TPM Cafe: Opinion

Anyone who follows the conservative movement carefully could tell you that it’s about 25 percent politics and 75 percent mail-order scam. For more than half a century now, charlatans passing themselves off as conservative leaders have exploited ordinary conservatives’ anxiety about a changing America to collect addresses and now email lists in order to sell snake oil and raise funds that followers believe are going to political causes but frequently just line the pockets of the con artists. The conservative tendency to con their own people occasionally piques the interest of the liberal media. Media Matters, for instance, has run exposes on how conservative luminaries like Mike Huckabee and Scott Brown sold their mailing lists to con artists peddling fake “cures” for Alzheimer’s and cancer. Rachel Maddow has been reporting for years on how Newt Gingrich scams money off his followers through direct mail offers of “awards” and by trying to rope them into fraudulent investments.

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Prophecies of big, realigning political trends are perilous. Kevin Phillips’ classic 1969 work, The Emerging Republican Majority, was all but discarded after Watergate, the Nixon resignation and the 1974 Democratic landslide made its title (if not its analysis) look foolish. Similarly, The Emerging Democratic Majority, the mirror-image “sequel” to Phillips’ work from John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, had the misfortune of being published in 2002, when Republicans were on the brink of winning a rare midterm win for a presidential party and Karl Rove was popularizing his own theories of how Republicans could consolidate a stable majority. But just as Phillips seemed vindicated by the political trends of the eighties, Judis and Teixeira had their moment of prophetic celebrity in 2008, when the Democratic coalition they had projected appeared in full bloom in the form of Barack Obama.

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While it hasn’t yet made significant inroads into mainstream D.C. political coverage, Congress’ push to reform No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has continued over the last several weeks. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, recently backed away from his first 2015 effort at rewriting the bill and invited committee Democrats to join him at the drafting table.

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Whatever your take on the historical accuracy or fairness of the LBJ-MLK sequences in Selma, those scenes remind us of a key fact: that a presidency is defined far more by conversation than by isolated action. From elementary school on, it seems to be all about those individual figures: their portraits in sequence, their faces on Mount Rushmore, their names memorized and associated with policies and controversies. Yet just as Johnson and his administration were so deeply connected to King, so too should we remember all our presidents—and especially our most famous ones—through the conversations that helped shape them and their eras. Here are three under-remembered examples, from three of those Rushmore icons.

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Craig Hicks, the Chapel Hill, N.C. man who has confessed to the murder of three young Muslim American students, has been defined in news stories most consistently through two attributes: his vocal atheism and his passionate support for gun rights.

Yet the #muslimlivesmatter hashtag that emerged right after the shootings and the father of two of the victims have painted a portrait of a man defined more by Islamophobia than by anything else. Islamophobia is a real and important issue, whatever role in played in Hicks’ actions. But a little history shows that the story of Muslims in America is longstanding and complex—and that they have not always been rejected nor excluded by the white, Christian majority, even in the Carolinas.

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It’s not that we didn’t know what we had until it was gone. No, we all knew what we had in David Carr. We had a compass. As an industry, as a community of media makers, we had a person we trusted to orient us — morally, intellectually, critically, comedically. And we trusted him to be a voice on our behalf, choosing what was important to communicate about the systems and characters that make the press go, and doing so with an absence of bullshit and a fullness of humanity.

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I really don't want to have to write this. I don't want to say that The Daily Show "needs to," "has to," "would be wise to, "must," "will hopefully" hire a female comedian to replace the irreplaceable Jon Stewart.

I'm not reluctant because I don't want a female host. I know that the argument that women just aren't as funny as men is absurd. As a female comedian, I get to spend time with lots of funny and smart ladies and I am confident that The Daily Show could find a hilarious woman to host the show. But I wish I didn't have to urge them to.

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At the latest National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama made some comments that, despite being objectively true, nonetheless kicked off the latest round of outrage-mongering on the right. Faith, he said, can inspire “people to lift up one another,” but it can also be “used as a weapon.” He also said this tendency is not unique to any faith, but happens across the board, citing many examples of Christians using their religion to perpetuate evils like slavery, the Crusades and Jim Crow.

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On March 4, the Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in the latest legal attack on the Affordable Care Act in a case dubbed King v. Burwell. The plaintiffs are advancing an argument against federal subsidies for health insurance that is almost comical in its bad faith, but even if the justices eventually decide not to sign off on pretzel logic, the fact that King got this far in the first place should cause us all to worry. This case represents the final dissolution of the once-formidable wall between serious conservatives and the mouth-breathers who worry that fluoride is a mind control agent created by communists.

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Most of the public controversy over the president’s remarks at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast involved his reminder that Muslims were not alone in harboring “sinful tendenc[ies] that can pervert and distort our faith.” By invoking the Crusades and the Inquisition as examples of violent and intolerant Christian iniquity, Obama provoked a few conservatives into actual defenses of these phenomena, including some that sought to reinforce the idea of an irrepressible conflict between Christianity and Islam. There’s little question the president was in part motivated by a desire to respond to almost constant conservative complaints about his unwillingness to identify terrorism with Islam.

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Want to contribute to TPM Cafe? Email ideas for your pieces to us at talk@talkingpointsmemo.com

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