The Constitution The Republicans Can't Stand

This post was written by PFAW President Michael B. Keegan and originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

If you are running for office as a Republican today, you have to mention your reverence for the Constitution at least as much as you mention your love for Ronald Reagan.

The Second Amendment-- every word should be taken literally because it was literally ordained by God! The First Amendment protects my right to discriminate against gay people! Neither the Constitution nor the Bible contains the word "Obamacare"!

But Republican politicians have a few glaring blind spots when it comes to the Constitution. One of those is the 14th Amendment, a pillar of our inclusive democracy, a key component of which Republican presidential candidates are now asking us to ignore or change.

In its infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the descendants of enslaved people were disqualified from U.S. citizenship. After we fought a civil war, the U.S. ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868, which overturned Dred Scott in its opening lines, declaring, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

During the congressional debate over the 14th Amendment, both its supporters and detractors recognized that this birthright citizenship clause would apply to everyone born on U.S. soil, not just the descendants of slaves. In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that even after the passage of the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act, the U.S.could not deny citizenship to Wong Kim Ark, a California-born son of Chinese immigrants, because the 14th Amendment guaranteed him citizenship.

Yet, anti-immigrant activists and their allies in the GOP are now fighting against this most American of constitutional principles.

In an immigration plan released this week, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for ending birthright citizenship. No matter that he didn't say how he would do that(while most people acknowledge that it would take a constitutional amendment to change the policy, some claim it was never included in the 14th Amendment in the first place). His Republican rivals started jumping to join him. Scott Walker told reporters that he "absolutely" wanted to change the Constitution's definition of citizenship, adding, paradoxically, that "to me it's about enforcing the laws in this country." Ben Carson said it "doesn't make any sense" to allow "anchor babies." Bobby Jindal joined the fray. So did Lindsey Graham. Rand Paul and Rick Santorum had already expressed their support for undoing the citizenship provision, with Paul sponsoring a constitutional amendment to do so and Santorum saying the 14th Amendment doesn't even say what it says.

Jeb Bush has been getting unearned credit for acknowledging that birthright citizenship is a "constitutional right" that we shouldn't "take away" -- just a few days after implying that if he had a "magic wand" to change the Constitution he would use it to do just that. Similarly, John Kasich has renounced his previous support for repealing birthright citizenship, but now says he doesn't want to "dwell on it." Carly Fiorina's and Rick Perry's passionate defense of the 14th Amendment is that it would take too much work to change it. This is what now passes for moderation. What ever happened to defending basic constitutional rights?

The Republican presidential contenders' rush to badmouth a basic constitutional right -- in an apparent attempt to appeal to their supposedly Constitution-loving far-right base -- speaks volumes about what they really mean when they talk about constitutionalism. They use their pocket Constitutions for the parts that come in handy. The rest of it? Not so much.

PFAW

Kasich and Bush: More Like Other Extreme GOP Candidates Than Perceived

This post by PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager was originally published in the Huffington Post. 

Discussions of Governor Kasich's role in the 2016 election have centered around his strategy of defining himself to voters as an alternative to Jeb Bush: a moderate, compassionate conservative without Bush's last name. This strategy presupposes that both Bush and Kasich are in fact middle-of-the-road Republicans who hold moderate positions that would make them electable next November.

That proposition is false. While Kasich and Bush certainly took a more measured tone in the first Republican debate compared to, say, Donald Trump, their policy positions and records as governor in Ohio and Florida show that they're just as extreme and far-right as the rest of the Republican field.

Few issues demonstrate the extreme agenda of Bush, Kasich, and the Republican Party more than a woman's right to choose. Kasich has directly targeted access to legal abortion in Ohio though enacting medically unnecessary, cumbersome laws that closed abortion clinics. He signed a bill including a policy that restricts rape crisis counselors from providing referrals to abortion services to rape survivors. Jeb Bush calls himself the "most pro-life governor in modern times." As governor, he tried to restrict the ability of a mentally disabled rape victim to have an abortion. The "Scarlet Letter" law enacted during Bush's term as governor required a single mother who did not know the father of her child to pay for a month-long newspaper ad before putting her child up for adoption. The ad had to include personal details about the mother and her sexual history, complete with dates and locations where the child could have been conceived. Bush and Kasich are just as bad as their fellow candidates like Scott Walker, who recently signed a 20-week abortion bill even though he promised voters in his last campaign that the right to choose is between a woman and her doctor; or Marco Rubio, who co-sponsored a 20-week abortion bill in the Senate.

On Social Security, Kasich and Bush support former President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Had his plan been enacted, the stock market crash of 2008 would have decimated Social Security savings of seniors across the country. That doesn't seem to bother anyone in the Republican field other than, of all people, Donald Trump. He's actually spoken out against cuts to Social Security and Medicare, calling them "not fair" to workers. On immigration, Kasich and Bush have used less offensive language than Donald Trump, but both - and the rest of the leading Republican candidates - oppose President Obama's policies that protect DREAMers and families from deportation. Neither Bush nor Kasich nor any leading Republican candidate supports comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, even though that's a commonsense policy that would enable undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, stay with their families, and contribute to the American economy.

Kasich and Bush have reiterated time and again that their economic experience would make them ideal presidential candidates. The extreme GOP base might like those policies, but the fact is, they've made it more difficult for working class families to get ahead. After accounting for inflation, the average Ohio household earned less in 2013 than it did in 1984. Kasich's 2015 budget cut taxes by only $24 for middle-class Ohioans, raised taxes by $20 for taxpayers in the lowest income bracket, yet included a $10,000 tax cut for the wealthiest Ohioans. Bush keeps trumpeting his tenure as governor, but as the Washington Post reported, "Florida owed a substantial portion of its growth under Bush not to any state policies but to a massive and unsustainable housing bubble -- one that ultimately benefited rich investors at the expense of middle-class families." Bush also provided tax cuts to the wealthiest Floridians while cutting funding for essential programs for senior citizens and children. Kasich and Bush's failed economic policies are par for the course for Republican candidates: Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie have both been hammered for their states' economic woes.

Far-right policy positions defined the gubernatorial terms of Bush and Kasich. Now that they're running for president, we can't let them run from their records. Bush and Kasich's extreme agendas are in line with every single other Republican candidate that was on stage during the first debate.

Randy Borntrager lives in Ohio and is the political director of People For the American Way, D.C.-based progressive advocacy organization. He has previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy and the communications director and interim executive director of the Ohio Democratic Party.

PFAW

The Right Sees 2016 as a Chance to Take Over the Supreme Court, Reverse Marriage Equality

Right-wing leaders have spent the past month denouncing as illegitimate and tyrannical the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision that declared state laws banning same-sex couples from getting married to be unconstitutional. In addition to waging a campaign of resistance to the ruling, right-wing activists are looking toward the 2016 presidential elections as a chance to pack the Court with far-right justices who will overturn the decision.

Journalist Paul Waldman argued recently that 2016 will be a Supreme Court election because right-wing voters will be motivated by anger over their losses on marriage and health care, even though “the Roberts Court has given conservatives an enormous amount to be happy about” – gutting the Voting Rights Act and giving corporations and zillionaires the right to spend as much as they want to influence elections, and much more.

Waldman says even though the Court’s conservative are likely to do more damage to workers’ rights and women’s access to health care during the next term, “All that is unlikely to banish the memory of the last couple of weeks from Republicans' minds, and you can bet that the GOP presidential candidates are going to have to promise primary voters that they'll deliver more Supreme Court justices like Alito, and fewer like Anthony Kennedy or even Roberts.”

Indeed, presidential candidates have been making such promises.

  • Jeb Bush told right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would focus on “people to be Supreme Court justices who have a proven record of judicial restraint.”
  • Donald Trump denounced Jeb Bush for having supported the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, even though Roberts has presided over the most corporate-friendly Court in modern history and vigorously dissented from the marriage equality ruling. A Trump advisory said Supreme Court appointments were among the “many failings of both the Bush presidencies.”
  • Ted Cruz has vowed to make the Supreme Court “front and center” in his presidential campaign; he called the Court’s rulings on marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act among the “darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history” and is calling for constitutional amendments to limit Court terms and require justices to face retention elections.
  • Marco Rubio: “The next president of the United States must nominate Supreme Court justices that believe in the original intent of the Constitution and apply that. We need more Scalias and less Sotomayors.”
  • Rick Perry: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he is disappointed with the ruling and pledged to "appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written."
  • Chris Christie: “If the Christie-type justices had been on that court in the majority, we would have won those cases in the Supreme Court rather than lost them.”
  • Bobby Jindal: "So it's not enough just to get a Republican in the White House, we need to have a Republican that will appoint justices that actually read the Constitution. [Justice Antonin] Scalia said it best on the Obamacare case. He said 'look, this means that words no longer have meanings. This means we've got a court where they don't read the Constitution, they don't read a dictionary.'…"It's time to get some justices that will stop being politicians, stop obeying the public opinion polls, and actually read and obey the Constitution."
  • Mike Huckabee, who has made an attack on “judicial supremacy” the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, said. “I guarantee you in a Huckabee administration there will be very different kind of people appointed to the court.”
  • Scott Walker denounced the Court’s decision on marriage, saying “The states are the proper place for these decisions to be made, and as we have seen repeatedly over the last few days, we will need a conservative president who will appoint men and women to the Court who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our land without injecting their own political agendas.

Candidates are responding to the demands of right-wing leaders and organizations, who see the 2016 election as a chance to cement right-wing control of the Supreme Court for a generation.

The National Organization for Marriage says that the definition of marriage should be a “pivotal issue” in 2016, and called on Americans to elect a president who will appoint "new justices to the Supreme Court who will have the opportunity to reverse" the decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

At a Heritage Foundation panel discussion on the Court’s marriage ruling, Carrie Severino of the right-wing Judicial Crisis Network, declared, “The next president will likely have one, two, maybe three Supreme Court nominations,” adding that the Court’s Obergefell ruling “is not the final decision in this series….”

She also looked ahead to the elections and the “generational impact” of future Supreme Court justices:

“I think it’s important to have judges on the court that are going to be faithfully interpreting the Constitution, and therefore to make sure that there’s a president in place, and senators in place, who recognize the overarching importance of this issue….

Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation said that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell cited “new insights” into marriage and that a Court with more right-wing justices could use their own “new insights” to overturn the marriage equality decision. He urged the anti-marriage-equality movement to conduct new research into gay parenting (citing the widely discredited Mark Regnerus study on “family structures) to give future right-wing justices some justification for overturning the recent ruling. 

“I could see a situation in which the Court has a different composition, as Carrie mentioned, chances are the next president will have up to four seats to fill. At Inauguration Day three of the justices will be in their 80s and one of them will be 78. So there’s a chance that there will be a different composition of the Court. And if there are new insights into marriage, and new insights into the rights of children, that could be a possibility for the Court to reconsider.

Also weighing in, the notorious Frank Schubert, architect of the anti-equality movement’s anti-gay messaging strategy:

The court’s decision will also powerfully inject marriage into the 2016 presidential contest. The most direct course to reverse this ruling lies in the next president appointing new justices to the Supreme Court. Social conservatives will do everything possible to ensure that the Republican nominee is a strong pro-marriage champion, making this a litmus test throughout the GOP primaries and caucuses.

Paul Waldman says that, believe it or not, John F. Kennedy was the last Democratic president who had the chance to nominate a replacement for a conservative Supreme Court justice. Given the age of the justices, he says, “it would be strange if at least one or two didn't retire in the next president's term (the last three presidents each appointed two justices).”

If the next president gets that chance, no matter which party he or she comes from, it will profoundly affect the court's direction. If a Republican could appoint someone to replace Ginsburg or Breyer, it would mean a 6-3 conservative majority, which means that Kennedy would no longer be the swing vote and there would be a margin for error in every case. If a Democratic president were to replace Scalia or Kennedy, then the court would go from 5-4 in favor of the conservatives to 5-4 in favor of the liberals.

Those two outcomes would produce two radically different Supreme Courts, with implications that would shape American life for decades.

If progressives want to see a Court that vigorously protects the right to vote, that does not regularly bend the law in order to give more power to the already-powerful, that recognizes that the “equal” in “Equal Protection” means what it says, that does not regard the separation of church and state as some jurisprudential mistake, and that understands that Americans have a right to limit the corrosive influence of money on our elections, then they should make the Court an overriding issue for progressives in the 2016 elections.  Those who see a very different role for the Supreme Court, and wish for a very different America, have already made the connection.

 

PFAW

Who Said It? Donald Trump Or Another GOP Candidate?

Think Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration is leaps and bounds worse than the rest of the Republican candidates running for president?

Test your knowledge by taking our quiz! Each of the statements below were made by Donald Trump or one of the other GOP candidates in the 2016 race.

 

Who Said It?

 
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PFAW Telebriefing Prepares For The First GOP Presidential Debate

On Thursday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing to advise members on what to expect in the first GOP debate tonight. After an introduction from PFAW President Michael Keegan, Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated a discussion with leading political strategist and founder of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake and PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager and Senior Research Associate Brian Trashman.

Lake stressed the widening disconnect between GOP candidates and the vast majority of the general electorate. She recommended watching for three main areas of focus during the debate: how the candidates are able, or unable, to articulate an economic message; how the candidates attempt to repair a troubled relationship with female voters; and how many times the candidates go off on tangents that reveal their extreme far-right positions. 

As Donald Trump continues to lead the polls, Tashman discussed how the media’s focus on Trump allows his contenders to seem more moderate, when in reality this is the most “extreme candidate selection we have had in a while.” Lake added that the media’s insistence on posing “crazy” questions also bolsters Trump’s poll numbers, as it inhibits other candidates from discussing their economic agenda.

To push back against the extreme rhetoric that has elevated Trump’s popularity, Borntrager outlined a variety of ways in which PFAW and its affiliates are fighting back. Speaking about the importance of a “progressive rapid response mechanism,” Borntrager urged supporters to email PFAW’s political department for ways to get involved in the grassroots effort. He noted that for the upcoming debate, PFAW is organizing a counter-rally in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as live tweeting and fact checking the candidates’ claims throughout. “This grassroots effort is, in a lot of ways, starting today,” Borntrager said.

Call participants shared thoughtful questions, including one regarding the risks associated with the Republican-backed privatization of Medicare and Social Security. Lake responded that these measures are “wildly unpopular” among the majority of Americans. She concluded that Republicans are “living on borrowed time, demographically” because they either attack or ignore discriminatory practices, welfare programs, reproductive health care access, and other issues of pronounced importance to the American people. 

Listen to the full briefing here:

PFAW

Some Questions for the Republican Candidates

As the leading Republican presidential candidates prepare to take the stage on Thursday for the first official presidential debate, we know that they all share a common goal of promoting an far-right agenda in the White House.

We don’t expect to get much clarity on the Republicans’ extreme positions on Thursday. But if we had the chance to moderate the debate, here’s some of the questions we’d ask each of the candidates:

  • Jeb Bush: Why are you catering to the anti-immigrant base of the Republican Party by condemning undocumented immigrants to second class status through denying them any path to citizenship?
  • Scott Walker: You have an abysmal record when it comes to the environment and fighting against climate change. But just like you’ve punted on so many other critical questions, you’ve never actually told us your position on climate change. So, do you deny the science of climate change or do you accept that it’s a reality that must be addressed?
  • Mike Huckabee: You’ve compared Obama and abortion rights to the Nazis and their genocide. How and why did you think that was appropriate?
  • Ted Cruz: Why did you cook bacon on a machine gun?
  • Ben Carson: You’ve compared Obamacare to slavery. How is ensuring access to quality, affordable healthcare – as the ACA does – like slavery in any way?
  • Marco Rubio: This past April, before the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, you said that anyone who believes that gay people have a constitutional right to marriage has a “ridiculous and absurd reading of the U.S. Constitution.” Is that still your belief today?
  • Rand Paul: In a talk you once explained that while direct cheating is off the table, “I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic.” What are some examples of times that you’ve “misinformed” the American people?
  • Donald Trump: How does deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants or denying spousal rape make America great again?
PFAW

Donald Trump: King of Facebook (…and What That Means)

At the time I am writing this, Donald Trump’s last post on Facebook has 145,257 likes and 6,434 shares. His most popular post of the week has a shocking 186,007 likes and 32,405 shares.

That’s way higher social media engagement than any other Republican presidential candidate.

For some more perspective, President Barack Obama’s most popular post of the week has 55,742 likes and 3,448 shares.

Hillary Clinton’s most popular post has 62,925 likes (and whopping 48,611 shares), but that’s an anomaly and is about six-to-seven times higher than her average post. The subject of that post? Donald Trump.

No other notable politician is even in the same universe. And Hillary’s viral post was a video, which often inherently gain more traction on a platform like Facebook. Meanwhile, it seems like every time Trump updates his status he goes viral.  

Generally speaking, the reach of Donald Trump’s Facebook posts is more on pace with that of Justin Bieber than with any other politician.

And yes, he is also a celebrity… a very famous name with a large media presence. But the popularity of his self-aggrandizing and bombastic social media posts only buttress the validity of his soaring poll numbers in the Republican primary – he’s now at the very top of the field in several polls.

What’s behind The Donald’s freakish popularity? It’s that, like Fox News, he displays a savant-like expertise in being able to push the buttons that tap into the simmering bigotries, frustrations, and insecurities of the right-wing base.

Donald Trump, perhaps more than any other candidate, represents the Frankenstein’s monster created by Republicans’ nurturing of the radical Tea Party movement. Right-wing politicians, pundits, and activist leaders are constantly giving the base some “other” to fear … a target for all their frustrations who doesn’t deserve the same rights as them, who is tearing America down from within -- whether it’s the poor, racial minorities, LGBT people, women who demand equality, or, in the case of Trump’s most infamous rhetorical attacks, immigrants.

There’s always someone to hate and someone’s “ass to kick.”

Trump, perhaps as a byproduct of his time spent in the world of reality television, also seems uniquely willing among Republicans to make a caricature of himself – in some cases, literally, like when he posted his face superimposed onto a poster of Uncle Sam.

Uncle Donald

Or when he posted:

“Can you envision Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton negotiating with 'El Chapo', the Mexican drug lord who escaped from prison? Trump, however, on the other hand would kick his ass!”

Or tweeted:

“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice”

Or, taking the “Birther” conspiracy theory to new heights, tweeted:

“How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived”

But this is not some silly carnival act, to be ridiculed and brushed aside. We’ve seen the Far Right’s eagerness to embrace cartoonish and outlandish extremism before, with Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and others.

As PFAW president Michael Keegan recently wrote:

“Even if, as many in the media insist, Trump’s popularity as a candidate is just a flash in the pan, what it represents is something very real that is not going away. And whoever the GOP candidate ends up being will be tasked with the unenviable job of trying to keep a lid on all of the Right’s unbridled hate.”

Not only does Trump’s moment in the sun tell a story that can’t be ignored about the right-wing movement and the Republican Party, but the kind of extremism that creates fertile ground for vapid demagogues of his ilk is a significant barrier to progress that we need to face head on.

PFAW

Donald Trump Grows More Toxic By the Day

Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency with incendiary remarks about immigrants, and he has not let up. During his first speech as a candidate, Trump stated "when Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. …  They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists.” Despite the backlash to his comments, Trump has doubled down on his extremist views on immigration. In an interview with NBC, Trump said “there's nothing to apologize for” and added that any immigration policy less strict than his own would “let everybody come in… killers, criminals, drug dealers.”

Now, companies are responding by severing ties with Trump. Univision pulled out of its contract to broadcast Trump’s Miss USA pageant and NBC cut all ties with Trump, dropping not only the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, but also Trump’s role in Celebrity Apprentice. With this list continuing to grow, one organization is conspicuously missing: the Republican National Committee.

PFAW’s partners at the Latino Victory Project are calling on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the Republican Party to renounce Trump as a candidate for the Republican nomination for President. With the Republican Party claiming that they are committed to strengthening ties with the Latino and immigrant communities, surely it is time for the RNC to reject a candidate who makes such hateful and racist remarks. 

PFAW

CPAC: The Right-Wing Woodstock or a Bad Family Reunion?

Like at a family reunion, the infighting at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) started long before anybody arrived.

First, the group American Atheists announced that it would be sponsoring a booth at the conference, with the goal of bringing conservative nonbelievers "out of the closet." The religious right was not pleased.

"CPAC's mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense," said the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. But he made clear that atheists would certainly not fit under his umbrella: "Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God?" he asked. Good question.

So, the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, gave the atheist group the boot. In response, the atheists showed up anyway to debate attendees in the hallway.

Then there was the perennial problem of the gays. In 2011, religious right groups including the FRC boycotted CPAC after the ACU allowed the conservative LGBT group GOProud to cosponsor the event. Once again, the establishment sided with the religious right and for the next two years banned GOProud from participating. This year, ACU offered a "compromise" in which GOProud was allowed to attend the event but not to so much as sponsor a booth in the exhibition hall. The "compromise" was so insulting that one of GOProud's founders quit the organization's board in protest.

But what about the people who were too embarrassingly far-right for CPAC? Not to worry, there's no such thing.

Although the atheist and LGBT groups were too far off-message for the ACU, it did allow the anti-immigrant group ProEnglish to sponsor a booth at CPAC. Just a quick Google would have told the conference organizers that ProEnglish is run by a zealous white nationalist, Bob Vandervoort. In fact, CPAC's organizers might have recognized Vandervoort's name from the uproar his inclusion in the event caused in 2012 and 2013.

Now, just because the ACU was ready to welcome anti-immigrant extremists doesn't mean that that was enough for immigrant bashers. A group of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim activists who were worried that CPAC was going too soft on their issues organized an alternative conference across the street. One of their concerns was the perennial conspiracy theory that ACU member Grover Norquist is a secret Muslim Brotherhood agent. Another is that CPAC dared to hold a panel featuring immigration reform proponents.

They shouldn't have worried. Three days of speeches on the CPAC main stage made clear that many prominent conservative activists have no intention of moderating their stance on immigration reform. Donald Trump told the audience that immigrants are "taking your jobs," Rep. Michele Bachmann said she wouldn't even consider immigration reform until they "build the danged fence," and Ann Coulter, never one to disappoint, suggested that if immigration reform passes "we organize the death squads for the people who wrecked America." Then, there was One America News anchor Graham Ledger, who used the CPAC podium to claim that because of immigration, schools no longer teach "the American culture."

To be fair, CPAC did make some efforts at opening the Republican umbrella, hosting a panel on minority outreach off the main stage. But the gesture would have been slightly more meaningful if anybody had bothered to show up.

Any family has its squabbles. But this awkward backyard barbeque has turned into a full-fledged food fight.
 

Content originally published at HuffingtonPost.

PFAW

Blinded by the Hate: The Real Problem With Judge Cebull's Email

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Earlier this week a Great Falls Tribune reporter found something startling in his inbox: a shockingly racist and misogynistic email forwarded from the most powerful federal judge in Montana, which "joked" that the president of the United States was the product of his mother having sex with a dog. The story soon became national news, with groups like ours calling on Judge Richard Cebull to resign. Cebull quickly apologized to the president and submitted himself to a formal ethics review, somewhat quelling the story. But the story is about more than one judge doing something wildly inappropriate and deeply disturbing. It's about a conservative movement in which the bile and animosity directed at the president -- and even his family -- are so poisonous that even someone who should know better easily confuses political criticism and sick personal attack. Come on: going after the president's late mother? Attempting to explain his email forward, Judge Cebull told the reporter, John S. Adams,

The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. Is sent it out because it's anti-Obama.

Judge Cebull is hardly alone in using the old "I'm not racist, but..." line. In fact, his email was the result of an entire movement built on "I'm not racist, but..." logic that equates disagreement with and dislike of the president with broad-based, racially charged smears. These smears, tacitly embraced by the GOP establishment, are more than personal shots at the president -- they're attacks on the millions of Americans who make up our growing and changing country. Mainstream conservatives have genuine objections to President Obama's priorities and policies. But since he started running for president, a parallel movement has sprung up trying to paint Obama as an outsider and an imposter -- in unmistakably racially charged terms. Too often, the two movements have intersected. The effort to paint Obama as a threatening foreigner sprung up around the right-wing fringe in the run-up to the 2008 election with the typically muddled conspiracy theory that painted him as both a secret Muslim and a member of an America-hating church. They soon coalesced in the birther movement, which even today is championed by a strong coalition of state legislators and a certain bombastic Arizona sheriff. But the birther movement, the "secret Muslim" meme and the idea that the president of the United States somehow hates his own country are no longer confined to the less visible right-wing fringe. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, until recently a frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, continually hammers on the president's otherness, most notably criticizing his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Rick Santorum flatly claims that Obama does not have the Christian faith that he professes, and eagerly courted the endorsement of birther leader Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And before they dropped out, Rick Perry and Herman Cain couldn't resist flirting with birtherism. But perhaps more than either of these fringe-candidates-turned-frontrunners, Mitt Romney has been catering to the strain of conservatism that deliberately confuses policy disagreements with racially-charged personal animosity. Romney went in front of TV cameras to smilingly accept the endorsement of Donald Trump, whose own failed presidential campaign was based on demanding the president's readily available birth certificate. And Gov. Romney continually attacks Obama -- falsely -- for going around the world "apologizing for America." Judge Cebull needs to take responsibility for his own actions. And if the GOP has any aspirations of providing real leadership to this country, it needs to jettison the deeply personal vitriol being direct against Barack Obama and start talking about real issues. When a federal judge has seen so much racially-charged propaganda against the president of the United States that he can claim not to know the difference between genuine disagreement and offensive personal smears, something in our discourse has gone terribly awry.

PFAW