The United States of Anger and Contradiction


A depressing day in the life of modern American politics

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PresidentObama's chief opponent in the West Virginia Primary, Texas inmate Keith Judd / AP Images

In West Virginia Tuesday night, 41 percent of Democratic primary voters chose a rather nondescript Texas prison inmate over President Obama. Never mind that these people had just voted for a man who himself cannot vote. Never mind that voters like these have fueled felon disenfranchisement initiatives all across the country. Out-of-state prison inmates, evidently, make for great symbols of political protest. And West Virginia clearly doesn't like the president. Anger and contradiction.

In North Carolina, a state which already precluded same-sex marriage, voters Tuesday overwhelming endorsed a constitutional amendment that bans such marriages, partnerships or civil unions. "We are not anti-gay," said an advocate who had just fought to block gay and lesbian North Carolinians from marrying one another, "we are pro marriage." Anger and contradiction; 30 states now have passed such measures since judges and legislators in other states began recognizing a right to same-sex marriage.

In Colorado, a purple state if there ever were one these days, state lawmakers Tuesday night couldn't agree upon the language of a measure that would have recognized the right of same-sex couples to lawfully form "civil unions." But the deadlock didn't just impact that piece of legislation -- it threatens to wreck an entire legislation session. Here's how the great Lynn Bartels wrote the lede for The Denver Post:

A bill to allow same-sex couples to form civil unions died on the calendar late Tuesday, taking down with it more than 30 other measures in a dramatic game of political chicken in which no one would blink. When Republican Speaker Frank McNulty acknowledged there was an impasse and abruptly ended his news conference on the House floor, Coloradans watching in the gallery started chanting: "Shame on you! Shame on you!"

In Indiana, Republican primary voters Tuesday night tossed out Richard Lugar, the six-term senator, in favor of a man, Richard Mourdock, who plans to come to the United States Senate next January with the following perceptions of what productive legislative leadership means. "This is a historic time," Mourdock told The New York Times, "and the most powerful people in both parties are so opposed to one another that one side simply has to win out over the other." Anger and contradiction, Tea Party style.

And that was just one day in the life of America -- without mentioning the junk that passed yesterday as political discourse in Washington. We are furious with one another. When we aren't shouting toward one another, we are scurrying to our own separate corners of reality. In Virginia, for example, a monthly newsletter for a Republican county committee contained a column calling for "armed revolution" should Obama be reelected. But read the rest of the articles, too, for a sense of the extent of the disconnect.

I don't have anything profound to say about all this except that it is easy to feel, in moments like this, that it's 1994 all over again and that things are going to get much worse before they get better. But today is a new day, right? Right? No. Alas, today is the day that a committee of the Missouri state senate will spend their time and taxpayer money on a hearing over HB 1534, a bat-shit crazy state measure that would criminalize (with jail for up to one year) any federal enforcement of the Affordable Care Act.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, 60 Minutes' first-ever legal analyst, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. He is also chief analyst for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal journalists. More

Cohen is the winner of the American Bar Association’s 2012 Silver Gavel Award for his Atlantic commentary about the death penalty in America and the winner of the Humane Society’s 2012 Genesis Award for his coverage of the plight of America’s wild horses. A racehorse owner and breeder, Cohen also is a two-time winner of both the John Hervey and O’Brien Awards for distinguished commentary about horse racing.

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