Placating Extremists

When nations fail to denounce their radical extremists, they risk being defined by them.

In an instant, an already contentious and acerbic presidential campaign season, principally driven by economic issues, shifted focus to the mounting foreign policy crisis playing out across the Middle East and North Africa region, and descended into an even darker place.

A protester in Cairo throws a rock at police as demonstrations over a video insulting the Prophet Muhammad continued. Egypt's president criticized the use of violence in the protests.

A protester in Cairo throws a rock at police as demonstrations over a video insulting the Prophet Muhammad continued. Egypt’s president criticized the use of violence in the protests. (Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” said presidential candidate Mitt Romney late Tuesday evening, shortly after news broke that a diplomat in Libya lost his life during an attack on the Libyan consulate.

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” continued Romney. At the time of Romney’s statement, news of the assassination of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others in the attacks on the Benghazi compound had not yet been reported.

The administration’s response that Romney was referring to was actually a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which published the remarks prior to the demonstrations against a deplorable amateur film produced in the United States that ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed. Specifically, the part of the statement that aroused the ire of Romney was the embassy’s condemnation of “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” According to Reuters, “the embassy’s statement was an apparent attempt to ease tensions in Cairo before protesters got out of hand.”

Shortly after Romney’s comments, we learned that the embassy’s statement had neither been approved by the administration nor the State Department, but was posted to the embassy’s website by an individual who had been explicitly instructed not to do so.   In fact, Obama issued a statement disavowing the embassy’s release at 10:10 p.m., fourteen minutes before Romney characterized it as the administration’s response.

Despite those orders, senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz issued the release and repeatedly publicized and defended the statement via Twitter in an attempt to quell the  protests outside the embassy’s gates. While Schwartz’s actions were questionable, Romney’s were inexcusable.

In what President Obama aptly described as a “shoot first, aim later” response, Romney erroneously characterized the embassy’s release as the administration’s initial reaction to the attacks on our diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya. Disturbingly, he doubled down on his statements even after reports had surfaced that administration had no knowledge of the release prior to its issuance, saying “I think it’s a terrible course for America to apologize for our values.”

This was conceivably the most disturbing aspect of Romney’s response to the crisis, and indicative of what has tarnished the United States’ reputation abroad. Assuming, as Romney had, that the statement was Obama’s decree, for what values, exactly, did the president apologize? Was it the condemnation of those who intentionally seek to offend others who hold certain religious beliefs? Of course we believe in every citizen’s right to freedom of speech, but does that prohibit us from the same right to deride those who exercise it in morally objectionable ways?

Or perhaps it was the defense of Muslims. Even as Romney was being lambasted by the media for his reactionary remarks, and as his GOP colleagues on the Hill seemingly left him hanging out to dry, Sarah Palin echoed Romney’s statements on Facebook, saying that the embassy “went so far as to chastise those who use free speech to ‘hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.’ Funny, the current administration has no problem hurting the ‘religious feelings’ of Catholics.”

She continued to say that “we already know that President Obama likes to ‘speak softly’ to our enemies. If he doesn’t have a ‘big stick’ to carry, maybe it’s time for him to grow one.” The post has been “liked” by nearly 3.5 million people.

A Libyan woman holds a sign that reads "Thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi nor Islam"

Courtesy of Global Voices

Both here in the United States and throughout the Middle East, we risk being defined by the most extreme contingents within our citizenry when we fail to denounce them with expedience and resoluteness. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi fell into that trap when he immediately called on the U.S. to prosecute those responsible for the production of the offensive film that sparked the demonstrations, while taking days to condemn those who stormed the embassy. Romney made the same mistake when he failed to chastise the makers of the film, while attacking those who would demonstrate against it and the President for his supposed sympathy for the demonstrators.

The crux of the issue is not Romney’s gaffe, nor is it the spread of these mass protests to a dozen countries across the region. It’s a more insidious problem. The simple truth is that in America, there is a perception that the entirety of the Middle East is anti-America, while in the Middle East, there is a perception that America is anti-Islam. And we encourage this perception when we not only fail to denounce those who spew hateful rhetoric about Islam, but encourage their participation in our most mainstream political dialogues. When we do not repudiate those who denigrate our president by falsely claiming he is a Muslim as a means of attack, how are Muslims across the world supposed to perceive us?

This is not to argue that we should limit what anyone can say or how they should say it. Rather, we have a moral obligation to proclaim to all who are willing to listen that their hateful beliefs and ideals do not represent us as a whole. We should always defend the right to free speech, but we should also always counter hate speech with a full-throated rebuke. Until we demonstrate that we are capable of doing just that, the world will continue to view our self-proclaimed moral superiority with great skepticism, and we can anticipate more events like the ones we have witnessed this week to unfold.

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Filed under International, Middle East, National Politics

Death Penalty for Having an Abortion?

Republican Legislators Advocate Extreme and Dangerous Measures While Pushing Pro-Life Agenda

Man carries cross while demonstrating against Planned Parenthood

Courtesy of Mother Jones

Hypothetical. You just stepped on a landmine and the explosion blew off your leg.  As you lay in a hospital bed, you struggle to grasp the long-term impact that this trauma will have on the rest of your life.  Physically, you’re ailing.  You can’t imagine what it will be like without the leg that you’d never anticipated living without.  Emotionally, you’re distressed.  How will the world judge you?  Will your condition elicit stares of revulsion from strangers?  Are you psychologically prepared to tackle the challenges you now face as a one-legged person?

As you’re processing all of these questions, a person knocks on the door to your hospital room and introduces himself as an agent of the government tasked with investigating your case.  You ask him the purpose of his visit.  He says that the law requires that within 72 hours of your injury, he must be dispatched to determine whether or not you planted the landmine that blew up your leg, and if he concludes that you knowingly played role in your injury, you could be subject to life in prison or execution.  Tell me, are you pissed off right now?

Nebraska man holding sign that reads "A Person's a Person No Matter How Small"

Courtesy of Huffington Post

A similar scenario, with much higher stakes and ramifications, could actually play out thousands of times every year in Georgia if House Bill 1 is passed.  Introduced by Rep. Bobby Franklin, the bill would require that any woman who has had a miscarriage report the incident to authorities within 72 hours of its occurrence.  At that point, an investigator will be dispatched to determine the cause of death, and if the mother cannot prove that there was no “human involvement,” then she can be charged with “prenatal murder,” which carries the penalty of death or life behind bars.

As a man, I will never have to experience the gut wrenching emotional toll that a miscarriage takes on a woman.  I will never know what it’s like to have to grasp the reality that a life I was creating has been lost due to chance or trauma. Despite never being able to fully understand the pain of this moment, I can sure as hell tell you that the last thing I’d want in that situation is someone forcing me to prove my innocence within three days of losing my child.

Rep. Franklin’s proposed legislation, which thankfully, will likely be rejected, is one of the more detestable examples of a growing anti-abortion movement that’s picked up steam since the midterm elections.  Representatives sent to Washington with the explicit directive of overseeing fiscal reform are taking advantage of their newfound majority by implementing radical, socially conservative initiatives into the national and state agendas.

 

Bills were proposed in Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa that would make killing someone doing harm to a fetus a “justifiable homicide.”  In layman’s terms, this would mean that someone would be protected by law if they murdered a doctor to prevent him from performing an abortion.  The bill in South Dakota, introduced by Rep. Phil Jensen, was shelved last week after Jensen said it needed revisions and was being taken out of context.  He contended that the bill was purposed to protect pregnant women against third party threats, allowing only the pregnant women, their husbands, their parents and their children to commit “justifiable homicide” in their defense.

 

Americans United for Life Logo

Courtesy of LifeNews.com

The Nebraska bill, however, which has not been tabled, goes much farther, allowing third parties to commit “justifiable homicide” to protect unborn fetuses.  All of these legislators were approached by Americans United for Life (AUL), which has delivered its version of the “justified homicide” legislation to each of them as part of its anti-abortion campaign. Experts warn that this type of legislation carries a very real potential to incite violence.

“‘In short, this bill authorizes and protects vigilantes, and that’s something that’s unprecedented in our society,’ Melissa Grant of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland told the Nebraska legislature’s judiciary committee on Wednesday. Specifically, she warned, it could be used to target Planned Parenthood’s patients and personnel. Also testifying in opposition to the bill was David Baker, the deputy chief executive officer of the Omaha police department, who said, ‘We share the same fears…that this could be used to incite violence against abortion providers.’” – Mother Jones, February 24, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  My home state of Virginia passed legislation that requires all offices, clinics and centers that perform first-trimester abortions to be regulated as hospitals.  Experts argue that this is the strictest abortion regulation in the country, and it could lead to the shutdown of 17 of Virginia’s 21 abortion clinics.  Proponents of the legislation said that abortion clinics should be held to hospital standards to ensure safety standards.  This argument falls flat, however, when you consider the fact that plastic surgery centers are not required to meet these criteria.

 

Billboard reads "the most dangerous place for an African American child is in the womb"

Courtesy of BV Black Spin

Legislation isn’t the only war front on the anti-abortion battlefield.  Last week, a Texas-based anti-abortion group sponsored a billboard ad in New York City that read “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”  Aside from relying on some very debatable statistics and making overreaching assumptions, the billboard – erected during Black History Month – was distasteful and designed to be painful to black women who have had abortions.

These deplorable tactics being used by the conservative right to try to revive the abortion debate are at best extreme, and at worse, dangerous.  Considering the legalization of “justifiable homicide” as a way to deter women from exercising their rights to abortions constitutionally guaranteed to them by Roe v. Wade is unethical, reprehensible and un-American.

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Filed under Abortion, National Politics, Tea Party

The Tea Party is Almost Dead

I urge members of the Tea Party to actually read this before posting angry responses

Is there anything quite as fickle as public opinion?  It’s an unwieldy monster that ebbs and flows with tenacity at the slightest provocation, dangerous not for its volatility, but rather for its ability to substantively change our national agenda. The founders knew this.  It’s why they purposefully designed our three branches of government to be almost intolerably deliberative, requiring that everything one branch produces be able to pass litmus tests conducted (very slowly) by the other two branches.

Tea Party Rally

Courtesy of Politico

This designed institutional inconvenience was one of the wiser concepts implemented by our Founding Fathers.  They knew the potential dangers in getting carried away by our collective emotions.  I’m in the business of public relations.  No one knows better than I how powerful a motivator public opinion can be.

You often hear people criticize President Obama for his mild manner.  Detractors either wish he’d be more assertive and confrontational or believe that his coolness is really just a manifestation of incompetence or indecisiveness.  I’m in neither of those camps.  On the contrary, I believe that Obama’s propensity to be contemplative and even keeled is actually a shrewd political tactic.  It’s a tactic designed to allow him to outlast a political movement that many predicted would see to his political demise.  Instead, it was the inability of this movement to remain composed and contemplative that will soon lead to its eventual death; the death of the Tea Party.

Tea was so last year. Time to start a coffee party

The TEA Party, which stands for the Taxed Enough Already Party, is the manifestation of people’s shared anger, confusion and the want for resolve.  It was a group founded in response to a single issue: The Great Recession.  It has since evolved into another entity entirely that no one can seem to define, including the group itself.  Quarrelsome factions exist within its upper ranks because the party was conceived in a rush to judgment, with all of its members wanting a solution to their shared problem,  but with nobody knowing exactly how to solve it.

Under the moniker of “Taxed Enough Already,” some within the group have attempted to incorporate divisive social agendas into the party’s platform.  This has alienated the previously Independent members by forcing them to align with issues that kept them out of the Republican Party in the first place.  There is still a strong contingent of people within the party who only care about reforming our national fiscal policies and balancing the budget.  The idea of championing sweeping social reforms that are premised on significant religious undertones does not resonate with these people.  As a result, this faction has gradually shied away from the Tea Party label, wishing they’d never renounced their independence from organized political parties.

We Are Tea'd

Courtesy of "Brian Dennert here"

Roughly one year ago, when things looked bleakest for the Democrats, I remember standing in the kitchen with my father discussing the impact this new Tea Party would have on our politics.  Its rise to prominence had turned our conventional understanding of the political spectrum completely on its axis, and no one knew what the end result would be.  One thing was for sure: Democrats were scared.

The times, they are a changin

Tea Partiers were calling for a political genocide, which admittedly, they accomplished by effectively voting out some of Washington’s most tenured congressmen.  They took the position that the institution of government had been perverted over time, leading a grassroots initiative that resolved to restore integrity to the system.

The differences in how we view the role of government aside, this was a noble, honest endeavor.  However, the Tea Party of a year ago is not the same Tea Party that we see today. It hit the same roadblock that every third party inevitably runs into in a system that can only support two legitimate parties, that roadblock being staying power.

The Tea Party gobbled up everyone who was willing to defect from their political loyalties early in its grass roots campaign.  The unfortunate thing about a grassroots movement is that it starts out as a movement, an interesting and exciting thing to join, but as time goes on, it becomes an institution.  Institutions are much less appealing.  So unappealing, in fact, that we’ve limited ourselves to only two of them: the Democratic institution and the Republican institution.

The Tea Party will soon realize that in order to have a lasting impact, it’s going to have to succumb to the same fate as every third party before it.  It will have to allow itself to be absorbed into the GOP, hoping that in the best of scenarios, it can move the needle that dictates the Republican Party’s agenda slightly towards the position it aligned itself with on the political spectrum.

Tea Party Protesters

Courtesy of The Washington Independent

Hint: The answer to the poll question is no

Third parties cannot succeed if they target our two biggest parties by contending that they should be considered of equal status. It’s like having a six year old who made his first bologna sandwich last week say to a world class chef  “your cooking ain’t so great. You could learn a thing or two from me.”

What role will the Tea Party play in our national history?  Honestly, not much of one.  It will move the GOP base further to the right once it’s been completely absorbed, the same way the Green Party moved the needle slightly left when it was consumed by the Democratic Party.  Sure, it’ll survive– in name, mostly.  But it will never again be a real player.  Three years from now, no one will be talking about the Tea Party.

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Filed under National Politics, Public Relations, Tea Party

So Obviously I Never Wrote a Post-Election Blog…

Or, for that matter, anything since October (well, if we’re being honest, September).  My bad.  We’ve all had moments where our already chaotic pace of life hits the afterburners and kicks into the realm of unmanageable.  In those moments, something has to give. For me, it was this blog.

Please forgive me.

C'mon, you can't stay mad at me for long. I even whipped out the puppy dog eyes to get you to forgive me.

I always feel guilty when I neglect The Beltway Perspective, but I’ve never felt worse than now.  Prior to this latest lapse, I had never let a month go by without posting something.  Often, even that schedule proved too infrequent for my liking, but failing to publish anything for the better part of five months is inexcusable.

I neglected a loyal contingent of fans and friends who enjoyed The Beltway Perspective for its value as a forum that allowed people across the entire political spectrum to have civil, intellectual debates about our country’s most pressing issues.

My Shitzu

If my puppy dog eyes weren't good enough... I'd like to say that this is a picture of my dog bored because The Beltway Perspective was on hiatus, but in reality, he was just tired.

Mea culpa.  Lets move past this bump in the road in our shared history together.  It’s time to rekindle those old feelings that brought us together in the first place.

 

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Elections are Just Two Days Away

Check back in a few days for a blog post breaking down what promises to be an eventful election night. See you then!

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Beck Caught “Redistributing” Two Year Old Lie

Fox News was Heavily Criticized in 2008 for Misrepresenting Obama Quote.  Glenn Beck Does it Again Tuesday Night.

Glenn Beck

Courtesy of CBS News

One of my initial goals for “Holding Glenn Beck Accountable Week” was to take the first quote that Beck displayed at the beginning of one of his programs and determine whether or not it was presented in an honest context.  I had my suspicions that Beck distorts the context of most of the quotes that he throws up on his nifty video screen, but I wanted to test my theory.  I decided to use the first quote he displayed on his show Tuesday and report on it no matter the outcome.  Yes, that means that if it was an honest description of whatever the person being quoted had said, I would have been forced to acknowledge that Beck was right.  However, that scenario was not to unfold.

Beck started Tuesday’s show by proclaiming that he wanted to have “a reasoned conversation” with America about the 10.2.10 One Nation Working Together rally in D.C.  He concluded this “reasoned conversation” by exclaiming that Obama is in fact a Marxist communist dictator who plans to, someday soon, overthrow our Republic’s form of democracy and replace it with a tyrannical form of socialism.  I’d love to get into why that statement is ludicrous, but I need to stick with my stated agenda.

“Quite honestly, I feel stupid when I say communist.  Two years ago, I didn’t even think… I mean, I wouldn’t have believed half of this stuff.  I don’t want to believe it now,” Beck began.  He continued, “During the election, 2008, some people were questioning whether or not Barack Obama were a socialist.  There was some strong evidence.  His past associations and his own words.”

Beck then displayed the following quote from President Obama:

“I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of powers through which you bring about redistributive change.”

Sounds pretty damning, right?  I’ll be completely honest with you – I was shocked when I saw that statement.  I thought to myself “maybe Beck is onto something here that I’m not seeing.”  Then I stopped drinking the Kool-Aid and started doing my homework, as Beck encourages his audience to do.

Perhaps we should give Obama’s statement a little bit of context.  The quote is taken from a comment that Obama made while on a Chicago Public Radio broadcast in 2001 during a discussion about the civil rights movement.  The first video contains Obama’s original, unedited quote.  The second video, which contains a statement from Obama that came less than three minutes after the first quote, shows that Obama does not believe the courts should be in the business of mandating redistributive change.  I’ve provided a link to the entire broadcast here (click on the audio link next to January 18, 2001), but the audio clips below occurred between minutes 42 and 47 of the broadcast.

After the Drudge Report, Fox News and magazine columnists misrepresented the quote back in 2008 (while Obama was running for president), Chicago Public Radio’s Ben Calhoun posted the audio along with a statement intended to set the record straight.

“The twist here is that, when heard in the context of the whole show, Obama’s position is distinctly misrepresented by the You Tube posting. Taken in context, Obama is evaluating the historical successes and failures of the Civil Rights movement—and, ironically, he says the Supreme Court was a failure in cases that it took on a role of redistributing resources.”

Here’s the YouTube video that sparked the controversy.

The corrective statement disseminated by Chicago Public Radio to set the record straight was targeted at Beck’s own news organization two years before Tuesday’s broadcast.  Do you mean to tell me that there wasn’t a single producer or research assistant that remembered Calhoun excoriating them the first time they got it wrong?

Beck concluded yesterday’s show by criticizing Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) for misrepresenting a statement Republican challenger Daniel Webster made in a campaign ad.  Those in glass houses…well, you know the rest.  That said, Grayson’s ad was despicable, misleading and slanderous.  Referring to your opponent as “Taliban Dan” is disgraceful.

Scroll to the end of the video for Beck’s statement regarding Grayson.

Beck’s audacity is shocking.  To criticize Grayson for slandering his opponent’s character in ads that ran in a district of 639,000 people when he did the same thing to Obama in front of his 1.7 million viewers is disgracefully hypocritical.  Sorry to micro-focus today, but this really needed to be reported.

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Filed under Investigative Journalism, National Politics, Public Relations

Holding Glenn Beck Accountable Week

Cass Sustein

Courtesy of therightperspective.org

Beck Calls Cass Sustein the Most Dangerous Man in America

Here’s the second part of yesterday’s post covering Monday’s episode.  I’ve decided to go a bit unconventional today, so I’ve posted a video blog in place of my normal written post.  Let me know if you like this format and whether or not you’d like me to publish more vlogs in the future.

Please don’t forget to comment below, and use the has tag #WOB (Week of Beck) to discuss Holding Glenn Beck Accountable Week on Twitter.

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