech being threatened is speech that they like. It’s much more difficult to induce support for free speech rights when the speech being punished is speech they find repellent. But having Mayors and other officials punish businesses for the political and social views of their executives — regardless of what those views are — is as pure a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech as it gets, and beyond that, is genuinely dangerous.

It is a real shame and surprise to see so many politicians taking the opposing view. It certainly doesn’t do much for the image of “Chicago politicians” to see both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Joe Moreno attempting to punish Chick-fil-A for the opinions of their executives by vowing to deny permission for the company to expand in their city.

Finally:

If you support what Emanuel is doing here, then you should be equally supportive of a Mayor in Texas or a Governor in Idaho who blocks businesses from opening if they are run by those who support same-sex marriage — or who oppose American wars, or who support reproductive rights, or who favor single-payer health care, or which donates to LGBT groups and Planned Parenthood, on the ground that such views are offensive to Christian or conservative residents. You can’t cheer when political officials punish the expression of views you dislike and then expect to be taken seriously when you wrap yourself in the banner of free speech in order to protest state punishment of views you like and share. [My emphasis.]

Amen.

This is one of those times where someone else gets there first and says it better. But I wanted to put on the record of this blog that I agree totally with Glenn Greenwald on this issue. While the cultural and civil rights positions expressed by the Chick-fil-A CEO are to my mind socially regressive and (more importantly) completely irrelevant to Chick-fil-A’s success as a corporation, he should be allowed to say what he says, and the public have the right to vote with their feet and choose not to patronise the restaurant chain if they feel strongly about the matter. Beyond that, no more needs to be said. Elected politicians certainly have no right – moral, constitutional or otherwise – to use their powers to bully or discriminate against individuals or companies with whom they happen to disagree.

SEMI-PARTISAN SUMMARY

CULTURE

Amanda Marcotte, writing at Slate magazine, makes a compelling case for movie scriptwriters and directors to show more condom use in their movies. She makes a fair point: “In the world of movies and TV, people seem to be having sex all the time, but they almost never talk about or are shown using contraception. Since so much of movie sex serves the plot, you get encounters that are much more spontaneous than they would be in real life, without any pause in the action to wrap it up. Young viewers could easily get the sense that the norm is to hop right in bed with someone without ever worrying about unintended pregnancy.” And it’s true – if realism is your aim (and admittedly this is not always the case), pretending that people hop into bed with each other without going through that awkward “fumbling in the bedside cabinet drawer” moment is a misrepresentation, and one that can be easily (and, if done well, humorously) corrected.

Jim Henson Studios, creator of The Muppets, is boycotting Chick-fil-A over that company’s president’s condemnation of gay marriage. In a stern rebuke, their statement reads: “The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-Fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors”.

Proco Moreno, Alderman of Chicago’s 1st Ward, joined in the anti Chick-fil-A backlash, stating that he would block the restaurant chain’s attempts to open their second Chicago outlet in his district because of the aforementioned statement issued by their CEO. His statement is somewhat over-the top – “If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the 1st Ward” – it is hard to see how any discrimination is taking place, as the restaurant does not check the sexual orientation of its customers upon entry, or have any policies in place that discriminate against one or another. But the fact remains that needlessly coming out in favour of a regressive social policy position that has no direct impact on your business or bottom line, can cost you money.

Getting in on the act, The Onion reports on Chick-fil-A’s new homophobic sandwich. Reports The Onion: “In a press conference to reporters, company representatives said the homophobic new sandwich will include the national fast food chain’s trademark fried chicken filet wrapped in a piece of specially-smoked No Homo ham that would be topped with a slice of Swiss cheese and lathered in a creamy new Thousand Island-based Fag Punching sauce”.

 

BRITISH POLITICS

The UK economy shrank by another 0.7% according to the latest figures released today. Iain Martin, writing in The Telegraph, thinks that George Osborne has six months to turn things around. I would guess that this estimate sounds about right, but I am not optimistic that Osborne will do anything differently, given his obstinate refusal to implement the needed supply-side reforms, and his obsession with trying to score cheap political points from Ed Balls, a diversion which should be beneath him.

The Guardian’s foremost education journalist twists herself in knots trying to explain why she is against private schools, and yet is sending her daughter to a private school. She takes a whole article, and many unnecessary words to explain what I can say in just three – she’s a hypocrite. She says: “I remember reading about Diane Abbott’s decision to send her son to the £10,000-a-year City of London school. She said she was a mother first and a politician second, a point that resonated strongly with me.” Precisely. She’s happy to inflict her left-wing social engineering on other people to make them conform to her ideal worldview (uniform standards, uniform people, uniform outcomes), but as soon as her own interests come in to play, she takes the conservative position.

 

AMERICAN POLITICS

Oh noes. The house of cards built by Grover Norquist has started to come crashing down as more and more elected officials repudiate his “tax pledge”. Whether you think the current tax burden in America is sustainable or not, I think most reasonable people can agree that Norquist’s pledge is overly restrictive on lawmakers, preventing them from closing unwarranted and discriminatory tax loopholes on the grounds that doing so would constitute a “tax increase”. Norquist, and his advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, are one of several significant hurdles standing in the way of a fundamental simplification of the existing byzantine tax code. We should all cheer its demise, and hope that similar obstacles from the American left fall by the wayside too, in the name of meaningful, lasting reform.

It is hard to disagree with this piece from Marbury, discussing the old-fashioned political art of persuasion, and the relative aptitudes of Obama and Clinton at using it. Through the lense of the Northern Irish “Good Friday” peace accord, Marbury looks at the way that President Clinton was able to flatter, cajole and reassure the key parties so that they reached a point where a deal could be signed, and how this skill is currently lacking in the Obama administration. Money quote: “Obama likes the big set-piece speech. But every policy he has backed, from the stimulus to healthcare, has declined in popularity the more speeches he made about it. His speeches explain things very well, very precisely. But they don’t change minds. This, it turns out, was the big hole in Obama’s campaign rhetoric of unification, of bringing red and blue together. He spoke about it eloquently, but he was never going to be the president who put it into action. Obama is a preacher, not a persuader. He’s terrific if you already agree with him, but doesn’t have much impact on those who don’t.”

Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate magazine, effectively deconstructs the Romney campaign’s attempts to smear President Obama with the “Chicago machine politician” label. Says Weisberg: “Of course, Romney isn’t interested in this kind of nuance. ‘Chicago-style politics’ is mainly just a way for him to call Obama corrupt without coming out and saying so”.