Barack Obama

Barney Frank: This Year’s Midterm Elections Define Our Courts

In an op-ed printed in the Portland Press Herald this weekend, retired congressman Barney Frank offers a sharp critique of the far right Supreme Court under John Roberts. Explicitly noting the importance of the Court in defining law that affects all citizens, Frank makes clear not only that courts matter, but everyday citizens have a hand in how these courts are shaped.

Reviewing the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions — from overturning “more than 100 years of federal and state efforts to regulate the role of money in campaigns” to declaring that corporations have the right to religious freedom under RFRA—Frank states that “the court has ended this term with a barrage against laws it does not like” (emphasis added).

He continues,

…The Supreme Court is now strongly inclined to impose conservative ideology via Constitutional interpretation on a broad range of public policy. It is true that Kennedy and to some extent Roberts occasionally deviate from this, but Justice Samuel Alito has surpassed even Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in his ideological purity.

The relevance of this to the next two elections is very clear. Four of the sitting justices are in their late 70s or older. This means that there is a strong possibility that President Obama will have a chance to appoint another justice before his term expires, but his ability to do so will be determined not simply by the health of the justices in question, but by the composition of the U.S. Senate. The increasing partisanship in the Senate, the continued virulent influence of the tea party and recent history strongly suggest that even if a vacancy occurs, Obama will be prevented from filling it (emphasis added).

Frank refers to the unceasing Republican obstructionism and argues courts are critical for defining laws that affect Americans on a daily basis, highlighting the importance of this year’s midterm elections. As he concludes in this piece,

This makes it highly likely that among the issues that will be determined in the next senatorial and presidential election will be the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. Voters should act accordingly.

PFAW

Larry Tomczak, BarbWire Celebrate Memorial Day By Questioning Obama's Faith

Larry Tomczak, pastor and pundit, celebrated Memorial Day with an open letter questioning whether the country’s Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama, is really a Christian.  Of course, implicit in Tomczak’s letter is his belief that only the right kind of Christian, according to his standards, is fit to be president of the U.S. The letter was distributed by BarbWire, Matt Barber’s home for commentary from the far right, which topped the letter with a photo of Obama in front of what appears to be a Koran, with a Communist hammer and sickle over one shoulder and a Muslim crescent over the other.

Tomczak, who has a habit of invoking the specter of Nazi Germany when he talks about the fight against LGBT equality, manages to avoid a Nazi reference in this letter. He does cite Obama’s support for gay rights and marriage equality as evidence that Obama is not a Christian. Of course, Obama has plenty of company. For Tomczak, the millions of Christians who support LGBT equality and reproductive choice aren’t real Christians; neither are Catholics who aren’t “born-again.” Tomczak portrays Catholic schools as suspect and not likely to have given Obama “correct instruction in the Christian faith.”

Tomczak argues that Obama’s “beliefs, policies, social leanings and character” suggest that Obama is not an “authentic, obedient Christian” and says the president’s bad example allows Catholics like Kathleen Sebelius, Nancy Pelosi, and Caroline Kennedy “to continue in their wayward paths.”

Tomczak’s arrogant letter is filled with faux humility. He starts by saying he wants to “humbly” ask Obama about his faith, signs off “respectfully,” and in between assures President Obama that he loves and prays for him. Tomczak expresses hope that [the far from orthodox] Abraham Lincoln will speak to Obama “from the grave” and tell him “to repent and begin exercising the courageous Christian leadership America needs before it’s too late.” And he ends by encouraging Obama to consult with Billy Graham in order to become an “authentic” Christian.

That would be the same Billy Graham who praised Mitt Romney’s values during the 2012 presidential campaign and took out full-page ads encouraging North Carolina voters to back a constitutional ban on marriage equality and any kind of civil union or domestic partnership. Graham’s ministry is now run by his son Franklin Graham, an anti-gay zealot who praises Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay efforts, says  “true” Christians cannot support marriage equality, and not only questions Obama’s faith but says his administration is “anti-Christ.”

PFAW Action Fund Endorses Will Jawando for MD-20 Delegate

People For the American Way Action Fund has announced an endorsement of William Jawando’s candidacy for Maryland District 20 Delegate as part of PFAW’s Young Elected Progressives program.

Jawando, age 31, is one of eight primary candidates for the three delegate seats, including incumbent Sheila Hixson. He grew up in the Long Branch community of Silver Spring, and currently resides in White Oak with his wife and three daughters. A former White House and Congressional staffer, he currently serves on the Montgomery County Public School’s African American Student Achievement Action Group. He also has served on the Montgomery County Commission on Juvenile Justice, the Montgomery County Nighttime Economy Taskforce, and the Montgomery County African Advisory Group.

“Will Jawando is a committed progressive leader who stands for fairness, equality, and justice for all,” said PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager. “He will be a strong progressive voice in Annapolis.”

While serving on Capitol Hill in the offices of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Sherrod Brown, and then-Senator Barack Obama, Jawando crafted and negotiated legislation to expand early childhood education programs and make college more accessible and affordable. As an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement he worked on pay equity legislation, voting rights, and justice policy. He then served as deputy director of strategic partnerships at the US Department of Education.

Previously, as director of government relations at Discovery Communications, he organized advocacy efforts among government and non-government stakeholders, national and local nonprofits, and advocacy groups. Notable achievements included a Montgomery County program to bridge digital divides in its communities and encourage more young people to study science, technology, engineering, and math. He currently is of counsel at The Raben Group, a public policy advocacy firm.

Will Jawando’s positions on women’s health, comprehensive immigration reform, public education funding, equality for all Americans, money in politics – as well as his expressed positions on a range of other issues – distinguish him as a standout young progressive candidate for Maryland District 20 Delegate.

His campaign website is http://www.jawandofordelegate.com.

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Video: PFAW's Drew Courtney Discusses Right Wing Conspiracy Theories on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton

Monday afternoon, Right Wing Watch reported on conspiracy theories by conservative talking heads Bernard Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh who claim that the shoe-throwing incident in Las Vegas was staged by Hillary Clinton so she could seem more presidential. Similarly, Mark Blitz told WorldNetDaily yesterday that the “blood moon” from Monday night was a divine warning to President Obama about his plans to use executive action and his bully pulpit in the face of GOP obstruction.

Last night, PFAW Director of Communications Drew Courtney joined Rev. Al Sharpton on Politics Nation to discuss these outrageous conspiracy theories and what they say about the GOP and the political process today:

PFAW

“Rebranded” GOP Votes for 50th Time to Undermine Obamacare

Today House Republicans led by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) voted to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. In case you haven’t been keeping track, this is the House GOP’s 50th vote to dismantle Obamacare.

In a speech last week at a DNC event, President Obama joked,

“You know what they say: 50th time is the charm. Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote, you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes, you get one free.” 

On Monday, in the wake of Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to veto her state’s anti-gay “freedom to discriminate” bill, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed that we are continually asked to believe the “new, no-nonsense Republican Party” has finally taken to heart the “dangers of embracing extremism.” However, he writes:

“…there seems to be a Grand Canyon-like gap between what everyone knows the Republican Party should do and what they actually do. Time after time, we see that they just can't help themselves. We all know the embarrassing, crazy uncle who shows up at the family reunion. It seems like all of those crazy uncles have now banded together to control the Republican Party.”

And with their 50th vote to undermine Obamacare, it seems pretty clear that the Republican Party isn’t going to be able to rein in those crazy uncles anytime soon.

 

PFAW

Presidential Commission Issues Report on Election Administration

The PCEA recommendations are indeed a welcome addition to the voting rights debate, helping us move closer to the day when every eligible voter can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts. We must keep in mind, though, that the PCEA isn't the last word on American electoral reform. Nor does the PCEA replace what the Voting Rights Act lost after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.
PFAW

Celebrating Religious Freedom

January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s approval of Thomas Jefferson’s historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a precursor to the religious liberty protections in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In this year’s Religious Freedom Day proclamation, President Barack Obama writes,

Today, America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric and reminds us that what binds us as one is not the tenets of our faiths, the colors of our skin, or the origins of our names. What makes us American is our adherence to shared ideals -- freedom, equality, justice, and our right as a people to set our own course.

America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose. In the years to come, my Administration will remain committed to promoting religious freedom, both at home and across the globe. We urge every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future.

As we observe this day, let us celebrate America's legacy of religious liberty, embrace diversity in our own communities, and resolve once more to advance religious freedom in our time.

Melissa Rogers, a widely respected advocate for religious liberty who currently serves as special assistant to the president and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also published a reflection on Religious Freedom Day.

Rogers celebrates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which passed Congress by unanimous consent in 2000 with backing from a politically and religiously diverse coalition. RLUIPA (pronounced R-loopa) has helped Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, people who practice Native American traditional religions and others protect their ability to meet and worship, and has helped people in prisons, jails, mental institutions, and state-run nursing homes preserve their religious freedom.

The values embodied in RLUIPA are universal ideals.  Department of Justice attorneys have provided technical assistance on issues involving construction of places of worship to government officials in Spain, Indonesia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other countries wrestling with these same issues.  In 2012, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee won the right to move into its new mosque with the help of a RLUIPA suit brought by the Department of Justice. On the day of the court decision, the mosque’s Imam, Sheikh Ossama Bahloul, remarked that America’s dedication to religious freedom can serve as a model for others around the world, and added:   “I think this is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the freedom and liberty that, in fact, exist in America and to teach our young people to believe even more in the U.S. Constitution.”

People For the American Way and PFAW Foundation celebrate religious freedom by working to uphold the First Amendment’s twin pillars of religious liberty: the Establishment Clause, which mandates the separation of church and state and prevents government from playing religious favorites, and the Free Exercise Clause, which protects individuals’ right to worship and exercise their faith free from government interference.

Religious liberty is central to the American Way, but it has also become a rallying cry for Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who all too often portray criticism as persecution, and policy disagreement as tyranny. That poisons our political climate.

Like other constitutional guarantees, religious liberty is fundamental but not absolute, particularly when it comes into tension with other principles like equality under the law or protecting public health. Advocates for religious freedom frequently disagree about how to apply religious liberty principles in specific cases, and where courts should draw the lines in cases balancing competing interests.  These are complex and often very contentious issues. People For the American Way Foundation’s “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics” set out principles for bringing religion and religious values into the public arena in ways that are constructive rather than divisive. 

PFAW

Anti-Gay Groups Rev Up Anti-ENDA Rhetoric As Senate Vote Nears

As RWW has been documenting, anti-gay groups have been getting wildly over the top in their denunciations of the federal Employment Non Discrimination Act, which would add to federal anti-discrimination law protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  With a procedural vote in the Senate scheduled as early as Monday evening, anti-LGBT groups are getting increasingly shrill.

On Friday night, the Family Research Council blasted out a breathtakingly dishonest alert charging that under ENDA “employers would be forced to reward workers based on their sexual preferences.” FRC’s Tony Perkins called ENDA a “republic-altering piece of legislation that has the power to fundamentally destroy Americans' First Amendment rights.”

Through ENDA (which FRC has blocked for a decade), businesses would be ordered to make hiring, firing, and promotion decisions -- not based on a person's qualifications -- but on their sexual expression. Homosexuals, cross-dressers, and transgendered workers would automatically qualify for special treatment that other workers would not. Can you imagine walking into your child's classroom and meeting a teacher dressed in drag? Neither can most Americans. But unfortunately, that's just one of the many consequences of adopting a law as dangerous as this one. Preschools, daycare centers, summer camps, religious chains like Hobby Lobby or Chick-fil-A -- they'll all be subject to the law, regardless of their personal beliefs and workplace standards.

Also on Friday, the National Organization for Marriage blasted ENDA, calling it “a Trojan horse built to attack the foundational institution of marriage between a man and a woman.”

That’s the same line taken a day earlier by Ryan Anderson, a protégé of Robert George and the Heritage Foundation’s answer to young Americans’ support for LGBT equality. Anderson wrote in National Review online that “ENDA would create special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity, backed up by coercive enforcement.” Anderson also says “ENDA would further weaken the marriage culture and the ability of civil society to affirm that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that maleness and femaleness are not arbitrary constructs but objective ways of being human.”

Anderson and others call ENDA a threat to religious liberty even though the bill in fact includes a broad exemption for religious organizations, an exemption that is broad enough to raise concerns among some backers of the law. But for Anderson, even that religious liberty exemption is “inadequate and vaguely defined.” He says ENDA would interfere with the rights of business owners to run their businesses the way they want.

That was also the theme of a hyperventilating alert send on Sunday by former military chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt warning that the Senate was preparing to vote “to punish Christian Business Owners.” He says ENDA will trample religious freedom and “will force Christians into bankruptcy and lawsuits if they refuse to hire homosexuals that oppose their corporate mission.”

In reality, ENDA has broad support in the business community and is backed by large majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Not only that, but majorities of all religious groups – including white evangelical Protestants – support laws to protect gay and lesbian people from workplace discrimination. So clearly, ENDA’s opponents do not speak for all Christians, or even all evangelical Christians, most of whom agree that fairness on the job is an American value that is worth upholding in law.

As President Barack Obama notes in an op-ed published in the Huffington Post on Sunday, ENDA is a concrete expression of America’s ideal of equality under the law:

America is at a turning point. We're not only becoming more accepting and loving as a people, we're becoming more just as a nation. But we still have a way to go before our laws are equal to our Founding ideals. As I said in my second inaugural address, our nation's journey toward equality isn't complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

In America of all places, people should be judged on the merits: on the contributions they make in their workplaces and communities, and on what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the content of their character." That's what ENDA helps us do. When Congress passes it, I will sign it into law, and our nation will be fairer and stronger for generations to come.

Tony Perkins: Totalitarian Obama Colluding with ‘Anti-Christian Extremists’ to ‘Neuter the Church’

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is out with his latest anti-Obama screed. In a fundraising letter dated July 17, Perkins slams the president and his administration for “colluding” with the Southern Poverty Law Center as part of a nefarious plan to create a totalitarian government. Perkins complains about the Justice Department utilizing SPLC’s expertise on extremist groups in training sessions; his letter includes a petition to congressional leaders calling for a formal investigation of the SPLC and its relationship with the Obama administration.

Perkins has been on the rhetorical warpath against the SPLC since it labeled FRC an anti-gay hate group for a history of false and denigrating statements about gay people. In addition, he blames the SPLC for an attack on FRC’s headquarters by a gunman last year. In the new letter, Perkins repeats those claims and ties the SPLC and the Obama administration together in a conspiracy to “sow discord, undermine the Constitution, and bully people of faith.”  Here are some excerpts from the four-page letter:

The anti-Christian crusade instigated by the SPLC has already resulted in an armed terrorist attack on Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C…

The President needs to be exposed for colluding with the SPLC to stifle debate on social policy issues by means of intimidation, fear-mongering, and spreading lies…

The majority of Americans do not agree with the President’s leftist agenda to remake our country into a socialist state ruled by a totalitarian government bureaucracy. And the President knows this. So he is using—and abusing—his presidency to steamroll the American people and implement his radical vision for America…

With less than four years left in office, President Obama is going for broke to accomplish his far-left agenda. In addition to the collusion between his administration and the SPLC, Planned Parenthood, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations, President Obama is using the bully pulpit and power of the presidency to promote abortion and same-sex “marriage” while stifling religious freedom at the same time…

This assault on religious freedom in the military is part of a wider plan to neuter the Church and its stand for the timeless values of faith, family and freedom in America…

Moreover, it’s no secret that President Obama is willing to spend your tax dollars to further his plans for legalizing same-sex “marriage”, increasing access to abortion, and silencing Christians...

We cannot side on the sidelines. We cannot close our eyes and hope this will go away. We must stand boldly, yet in love, against hate-filled anti-Christian groups who incite hatred and violence to intimidate us into silence.

Thank you in advance for standing with us in defense of what is right. With God’s grace, we will stop this pernicious evil against people of faith in America.

Given Perkins’ belief that Obama’s re-election was a symptom of “a deeper moral and spiritual problem” in America, and his willingness to promote rabid anti-Obama conspiracy theories, his new letter is not terribly surprising. But it’s good to keep in mind the next time you hear him or some other FRC spokesperson calling for more civility in the public arena.

Teavangelicals Told to Be ‘Happy Warriors’ Against Liberals, Big Govt, GOP Nay-sayers

Here’s a question for Ralph Reed and the ‘Teavangelical’ wing of the conservative movement: how can you portray yourselves as serious about governing when the keynote speakers at last week’s “Road to Majority” conference were Donald Trump and Sarah Palin?

Palin’s conference-closing remarks on Saturday featured a breathtakingly offensive joke about the Syrian civil war, which has taken an estimated 100,000 lives. She said we should just “let Allah sort it out.” Palin also had choice words for the bipartisan immigration reform bill moving through the Senate, which she dismissed as “a pandering, rewarding-the-rule-breakers, still-no-border-security, special-interest-written amnesty bill.” She was one of many conference speakers rhetorically crapping on Marco Rubio and the bipartisan “Gang of 8” reform bill and burning the bridges that conservative Latinos are trying to build.

At Friday night’s “gala” Reed bestowed a lifetime achievement award on Pat Robertson, who is increasingly difficult to take seriously, and who devoted his remarks to trashing President Obama.  Trump, who also addressed the gala, spoke mostly about his own Trumpian greatness and how Mitt Romney might have been president if he had the guts to run Trump’s anti-Obama “you’re fired” ad.  Trump shared plenty of pablum and piercing political insights, such as the Republicans needing to be “really smart” in choosing a “great candidate” in 2016. Trump also criticized the immigration reform bill as a “death wish” for the Republican Party, saying “every one of those people, and the tens of millions of people they will bring in with them, will be absolutely voting Democratic.”

There’s no question Ralph Reed still has pull. His conference opened with a luncheon featuring four Tea Party senators and he got a handful of Republican House members to speak along with former and future presidential hopefuls like Mike Huckabee, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Ted Cruz.  Rick Perry, who was introduced as a “Renaissance man,” bragged about the law he recently signed to protect the ostensibly threatened right of public school students to wish each other “Merry Christmas” Perry said, ““I hope my state is a glowing example of men and women who believe that those traditional values are how you make a stronger society.” Stronger society? Not so much.

In addition to the divide on immigration, relentless attacks on President Obama (Dick Morris said of the president, “he doesn’t care about national security”), and the unsurprising rhetoric on abortion, marriage, and supposed threats to religious liberty, there were some other major themes:

Government Bad

The conference was infused with the Tea Party’s anti-federal-government themes. Jonah Goldberg of the National Review reminded people of a video shown at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which he recalled saying the government is the one thing we all belong to.  “Now, as sort of a Tea Party-ish kind of guy, that makes me want to flip the safety on my rifle.”

Speakers urged activists to take advantage of the recent scandals surrounding the IRS, the Justice Department, and the National Security Agency. Santorum urged activists to “think big” and “seize the moment” provided by the IRS scandal. Sen. Ron Johnson said he would like Americans to apply their disgust about the scandals to the federal government in general. Rather than trying to restore faith in government, Johnson said, activists should be fostering distrust of the government.

Grover Norquist is known for his quip that he wants to shrink the government until it is small enough to drown in the bathtub.  At Road to Majority he spelled out his plan to complete the strategy he embarked on with the Bush tax cuts and the no-tax-increase pledge he demands Republican candidates sign. He noted that “thanks to the marvels of modern redistricting,” Republicans are likely to have a Republican House until 2022, which means they have several chances to get a Senate majority and a Republican in the White House before then. Whenever that happens, he says, Republicans can put the Ryan budget into law and dramatically curtail government spending. He calls it “completely doable.”

Meanwhile, he said, in the 25 states where Republicans control the legislative and executive branches, activists should push for the passage of more anti-union legislation, and for laws that encourage people to obtain concealed carry permits, home school their children, and participate in stock ownership, three things that he said make people more Republican. He called this changing the demographics by changing the rules.

Obamacare: Will it Destroy America or Obama?

House Republicans have made repealing the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” – an obsession. Rick Santorum said opposition to the law should have been the centerpiece of the 2012 campaign. And many speakers repeated the demand that the health care reform law be repealed in its entirety.  Stephen Moore, founder of the Club for Growth and a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, said repealing Obamacare is the single most important thing that has to happen in Washington over the next two years. But a number of speakers had a slightly different take, suggesting that the implementation of the complex law would be its undoing, and that public outrage at rising insurance rates would bring down the Obama administration. Dick Morris predicted Obama would be “destroyed” by the law’s implementation.

GOP: Friend or Foe?

One running theme of the conference was conservative activists’ distrust for national Republican leaders, particularly around opposition to abortion and LGBT equality. Several speakers made reference to the notorious RNC “autopsy” on the 2012 election and the perception that some party leaders want social conservatives to tone it down. Reed himself complained that while self-identified evangelicals represented 45 percent of the Republican ticket’s vote, some party leaders were saying they are the problem and should “ride in the back of the bus.” He vowed that on issue of abortion and man-woman marriage, social conservatives would not be silent, “not now, not ever.”

It’s not just Ted Cruz who mocks his fellow Republicans. Gary Bauer complained that the last two Republican nominees had a hard time talking about sanctity of life issues, and he said party officials in Washington spend too much time taking the advice of “cowardly pollsters and political consultants.”  Mike Huckabee complained that “Republicans have been, if not equal, sometimes more guilty than Democrats in thinking the brilliant thing to do would be to centralize more power in the hands of the central government.” He said he’s “sick of hearing” that people think the GOP needs to move away from a conservative message.

There was enough grumbling that when it was RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s turn to speak on Saturday, the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom official who introduced him felt a need to vouch for Priebus’s faith and commitment to conservative causes. He said angrily that it is “an absolute lie” that Priebus is not a social conservative and insisted that there is no division in the party.

Priebus started his remarks by establishing his religious credentials: “I’m a Christian. I’m a believer. God lives in my heart, and I’m for changing minds, not changing values.” He added, “I’m so grateful that we’ve got a party that prays, that we’ve got a party that puts God first, and I’m proud to be part of that.” He said he “gets it” that conservative Christians are a “blessing” to the party. He said the GOP needs to have a permanent ground game in place all across the country. 

Priebus defended his plan to shorten the presidential primary season and move the party convention from August to June from critics who call it an insider move against grassroots conservatives. It isn’t an establishment takeover, he insisted, but a way to prevent a replay of the 2012, when Romney went into the summer months broke after a long primary season but not yet able to tap general election funding.

Still, not all the conservative are convinced that national Republicans are with them.  Palin portrayed Republicans in Washington as being overly fond of government spending: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat sitting atop a bloated boot on your neck, out of control government, everyone gets infected, no party is immune. That’s why, I tell ya, I’m listening to those independents, to those libertarians who are saying, you know, it is both sides of the aisle, the leadership, the good old boys….”

Phyllis Schlafly talked about having waged internal battles to make the GOP a solidly anti-abortion Party and encouraged activists not to be seduced by talk of a conservative third party but to work within the Republican Party to make sure the right people on the ballot. Norquist insisted that activists had helped brand the GOP as the party that will not raise your taxes, and he said Republican elected officials who vote for tax increases damage the brand for everyone else. They are, he said, “rat heads in coca-cola.”

Message Envy

It might surprise many progressives, who have spent years bemoaning the effectiveness of Republicans’ emotion-laden rhetoric, that speaker after speaker complained that Democrats are so much better than Republicans at messaging.  Of course complaining about messaging is easier than admitting that there may be something about your policies that voters don’t like.

At a panel on messaging strategies, author Diane Medved said that when defending traditional marriage, she would love to say “what is it about ‘abomination’ that you don’t understand?” But she knows that won’t reach people who don’t already agree with her. She argued that conservatives should marshal the “science” that supports their positions.  She also tried out a new messaging strategy, saying that opposition to marriage equality is a feminist issue because it is empowering to women to affirm that they are different than men. “Women deserve to have credit for being who they are as a separate gender and they are not interchangeable with men.”

Ryan Anderson, co-author of a book on marriage with Robert George, the intellectual godfather of the anti-marriage-equality movement, took issue with the name of the panel, which was “Don’t Preach to the Choir.” Anderson said the choir needs to be preached to, because too many Christians are giving up on marriage. There is no such thing as parenting, he insisted, there is mothering and fathering. Anderson said that anti-marriage equality forces have only been fighting for five years, while proponents have been fighting for 20 to 30 years. “It’s not that our argument for marriage has been heard and been rejected,” he said. “It’s that it hasn’t been heard at all.”  Anderson promoted the widely discredited Regnerus study on family structures as evidence that science is on his side.

Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, encouraged activists to be careful with their rhetoric. “I don’t believe that there are very many, if any, people in this movement, certainly not in public life, who have any ill will toward the same-sex community, at all. But sometimes we say things that make it sound like we do.” If Teetsel really believes that, he needs to spend some more time actually listening to conservative religious leaders, pundits and politicians who regularly charge that gay-rights advocates are Satan-inspired sexual predators who are out to destroy faith and freedom if not western civilization itself.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy or Arguing as a Lover with Stupid Liberals

Anyone who pays attention to religious right groups has been seeing the word “winsome” a lot. Conservative evangelical leaders are well aware of polling data that shows young Christians are turned off by the anti-gay bigotry they see in the church.  So there’s a push on for everyone to make conservative arguments in a “winsome” way, to be “happy warriors” like Ronald Reagan, to be cheerful when arguing with liberals. Being cheerful was a big theme at Road to Majority. Said Rick Perry, “when we fight for our county, we need to do it with joy.” 

The Manhattan Declaration's Teetsel took this theme to new heights in the messaging panel in which he called for “arguing as a lover” when “trying to woo people over to our side”: be respectful, self-effacing, funny, give people an opportunity to save face.  But he doesn’t seem to think much of his audience, saying America is no longer a society of ideas, and that in our celebrity-crazed culture it doesn’t make sense to appeal to 18th Century sources of authority like the Federalist Papers, which “are not considered authorities in my generation. People do not care what these men in wigs thought 300 years ago.”

“We serve a God who condescended to become a man in order to share his gospel. And I think that’s an example that we can learn from. Romans 12:16 advises us, do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. So we have to bite the bullet.  We have to recognize some of these facts and condescend to watching Glee from time to time so that we can talk to people about it.”

 

As Washington Begins Debate on Gun Violence Bills, National Responses Vary

As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a package of gun violence prevention proposals this week, the current debate on the role of guns in society has led to a variety of legislative responses in D.C. and across the nation.
PFAW

New Hampshire Moves Forward With First Steps to Overturn Citizens United in Bipartisan Vote

In a bipartisan vote yesterday, the New Hampshire House passed a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of our elections and overturn Citizens United.
PFAW

Bush’s Court: How the D.C. Circuit Threatens the Future of Progressive Reform

WASHINGTON – Four years into President Obama’s presidency, he has yet to  have a single judge confirmed to the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This lapse, caused initially by a slow start from the administration but perpetuated by a blockade of obstruction in the Senate, threatens to hinder progressive advances for years to come, argues a new report from People For the American Way.

The report, AMERICA’S PROGRESS AT RISK: RESTORING BALANCE TO THE DC CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS, can be found here: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/america-s-progress-risk-restoring-balance-dc-circuit-court-appeals

“The D.C. Circuit is the most important court most Americans have never heard of,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “The D.C. Circuit’s judges have the final word on scores of federal laws each year, from air pollution controls to financial regulations to workers’ rights. Republicans have long understood this, and have packed the court with far-right ideologues who threaten to hold back American progress for decades to come.  And they have so far blocked confirmation of judges who would bring any balance to this court." 

President Obama is the first president since Woodrow Wilson to fail to have a single nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit during his first full term in office, despite the fact that four of the eleven seats on the court are now vacant. His first nominee to the court, the indisputably qualified Caitlin Halligan, was twice blocked by Senate Republicans for reasons widely recognized as spurious.

As a result, the D.C. Circuit continues to be dominated by judges pushing a right-wing ideology long rejected by the American people. The right-wing majority of the D.C. Circuit has continuously sought to dismantle progressive efforts to defend consumers, protect public health, and ensure the rights of workers. Recent D.C. Circuit decisions highlighted in the report include:

  • Noel Canning v. NLRB:  In January, the D.C. Circuit invalidated three presidential appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, undermining the Board’s ability to protect the rights of workers and giving the green light to Senate Republicans who wish to decimate any federal agency by blocking appointees.
  • EME Homer City Generation v. EPA: In 2012, the D.C. Circuit sided with utility companies to strike down EPA air pollution regulations that would have prevented an estimated 34,000 premature deaths and saved $280 billion a year in healthcare costs.
  • Business Roundtable v. SEC: In 2011, the D.C. Circuit overturned an SEC rule requiring greater accountability from corporations to their shareholders in selecting board members. One observer noted that in doing so the judges – none of them securities experts – had “waded into a political fight under the guise of dispassionate scientific oversight.”
  • RJ Reynolds Tobacco v. FDA: Last year, the D.C. Circuit ruled that FDA regulations requiring cigarette manufacturers to place graphic, factually accurate warnings on their product violated tobacco companies’ First Amendment free speech rights.
  • Hein Hettinga v. USA: George W. Bush nominee Janice Rogers Brown used a case about milk market regulation last year to issue a call to arms against eight decades of progressive reforms. Courts that have allowed the government to implement reasonable regulations of industry have, she said, put “property…at the mercy of pillagers.”

“President Obama has a chance in his second term to restore ideological balance to the D.C. Circuit,” added Marge Baker. “It is critically important that he do so. Otherwise, D.C. Circuit will continue to stand in the way of progressive reforms -- reforms chosen by American voters -- and threaten to roll back decades of hard-won protections for working people and consumers."
 

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Common Sense Gun Solutions Struggle Against Mindless NRA and GOP Opposition

The big gun lobby and its yes men in Congress, it seems, are much more interested in protecting the loose regulations of the gun industry than they are with taking practical steps towards public safety.
PFAW

Ensuring that Desiline Victor, and all Americans, Get to Have Their Say at the Polls

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama used his bully pulpit to ensure that the critically important issue of voting rights is securely on the agenda in 2013. Calling it “our most fundamental right as citizens,” the President announced the formation of a non-partisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting.

One woman who was undoubtedly pleased to hear this news was 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami, seated in the House visitors’ gallery, who had waited in line for hours to cast a ballot in November’s election.  President Obama noted that the country should follow her determined example: “As time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say,” he said.

After all, that is the issue at the core of a working democracy: whether folks get to have their say. 

Leading up to the election, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs witnessed and stood up to efforts across the country – ranging from unnecessary registration obstacles to early voting restrictions – to suppress the votes of those who have traditionally been disenfranchised: communities of color, low-income communities, and youth.  In the past two years alone, more than 65 suppressive voter ID bills were introduced in 34 states.

That’s why it is important that President Obama made it clear last night that he is serious about addressing the problems in our election system.  With increased access to early voting and an end to discriminatory voter ID laws, we can ensure that all Americans “get to have their say” at the polls.

PFAW

PFAW Calls for ‘Strong, Lasting, Comprehensive’ Reform in Senate Hearing on Immigration

“I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp.” 

Last month President Obama shared these words in a speech laying out his vision for fixing our broken immigration system. PFAW applauded the President’s approach to immigration reform, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a focus on keeping families – including LGBT families – together. 

As the national discussion around immigration reform continues, this morning PFAW submitted testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”  The testimony noted:

In 2012, Americans voted in great numbers for candidates who promised workable, common-sense solutions to our immigration crisis. Piecemeal legislation will not fix our system in the long term. Now is the time to pursue strong, lasting, comprehensive reform.

People For the American Way, our members and supporters across the country, and members of our advocacy networks urge you to create a viable comprehensive immigration reform plan that will strengthen our economic security and conform to our national values. Such a plan must provide undocumented workers already in the country with a path to citizenship so they can fully contribute to our economy and society. It must reduce the backlog of individuals seeking residency and citizenship by creating a more robust and flexible visa program. It must recognize that immigrants are an integral part of our labor force by addressing employment-based immigration needs. It must ensure strong worker protections and address our enforcement needs in a manner that is just and consistent with our existing due process and civil rights laws. And it must reunite American families by allowing US citizens or permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration to the US, a right that is currently denied based solely on their sexual orientation.


The testimony was jointly submitted by People For the American Way and its advocacy networks YP4 Action, YEO Action, and African American Ministers in Action, each of which represents communities that have experienced the strain of our broken immigration system firsthand.  The testimony explains:

YP4 Action represents youth organizers on campuses across the country, a number of whom have undocumented family members or are themselves undocumented. All of these organizers are leading efforts to create positive social change in their communities and their country, regardless of immigration status. YEO Action represents young, progressive elected officials, who feel the impact of federal immigration policy with their constituents at the state and local level. Finally, African American Ministers in Action represents a multidenominational network of African American clergy, many of whom serve as faith leaders for immigrant communities, in particular those from Africa, Haiti and the Caribbean.


In President Obama’s speech last month, he asked that we “remember that this is not just a debate about policy.  It’s about people.” By the same token, PFAW noted in its testimony that:

Our broken immigration system harms families, communities and our nation as a whole. It creates instability for families, deprives millions of working Americans of civil rights and workplace protections, and prevents many who are providing for their families, paying taxes and contributing to their communities from fully integrating into our country….Together, People For the American Way and its advocacy networks urge you to adopt a comprehensive immigration reform package that creates a healthy, practical, commonsense immigration system worthy of the country it serves.

 

PFAW

Obama Nominates Iowa’s First Ever Female Circuit Court Judge

The White House announced two new federal appeals court nominees today, Jane Kelly of Iowa to serve on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Gregory Alan Phillips of Wyoming to serve on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kelly’s nomination is notable for a number of reasons. If confirmed, she will become only the second woman ever to serve on the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees seven Midwestern states, and the first from Iowa. She would also help to bring a greater diversity of professional backgrounds to the federal bench, coming to the position after a career as a highly-regarded federal public defender.

Kelly’s nomination underscores the Obama administration’s remarkable success in bringing a diversity of voices to the federal bench. A record 41 percent of President Obama’s confirmed nominees have been women and 36 percent have been people of color. In addition, Obama has nominated more openly gay federal judges than all previous presidents combined. Despite the Senate GOP’s routine stalling of the president’s nominees, he has succeeded in bringing unprecedented gender and racial diversity to the federal bench.

Both Kelly and Phillips have been nominated to vacancies that have not yet opened up (Kelly’s vacancy opens tomorrow and Phillips’ in April). If the Senate confirms them quickly it will avoid adding two more vacancies to an already over-burdened federal court system. Promptly filling the 10th Circuit vacancy  is especially critical since the 12-judge Tenth Circuit  is on track to have vacancies in one third of its seats. A nominee for one of the three current vacancies on the circuit, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, has been waiting over seven months for a Senate vote, despite strong support from his two home-state Republican senators.

 

PFAW

PFAW Applauds President’s Inclusion of LGBT Families in Immigration Reform Proposal

WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today applauded President Obama’s proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes equal rights for same-sex couples.

“The president has proposed a common-sense and necessary approach to immigration reform, which includes protections for LGBT families,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “Any effective immigration reform must include equal rights for LGBT people. Our immigration policies must place a priority on keeping families together, including LGBT families. Too many bi-national, same-sex couples have seen their families torn apart by a federal government that refuses to recognize their relationships. That policy runs counter to our values and weakens us as a nation.”

“We are glad that President Obama recognizes the need to protect LGBT families,” added Keegan. “We will fight to make sure that all families are recognized in the final law.”

Yesterday, PFAW called a bipartisan immigration proposal from Senate, which includes a path to citizenship, "an important step in the right direction."
 

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When Everything Is Partisan, Just Do What's Right

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when Republicans started complaining that President Obama's second inaugural address was too "partisan" and lacked "outreach" across the aisle. But who was left out? What did they find "partisan"? The acknowledgement of climate science? The idea that women should receive equal pay for equal work? The nod to civil rights struggles of our past and present? The hope that no American will have to wait in hours-long lines to vote? The defense of the existence of a social safety net? The determination to offer support to the victims of a historic storm and to find real answers to the epidemic of mass shootings? In the not-too-distant past, none of these would have raised eyebrows except on the very, very far right. But I guess that's the point: what was once the radical fringe is now in control of the Grand Old Party.

In many ways, Monday's inauguration ceremony was a Tea Party Republican's nightmare-come-true. The openly gay poet. The Spanish sprinkled into the benediction. The one-two-three punch of "Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall." It was the embodiment of all that the far right has tried to wall itself off from as the country begins to include more and more of the real America in its democracy.

What would have pleased this faction, short of winning the presidential election? I imagine they would have preferred a paean to the America of their imaginations -- where the founders were flawless and prescient about the right to bear assault weapons and the Constitution was delivered, amendments included, directly from God; where there are no gay people or only silent ones, where the world is not getting warmer; where there have been no struggles in the process of forging a more perfect union. This, of course, would have been its very own kind of political statement -- and one that was just rejected by the majority of American voters.

If embracing America as it is rather than as a shimmery vision of what it never was constitutes partisanship, and if it turns off people who cling to that dishonest vision, let's have more of it.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

PFAW

Gaffney & McCarthy: Obama 'Contemptuous' of, 'Taking Out a Contract On' Constitution

The Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney and National Review columnist Andy McCarthy were unimpressed with President Obama’s second inaugural address, despite all its references to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. On yesterday’s edition of Secure Freedom Radio, McCarthy told Gaffney that the president is “taking out a contract on the Constitution as we know it.” Gaffney responded that the president “wrapped himself in a sort of nostalgia for the Constitution” while in fact being “rather contemptuous of it.”

McCarthy: I think what Obama’s trying to do -- and a lot of us who followed his career warned about this back in 2007, 2008 -- is really consummate the ambition of FDR to change the very nation of the American system, and certainly to change the nature of our constitutional framework from a charter of negative liberties, which is the protection of the American people against the adhesions and the extreme maneuvers of government, to basically a contract of the have-nots against the haves with government as the intermediary for demanding what government must do for people. With the big problem with that being, number one, what is your license to take from me, which is certainly not what the country was founded on. And number two, enough is never enough with the left. So even if you were to institute such a system it quickly becomes unsustainable.

Gaffney: Yeah, I take it you don’t mean “contract” in the sense of “taking out a contract” on somebody, but it certainly sounds as though that might be the gist.

McCarthy: It’s certainly taking out a contract, it’s taking out a contract on the Constitution as we know it.

Gaffney: Yeah. Even as we talked about with Dr. Paul Kengor earlier, and even as he wrapped himself in sort of nostalgia for the Constitution, he certainly showed himself to be rather contemptuous of it.

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