Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

1. Jon Huntsman has become the second Mormon millionaire (the first being Mitt Romney) to announce his bid for the Republican candidacy for the 2012 presidential election.

Unusually for a Republican, he has worked for President Barack Obama, who appointed him as ambassador to Beijing. Obama's praise for Huntsman can be seen from about 30 seconds into this news report:


Huntsman's candidacy worries the Democrats. Obama's 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe said he felt "a wee bit queasy" when he floated the idea of running early in 2009. However, over at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw notes that this might not be a good thing:

All of the video clips making the rounds showing President Obama praising Huntsman will certainly be widely employed ammunition for the rest of the GOP field. But in the unlikely event that he somehow nabbed the nomination, those same clips would hobble the president in the general election. It would be fairly hard to start questioning the man's credentials after heaping that kind of praise on him.

2. Just hours before Huntsman announced his bid, Rick Santorum, a rival for the Republican nomination, released a video criticising him for not signing an anti-abortion pledge.

The video parodies the web videos of a man riding a motorbike through a dessert that the Huntsman team have put out over the last week to trail their candidate's formal declaration. In this spoof video, the character crashes at the end.


The Huntsman team was quick to respond, telling CNN:

People who rely on pledges usually don't have a record. Fortunately Governor Huntsman, a life-long, no flip flops pro-lifer, has actually signed anti-abortion legislation into law -- that's a signature that makes a difference.

3. The Texas governor Rick Perry's team is gearing up for unsubstantiated rumours about his sexuality to resurface if he runs for president. Back in 2004, it was reported that he was gay and that he and his wife planned to divorce. At the time, he blamed his political opponents, saying that the rumous "are not correct in any shape, form or fashion."

Speaking to Politico, his top strategist Dave Carney said:

This kind of nameless, faceless smear campaign is run against the Perry family in seemingly every campaign, with no basis, truth or success. Texas politics is a full contact support, live hand grenades and all; unfortunately there are always going to be some people who feel the need to spread false and misleading rumors to advance their own political agenda.

Dirty tricks and smear campaigns are not unusual in US politics, as the recent furore over Obama's birth certificate showed.

4. Reggie Brown, the comedian who was pulled off stage after racially questionable jokes about Obama at the Republican Leadership Conference last weekend, has defended his routine ("My mother loved a black man, and no she was not a Kardashian," he quipped, saying that while Michelle Obama celebrated all of black history month, Barack only celebrated half).

Although RLC President and CEO Charlie Davis told CNN that he was pulled because "we have zero tolerance for racially insensitive jokes", Brown suspects another motive:

I was at the Republican Leadership Conference, and I was just entering my set where I was starting to have some fun with the Republican candidates. I do believe that I was over my time by a few minutes, and I also believe that the material was starting to get to a point to where maybe they started to feel uncomfortable with where it was going.

He also denied that the racial content of his jokes had anything to do with it:

I didn't hear any boos on any of the racial jokes. The president, like myself, shares a mixed background. My mother's white, my father's black, and I feel very safe delivering content like that. And the president himself has poked fun at his heritage.

5. Michele Bachmann has been rather silent after performing unexpectedly well in a debate with Mitt Romney last week. This is surprising, given that Bachmann has been one of the most outspoken members of the House simce being elected to Congress in 2006 (who could forget her suggestion that Obama might be "anti-American"?)

According to the Washington Post, this is a "calculated strategy aimed at building message discipline within the ranks" ahead of 2012. Reportedly, this decision was made before the debate, and is being carried through to avoid trampling on the momentum created. Silence must certainly be a new experience for the Minnesota republican but some message discipline wouldn't go amiss. Several weeks ago, she castigated her campaign manager Ed Rollins' for saying that Sarah Palin is not been "serious".

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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America’s domestic terrorists: why there’s no such thing as a “lone wolf”

After the latest attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, America must confront the violence escalating at its heart.

First things first: let’s not pretend this is about life.

Three people have died and nine were injured on Friday in the latest attack on a women’s health clinic in the United States. Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs was besieged by a gunman whose motives remain unclear, but right-to-lifers—who should really be called “forced birth advocates”—have already taken up their keyboards to defend his actions, claiming that women seeking an abortion, or doctors providing them, are never “innocent”. 

This was not unexpected. Abortion providers have been shot and killed before in the United States. The recent book Living in the Crosshairs by David S Cohen and Krysten Connon describes in sanguine detail the extent of domestic terrorism against women’s healthcare facilities, which is increasing as the American right-wing goes into meltdown over women’s continued insistence on having some measure of control over their own damn bodies. As Slate reports

In July, employees at a clinic in the Chicago suburb of Aurora, Illinois, reported an attempted arson. In August, firefighters found half a burning car at the construction site of a future clinic in New Orleans. On Sept. 4, a clinic in Pullman, Washington, was set ablaze at 3:30 a.m., and on Sept. 30, someone broke a window at a Thousand Oaks, California, clinic and threw a makeshift bomb inside.

The real horror here is not just that a forced-birth fanatic attacked a clinic, but that abortion providers across America are obliged to work as if they might, at any time, be attacked by forced-birth fanatics whose right to own a small arsenal of firearms is protected by Congress. 

The United States is bristling with heavily armed right-wingers who believe the law applies to everyone but them. This is the second act of domestic terrorism in America in a week. On Monday, racists shouting the n-word opened fire at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, injuring three. This time, the killer is a white man in his 50s. Most American domestic terrorists are white men, which may explain why they are not treated as political agents, and instead dismissed as “lone wolves” and “madmen”.

Terrorism is violence against civilians in the service of ideology. By anyone’s sights, these killers are terrorists, and by the numbers, these terrorists pose substantially more of a threat to American citizens than foreign terrorism—but nobody is calling for background checks on white men, or for members of the republican party to wear ID tags. In America, like many other western nations, people only get to be “terrorists” when they are “outsiders” who go against the political consensus. And there is a significant political consensus behind this bigotry, including within Washington itself. That consensus plays out every time a Republican candidate or Fox news hatebot expresses sorrow for the victims of murder whilst supporting both the motives and the methods of the murderers. If that sounds extreme, let’s remind ourselves that the same politicians who declare that abortion is murder are also telling their constituents that any attempt to prevent them owning and using firearms is an attack on their human rights. 

Take Planned Parenthood. For months now, systematic attempts in Washington to defund the organisation have swamped the nation with anti-choice, anti-woman rhetoric. Donald Trump, the tangerine-tanned tycoon who has managed to become the frontrunner in the republican presidential race not in spite of his swivel-eyed, stage-managed, tub-thumping bigotry but because of it, recently called Planned Parenthood an “abortion factory” and demanded that it be stripped of all state support. Trump, in fact, held a pro-choice position not long ago, but like many US republicans, he is far smarter than he plays. Trump understands that what works for the American public right now, in an absence of real hope, is fanaticism. 

Donald Trump, like many republican candidates, is happy to play the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, racist fanatic in order to pander to white, fundamentalist Christian voters who just want to hear someone tell it like it is. Who just want to hear someone say that all Muslims should be made to wear ID cards, that Black protesters deserve to be “roughed up”, that water-boarding is acceptable even if it doesn’t work because “they deserve it”. Who just want something to believe in, and when the future is a terrifying blank space, the only voice that makes sense anymore is the ugly, violent whisper in the part of your heart that hates humanity, and goddamn but it’s a relief to hear someone speaking that way in a legitimate political forum. Otherwise you might be crazy.

American domestic terrorists are not “lone wolves”. They are entrepreneurial. They may work alone or in small groups, but they are merely the extreme expression of a political system in meltdown. Republican politicians are careful not to alienate voters who might think these shooters had the right idea when they condemn the violence, which they occasionally forget to do right away. In August, a homeless Hispanic man was allegedly beaten to a pulp by two Bostonians, one of whom told the police that he was inspired by Donald Trump’s call for the deportation of “illegals”. Trump responded to the incident by explaining that “people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.”

But that’s not even the real problem with Donald Trump. The real problem with Donald Trump is that he makes everyone standing just to the left of him look sane. All but one republican governor has declared that refugees from Syria are unwelcome in their states. Across the nation, red states are voting in laws preventing women from accessing abortion, contraception and reproductive healthcare. Earlier this year, as congressmen discussed defunding Planned Parenthood, 300 ‘pro-life’ protesters demonstrated outside the same Colorado clinic where three people died this weekend. On a daily basis, the women who seek treatment at the clinic are apparently forced to face down cohorts of shouting fanatics just to get in the door. To refuse any connection between these daily threats and the gunman who took the violence to its logical extreme is not merely illogical—it is dangerous.

If terrorism is the murder of civilians in the service of a political ideology, the United States is a nation in the grip of a wave of domestic terrorism. It cannot properly be named as such because its logic draws directly from the political consensus of the popular right. If the killers were not white American men, we would be able to call them what they are—and politicians might be obligated to come up with a response beyond “these things happen.”

These things don’t just “happen”. These things happen with escalating, terrifying frequency, and for a reason. The reason is that America is a nation descending into political chaos, unwilling to confront the violent bigotry at its heart, stoked to frenzy by politicians all too willing to feed the violence if it consolidates their own power. It is a political choice, and it demands a political response.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.