Why Even Some Liberals and Independents Are Refusing to Sign Up For Obamacare

Published: mic (March 31, 2014)

The Obamacare deadline is Monday, and a flurry of reports, headlines and talking heads are weighing in its success or failure. But sometimes politics cannot be understood without a human touch.

One of the most devastating aspects of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) implementation, flying under the radar, is the unwillingness of Republican-led states to accept the Medicaid expansion provision included in Obama’s legislation. This, and not the law, is making health insurance cost prohibitive for many — forcing people to choose the annual fine rather than accept the costs of even the cheapest plans.

One state where this applies is Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett has dithered from flat-out rejecting the expansion to taking a re-election-friendly “moderate” pose of attaching requirements that cut benefits and rule out helping the unemployed. I started asking around for stories of people negatively impacted by Corbett’s decision and, like most Pennsylvianians, I didn’t have to go far. These are the faces of those being impacted by a failure to extend Medicaid under the ACA.

Adam, 29, independent

We can start with my friend Adam, a videography student at Northampton County Community College and part-time waiter at a local sushi restaurant. After being told that his income level was too low for any insurance plan offered on the ACA website, he discovered that he would not be allowed to enroll in Medicaid due to Pennsylvania’s rejection of the ACA’s expansion of the program. Adam was left with no option but to pay the “individual mandate” penalty.

“I think it was very irresponsible for Pennsylvania not to include the Medicaid expansion for the Affordable Care Act,” Adam said, before adding that he was not a wholehearted supporter of the ACA itself. “It is the exact opposite of what people criticize it as being,” he explained. “It is not socialism in any way — it is forced capitalism. You are forced to pay these corporations for a service or else you will be fined.

“By passing the bill, our government is arguing that health care is a right and a necessity in our democratic society, but it is abdicating its responsibility to actually provide that service, instead leaving it to a competitive market that is more interested in turning a profit than providing quality and affordable service.”

George, 21, independent

George, a musician who also works at a pizza restaurant, had even less luck than Adam. “Every single affordable health care was labelled as ‘catastrophic’ and required me to pay between $150 and $300 a month, with between a $5,000 and $10,000 deductible,” he explained. Because he can’t afford the monthly payments, he realized that it was simply easier to pay out of pocket when he sees his doctor, even with the penalty.

And why wasn’t Medicaid an option? When he tried applying, he found that he didn’t qualify under Pennsylvania’s specific guidelines (such as having a record of using other welfare benefits in advance), all of which would have been rendered moot had the ACA’s expansion criteria been accepted by the state.

“It’s not like I refuse to get health care,” he pointed out. “Quite the contrary, I want health care, and I’m trying my hardest to receive it. The government won’t let me, so now they’re penalizing me for something that’s their own fault.”

Jennifer, 32, liberal

After being accepted into a local nursing program, Jen was informed that she needed to have health insurance to take classes. Despite making very little at her current job as a doula, she explained, she was denied Medicaid coverage because Pennsylvania still requires “you to be a child, pregnant, or have a chronic illness that requires monthly medication, such as diabetes, in order to qualify” — all of which, again, would not have remained in place under the ACA.

In the end, Jen was the one on this list who still signed up for the cheapest plan possible, in no small part because it was a job requirement.

Ironically, the Medicaid expansion problem can be traced to the very Supreme Court decision that upheld the ACA’s constitutionality. Prior to the court’s ruling, the ACA required any state participating in Medicaid (which, despite being voluntary, every state does) to expand their coverage to include almost all adults under the age of 65 with an income at or below 133% of the poverty line. In addition to closing coverage gaps that had long disqualified millions of low income Americans from receiving Medicaid benefits, this policy would have guaranteed that individuals unable to afford the insurance premiums of the plans offered through the ACA’s new insurance exchanges could still receive health care coverage.

Unfortunately, despite constitutionally validating most of the ACA’s provisions, the Supreme Court also ruled that states could not be “coerced” into accepting the Medicaid expansion by linking it to other federal payments. As a result, each state has the right to accept or reject the Medicaid expansion on its own, and, as the map below shows, Republicans in many states have chosen to deny this benefit to their residents.

Bear in mind that this is not being done because it could realistically undo the law. Republicans may have good reason for optimism regarding the upcoming midterm elections, but even if they won every seriously contested Senate race, they still would fall short of the veto-proof majority necessary to repeal the ACA. With killing the bill out of the question, the only remaining motive for state Republicans refusing to expand Medicaid is to (a) please their die-hard right-wing bases and/or (b) cause political headaches for President Obama and the Democrats.

In the end, the readers of this article who live in a state that has rejected the Medicaid expansion fall into one of two categories: those who are either struggling themselves or personally know men, women, and children among the working poor who are struggling as a result of Republican partisanship, and those who aren’t. If you do know people who are being denied the benefits of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion by their state’s Republican leaders (or are among them), keep them in mind when casting your ballot this November.

For once, the well-worn cliche is literally true: Your vote can save lives.

In the words of John F. Kennedy, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Which Famous President Is Just Like You? Take the Quiz

Published: mic (March 24, 2014)

We all probably have a favorite president or two, but which of them is most like you in their beliefs? Not every president is included (sorry Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt), but this quick quiz should help you discover which of our many leaders is a kindred spirit.

The points have nothing to do with whether one is “winning” or “losing,” just add them up as you go. They’ll come into play at the end.

Questions:

1. Which of these traits do you value most?

One point: Unwavering honesty.

Two points: Being an efficient manager.

Three points: Resolute patriotism.

Four points: Unflappable realism.

Five points: Charisma and indefatigability.

Six points: Eloquence and intellectualism.

Seven points: Compassion for the less fortunate.

Eight points: The ability to shoulder terrible emotional burdens for a greater cause.

2. How would your enemies (or frenemies) criticize you?

One point: As overly rigid in your ideas.

Two oints: As uncharismatic.

Three points: As uncaring toward the poor.

Four points: As lacking core, consistent beliefs.

Five Points: As slick and dishonest.

Six points: As flat-out un-American.

Seven points: As an enemy to business rights.

Eight points: As an enemy to states’ rights.

3. Which of these quotes best captures your view of government’s role in the economy?

One point: “Though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. … federal aid … encourages the expectation of paternal care.”

Two points: “By exaggerating the defects of our present condition … [and] holding up to the feverish imagination of the less fortunate … a condition of popular unrest has been produced.”

Three points: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Four points: “[Government should] preserve the greatest possible initiative, freedom and independence of…the individual…but not hesitate to combat cataclysmic economic disasters.”

Five points: “All Americans have … a solid responsibility to rise as far as their God-given talents can take them; and to give something back to their communities and their country in return.”

Six points: “If the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody.”

Seven points: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Eight points: “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

4. Which of the following options is most attractive?

One point: Eliminating rampant corruption and making government as small as possible.

Two points: Implementing, in a quiet fashion, various small social reforms.

Three points: Shrinking the size of the welfare state and restoring patriotic pride.

Four points: Establishing a period of calm after an era of social and international tempest.

Five points: Presiding over prosperity at home and dominance overseas.

Six points: Being responsible for winding down major international wars.

Seven points: Doing whatever it takes to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

Eight points: Limiting the spread of a great human rights atrocity by putting it on the path toward eventual extinction.

5. Which of the following quotes best captures your view of America’s role in the world?

One point: “If national honesty is to be disregarded and a desire for territorial extension … regulates our conduct, I have entirely misapprehended the mission and character of our Government and the behavior…our people demands of their public servants.”

Two points: “This policy has been characterized as substituting dollars for bullets.”

Three points: “The opportunity society that we want for ourselves we also want for others, not because we’re imposing our system on others but because those opportunities belong to all people as God-given birthrights.”

Four points: “Since the advent of nuclear weapons, it seems clear that there is no longer any alternative to peace, if there is to be a happy and well world.”

Five points: “We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.”

Six points: “We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”

Seven points: “We must be the great arsenal of democracy.”

Eight points: “Both parties [disapproved of] war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”

6. Which of the following themes is best for a presidential campaign?

One point: “Above all, tell the truth.”

Two point: “Good times.”

Three points: “Let’s make America great again.”

Four points: “I like <insert candidates name here>.”

Five points: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Six points: “Hope and change!”

Seven points: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”

Eight points: “The Union must and shall be preserved.”

To get your results: Divide your final sum by six, round it to the nearest whole number and match it to the list of corresponding presidents below.

Results:

1 point: Grover Cleveland

While not one of our better known presidents, Cleveland is as close to a libertarian as any “modern” (i.e., post-Civil War) president we’ve had. Unimpeachably honest, he viewed any state involvement in the economy as inherently corrupt and foreign policy interventions as dangerous steps toward imperialism.

2 points: William Taft

Known for organized management style, Taft was criticized for lacking the celebrity appeal of his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt. Nevertheless, Taft passed many important reforms, even as he staved off more radical alternatives. He can best be described as a civic reformer.

3 points: Ronald Reagan

Like the Gipper, you are a mainstream conservative in the contemporary sense of the term — favoring a strong foreign policy, pro-business and anti-welfare economic programs, and loud and proud professions of patriotism.

4 points: Dwight Eisenhower

The ultimate pragmatist, Eisenhower was suspicious of all ideology and wanted, above all else, a small ‘c’ conservative (which, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, meant being “marked by moderation or caution”). One of his core principles was the conviction that “in a democracy debate is the breath of life.”

5 points: Bill Clinton

An outspoken proponent of a so-called “Third Way,” Clinton argued that a centrist course that adopted the best ideas from both liberals and conservatives would lead America to greatness.

6 points: Barack Obama

Though not as left wing as some of the other presidents on this list, Obama’s presidency represented a marked shift toward a new brand of pluralistic liberalism, one that separated itself from the centrism that defined Democratic politics in the post-Reagan era but was not as assertively progressive as the party’s post-FDR governing ideals.

7 points: Franklin Roosevelt

Though often regarded as the quintessential American left-wing idealist, Roosevelt’s progressivism stemmed not from a core ideology but rather a belief that bold experimentation was necessary when confronting domestic calamities (like the Great Depression) and international crises (like World War II). This led him to make revolutionary policy changes, but they were the incidental ends of a programmatically proactive temperament.

8 points: Abraham Lincoln

Although not commonly regarded as a leftist, Lincoln supported extensive federal spending on infrastructure (both to develop America and create jobs), formed the Department of Agriculture, passed both the first income tax and the first progressive income tax, gave away cheap public land, built the transcontinental railroad, created land-grant colleges (the forebears of today’s public universities) and established a series of national banks to regulate the economy.

Which one are you?

11 Quirky Things You Never Knew About America’s Presidents

Published: mic (March 18, 2014)

It’s easy to recite well-known presidential trivia — Washington was our first president, Cleveland was the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms, etc. — but do you know the quirkier facts?

As an American history aficionado, it was hard for me to pick favorites from among the countless “quirky” presidential factoids. But …

1. Only one president had to learn English as a second language.

Via: Wikimedia

Martin Van Buren‘s first language was Dutch. Along with being America’s first New Yorker president, Van Buren was raised in Kinderhook, a small town in Columbia County whose residents were descended from New York’s original Dutch colonizers.

2. Presidents have been rewriting history since 1866.

Via: Wikimedia

While many of our early presidents wrote memoirs and/or kept detailed diaries about various parts of their lives, the first one to publish a memoir concentrating specifically on his presidency was James Buchanan (pictured above). His book, Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion, was intended as a defense of his policies responding to the disintegration of the Union and the start of the Civil War.

3. Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of “The Scarlet Letter,” wrote a president’s biography.

Franklin Pierce became close friends with Nathaniel Hawthorne (above) while they both attended Bowdoin College. Hawthorne penned his campaign biography, The Life of Franklin Pierce, which Horace Mann sarcastically referred to as “the greatest work of fiction he ever wrote.”

The bromance between the two men was so close that when Hawthorne died while staying over at Pierce’s house, the loss sent the former president spiraling into a deep depression, which had already started with the loss of his young son shortly before taking office. He never recovered.

4. Abraham Lincoln grew his beard at the suggestion of an 11-year-old girl.

Less than a month before he was elected, Lincoln received a letter from Grace Bedell, a little girl from Westfield, NY.

Among other things, it suggested that he grow a beard, observing, “You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”

Four days later, Lincoln replied by writing “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?” He apparently changed his mind, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in its retelling of a Lincoln visit to Westfield in February 1861:

“Addressing the ladies, [Lincoln] said … ‘Some three months ago, I received a letter from a young lady here; it was a very pretty letter, and she advised me to let my whiskers grow, as it would improve my personal appearance; acting partly upon her suggestion, I have done so; and now, if she is here, I would like to see her; I think her name was Miss Barlly.’ A small boy, mounted on a post, with his mouth and eyes both wide open, cried out, ‘There she is, Mr. Lincoln,’ pointing to a beautiful girl [Grace Bedell], with black eyes, who was blushing all over her fair face. The President left the car, and the crowd making way for him, he reached her, and gave her several hearty kisses, and amid the yells of delight from the excited crowd, he bade her good-bye, and on we rushed.”

5. Abraham Lincoln tortured pigs.

I’ll let this account from Lincoln’s 1860 campaign autobiography speak for itself:

“It was in connection with this boat that occurred the ludicrous incident of sewing up the hogs eyes. Offutt bought thirty odd large fat live hogs, but found difficulty in driving them from where [he] purchased them to the boat, and thereupon conceived the whim that he could sew up their eyes and drive them where he pleased. No sooner thought of than decided, he put his hands, including A. at the job….”

6. The Teddy Bear was named after Theodore Roosevelt — but the story is embellished.

An avid sportsman, Roosevelt captured the hearts of millions when the Washington Post ran a cartoon in 1902 depicting him sparing the life of a bear cub because shooting it would be unsportsmanlike. When a Brooklyn candy shop owner named Morris Michtom heard about this, he asked for Roosevelt’s permission to sell his wife’s new ursine stuffed animals as “Teddy’s Bears.” The rest, as they say, is history — except for the part where the famous account of Roosevelt’s bear hunt is grossly exaggerated.

In reality, the bear that Roosevelt refused to kill was an adult, it was rendered helpless only because it had been significantly wounded in a fight with another member of Roosevelt’s hunting party and, instead of sparing its life, he simply ordered someone else to put it down.

7. A presidential candidate once created a stuffed Teddy Bear in his likeness to try and win votes.

After serving for nearly eight years, Theodore Roosevelt made it clear that he wanted William Taft — who had served distinguished stints as Governor-General of the Phillippines and Secretary of War during his administration — to succeed him.

Taft attempted to capitalize on the popularity of the Teddy Bear, which as discussed above was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, by creating a stuffed animal based on his likeness dubbed the “Billy Possum.” Although Taft’s presidential campaign in 1908 was a rousing success, the Billy Possum never took off as a popular stuffed animal.

8. America had a Native American vice president in 1928.

Via: Wikimedia

Herbert Hoover’s vice president, Charles Curtis, was three-eighths Kaw Indian, and spent much of his childhood as a member of the Kaw reservation. Unfortunately, Curtis — who had also been the first Native American elected to the United States Senate — had no real power or pull in the Hoover administration (much like most of the vice presidents who preceded him). Even worse, he had a reputation for pettiness, with legendary columnist William Allen White once writing, “His politics were always purely personal. Issues never bothered him.”

9. Almost one-third of presidents have lost their bids for re-election.

The ten presidents who have lost their bids for re-election were John Adams in 1800, John Q. Adams in 1828, Martin Van Buren in 1840, Grover Cleveland in 1888 (although he won the popular vote), Benjamin Harrison in 1892, William Taft in 1912, Herbert Hoover in 1932, Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H. W. Bush in 1992.

By comparison, there have been 21 presidents who have won their bids for re-election, including George Washington in 1792, Thomas Jefferson in 1804, James Madison in 1812, James Monroe in 1820, Andrew Jackson in 1832, Abraham Lincoln in 1864, Ulysses Grant in 1872, Grover Cleveland in 1892, William McKinley in 1900, Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, 1940, and 1944, Harry Truman in 1948, Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1996, George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2012.

Five presidents died before they could run for re-election (William Harrison, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, Warren Harding, and John Kennedy), five attempted to seek reelection but failed to be nominated by a political party (John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur), and three chose to only serve one term (James Polk, James Buchanan, Rutherford Hayes).

This list obviously defines “re-elected” as any incumbent or former president who sought an additional term on a major party ticket, regardless of whether he initially took office due to the death or resignation of his predecessor. Similarly, it does not include the presidents who refrained from serving for more than eight years before the passage of the 22nd Amendment (or Lyndon Johnson’s renunciation in 1968).

10. Third-parties were a bigger deal back in 1912.

There are actually three presidents who’ve run on third-party tickets after leaving office: Martin Van Buren, who ran for the anti-slavery “Free Soil” Party in 1848; Millard Fillmore, who ran for the anti-immigration and anti-Catholic “Know Nothing” Party in 1856; and Theodore Roosevelt, who ran for the progressive “Bull Moose” Party in 1912. Indeed, Fillmore and Roosevelt actually performed better in the popular vote than any other third-party candidates, picking up 22% and 27% respectively.

11. Four presidents have been elected without winning the popular vote.

There have been four presidents elected without winning the popular vote, including John Q. Adams, who lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson in 1824; Rutherford Hayes, who lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden in 1876; Benjamin Harrison, who lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland in 1888; and George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000.

The Creator of Westboro Baptist Used to Be a Die-Hard Civil Rights Fighter – What Happened?

Published: mic (March 16, 2014)

Reverend Fred Phelps, the founder of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, is reportedly “on the edge of death” at a hospice in Kansas.

In case your memory needs refreshing, Phelps is best known for organizing protests at the funerals of anti-LGBT hate crime victims, soldiers, and celebrities under the slogan “God Hates Fags.”

He also used to be a champion of civil rights.

That may be hard to believe now, but the evidence is undeniable. After moving to Topeka in 1954, Phelps developed a reputation for taking civil rights cases that other attorneys — black as well as white — refused handle. As fellow Kansas civil rights activist Jack Alexander later explained, most lawyers believed that anti-discrimination cases were risky because of “the chance they wouldn’t get paid.” Not only was Phelps an exception to that rule, but his reputation as a lawyer reached the point that he became the go-to litigator for victims of racist persecution. His most prominent cases included that of a black student who Phelps claimed was receiving an inferior education in Topeka schools, a class-action lawsuit against an elementary school for discriminating against non-white students, and a defense of the Jordan-Patterson American Legion Post after it was raided by law enforcement officers who had racially profiled its members.

Even after he received numerous threats and had his windows shot out, Phelps persisted in his work, eventually becoming a prominent civil rights figure in the region. By 1987 he won an award from the Bonner Springs branch of the NAACP for his “steely determination for justice during his tenure as a civil rights attorney.”

When asked years later about how her father could reconcile his past career with his current one, Phelps’s daughter responded: “God never said it was an abomination to be black.”

While it is unclear when Phelps began developing his vendetta against the LGBT community, the Reverend Ben Scott — who was president of the NAACP’s Topeka branch at the time — attests that he not only never heard Phelps talk about homosexuality, but at the time “didn’t even know he was a preacher.”

So what happened?

While some have argued that Phelps merely took those cases to make money, that position has several weaknesses. For one thing, as Alexander pointed out, there was no guarantee that those civil rights cases would win, and considering that Kansas had a relatively small African American community, it’s hard to see why an attorney with a purely mercenary mindset would have chosen that field. What’s more, Phelps’s subsequent career at Westboro hasn’t exactly been marked by its profitability. While the argument that Phelps was a civil rights profiteer would hold up if he a subsequent pattern emerged of him “selling out,” Phelps has actually paid significant financial costs (to say nothing of social stigma) as a result of his “God Hates Fags” campaign.

Finally, and most importantly, the idea that his subsequent hatemongering proves that his earlier heroism was insincere is far, far too convenient.

It is in our nature to believe that there is an impermeable dichotomy between what makes one person a “hero” and another one a “villain.” As I’ve written before, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the good in an admired public figure outweighs the bad or that the bad negates the good. Although Americans have somewhat moved away from this simplistic tendency (most notably in the public’s continued high regard for President Bill Clinton’s legacy of peace and prosperity despite his highly-publicized sex scandal), there remains a strong reluctance to accept that good and evil can simultaneously reside within the same human soul.

Yet Phelps’s life proves not only that they can co-exist, but that they often spring from the same source. As the philosopher Eric Hoffer explained in his classic sociological monograph The True Believerindividuals who invest their life’s work in larger social causes often do so for psychological as well as ideological reasons. Regardless of the exact beliefs of the movements in question — whether they are religious or political, left-wing or right-wing, intellectual or visceral — people who become “true believers” in those causes frequently do so to fulfill a variety of needs to both their egos and their ability to comprehend the dauntingly complex external world. Indeed, as Hoffer demonstrated, this fanatical personality type could be found behind causes ranging from Communism and Nazism to Christianity and Islam… with “true believers” able to flip from one point-of-view to a seemingly contradictory one precisely because their core psychological needs were still met.

Consequently, instead of viewing Phelps’s earlier civil rights activism as an angel to his subsequent raging homophobe’s devil, we should see them as different manifestations of a single root drive. We need to recognize that the same fervent conviction and inner belief system that can fuel the cause of justice can also be used to deny justice to others, even though the genesis of both those forces can sincerely hold that each is serving a righteous cause. While none of this excuses Phelps’s irrationality or malevolence, it helps us see that everyone — progressives, conservatives, libertarians, centrists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists — is capable of being both a hero and a monster. We all believe what we do as much out of pride and the need to be swept up by a “greater cause” as we do out of detached intellectual and moral analysis.

As America looks back on the scope of Phelps’s life, my hope is that it will spark introspection among idealists of all stripes. I say this not as one who claims to be above such impulses — indeed, I have been guilty of knee-jerk idealism before and will almost certainly be guilty of it again — but because liberty is threatened most not by those who care too little, but by those who never scrutizine what they care about and why.

10 Ways Ronald Reagan Isn’t the Hero the GOP Thinks He Is

Published: mic (March 14, 2014)

A CPAC attendee wearing a Ronald Reagan mask. 

Republicans sure love to talk about Ronald Reagan. Just look at some of these quotes from the Conservative Political Action Conference last week:

“Once again, the GOP is where the action is, just as it was in Jack Kemp’s day at the beginning of the Reagan Revolution.” – Congressman Paul Ryan (WI)

“It’s time for the Republican Party to stop talking about Ronald Reagan and start acting like him.” – Senator Mike Lee (UT)

“We need to turn this country around. We did it in 1980 with the grassroots movement that became the Reagan Revolution and, let me tell ya, the same thing is happening all over today.” – Senator Ted Cruz (TX)

If that isn’t proof enough…

Is this hero worship justified? Here are ten facts about Ronald Reagan that many in the GOP have awkwardly forgotten:

1. Reagan fought against civil rights for African Americans.

Via: Wikimedia

MLK Jr. during a press conference in 1964.

Reagan’s transformation from actor to serious political figure began in the 1960s, first with a nationally televised speech on behalf of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and then with his election as governor of California. This was also the decade in which the civil rights bills that ended legalized racism were passed … and Reagan was on record opposing all of them, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Reagan continued this pattern as president by gutting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), fighting the extension of the Voting Rights Act, vetoing the Civil Rights Restoration Act (which required all recipients of federal funds to comply with civil rights laws) and initially opposing the creation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (he changed his tune when it passed Congress with a veto-proof majority).

2. Reagan vetoed an anti-apartheid bill.

Via: Flickr

Nelson Mandela.

Reagan further tarnished his record on racial equality when he vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which imposed economic sanctions on South Africa that could only be lifted when that country abolished apartheid. Although Reagan argued this was because he worried the sanctions would prompt the South African government to respond with “more violence and more repression,” critics pointed to his administration’s close relationship with the apartheid regime, well-known belief that anti-apartheid groups like the African National Congress were Communistic, oversight of the decision to label Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and weakening of a UN resolution condemning apartheid.

Considering that the bill was supported by an overwhelming majority of South African apartheid opponents (including Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu), his professed reason was widely met with skepticism. Fortunately, Congress overrode his veto.

3. Reagan supported the exploitation of Mexican-American farm workers.

Via: Wikimedia

Cesar Chavez in 1973 visiting Colegio Cesar Chavez, the first four-year Mexican-American college in the United States.

One of the biggest contributors to Reagan’s successful gubernatorial campaigns was California’s wealthy “agro-business” industry. As such, it was not surprising that the newly-elected governor sided with his political benefactors over Cesar Chavez, who led the movement to end the underpayment and inhumane working conditions endured by over a million Mexican-American farm workers.

Of course, if one wishes to take Reagan at his word, you’re left to believe that he supported the use of “stoop laborers” not because his rich buddies profited from this system, but because Mexicans were suitable for that lifestyle due to being “built close to the ground.”

4. Reagan actively participated in some of America’s most infamous witch hunts against alleged Communists.

Via: Mutant Eggplant

Ronald Reagan in 1947 testifying before HUAC.

For a man who loved talking about liberty, Reagan’s actions didn’t show a particularly high regard for the First Amendment. During his tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild (a labor union for actors), Reagan served as an FBI snitch against members he suspected of Communist sympathies, required all officers to swear a “non-Communist pledge” and testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee against the so-called “Hollywood Ten.” Thanks in no small part to his actions, dozens of men and women throughout Hollywood had their careers ruined.

5. Reagan illegally sold weapons to Iran and helped create the Taliban and Osama bin Laden regime.

Via: Flickr

President Reagan meeting with Afghan Mujahideen leaders in the Oval Office in 1981.

In order to curtail the Soviet Union’s influence over Central Asia, Reagan financed, armed, and trained Islamofascist mujahideen in Afghanistan. Along with costing billions of dollars, this policy advanced the career of a mujahidin commander named Osama bin Laden and led to the emergence of the Taliban.

Reagan exacerbated matters by continuing the war after the USSR’s retreat, which helped bring about bin Laden’s ascendancy in the region. Even worse, Reagan illegally sold weapons to the Iranian government (which had been unfriendly to America since the 1970s) to fund right-wing rebel forces in Nicaragua (leading to the Iran-Contra scandal).

6. Reagan’s economic policies caused a spike in unemployment and led to severe income inequality.

Reagan explaining Reaganomics in a televised address.

Although Reagan claimed his sweeping tax cut plan in 1981 would reduce unemployment, it actually had the opposite effect, with unemployment rising by more than 3% (to 10.8%) during the first half of his initial term. Fortunately for him, the economy began to pick up on its own; unfortunately for us, his draconian cuts to social programs, crippling of labor unions, and weakening of legal protections for the working class contributed to the growing income inequality that continues today.

7. Reagan helped kick off the war on women.

Via: NWPR

‘Era Yes’ was a movement in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.

While Reagan deserves credit for appointing Sandra Day O’Connor as America’s first female Supreme Court Justice, his legacy on women’s issues is tarnished by his outspoken opposition to abortion rights, appointment of anti-choice judges and successful push to remove support for the Equal Rights Amendment — which would have guaranteed that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” — from the Republican Party platform.

8. Reagan failed to confront the AIDS epidemic.

Via: Wikimedia

The AIDS Memorial Quilt — a celebration of the lives of people who have died of AIDS-related causes.

It was an open secret that the Reagan administration believed AIDS was “nature’s revenge on gay men” (in the words of Reagan’s communications director Pat Buchanan) and that “they [homosexuals] are only getting what they justly deserve” (according to the account of Reagan’s surgeon general, Dr. C. Everett Koop, on the attitude of Reagan’s advisers).

While Reagan was never caught expressing such venomous attitudes, he refused to address the AIDS epidemic at all until the spring of 1987. By that time, he had only a year-and-a-half left in his presidency … and AIDS had already more than 20,000 lives, with thousands more suffering from infection.

9. Reagan is directly responsible for increasing American homelessness through his large-scale defunding of mental institutions.

Via: Flickr

A homeless man in Miami, released from the hospital the day before.

Both as governor and president, Reagan oversaw the massive defunding of mental health institutions. Because many mentally ill individuals have difficulty obtaining and holding down employment, this significantly increased homelessness in America. As of 2009, 20-25% of America’s homeless population was severely mentally ill, compared to only 6% of the general population.

10. Reagan added trillions to our national debt in an attempt to redistribute wealth from the poor to both the rich and the military.

Via: Wikimedia

The famous national debt clock.

In the forty-eight years before Reagan became president, his eight predecessors increased the national debt by a total of $975 billion. Despite running as a fiscal conservative, Reagan wound up increasing the debt by more than Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter combined, adding $1.86 trillion to the pile.

This was because of Reagan’s infamous “Voodoo Economics,” i.e., the claim that you could cut taxes for the wealthy and expand the military-industrial complex without increasing our national debt. While staunch conservatives were genuinely convinced that the flawed math of “Reaganomics” would somehow work out, others agreed that Reagan’s real strategy was to “Starve the Beast.”

As Alan Greenspan (Reagan’s appointment as Chairman of the Federal Reserve) once put it, “the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” In short, Reagan’s economic advisers were hoping that in order to shrink the size of government, while maintaining military expenditures and low high-bracket tax cuts, Congress would choose to cut programs that benefited lower income Americans over allowing the debt to explode. While they were wrong in that assumption, their argument that lower income citizens should be the ones to suffer to reduce our debt endures to this day.

In sum, we live in the America that Reagan helped create. While many of our presidents have been influential, most scholars agree that Reagan’s election in 1980 ushered in a new period in our nation’s political history. He pushed the Republican Party to the right on a number of issues, threatened the Democrats’ longstanding status as America’s dominant party, and left a lasting imprint on both our country and the larger world through his social, economic and foreign policies.

The speakers at CPAC weren’t wrong when they said their champion had left an important legacy. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, however, we must see that legacy for what it really was, so we don’t ever elect another Ronald Reagan.

Obama’s FunnyOrDie Sketch Proves There Are Other Ways To Push Ideas In Beyond Fear And Anger

Published: mic (March 11, 2014)

If you haven’t seen President Obama’s appearance on “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis,” stop everything you’re doing and watch it now.

There is a lesson to be learned from this video: Fear and anger aren’t the only effective methods for spreading a political message.

Obama’s right-wing opponents have spent the bulk of his presidency trying to destroy him with shrill accusations, inflammatory rhetoric and hyperbolic distortions of his agenda. The fact that these critics are so often wrong is less important here than the simple reality that they are so overwhelmingly, hysterically vitriolic. But this time, Obama responded with laughter.

The backlash: As is the case with any group that has grown accustomed to vexation, this comedy is not sitting well with right-wingers. On this morning’s edition of Fox & Friends, this exchanged played out:

KILMEADE: “It is so inappropriate … for the president of the United States to be sitting down for an interview that’s a mock-up.”

[…]

HASSELBECK: “Some would argue that it’s inappropriate for the president of the United States to be advertising a law, an insurance plan.”

[…]

KILMEADE: “I think it’s pretty tragic. Whoever recommended that he do that show should be fired.”

This was followed shortly after by some aggressive tweeting from Fox News host Martha MacCallum and Kilmeade.

Of course conservative pundit Laura Ingraham weighed in as well:


As did Fox contributor and Townhall editor Kate Pavlich:

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative newspaper, also shared their two-cents, saying: “The Obama interview, however, was just dreadful. After a few semi-unbearable moments during which the president shows he doesn’t at all understand the point of the show–the guest is not supposed to get in good zingers; he’s supposed to be taken down a peg–there’s an utterly unbearable moment during which he hawks the failed social experiment that is HealthCare.gov. It’s just gross.”

Since these conservatives are predictably determined to make this yet another low point for Obama, here’s a simple explanation of why they’re wrong.

There are two layers to the comedy in the six-and-a-half minute sketch. The first is consistent with the main joke of “Between Two Ferns” where Galifianakis displays open disdain and hostility toward his guests. As such, Galifianakis flaunted his lack of deference, from shushing Obama at the start of the interview to claiming that people let him win at basketball because he’s president.

The political benefits to Obama were obvious: By allowing Galifianakis to poke fun at him, Obama displayed the self-confidence of someone comfortable being ribbed, and by giving as good as he got (which, contrary to the Washington Free Beacon‘s complaint, is part of the format, as comedians Tina Fey and Steve Carell demonstrated in their appearances), he made it clear that he had a sense of humor.

Along with the usual “Funny or Die” shtick, however, Obama and Galifianakis also poked fun at some of today’s more absurd right-wing criticism. This started with Galifianakis assuming the clueless Obama-hating jerk persona, taking shots at birtherism and the “Obama is un-American” crowd. But as the interview progressed, instead of simply lampooning the right-wing, Galifianakis’s jokes — in particular about the glitchy Affordable Care Act website — became more biting with some legitimacy behind them. Obama, in turn, calmly acknowledged the health care website’s past flaws before describing how, hiccups notwithstanding, the Affordable Care Act has and will continue to help million of American as they continue to enroll. In so doing, the president not only presented a brilliantly straightforward defense of his health care bill, but used his cool-headed response to Galifianakis’s jabs to demonstrate that even when a criticism is valid, it doesn’t have to be approached with histrionics.

It isn’t surprising that most conservatives aren’t picking up on any of this. While this could be dismissed as simply one more occasion of stubborn partisanship causing a political group to “not get” a joke, it speaks to something far more tragic. If the mantra of Republicans like Abraham Lincoln was that “I laugh because I must not cry,” the attitude of the GOP today is that they’ve forgotten how to laugh … and crying is all they have left.

If you have yet to do so, make sure to enroll for health insurance at healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596.

 

Rand Paul and Libertarians Are Looking More and More Like the Future Of the Republican Party

Published: mic (March 9, 2014)

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has held its annual straw poll. For the second year in a row, the winner was Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. What does his victory mean? What does it tell us about the future of the Republican Party?

Here are the four things you need to know:

1. This is a great day for Rand Paul.

This is the fourth year out of five in which a libertarian has won the CPAC presidential straw poll. In 2010 and 2011, that honor went to Ron Paul, a Congressman from Texas and Rand’s father. Last year Rand Paul picked up the top honor for the first time. In 2014, Rand Paul not only earned his second consecutive win, but he far outpaced any of his rivals.

Does this foreshadow Paul winning the GOP nomination in 2016? The answer is… maybe. At its best, the CPAC straw poll has provided political observers with insight into the deeper ideological currents flowing through the right-wing rank-and-file. In the past it has predicted the eventual nominations of Republican leaders like Ronald Reagan (who won in 1976, 1980, and 1984), George W. Bush (who won in 2000), and Mitt Romney (who won in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2012). Considering Paul’s already impressive showing in surveys of likely GOP primary voters, it isn’t a stretch to say that this further legitimizes his presidential ambitions.

Of course, for every Reagan and Bush, there have been countless other conservative ideologues who triumphed at CPAC only to subsequently fizzle out. This is a list including the likes of Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm, Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, Rudy Giuliani, and George Allen. While some of those candidates were guilty of nothing more than being wrongly tapped as the establishment favorite (I’m looking at you, Rudy), most were passionately loved by the GOP base but either self-destructed (Forbes, Allen) or proved too conservative to be even nominated, much less elected (Kemp, Gramm, Bauer).

In short, Paul’s strong CPAC showing reveals that he has completed one half of any Republican nominee’s task — namely, winning over the true believers. His mission now will be to retain their support while avoiding the pitfalls that cast his less fortunate predecessors into political obscurity.

2. Keep an eye on Ted Cruz and Ben Carson.

While Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and famed neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson failed to oust Paul, they both did well enough to deserve honorable mention (placing second and third at 11% and 9%, respectively). Two years is a lifetime in American politics, and should anything happen to diminish Paul’s luster among party professionals and Tea Party patriots, Cruz and Carson clearly have the backing to supplant him. While most pundits seem to think Cruz is more likely to achieve this goal, I think the smart money is on Carson — while his ideas are as staunchly right-wing as Cruz’s, Carson lacks his counterpart’s “bull in a china shop” reputation. More notably, Carson can boast of his status as a genuine Washington outsider, something that always wins over conservatives looking to send the establishment a message.

3. Chris Christie is in trouble.

Christie may have received a standing ovation before delivering his CPAC speech, but he finished fourth in the straw poll with a measly 8%. His supporters are no doubt trying to pass this off as a respectable showing, but it’s hard to see it as anything less than a massive fall from grace. This is the same party, after all, that was clamoring for Christie to step into the presidential ring when it seemed like their only options were Romney or an aviary of ideological loons. Although CPAC made it clear that they blamed their favorite boogeyman, the “liberal media,” for Christie’s Bridgegate woes, this obviously did not translate into a willingness to back the New Jersey governor’s impending presidential bid.

4. Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan are in even bigger trouble.

It’s hard to believe that, as recently as last year, Rubio was the odds-on favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination. Although Paul managed to eke out a victory in the 2013 CPAC straw poll, pundits were quick to note that Rubio had come within a few percentage points of denying him the prize. Unfortunately for Rubio, his support for immigration reform has seriously diminished his political brand among rightist hardliners; Rubio pulled in a shockingly paltry 6% this time around, ranking below not only Paul but Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Rick Santorum. Since the premise of Rubio’s candidacy was that he could combine the adulation of the Tea Party with the tantalizing prospect of electability, his poor performance undermines the very foundations of his case for being tapped.

Congressman Paul Ryan is in a similar boat. While supporting a budget compromise may have been the right move for America, it clearly alienated the same Tea Partyers on whom Ryan would rely for any successful presidential candidacy. Even worse, Ryan can’t even plausibly argue to be able to carry his own swing state (after all, he did fail to pick up Wisconsin as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012), leaving him with less of an electoral rationale than Rubio.

Bottom Line:

Rand Paul is flying high, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson are waiting in the wings, Chris Christie is floundering, and Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan can be safely written off.

There Are 939 Active Hate Groups in the United States. Here’s Where They Live.

Published: mic (March 7, 2014)

You don’t have to go far to find racism. It turns out President Obama’s election was a boon to bigots, as can be seen on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recently-released “Hate Map.”

In the year before Obama was elected, there were only 888 organized hate groups on record. Although the total number dropped from 1,007 in 2012 to 939 in 2013, that is still a disturbing increase. Black separatists do comprise a small part of this list, of course, but the rest includes a range of white supremacists (the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis, White Nationalists, Racist Skinheads, Neo-Confederates) and Christian Identity movements. It should be noted that there is a heavy concentration of these groups below the Mason-Dixon Line, although California technically has more than any other state.

Since the vast majority of America’s affiliated hate parties promote a white racist ideology, it’s helpful to briefly explore the history of those groups.

The History. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia

As George William Van Cleave points out in A Slaveholders’ Uniona pro-slavery philosophy was embedded into our Constitution … and that belief system was, in turn, dependent on racist concepts. Some of the most revered statesmen and thinkers of antebellum America, from Thomas Jefferson to John C. Calhoun, both practiced and preached the notion that some races were inherently superior to others. Even the founding fathers who abhorred racism like John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, felt it necessary to allow its perpetuation in the name of promoting the immediate cause of the American Revolution.

After the reconstruction amendments abolished slavery and guaranteed the franchise to African-Americans, movements sprang up across the South to counter the efforts of Radical Republicans to attain complete equality for the freed slaves. This racial reactionism catalyzed the birth of the Ku Klux Klan, which remained at the forefront of the white supremacist movement for the decade after the Civil War. As the pro-civil rights measures of Reconstruction were gradually revoked in order to solidify the reunification the North and South, organizations like the KKK began to shrink in numbers, although they never left the American landscape entirely.

Image Credit: AP

The good news 

Gone are the days when membership in the KKK or a comparable white supremacist group could be dismissed as simply one’s ideology. When former conservative Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd was asked about his involvement in the Klan, he emphatically denounced his erstwhile peers; when libertarian Republican Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was revealed to have disseminated racist newsletters in the mid-1990s, he denied having authored them, and only narrowly avoided having his 2012 campaign derailed by revelations that he maintained email correspondence with and accepted campaign contributions from white supremacists. The pattern holds even in Mississippi, where Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel is under heavy fire for retweeting a comment posted by a neo-confederate in his state. Open association with avowed racists is taboo today, with loud-and-proud hatemongers rightly relegated to the status of Jerry Springer freak show attractions and political punchlines.

The bad news, with a twist

Image Credit: AP

Overt racism may be stigmatized, but covert racism is alive and well. The key to being an effective racist today is to conceal one’s deeper prejudices under the guise of a seemingly non-racial cause. Those who hate racial minorities today find a haven in causes that can be plausibly characterized as not racist, from Arizona’s draconian anti-immigration law and the widespread support for George Zimmerman to the racist presumptions of the birther movement and the University of Washington’s discovery of prevalent racist attitudes among the Tea Party. Attitudes that were once open and direct are now concealed in the shadows.

In spite of all this, though, there is more cause for hope than fear. Racism may be alive and well, but even the presence of a re-elected black president has not been able to give them the staying power for which they no doubt hoped. Already there has been a decline in their numbers, and as millennials inherit the world possessing greater ethnic diversity and tolerance than any generation before them, the diminution of organized hatred is only going to continue.

Bad news for them, perhaps, but great news for America.