Friday, August 24, 2012

How Tom Head and Todd Akin Are Contributing to the Dumbing Down of America

This editorial was first published on PolicyMic (August 23, 2012). The original link can be found here:
It is true that a nation which practices censorship cannot remain free. To this axiom, though, I would add that a society which doesn't respond to inflammatory stupidity with universal contempt cannot remain safe for reasoned discussion, as recent political discussion clearly demonstrates.
Over the last week, the Republican Party has provided us with two test cases for that principle. First, there was Senate nominee Todd Akin of Missouri, who claimed that in instances of "legitimate rape" a woman's body would not allow her to become pregnant. While common sense should be enough to undermine this assertion, those in doubt can always turn to theAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which reports that a single act of rape has a 5% chance of resulting in pregnancy among victims aged 12 to 45 who aren't on birth control. This number increases to 30% if the assault occurs one or two days prior to ovulation.
That said, although Akin was quickly denounced by GOP luminaries – from party chairmen and congressmen to the presidential and vice presidential candidates themselves – amongst the people of his state, he still has a slight lead over his opponent, Senator Claire McCaskill While a majority of those voters have made it clear that they don't agree with his comments, as of the moment they would still prefer putting him in power over casting their ballot for a Democrat. (It is a sign of the degree to which we have become psychologically entrenched in the two-party system that the prospect of finding a viable third-party alternative, which has happened before in Senate races, isn't even being seriously considered.)
Now we have an elected county judge in Texas, Tom Head, who in a recent radio broadcastpredicted that violence would break out if President Barack Obama is re-elected:
"In this political climate and financial climate, what is the very worst thing that could happen right now? Obama gets back in the White House. No. God forbid," he began. "He is going to make the United States Congress and he's going to make the Constitution irrelevant. He's got his czars in place that don't answer to anybody."
After that, Head declared that Obama would "try to give the sovereignty of the United States away to the United Nations," leading to more than just "riots here and there. I'm talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms, get rid of the dictator."
It should go without saying that such incendiary rhetoric is morally abhorrent. Indeed, given the tempestuousness of our current political climate (to say nothing of last year's shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), there is less excuse than ever for suggesting that such violence is acceptable. Unfortunately, while the vast majority of conservatives are capable of vehemently disagreeing with Obama's policies without resorting to hysterics and zealotry, the extreme right-wing is afflicted with such severe ideological myopia that they find it impossible to perceive Obama's presidency in anything but the most irrationally hysterical terms.
And make no mistake about it, reason is not on their side. Head's fear of Obama's "czars" was long ago disproved by, which pointed out not only that the term "czar" is a media appellation rather than an official designation, but that George W. Bush had far more "czars" than his Democratic successor.
The same is true of his argument that Obama wishes to subvert the Constitution, one based on a timeworn demagogical canard debunked in books like Frank Bourgin's classic The Great Challenge and my own PolicyMic editorial on the subject.
The remainder of Head's assertions, meanwhile, can be disregarded using the basic source-checking skills one is taught as a college undergraduate – after all, his claims that Obama will make Congress "irrelevant" and turn us over to the "United Nations" are entirely based on "executive orders" and other alleged administration documents that Head is conveniently unable to produce.
One of my favorite historians, Richard Hofstadter, made perhaps the most prescient observation about this paranoid style of American politics in his acclaimed 1964 essay on the subject:
"The paranoid spokesman, sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization... he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention."
The only hopeful signs in all of this are that (a) despite their violent rhetoric, the extremists are usually like most other bullies in that they're all bluster and no bite, and (b) established thinkers on both the left and right still overwhelmingly denounce their ideas.
The bad news, though, is that the contempt with which the extremists are being greeted has been far from universal. Millions of Missourians are still willing to cast their ballots for Todd Akin, while countless right-wingers are flocking to message boards and newspaper "Letters to the Editor" sections to support Tom Head. What we must remember is that it only takes a handful of such nuts, or even just one of them, to suddenly make American politics a frightening and dangerous place.
In the meantime, they will continue making our political debate a whole lot dumber.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Romney's Selection of Ryan Declares War on the Working Class

This editorial was first published on PolicyMic (August 11, 2012). The original link can be found here:
Early this morning, The Huffington Post broke the story that Mitt Romney had selected Paul Ryan to be his vice presidential running mate. In his article, Jon Ward commented that "Ryan is a bold pick who will energize the Republican Party, but putting him on the ticket is fraught with risk and instantly puts Ryan's budget plan front and center in the 2012 campaign."
That's quite the understatement. In the end, history may remember Romney's choice of Ryan as the moment when he became too transparent in his declaration of war against the working class.
Let us remember that Romney has already proposed a tax plan which the non-partisan Tax Policy Center points out will support tax cuts for the rich by increasing taxes on all Americans who make less than $250,000. By choosing Ryan, however, Romney presumably adds to his economic package a plan that would massively cut Medicare as well. As the Congressional Budget Office noted in its report, possible consequences of the Ryan plan include "reduced access to health care; diminished quality of care; increased efficiency of health care delivery; less investment in new, high-cost technologies; or some combination of those outcomes. In addition, beneficiaries might face higher costs, which could in turn reinforce some of the other effects.
The same is true of Medicaid and CHIP:
"Even with significant efficiency gains, the magnitude of the reduction in spending relative to such spending in the other scenarios means that states would need to increase their spending on these programs, make considerable cutbacks in them, or both. Cutbacks might involve reduced eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP,  coverage of fewer services, lower payments to providers, or increased costsharing by beneficiaries—all of which would reduce access to care."
The Ryan plan would even repeal aspects of Obama's major health care bills (viz., the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, and the Community Living Assistance Services and Support Act) that help mostly working class Americans. These include the establishment of health insurance exchanges, the offering of subsidies to low income families to help them purchase care, tax credits for small employers that offer health insurance, and the creation of an Independent Payment Advisory Board to make sure reductions in the growth of Medicare don't negatively impact coverage or quality.
Most important of all, however, is the fact that Ryan's budget plan, like Romney's tax plan, expects the working class to make sacrifices while not asking the same of the wealthy. As James Fallows of The Atlantic pointed out, it will grant "big tax reductions to the highest-income Americans." Indeed, "at a time when their tax rates are very low by historic standards and and their share of the national income is extremely high, and when middle-class job creation is our main economic challenge, is neither brave nor serious."
Regardless of whether one agrees with the theoretical implications of reducing taxes on the rich at any cost, the reality is that even working class voters who support supply-side economic theories are unlikely to believe they should be implemented at their literal expense. With data streaming out from unbiased groups like the Tax Policy Center and the Congressional Budget Office about the blatant favoritism being shown to the affluent by both Romney and Ryan, it will be impossible for the Republican national ticket to characterize its policies as even fair, much less concerned with the welfare of ordinary Americans. The only chance it will have is if Obama decides not to focus on their economic proposals. Given that his campaign has already created an online calculator that uses the Tax Policy Center's findings to help voters calculate the tax increases they'll endure under a Romney administration, that doesn't seem likely to happen.
I am reminded of a quote from one of my political heroes, former Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver, during the 1956 presidential campaign. When describing the mentality of Republican politicians at that time, he observed that "the Democraitc attitude has always been to consider the need as the paramount thing and then find means of meeting that need. The Republican attitude is that need is a thing to be relieved only if important private enterprises can do it at a profit." Now the GOP hopes to elect politicians who propose to worsen the hardships of the needy in the name of putting money in the pockets of their wealthy backers. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

What Voters Should Know About Romney's Middle-Class Tax Hikes

This editorial was first published on PolicyMic (August 3, 2012). The original link can be found here:

According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Mitt Romney's proposed tax cuts for the affluent will require him to increase taxes on middle-class families by $2,000 a year.

Just in case you missed that the first time: If you are a wage-earner for a middle-class family, Romney would raise your taxes by $2,000. In fact, if you are among the 95% of Americans whose annual income is less than $250,000, your taxes will go up under Romney's plan.

It should go without saying that President Obama needs to focus on this issue. At a time when the economy is the top priority for most Americans, polls show that Obama's main advantage over Romney is the perception that he is more understanding of voters' problems and more interested in the well-being of the middle class. Romney, on the other hand, benefits from the belief that he is better able to accomplish what he wants and is more likely to actually fix the economy and create jobs. Given that Americans tend to blame Bush's policies, rather than Obama's, for our current economic problems (a figure that also holds up when "Bush" is lumped with "Republicans" and "Obama" with "Democrats"), it stands to reason that Romney's strength here is the result of not what he stands for, but rather the notion that he'll "get things done." Naturally, the best way to counteract this is to emphasize to voters that what Romney hopes to get done would in fact work against their best interest. Focusing on Romney's working-class tax hike would achieve that goal, while simultaneously playing to Obama's preexisting assets.

Indeed, the talking points for this issue practically write themselves. Even if one favors cutting taxes on our highest earners, it is hard to morally justify forcing the rest of America to pick up the tab. What's more, considering how the affluent already pay a lower percentage of their total taxable income than the working class, it is ridiculous to assume that our economic problems will be solved by shifting the tax burden even more heavily toward the 95%. Obama should also prominently advertise resources that voters can use to calculate how much more they'd pay under the Romney tax plan, such as this one from his own website. Finally, he should undermine Romney's credibility by highlighting for ridicule the extraordinarily feeble defense he has used so far - i.e., that the Tax Policy Center report is biased because an ex-Obama aide worked on it (despite an ex-Bush aide also serving as a co-author), and that its conclusions are null because a Romney election will ipso facto result in a massive economic boom.

The best part is that no mention needs to be made of Romney's refusal to release his tax returns. So long as Romney's working class tax hikes are in the foreground, awareness of his own murky tax record will linger on its own in the public consciousness, allowing Americans to draw their own conclusions as to why the Republican nominee won't fill in the blanks.

That said, Obama has a daunting task ahead. While the facts may be on his side, it isn't enough to simply have a persuasive argument. History is littered with the losing campaigns of presidential candidates who had stronger cases than the men who defeated them. In order to win, he must not only develop the right message, but make damn sure that message defines the overall narrative of the election.

The president has been struggling in this area for two reasons:

1. He has not been able to come up with a single message. Unlike Romney, whose campaign has maintained a steady focus on its issue of choice (i.e., blaming Obama for the economic conditions he inherited), the president has criticized Romney on a multitude of fronts. Most of the points he has raised have been valid, such as Romney's refusal to release his tax returns, his poor economic record as Governor of Massachusetts, his dishonesty in depicting his career at Bain Capital, and Bain Capital's role in laying off American workers and shipping jobs overseas. Nevertheless, it's an axiom of public relations that no message is effective if the average person can't summarize it in a single sentence. Individual talking points, like the proposed ones I listed earlier, should be logical extensions of that single sentence, not new arguments altogether. Right now Obama has asked voters to memorize a multi-point paragraph.

2. He has not figured out how to make his message dominate the news. While it is obviously necessary to present his case through speeches, press releases, and campaign commercials (indeed, his reelection team has already produced a new commercial on Romney's tax hikes), these things rarely wind up having a long-term impact on the narrative of an election. After all, voters are so bombarded with the countless ads and speeches coming from both sides that the impression left by run-of-the-mill commercials is significantly diluted. At best, these ads briefly shave a few points off one candidate's total within a key demographic or state; at worst, they fade into the background as irrelevant election year static. Likewise, the media is so accustomed to chronicling each campaign's latest salvo that only a few charges wind up becoming headline news items, with even those gradually turning into background noise after a couple weeks. This has repeatedly happened with Obama's different messages about Romney up to this point.

Since it is clear that Romney's proposed working class tax hikes give Obama an ideal rallying point for his campaign (thus solving his first problem), the president's main challenge will be to make sure this issue remains at the center of this election's narrative, and as such, in the minds of every voter who is asked to think about the stakes of this campaign.

One way he could do this is by an airing an unusually memorable campaign commercial. Even though by-the-numbers TV spots don't have much of a long-term effect on voters, history has shown that especially powerful ones can significantly alter how they perceive an election. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson evoked fears about the militant foreign policies of his opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater, by airing "The Daisy Ad," which interrupted footage of a little girl picking petals off a daisy with an ominous mechanical voice that dissolved into a mushroom cloud. Nearly a quarter-century later, a political action committee affiliated with Vice President George H. W. Bush's campaign played upon racial tensions by criticizing the prison furlough system supported by his opponent, Governor Michael Dukakis, with a commercial that prominently featured the face of an African-American rapist named Willie Horton, who had escaped under that program. Although neither ad stayed on the air for very long, both became indelibly linked to the public image of the men they targeted and contributed to their defeat.

Obama could also try to find a strikingly newsworthy way of focusing the nation's attention on the Romney working-class tax hikes. When President Andrew Jackson was up for re-election in 1832, he used his sharply-worded veto of the rechartering bill for the Second Bank of the United States as a manifesto for his ultimately victorious campaign. More than a generation later, President Grover Cleveland turned the 1888 presidential election into a referendum on tariff reform by devoting his entire 1887 State of the Union message to that subject (as my Masters Dissertation explains, Cleveland's message galvanized the party behind him and helped him win the popular vote, although Benjamin Harrison won in the Electoral College due to voter fraud). Sixty years after that, President Harry Truman used his acceptance speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention to call for a special session of Congress so that the Republican-dominated body could either pass necessary economic legislation or be held accountable to the public for their obstructionism. When they did the latter, Truman used that to his political advantage, linking the "Do-Nothing Congress" to Republican candidate Thomas Dewey and finishing the election with a triumphant upset.

Of course, it doesn't ultimately matter how Obama makes the Romney working class tax hikes front-and-center in this campaign. What's important is that the 2012 election becomes, insofar as the average voter is concerned, a choice between a president who fights for all Americans and a candidate who wants to force the working class to pay thousands more in taxes to benefit the affluent. Obama must frame this election as a $2,000 question so that he can defend not only his presidency, but the people he has sworn to serve.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My First Three Dozen Editorials (July 28, 2011 - August 3, 2012)

Below is a list of the thirty-six editorials that I have published over the past year (July 28, 2011 to August 2, 2012). They have appeared on PolicyMic, The Express Times, The Morning Call, The Newark Star-Ledger, and, with one even being quoted by President Obama's re-election campaign in one of their commercials. Each piece has been assigned a title that helps the reader identify its subject. I hope you have as much fun reading them as I did writing them!
“The Tea Party and the Debt Ceiling Debate”
The Express Times (July 28, 2011)
“The Tea Party and the Constitution”
The Morning Call (August 15, 2011)
“Rick Santorum and Gay Rights”
The Morning Call (October 2, 2011)
“Civil Rights History in High School Education”
The Express Times (October 3, 2011)
“An Agenda for Occupy Wall Street”
The Newark Star-Ledger (October 14, 2011)
“Extremism in the 2012 Republican Primaries”
The Morning Call (November 21, 2011)
“On Obama’s Economic Policies”
The Morning Call (December 14, 2011)
“Why Elena Kagan Should Not Recuse Herself from Health Care Law Hearing”
The Morning Call (February 1, 2012)
“Why Ron Paul Appeals to the Millennial Generation”
The Morning Call (February 24, 2012), PolicyMic (February 24, 2012)
“On Supporting Abortion Rights”
PolicyMic (February 28, 2012)
“On Mitt Romney’s Mormon Background”
PolicyMic (March 4, 2012)
“A Liberal Response to Conservative/Libertarian Misinterpretations of American History”
PolicyMic (March 8, 2012)
“Defending My March 8th Editorial”
PolicyMic (March 12, 2012)
“Health Care Reform and the Anti-Injunction Act”
PolicyMic (March 14, 2012)
“The Republican War on Women”
PolicyMic (March 22, 2012)
“On Somali Terrorism”
PolicyMic (March 27, 2012)
“Arlen Specter’s Horrendous Stand Up Comedy”
PolicyMic (April 1, 2012)
“Ron Paul Supporters and Neo-Nazis in the Military”
PolicyMic (April 3, 2012)
“Barack Obama’s Legacy: Part One – Comparison to John Kennedy”
The Morning Call (April 30, 2012), PolicyMic (April 30, 2012), CNN (April 30, 2012)
“Soliloquy of an Insomniac Writer”
PolicyMic (May 3, 2012)
“How To Tell If You’re An Ideologue”
PolicyMic (May 5, 2012)
“Satire: Confessions of a Freedom-Hating, Tax-Loving, Marriage-Destroying Liberal”
PolicyMic (May 10, 2012)
“Movie Review for ‘The Avengers’”
PolicyMic (May 18, 2012)
“Why Mitt Romney is a Coward”
PolicyMic (June 6, 2012)
“The Failures of Romneynomics”
PolicyMic (June 11, 2012)
“Feminist Musings of a Fat Man”
PolicyMic (June 17, 2012)
“Movie Review for ‘Auschwitz’”
PolicyMic (June 28, 2012)
“Barack Obama’s Legacy: Part Two – After the Supreme Court’s Health Care Reform Ruling”
PolicyMic (June 28, 2012)
“The Top Ten Political ‘Twilight Zone’ Episodes”
PolicyMic (July 3, 2012)
 “Why Mitt Romney Should Not Choose Tim Pawlenty As His Running Mate”
PolicyMic (July 11, 2012)
 “The Political Ramifications of Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Psychological Disorder”
The Morning Call (July 13, 2012), PolicyMic (July 13, 2012)
 “Why Ron Paul Should Denounce Anti-Mormon Pastor”
PolicyMic (July 14, 2012)
 “Mitt Romney Bain Scandal: Everything You Need To Know”
PolicyMic (July 15, 2012)
 “ABC News Wrongs Tea Party in Coverage of ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Shooting”
PolicyMic (July 21, 2012)
 “Sarah Palin’s Flawed Condemnation of Pro-Gay Rights Chick-Fil-A Boycotters”
PolicyMic (August 1, 2012)
“What Voters Should Know About Romney's Middle-Class Tax Hikes”
PolicyMic (August 3, 2012)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sarah Palin's Logical Fallacies in Supporting Chick-Fil-A

This editorial was first published on PolicyMic (August 1, 2012). The original link can be found here:

Did you know that Colonel Sanders, the iconic fast food magnate who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken, helped bankroll the third-party presidential campaign of notorious segregationist George Wallace?

Of course, this was hardly well-known during the 1968 election, when it mattered most. Sure, a trio of British reporters later chronicled Sanders's contributions in their classic book "An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968." He was listed there among the "few rich men who contributed to the Wallace campaign on a generous scale," one who appeared on the Alabama governor's vice presidential short list and was even "suspected by dyspeptic reporters of having supplied the interminable fried chicken on Wallace campaign planes." Nevertheless, because the media never made a point of disseminating this information to the general public, the KFC brand name remained - and remains - unsullied by its owner's reactionary predilections.

As the Chick-Fil-A controversy makes clear, things have changed quite a bit over the past 44years. After President Dan Cathy commented that he runs his company according to the "biblical definition of the family unit" and opposes legalizing gay marriage because it "invit[es] God’s judgment on our nation," an outcry erupted from liberals, gay rights groups, and other humanitarians that would have been unimaginable during the 60s. This, naturally, has provoked a backlash from right-wingers who sympathize with Cathy's views. Most recent among them were Sarah Palin's recent comments during a Fox News interview after she was asked about the growing Chick-Fil-A boycott:

"That calling for the boycott is a real -- has a chilling effect on our 1st Amendment rights. And the owner of the Chick-Fil-A business had merely voiced his personal opinion about supporting traditional definition of marriage, one boy, one girl, falling in love, getting married."

While sussing out the fallacies in a Palin argument is a bit too easy - one could even argue that it violates the old adage about not engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed person - the erstwhile vice presidential candidate does have a knack for channeling the thoughts and moods of the hard-line right-wingers, among whom she continues to have considerable influence. As such, it is important to make sure that even positions as logically and morally flawed as those espoused by Palin do not go unaddressed. Hence, here are the top three problems with Sarah Palin's opposition to the Chick-Fil-A Boycott:

1. Palin misunderstands what the First Amendment says about freedom of speech.

Here, in its entirety, is the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

While the First Amendment rightly prohibits Congress (and by extension the federal government) from "abridging the freedom of speech," it says nothing about how regular individuals choose to react to political and social views they find objectionable. Just as Dan Cathy is constitutionally protected in his right to oppose gay marriage, so too are his fellow citizens constitutionally protected in their right to express disagreement with his position by circulating petitions, penning editorials (like this one), and refusing to purchase his product en masse. When Palin protests these things, she is betraying not so much a love of the Constitution, as a bitterness toward people who don't share Cathy's views on gay rights. That isn't patriotic, it's whiny.

2. Palin misunderstands what the First Amendment says about freedom of religion.

As those who read Cathy's controversial statement may have noticed, it placed a considerable emphasis on religious arguments when explaining why gay marriage should be legally impermissible (a viewpoint with which Palin clearly sympathizes). This, ironically, does violate the spirit of the First Amendment. As Thomas Jefferson once put it, "religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights." While it is perfectly appropriate for public figures to be open about how they've been personally inspired by their faith, it is dangerous for religious opinion to be used as the basis for shaping actual government policies. Not only does this engender discrimination against anyone unlucky enough to have been targeted by a given religious group's prejudices (in this case homosexuals), but it implicitly elevates the religious views being cited to a status of legal superiority over the perspectives of "persons of other faiths, or of no faith." Again, the right of individuals to base their own personal systems of morality on their religious faiths is not being questioned. The line must be drawn, however, when they attempt to use the law as a means of imposing the teachings of those faiths on those who don't share them.

3. Palin's view is anti-capitalist.

One of the greatest things about capitalism is that it provides consumers with a vital economic liberty - i.e., the ability to choose their own products and services instead of having the state make those choices for them. While politicians like Palin may not agree with the consumers who refuse to patronize a fast food chain because of its views on gay rights, there is no denying that that decision - whether made on an individual level or as part of a concerted boycott - is entirely consistent with the liberties to which they are entitled as participants in a free market economic system. Should Palin and those like her decide to boycott businesses that support gay marriage (such as the Jim Henson Company, which has severed all ties between the Muppets and Chick-Fil-A over this issue), this would also be their right. That said, when they simply caterwaul that a company which has expressed a controversial view is being punished by a consumer demographic for their opinion, they reveal themselves as poor disciples of capitalist philosophy.

In the end, the most important parallel between Colonel Sanders and Dan Cathy is that both men found themselves on the wrong side of history. Just as the segregationist views preached by George Wallace have long since been relegated to the ashtray of acceptable political ideas (where they belong), so too will the homophobia promulgated by the likes of Cathy one day be viewed as a relic of a less tolerant time. Until that happens, however, consumers who object to anti-gay bigotry are entirely within their rights to speak out against and boycott Chick-Fil-A products. Indeed, it is the most quintessentially American thing they can do.

ABC News Wrongly Blames "Dark Knight Rises" Shooting On Tea Party

This editorial was first published on PolicyMic (July 21, 2012). The original link can be found here:

Someone at ABC News needs to be fired.

In my article on Mitt Romney's Bain scandal last week, I chided the media for being "pathetic" in its determination to take sides rather than objectively report the facts and demand answers from those in power. One week later, the irresponsibility of our mainstream news outlets has again reared its ugly head, this time when ABC News anchor Brian Ross wrongly connected The Dark Knight Rises killer to the Tea Party shortly after his network broke the story of the shootings. Here's his actual quote:

“There's a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado page on the Colorado Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year. Now we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes, but this is Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.”

For the record, I am not a fan of the Tea Party. Even if one ignores the obnoxiously self-aggrandizing nature of their rhetoric, they are responsible for fiscally perilous philosophical rigidity, egregious distortions of American history, and nasty bigotry that has been substantiated both anecdotally and in scholarly studies.

While the media has an undeniable responsibility to draw attention to the unsavory aspects of this movement, however, they have developed an unfortunate habit of reflexively blaming them for any act of domestic violence that seemingly smacks of political extremism. When they did this last year after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, it was at least understandable, given that she had been victimized by right-wing vandalism and death threats during the health care reform debate. This time, however, the assumption is entirely unjustifiable. It is easy to break down the five main reasons for this:

1. The most obvious is that it was shoddy journalism. As Ross himself pointed out in his initial statement, his researchers had no way of knowing whether the Jim Holmes who participated in local Aurora, CO, Tea Party events had any connection to the Jim Holmes responsible for the mass murders. Because ABC News was no doubt worried about being out-scooped by one of its competitors, they rushed to report this "revelation" before anyone else, most likely rationalizing it by thinking that if they were found to be in error, they could retract the story and apologize for it later (which is exactly what they did). This may be a sound business practice, but it makes for lousy reporting. As even a passing student of journalistic ethics will tell you, they had no place mentioning any potential Jim Holmes/Tea Party connection until they had proof that it was valid.

2. It was unfair to the Tea Party. Whatever criticisms one may have of that movement (and, as has already been made clear, I certainly have quite a few), there is no reason to believe that its members would support the kind of savage violence displayed by The Dark Knight Rises shooter. Despite our punditry's penchant for hyperbole, we are not a nation whose mainstream political discussion regularly devolves into acts of senseless terrorism and violence (at least not in recent history -- one can always look, of course, at the days of the antebellum slavery controversy or McCarthy-era red-baiting). It is at best irresponsible, and at worst downright malicious, to imply otherwise, regardless of what one thinks of those who happen to have a different point of view.

3. It has smeared, to say nothing of endangered, the innocent Jim Holmes. Already the wrongly accused man has had to disconnect his phone after receiving death threats as a result of the false association. While that's bad enough, this is made even worse by the fact that his name will forever be linked with these heinous crimes. As anyone who has been the victim of a vicious rumor can attest, even the most decisive debunking of an erroneous charge will often fade away while fragments of the initial accusation continue to linger. Although Holmes's name has been cleared, no one can predict how this man's life will be forever changed by the simple fact that his identity was linked to this atrocity on a worldwide scale in the first place -- however briefly. The media does not have the right to make mistakes that can have such serious effects on the quality of an innocent person's life.

4. It will be used to challenge valid criticisms of the Tea Party in the future. It is not surprising that the Colorado Tea Party Patriots have already used the ABC News gaffe as an opportunity to denounce aspects of this event's coverage as "shameless and reprehensible." While their argument is sound on this occasion (most notably when they point out that Holmes was characterized as a Tea Party member by ABC News "without having made any effort to contact our organization"), the Tea Party has a long history of denying reasonable charges against their movement, usually relying on the timeworn stand-by that they're motivated by the media's so-called "liberal bias." Because they have actually been wronged on this occasion, they now have an excuse to feel legitimized when evading accountability in the future.

5. It cheapens national tragedies by politicizing them. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney deserve credit for setting an admirable example after this event by refusing to politicize it in any way. Indeed, the words Obama used in his speech after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting last year apply perfectly to the current situation: "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle." There is no question that ABC News failed that test.

While it may seem harsh to insist that heads roll at ABC News for the slander against the Tea Party, appropriate dismissals would go a long way toward ensuring that media recklessness like this doesn't happen again. Although the network has apologized for its mistake, that apology has come without any serious consequences for the personnel responsible for the misinformation; as such, no disincentive exists to deter either ABC or other stations from doing this kind of thing again. So long as the price is paid by others -- be it blameless bystanders like the innocent Jim Holmes, participants in American political debate like the Tea Party, or those who are just old-fashioned enough to believe in journalistic ethics -- news organizations that are obsessed with the bottom line will have no reason not to gamble with the truth by rushing out stories like the spurious Tea Party connection to the mass shooting. Once their own livelihoods are put on the line, however, I suspect they will develop a new found appreciation for getting the facts right.