Political Animal

Wingnuttery Loses, Equality Wins

In a time when there’s a limited supply of good news, this moment was a relief—and a blessing.

A solid majority of Australians voted in favor of same-sex marriage in a historic survey that, while not binding, paves the way for Parliament to legally recognize the unions of gay and lesbian couples.

Of 12.7 million Australians who took part in the government survey, 61.6 percent voted yes and 38.4 percent voted no, officials announced on Wednesday morning. Participation was high, with 79.5 percent of voting-age Australians sending back their postal ballots.

“The Australian people have spoken, and they have voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’ for marriage equality,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who called the survey in a move described by advocates as a delay tactic devised to appease his party’s far-right faction. “They voted ‘yes’ for fairness, they voted ‘yes’ for commitment, they voted ‘yes’ for love.”

The high turnout and unequivocal result amounted to a rebuke for Australia’s most conservative politicians, many of whom saw a majority of their constituents vote to support same-sex marriage despite their arguments against it.

Proponents of gay rights spent the day celebrating. They gathered in cities around the country to watch news broadcasts of the survey results. The largest crowd, at Prince Alfred Park in Sydney, broke into cheers, with hugs, dancing and tears, as soon as the news was announced.

I was stunned that the New York Times placed the story of this historic win on page A4 of their print edition on Wednesday; this moment absolutely merited front-page, above-the-fold placement. Had this vote gone the other way, it would have been a massive propaganda victory for the international right, a de facto hate crime committed against LGBTQ residents not only in Australia but around the world.

Yes, human rights should not have been put up to a vote. Having said that, it was a tremendous joy to see that every state in Australia voted in favor of equality, something that never would have happened in the United States. Even with religious wingnuts in Australia doing everything within their considerable power to secure a “No” victory, the real forces of righteousness still won.

Of course, the scope of their victory will be decided by Australia’s Parliament:

Factions within [Parliament] are now arguing over the drafting of a new marriage law.

Conservatives wanted explicit provisions protecting businesses and organizations that refuse to service or participate in gay weddings on moral or religious grounds. Moderates, with Turnbull’s backing, seem likely to limit the protections to churches and marriage celebrants…

Bakeries in Australia would be allowed to display signs saying they do not serve gay couples as a matter of conscience, under the conservatives’ proposal. Parents could withdraw their children from state-run schools that teach them about gay sex, too.

Critics said the measures are unnecessary, in part because of existing laws protecting religion expression and the fact that areas with large numbers of Christians voted for same-sex marriage, suggesting they don’t feel much threat to their religion practice.

“The churches are misguided because they are putting existing privileges at risk by arguing for an extension of religious privilege, which risks a backlash,” Peter Sherlock, the president of the Melbourne-based University of Divinity, said in an interview.

It’s a backlash the wingnuts deserve. The winds of equality are always preferable to the stale air of homophobia. The wisdom that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court demonstrated fourteen years ago is now being demonstrated in enlightened country after enlightened country. Equality just makes common sense. The case of marriage equality is flawless in its logic: people should have the right to marry who they love. Period.

As was the case in Massachusetts after the state Supreme Judicial Court recognized marriage equality, my heart breaks for members of the LBGTQ community in Australia who didn’t live long enough to see this moment, who didn’t have a chance to marry the men and women they loved. Think about how many LGBTQ Australians effectively died of broken hearts, scorned by a government that wouldn’t recognize their inherent dignity, demonized by churches that spat upon them as deviants, mistreated by those who refused to rise above bigotry. They died because of hate. They never lived to see love.

I feared the result of this postal survey would be negative. I feared that the same prejudice that stymied the expansion of marriage rights to same-sex couples in the United States for years would also manifest itself in Australia. I was wrong. Sometimes, the right thing happens. Sometimes—not nearly often enough in this world, but sometimes—love and justice really do win.

Moore’s the Pity: The Moral Horror of Alabama’s GOP Senate Nominee

C’mon. Despite the revelations of this past week, despite the polls showing his Democratic opponent ahead (remember those polls last November showing Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump?), you might as well start calling him Senator Moore right now.

It seemingly still has not dawned upon rational and logical Americans just how deep the rabbit hole of irrationality and illogic really is in this country. There is still this Pollyannish belief out there that finally, the levees of right-wing epistemic closure will be breached, and the seriousness of the allegations against Alabama US Senate candidate Roy Moore will cause even the most conservative of conservatives to wake up.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

Rational America sees Roy Moore for what he is: a repulsive bigot who likely preyed on young children. Irrational America–Republican America –sees Moore far differently: as a warrior against “political correctness,” as a crusader against “baby-killers,” as a scold of “sodomites.” They want him. They love him. He is their man.

MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle declared on Monday that Moore’s continued support in Alabama was “perverse.” Of course, voting Republican as a whole is perverse, yet millions of Americans, in Alabama and elsewhere, continue to do it.

That same day, Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity that there is a “lynch mob” after Moore. How many Republicans think the exact same way? How many Republicans, in Alabama and elsewhere, view the Washington Post and all of Moore’s Democratic and Republican critics as allies of the “deep state” devoted to stopping an iconoclast determined to “shake things up” in Washington?

Does anyone seriously believe that Moore won’t win? Does anyone seriously believe that once he wins, the Senate will expel him? It’s impossible to envision Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and “establishment” GOP Senators being willing to risk the wrath of the right-wing media colossus by actually expelling Moore in the event the alleged pervert defeats Democratic opponent Doug Jones on December 12.

If Moore wins, it won’t be long before he cements his place in history as the single worst US Senator of the post-WWII era—worse than even Jesse Helms or James Inhofe. Moore would be Steve Bannon and Pat Buchanan combined into one, a man of the highest self-regard and the lowest character. What slurs would he hurl towards Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker (and, if he crosses Moore, even fellow Republican Tim Scott)? What crude misogynistic insults will he spew at Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Maria Cantwell? What level of demagoguery towards the press will he stoop to?

In all likelihood, we’ll find the answers to those questions soon enough. Yes, it’s a bit cynical to assume Jones is ultimately doomed, but only just a bit. This is, after all, the state that sent Jeff Sessions to the US Senate ten years after he was deemed too racist to be a federal judge–and kept him in the Senate for three subsequent terms.

One wants to believe that somewhere, there’s a conscience inside Alabama Republicans who are considering voting for Moore. One wants to believe that there is an internal voice of sanity urging them not to support the alleged pedophile, not to back the bigot, not to hug the homophobe. One wants to believe that they will be touched by the better angels of their nature. However, that belief is, within the context of modern American politics, profoundly naive. The hatred among Alabama Republicans for people they regard as undesirables simply runs too damn deep. Doug Jones is certainly a noble and well-qualified public servant who’s doing quite well in polls close to a special US Senate election. So was Martha Coakley, and we all saw how that one turned out.

Quick Takes: Is Trump Planning to Go After Social Security and Medicare?

* Steve Benen picked up on something that is going to come as a big surprise to an awful lot of people. It starts with this statement from Trump during his meeting with House Republicans yesterday.

Trump thanked party leaders, expressed optimism about the Senate bill, and said he believed that Congress ought to move to “welfare reform” after completing the tax bill, according to several members in the room.

Benen explains that “welfare reform” means something different to this president than most people assume. He’s not talking about making changes to the TANF program, as happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Instead, what welfare reform means to this president was telegraphed when John Harwood interviewed Gary Cohn.

HARWOOD: Are you thinking that you’ll deal with that Social Security/Medicare/baby boomer retirement issue later by entitlement reform that reduces benefits?

COHN: Look, the president on the economic front laid out three core principles. Number one was [regulatory] reform, number two was taxes and number three was infrastructure. We’re working our way methodically through [regulatory] reform, taxes and infrastructure. I think when he gets done with those, I think welfare is going to come up. That’s our near-term economic agenda right now.

Benen writes, “Note how ‘welfare’ came in response to a question about social-insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare.” If he’s right, that would be yuuuuuge.

* At today’s press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether it would be fair to investigate Trump for sexual misconduct, given that Sen. Al Franken will be investigated.

Of course Sanders says “no,” the president shouldn’t be investigated. When asked to explain the difference between the two situations, she said that Franken had admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t.

Imagine what that kind of approach would mean if generally applied. If the accused admits guilt, he is investigated. But if he denies the allegations and says that his accusers are lying, he gets a pass.

* I’m going to assert a point of personal privilege and talk about something that really has me pissed off. Cameron Joseph talked to former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman about the allegations against Al Franken.

The man that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) defeated in his 2008 race told TPM Friday that one of the closest Senate races in history likely would have gone his way had Franken’s sexual harassment been public at the time.

“You’ve got to believe that photo is worth more than 312 votes,” former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) told TPM Friday morning, highlighting the exact margin of his 2008 loss to Franken a day after newscaster Leeann Tweeden came forward to accuse Franken of sexual misconduct in 2006 — and included photo evidence.

Cameron goes on to say that Coleman is right, “he would have remained in the Senate if the accusations against Franken had come out before the election.” I’m not here to dispute that.

But what is missing from all of that is what most Minnesotans know, but hasn’t been reported. Ever since he ran against Wellstone in 2002, it has been common knowledge in this state that Norm Coleman has a long history of sexual harassment. I have spoken directly to one of his victims myself. It was the talk of the town in 2002. A reporter I knew at the time who worked at the largest daily newspaper in the state told me that every media outlet in the state had the story. But since no one was willing to go on record with an accusation, they didn’t publish anything.

So it goes both ways Mr. Coleman. If women had been willing to tell their stories, your sorry ass would have never filled the seat occupied by Paul Wellstone – even before you got beat by Franken.

* This video of a tense exchange between Senators Sherrod Brown and Orin Hatch over the Republican tax cut bill is the talk of the town today.

* I mentioned earlier that one of the signs of a possible blue wave in 2018 is the generic ballot. Harry Enten wrote that when it comes to predicting the national House vote, the generic ballot is “about as accurate as the final national presidential polls before a presidential election.” In case you’re interested, FiveThirtyEight has a generic ballot tracker. As I write this, it shows Democrats at +11, which exceeds the +8 that David Wasserman says would indicate a wave election.

* This time next week we’ll all be trying to recover from turkey tryptophan (just kidding, I know its a myth). But that means that we’re heading into the heart of the holiday season war on Christmas. Of course, Fox News is already on it with a story about how the hands in the upper left corner of this Starbucks holiday cup are “lesbian.”

* Finally, one of the things I hope to do this weekend is watch the HBO documentary “Baltimore Rising.”

Trump About to Be Hit With a Legal Tidal Wave

Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson makes some good points.

I spent part of my convalescence from a recent illness reading some of the comprehensive timelines of the Russia investigation… In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.

What are the implications? President Trump and others in his administration are about to be hit by a legal tidal wave. We look at the Russia scandal and see lies. A skilled prosecutor sees leverage. People caught in criminal violations make more cooperative witnesses. Robert S. Mueller III and his A-team of investigators have plenty of stupidity and venality to work with. They are investigating an administration riven by internal hatreds — also the prosecutor’s friend. And Trump has already alienated many potential allies in a public contest between himself and Mueller. A number of elected Republicans, particularly in the Senate, would watch this showdown with popcorn.

If you haven’t already, you should set aside some time to read about the blockbuster from NBC News and Reuters on the astounding criminality surrounding the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower project in Panama City. The people involved in selling those units for Trump have been accused and in several cases convicted of everything from pimping to working in the human slave trade to kidnapping to laundering money for South American drug kingpins. This, all in a project that Trump set aside to be Ivanka’s “baby”- her introduction to the real estate game. Many of these people were Russians and the same is true of their customers, who in most cases never occupied the properties they “bought” with their dirty money.

During a recent visit by NBC News, the Trump Ocean Club appeared to be largely empty, with virtually no one in the restaurants at night. The hallways were consistently empty. The lights were off in many of the units after dark. Ventura said most of his clients never intended to live in the Trump Ocean Club.

Imagine what someone with Robert Mueller’s resources can discover about Trump’s business practices.  He’s already taken the chairman of Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort, down for money laundering dirty Russian money, and that’s just scratching the surface.

We don’t know what all has already been discovered, but we can rest assured that it’s unsavory and won’t stand the light of day.  A lot of people keep asking why the Trump folks haven’t been more cooperative and forthcoming. Why have they lied so frequently? Why don’t they get out in front of the story? Get it all out there, even if it’s politically damaging, so that they can be cleared of the central charge of cooperation with the Russians in their plans to disrupt and discredit our electoral system?

The most obvious answer is that they’re guilty as charged. But the other, more innocent explanation is that they’re, as Gerson puts it, “a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.” In other words, they’re collectively so divorced from normal standards of ethics and legality that they’re incapable of imagining how to behave in an innocent manner, even when they didn’t actually have the competence to pull off some grand conspiracy.

I imagine Mueller will help us to define the line between these two theories, and I suspect we’ll see a lot of both.  We’ll see people acting as free agents and also people acting under orders. We’ll see people who were deliberately coordinating with Russians and people who were being played by them. We’ll see all kinds of motive and possibilities for blackmail, but we’ll also see foolish idealists who didn’t know any better. I don’t think it will all come out as a clean narrative.

But one thing that will be clear is that people have lied to Congress and the press and to the American people and to federal investigators. Those charges will be clear-cut.  The one question everyone wants to know the answer to is why Donald Trump treats Vladimir Putin so kindly and everyone else in the world with so little respect.  There may be one big obvious answer to that, or there may be dozens of small ambiguous ones.

We’ll just have to watch when that legal tidal wave comes in.