Real reporting

Very few elections have been lost underrating the servility of the American political press corps. But this year may be different. Edsall and Gerstein show how real reporting is done, on the budget and on Afghanistan.

The two pillars of this year’s Republican campaign are mendacity and vacuity. Those pillars are mutually supporting, with the mendacity concealing the vacuity (they keep talking about “tough choices” without ever specifying any) and the vacuity concealing the mendacity (the magic asterisks in the budget arithmetic).

The success of that strategy depends on two preconditions:

(1) Voters either so in the dark they don’t notice they’re being bullshat or so in love with the idea of  a free lunch (or so full of hatred for the Kenyan Muslim Socialist) that they willingly suspend their disbelief; and

(2) A stenographic press (cf. Colbert’s classic exposition) willing to report the statements without, at the same time, pointing out their falsity or emptiness.

Today we see two more indications that condition (2), though a reasonable assumption based on the recent past, may not be valid  year. Tom Edsall points to one of the magic asterisks in the Ryan Budget – “Function 920,” which sounds as if it comes out of the file cabinet in Room 101 – and unveils some of the horror show it’s designed to conceal.  He then gives it a name, which might even catch on: “the Ryan Sinkhole.” And Josh Gerstein at Politico undresses Mitt Romney’s claim that his silence on Afghanistan in his acceptance speech was c0unterbalanced by his having discussed the topic the previous day before the American Legion. Here’s the  full text of the passage that Romney later described as having “described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan.”

 Of course, we are still at war in Afghanistan. We still have uniformed men and women in conflict, risking their lives just as you once did. How deeply we appreciate their sacrifice. We salute them. We honor them. We respect and love them.

There! If that doesn’t bring Mullah Omar in carrying a white flag, I don’t know what will.

P.T. Barnum is supposed to have said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. By the same token, very few elections have been lost underrating the servility of the American political press corps. But this year may be different.

Update James Fallows points out (as Harold Pollack had already noted) that Norah O’Donnell hammered Paul Ryan on Face the Nation for his slipperiness on defense spending.

According to the journalistic rule that three events constitute a trend, I call a trend toward actual journalism. Yippee!


Paul Ryan, the Fourteenth Amendment, and “personhood”

The “Sanctity of Life” bill, if it became law, would require states to treat abortion – all abortion – as murder.

With more and more smart, honest conservatives getting fed up and switching sides, the remaining smart, honest conservatives are especially precious for those of us who don’t want to talk only to members of the Blue team. So Ramesh Ponnuru is a scarce resource, and I wouldn’t criticize him if I didn’t have to.

But I’m utterly puzzled by Ramesh’s criticism of Amy Odell and his followup criticism of Kevin Drum over the proposed Sanctity of Life Act, a Congressional “personhood” bill sponsored by a 55 extremists, including Paul Ryan.

Ramesh’s position is that the bill wouldn’t criminalize abortion. He accuses Kevin, who disagrees, of bad lawyering.

Well, I’m not a lawyer at all, but (as Sam Ervin once said) I understand the English language; it’s my mother tongue.

The full text of the bill is at the jump. The substance of it is that Congress, acting explicitly under its power “to enforce, by appropriate legislation,” the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, declares that every fertilized egg is a person, with all the legal rights of a person, including the “right to life.”

Now, what does the rest of the Fourteenth Amendment say? Why, it says, among other things, that “no state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So, for example, a law forbidding the murder of white people only, leaving blacks unprotected, would be void as denying equal protection.

Assume for the moment that the law were to pass both Houses, that President Romney were to sign it, and that the Supreme Court’s Right-to-Life caucus were to get a fifth vote to hold that the law was constitutional.

Then no state could criminalize the killing of the “post-born” without also criminalizing the killing of the “pre-born,” any more than it could criminalize the murder of whites while permitting that of blacks. (That’s what makes “Dred Scott” a RTL dog-whistle, valid even in Confederate territory.)

Thus, unless a state wanted to declare open season on all of its citizens, it would have to criminalize abortion, and do so without any exceptions whatever: not rape, not the life of the mother, not nothing. I suppose you could run an IVF clinic, but you’d have to keep every fertilized egg alive indefinitely; it would be a person in law, and disposing of it would be murder.

So when the bill goes on to provide that “the Congress, each State, the District of Columbia, and all United States territories have the authority to protect the lives of all human beings residing in its respective jurisdictions,” “authority” really means “obligation.” Buzzfeed backed off on the original claim, but it seems to me they were wrong to do so.

So yes: Mitt Romney, who said in an unguarded moment that he’d be “delighted” to sign a bill banning “all abortion,” has chosen as his running-mate a Congressman who co-sponsored a bill to do precisely that.

Footnote Note that the short title of the bill betrays its theocratic roots. Congress has extensive powers, but even under the most generous interpretation of the Necessary and Proper clause they don’t extend to defining or protecting sanctity.

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