Conservatives must stop demonizing the census

The U.S. Constitution requires that the government conduct a census every ten years. Population counts determine federal funding for various programs, as well as the number of Congressional districts allocated to each state, so the public interest in conducting a thorough census is obvious.

The next census will take place in 2010, but some right-wing loudmouths and Republican politicians have unfortunately demonized the effort as an intrusive government plot. Over at Think Progress, Faiz Shakir recaps some of the paranoid chatter from Representative Michele Bachmann (MN-06) and Glenn Beck of Fox News. Shakir also cites radio host Neal Boortz, who told his listeners, “Most of the rest of the [Census] information is designed to help the government steal from you in order to pass off your property to the moochers. They’re looters.”

Not long ago I discussed my worries about the rhetoric of armed resistance coming from the political right, and I’ve been reflecting on this problem since I heard about census-taker Bill Sparkman’s murder. Sparkman was found naked and bound with “fed” written on his chest and his census ID taped to his neck. In rural Kentucky,

Sparkman’s gruesome death has ignited a debate over whether it was a byproduct of harsh anti-government rhetoric on talk shows, blogs and protests. Residents of impoverished Clay County say most people harbor no resentment for agents of the federal government, and they’re baffled by Sparkman’s apparent killing.

Sheriff Kevin Johnson, a native, said most residents feel a measure of gratitude to the federal government.

“We’ve been a poverty-stricken area pretty much all our lives,” he said. “The government’s taking care of 70 percent of people here, through Social Security, SSI, food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid.”

None of those programs could function without the demographic data the Census Bureau provides.

If conservative politicians and opinion leaders keep stoking fears about the government using census data to steal from or perhaps even round up law-abiding citizens, I am concerned that mentally unstable individuals will commit further acts of violence against census-takers next year. Republicans should condemn the hatemongers and make clear that the census is not only permitted, but required under the Constitution.

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Gregg out at Commerce--Whom should Obama appoint?

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire withdrew his name from consideration for Commerce Secretary in Barack Obama’s cabinet today. Politico posted the statement from Gregg’s office. Excerpt:

I want to thank the President for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. This was a great honor, and I had felt that I could bring some views and ideas that would assist him in governing during this difficult time. I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle.

However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.

Obviously the President requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives. […]

As a further matter of clarification, nothing about the vetting process played any role in this decision. I will continue to represent the people of New Hampshire in the United States Senate.

One wonders why Gregg only noticed today that his views on economic stimulus and the census would impede his effectiveness as a cabinet member. (The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.)

Despite the last paragraph of Gregg’s statement, you have to wonder whether something popped up in the vetting process here.

Whatever his reasons, I welcome the news and hope that the third time will be the charm for President Obama as he tries to fill this position.

This thread is for any comments or speculation about why Gregg dropped out and who should replace him at Commerce. I don’t want the job to go to another conservative or another Republican.

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Richardson out--Who should be the new Commerce Secretary?

I didn’t see this one coming. Bill Richardson has withdrawn from consideration for the Commerce Department job in Barack Obama’s cabinet because of a pending FBI investigation. He denies any wrongdoing and will continue to serve as governor of New Mexico. (It’s bad luck for Diane Denish, who was set to become that state’s first woman governor in a few weeks.)

The Commerce Department is big and oversees a lot of important agencies, like the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Whom will Obama pick for the Commerce job, and whom should he pick?

UPDATE: Jake Tapper says people on the Obama transition team feel Richardson “was not forthcoming with them about the federal investigation that is looking into whether the governor steered a state contract towards a major financial contributor.”

A CNN report suggests Richardson was forced to withdraw his name from consideration.

Reuters speculates about who might replace Richardson.

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