It Can’t Happen Here?

New Novel Explores Imposition Of A ‘Christian Nation’ On America

Americans United, September 2013

Fred Rich is an attorney in New York who has just published his first novel, Christian Nation. In this intriguing “what if,” Rich presents an alter­native version of recent U.S. history: It’s an America where the McCain/­Palin ticket wins the 2008 election, and McCain’s death shortly thereafter leads to a Palin presidency and a slide toward theocracy.

            Rich discussed the book with Church & State recently.

Q. You’re a successful lawyer who specializes in project financing. This is your first novel. What possessed you to write this book?

A. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin shocked me. When she started insisting that America is a “Christian Nation” where all laws are and should be based on “God’s law” and the Bible, I started to do some research about what she meant. It was then that I found out about the breadth and depth of Christian nationalism, what the movement really wants and how profoundly they have influenced American politics. I felt I needed to do something and decided to try to tell the story in a different way.

Q. You obviously know a lot about Religious Right groups and how they operate. What non-fiction sources did you use to educate yourself while writing Christian Nation?

A. My primary sources were American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle both by Chris Hedges; Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg; The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet; American Theocracy by Kevin Philips and Republican Gomorrah by Max Blumenthal. In promoting my novel, I have done everything possible to direct people to these important books.

Q. Talk about the title of your book. Here at Americans United, we hear all the time that America was founded to be a “Christian nation.” Why isn’t it?

A. Political pundits have started to use the term “dog-whistle politics” to refer to the use of language that is assumed by the majority to mean one thing, but is only truly “heard” or correctly understood by a particular group. “Christian Nation” is one of those terms. When Palin, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and others say that the U.S. is a “Christian nation,” most Americans think that simply means that over its history the majority of Americans have been Christian, and thus that Christianity has given our country many of its traditions and influenced its culture – all of which is, of course, true.  But that’s not what it means at all, or what is understood by the broad evangelical community. To them, it means the realization of America’s destiny to be a shining “city upon a hill,” a godly Kingdom in which God’s law as revealed in the Bible remains the source of all law.

It is a country in which politicians like Palin talk to God and tell the rest of us what He wants. To certain extremists, it also means a country in which Christians – evangelicals in particular – have “dominion” over all institutions of civic and political life, which they believe is a predicate to the second coming of Christ.

Q. Two obvious literary antece­dents to your book seem to be Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Were there other fictional works that inspired you?

A. Those were the main ones but also Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, where he uses a counterfactual – Charles Lindbergh becoming president in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt – to animate his alternate history.  I suppose the book is most like Lewis’ book, since it is written contemporaneously with the problem and constitutes a plea to “not let it happen here.” My book differs from Margaret Atwood’s haunting book in that it outlines a practical path to the theocratic future, as opposed to just being set in a strange and unlikely future and leaving you to wonder how we got from here to there.

Q. People probably tell you all of the time that while your book is entertaining, it’s too fantastic and the scenario outlined could never happen in America. How do you respond to that?

A. It’s interesting – only people who have not read the book tell me that. That’s the mental place where we all start – it’s where I started.  It’s where the characters in my book start. I don’t argue with that or tell readers they are wrong. Instead, chapter by chapter, incrementally, with the ebb and flow of politics – with an unlucky combination of bad decisions and bad luck – a scenario starts to unfold under which the broader group of the “Christian Right” (perhaps 70 or 80 million Am­er­icans) buys into the agenda of the fundamentalists, the legal protections against authoritarianism are ever so gradually eroded and before long we find ourselves in a bad place. Most people who read the book find it totally credible, not believing that it will happen but convinced that it could happen.

Q. Some political analysts believe that American society is changing and that the Religious Right is on the ropes. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Too many of us in the big cities and “blue states” indulge in the wishful thought that the 2012 elections signal at long last the ebb tide of Christian fundamentalism in American politics. I certainly hope so. But that’s not what it looks like in much of the country. In what Garry Wills has called the “great bait and switch,” Tea Party politicians elected to tame deficits have instead unleashed a tsunami of conservative social legislation in the state legislatures, including by his count – in the first quarter of 2012 alone – 944 separate bills and amendments dealing with abortion and contraception. And most disturbingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports what they called a “stunning” rise in extreme right hate groups and militias.

Q. Days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, several prominent Religious Right leaders issued a statement asserting that any ruling furthering same-sex marriage would be illegitimate and implied that they would strongly resist it. How far do you think these groups might go?

A. The “Freedom Federation,” a broad spectrum of about 200 groups, wrote, in part, “While there are many things we can endure, redefining marriage is so fundamental to the natural order and the true common good that this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”  And what does not crossing that line involve?  They explained:  “[I]f the government redefines marriage to grant a legal equivalency to same-sex couples, that same government will then enforce such an action with the police power of the State. This will bring about an inevitable collision with religious freedom and conscience rights. We cannot and will not allow this to occur on our watch.”

The Christian right is telling us that gay marriage and its “enforcement” by the state is an act that contravenes their own “religious freedom and conscience rights.”  When a gay couple gets married and lives in happy monogamy for the rest of their days, they argue, this constitutes a constitutionally and morally unacceptable infringement of the “religious freedom and conscience rights” of fundamentalist Christians, and thus something against which we can expect them to struggle – righteously – until they are once again “free.”  How far do I think they will go if they succeed in redefining the issue as an infringement of their own rights of religious freedom? All the way.

Q. Have you had any reaction from followers of the Religious Right?

A. Putting aside internet rants and insults, there have been a few comments challenging the idea that the evangelical political movement’s goal is theocratic. I understand these. Many self-identified “evangelicals” and “born-again” Christians do not share the agenda of the fundamentalists. I acknowledge this. But one of the lessons of history is that fundamentalists pose the greatest threat to their co-religionists – moderate Christians may have the most to lose by not calling out fundamentalists as the fanatics they are. I have been really pleased that so many moderate Christian ministers and theologians have praised my book.

Q. What can Americans do to prevent the kind of scenario outlined in Christian Nation from happening?

A. First and foremost, take it seriously. Everything depends on that. No one will be motivated to vote, speak or act to stop Christian fundamentalism if he or she believes they are a bunch of cranks. Listen to what they say, consider the possibility that they mean it, think about how fanatical movements have seized power throughout human history, and accept that our democracy, which strong, is not invulnerable. You will have noted that the book’s web site, www.readchristiannation. ­com, has a page called “Take Action,” in which I urge readers to join AU and similar organizations and do something. I will be very disappointed if a reader finishes my book and is not motivated to act.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add?

A. Only to thank everyone at AU for being among the first to understand this problem, for being relentless in their defense of separation of church and state and for doing what they do every day.

https://www.au.org/church-state/september-2013-church-state/featured/it-cant-happen-here

“Frederic C. Rich’s book, Christian Nation: A Novel  http://www.readchristiannation.com/novel/

Anger Can Be Power

By THOMAS B. EDSALL, New York TImes, October 8, 2013

Excerpt

These are extraordinary times. The depth and strength of voters’ conviction that their opponents are determined to destroy their way of life has rarely been matched, perhaps only by the mood of the South in the years leading up to the Civil War…They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down. Animosity toward the federal government has been intensifying at a stunning rate. In a survey released on Sept. 23, Gallup found that the percentage of Republicans saying the federal government has too much power — 81 percent — had reached a record-setting level. The movement to the right on the part of the Republican electorate can be seen in Gallup surveys calculating that the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as conservative grew between 2002 and 2010 by 10 percentage points, from 62 to 72 percent. During the same period, the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as moderates fell from 31 to 23 percent. These trends date back to the 1970s….pollster Stan…Greenberg’s premise is that “you cannot understand the government shutdown unless you understand the G.O.P. from the inside.” Greenberg puts Republicans into three categories: evangelical and religiously observant voters (47 percent); libertarian-leaning Tea Party supporters (22 percent); and moderates (25 percent)….One of the key factors pushing Republicans to extremes, according to Greenberg’s report, is the intensity of animosity toward Obama…the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party. Voters like this, according to the report, are convinced that they have lost the larger battle:… Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing… They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. “These voters think they are losing the country,…The evangelical and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party combine into a clear majority of Republican voters...Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview….A determined minority can do a lot in our system. It has already won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican House caucus. That is not a modest victory.

Full text

These are extraordinary times. The depth and strength of voters’ conviction that their opponents are determined to destroy their way of life has rarely been matched, perhaps only by the mood of the South in the years leading up to the Civil War.

In a recent column for Bloomberg View, my friend Frank Wilkinson put together a concise explanation:

A lot of Americans were not ready for a mixed-race president. They weren’t ready for gay marriage. They weren’t ready for the wave of legal and illegal immigration that redefined American demographics over the past two or three decades, bringing in lots of nonwhites. They weren’t ready — who was? — for the brutal effects of globalization on working- and middle-class Americans or the devastating fallout from the financial crisis.

Their representatives didn’t stop Obamacare. And their side didn’t “take back America” in 2012 as Fox News and conservative radio personalities led them to believe they would. They feel the culture is running away from them (and they’re mostly right). They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down.

Animosity toward the federal government has been intensifying at a stunning rate. In a survey released on Sept. 23, Gallup found that the percentage of Republicans saying the federal government has too much power — 81 percent — had reached a record-setting level.

The movement to the right on the part of the Republican electorate can be seen in Gallup surveys calculating that the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as conservative grew between 2002 and 2010 by 10 percentage points, from 62 to 72 percent. During the same period, the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as moderates fell from 31 to 23 percent.

These trends date back to the 1970s. Surveys conducted by American National Election Studies found that the percentage of self-described conservative Republicans rose from 42 in 1972 to 65 percent in 2008, while the percentage of moderate Republicans fell from 26 to 16 percent. Liberal Republicans — remember them? — fell from 10 to 4 percent.

Take the findings of a Pew Research Center survey released four weeks ago. They show that discontent with Republican House and Senate leaders runs deep among Republican primary voters: two-thirds of them disapprove of their party’s Congressional leadership — John Boehner, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

Sometimes you have to turn to the know-your-enemy people to understand what’s going on. The Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner is one of the keenest observers of the contemporary Republican electorate. He is conducting an ongoing study called the “The Republican Party Project” for the liberal nonprofit organization Democracy Corps. Greenberg’s premise is that “you cannot understand the government shutdown unless you understand the G.O.P. from the inside.”

Greenberg puts Republicans into three categories (Figure 1): evangelical and religiously observant voters (47 percent); libertarian-leaning Tea Party supporters (22 percent); and moderates (25 percent).

Last week Greenberg released the results of six focus groups conducted with evangelical and other religiously observant Republicans (in Roanoke, Va., and Colorado Springs, Colo.), Tea Party supporters who are not evangelicals (Raleigh, N.C., and Roanoke), and moderate Republicans (Raleigh and Colorado Springs).

One of the key factors pushing Republicans to extremes, according to Greenberg’s report, is the intensity of animosity toward Obama. This animosity among participants in all six focus groups is reflected in Figure 2, which represents a “word cloud” of focus group references to the president, with the size of each word in the cloud proportional to the frequency with which it was used.

In the six focus groups of Republican voters, according to Greenberg’s report, “few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms,” but the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.

Voters like this, according to the report, are convinced that they have lost the larger battle:

While many voters, including plenty of Democrats, question whether Obama is succeeding and getting his agenda done, Republicans think he has won. The country as a whole may think gridlock has triumphed, particularly in the midst of a Republican-led government shutdown, but Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing.

In his report for the Democracy Corps, Greenberg describes the Republican base electorate as fearful of being strategically outmaneuvered:

They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.

Conservative troops blame moderate Republican for what they see as Democratic victories. The Republican base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country – and their starting reaction is “worried,” “discouraged,” “scared,” and “concerned” about the direction of the country – and a little powerless to change course. They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in D.C. let him get away with it.

Figure 3 represents a second word cloud generated by Greenberg’s data showing which words came up most often in all six focus groups:

Greenberg’s study found that in the view of many, if not most, Republicans the Democratic Party exists to create programs and dependency – the food stamp hammock, entitlements, the 47 percent. And on the horizon — comprehensive immigration reform and Obamacare. Citizenship for 12 million illegals and tens of million getting free health care is the end of the road.

“These voters think they are losing the country,” Greenberg said during an Oct. 3 conference call with reporters.

Among Greenberg’s other findings from his focus groups:

  • The participants “are very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority.”
  • Republican voters are threatened by Obama and the Democratic Party, but they are angry at their own party leaders. “The problem in D.C. is not gridlock; Obama has won; the problem is Republicans failing to stop him.”
  • Together, evangelicals and Tea Party supporters comprise more than half the party. Moderates, about a quarter of Republicans, “are very conscious of being illegitimate within their own party.”

The evangelical and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party combine into a clear majority of Republican voters, and according to Greenberg, they have a mutually reinforcing relationship:

Social issues are central for Evangelicals and they feel a deep sense of cultural and political loss. They believe their towns, communities, and schools are suffering from a deep “culture rot” that has invaded from the outside. The central focus here is homosexuality, but also the decline of homogenous small towns. They like the Tea Party because they stand up to the Democrats.

Tea Party supporters, according to Greenberg’s research, have a more libertarian edge, but their worldview is compatible with the evangelical agenda:

Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview. Obama’s America is an unmitigated evil based on big government, regulations, and dependency. They are not focused on social issues at all. They like the Tea Party because it is getting “back to basics” and believe it has the potential to reshape the G.O.P.

John Boehner is just the kind of Republican leader the hard right dislikes – a deal maker, a compromiser. The Republican primary electorate, with its hold on a solid block of Republican representatives and its ability to recruit and promote challengers, now has Boehner trapped. Personally inclined to find his way out of the face-to-face confrontation – he is, after all, a career politician loath to shut down the government — Boehner has been forced into a confrontation, with less and less room for negotiation with his own party’s warring flanks and with Democrats.

Two days after Obama’s re-election, when Republicans lost eight seats but retained their House majority (232 to 200, with three vacancies), Boehner was asked by Diane Sawyer on ABC, “You have said next year that you would repeal the health care vote. That’s still your mission?” Boehner replied: “Well, I think the election changes that. It’s pretty clear that the president was re-elected, Obamacare is the law of the land.”

That same day, Michael O’Brien of NBC News suggested that

The speaker’s pronouncement, if nothing else, signifies a pivot away from Republicans’ efforts to showcase for conservatives their doggedness in looking to repeal Obamacare.

Nearly a year later, on Oct. 6, Boehner admitted that he had been forced to capitulate by constituent pressures on Republican members of the House. Appearing again on ABC, this time with George Stephanopoulos, Boehner said, “I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand.”

Stephanopoulos asked, “Did you decide it or was it decided for you?” Boehner’s answer: I, working with my members, decided to do this in a unified way. George, I have 233 Republicans in the House. And you’ve never seen a more dedicated group of people who are thoroughly concerned about the future of our country. They believe that Obamacare, all these regulations coming out of the administration, are threatening the future for our kids and our grandkids. It is time for us to stand and fight.

A determined minority can do a lot in our system. It has already won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican House caucus. That is not a modest victory.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/anger-can-be-power/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20131009

The Radicalization of the GOP is the Most Important Political Story Today

by Joshua Holland, Bill Moyers.com, October 10, 2013

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) once claimed that “80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists” and called those who worship in them “an enemy living amongst us.” He held McCarthyesque hearings into the supposed “radicalization of American Muslims,” parading a line of prominent bigots through the House Homeland Security Committee.

He’s an outspoken advocate of the war on terror – The New York Times called him “the Patriot Act’s most fervent supporter” – and has been a leading figure politicizing the attacks on our consular office and CIA station in Benghazi. King was a fierce opponent of George W. Bush’s efforts to reform the immigration system. He railed against the Occupy movement, and opposed both the 2009 stimulus package and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He called for the prosecution of journalist Glenn Greenwald for reporting Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. He has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee and a zero percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. The Drum Major Institute gave him a seven percent rating for his votes on issues of importance to the middle class last year.

In the past few weeks, dozens of political journalists have dubbed him a moderate. In fact, he’s been anointed a leader among the Republican moderates. He earned that label because, like other New York pols, he doesn’t blindly support the National Rifle Association, and because he opposes shutting down the government and threatening to unleash a potential economic catastrophe in a hopeless quest to defund Obamacare. That’s it. That’s how low the bar of moderation in the Republican Party now falls.

Arguably, the most important political story of our time – one necessary to understanding the last five years of so-called “gridlock” in Washington, DC – is one that journalists wedded to the idea that ‘both sides do it’ are uncomfortable reporting: the wildly asymmetric polarization of our two major political parties as Democrats inched to the left and Republicans lurched to the right.

This week, Dan Balz, senior correspondent for The Washington Post, took a deep dive into the roots of the latest crisis. He attributes it to “a deepening red-blue divide in America [that] has made this era of politics the most polarized in more than a century.”

The bonds that once helped produce political consensus have gradually eroded, replaced by competing camps that live in parallel universes, have sharply divergent worldviews and express more distrust of opponents than they did decades ago. Many activists describe the stakes in apocalyptic terms.

Balz covers a lot of ground, noting that red districts have become redder and blue districts bluer. He points out that there are fewer districts in which one party won the congressional vote while the other party got more votes in the last presidential election and notes that conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans no longer exist in Congress. He talks about the role gerrymandering has playedin this and the even greater impact of natural migration patterns that concentrated Democrats into tightly packed urban districts while Republicans got the advantage in suburban and rural areas.

But, he didn’t discuss the most important political trend of our time. Only toward the end of the piece, on the fifth and final page, did he offer a throwaway observation that, “Republicans have shifted more to the right than Democrats have shifted to the left,” before adding, “but on both sides passions are stronger than they were two decades ago.”

This anodyne statement glosses over the radicalization of the Republican Party since the 1980s. That shift isn’t merely a matter of opinion. Political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal developed a statistical measure of lawmakers’ voting records that allows scholars to study the dynamics in Congress empirically. The system, known as DW-NOMINATE, ranks legislators according to how far they veer from the midline of congressional votes.

Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker used this data for his 2006 book, Off Center, in which he noted that since 1975, Senate Republicans have moved twice as far to the right as their Democratic counterparts have moved to the left. Of course, this shutdown is being driven by the Republican-controlled House, and in the lower chamber Hacker found that Republicans had shifted six times further to the right than their Democratic counterparts went to the left.

On the DW-Nominate scale, -1.000 represents the position of the most liberal vote, while +1.000 is that of the most conservative. The bigger a lawmaker’s number, the further his or her record is from Congress’s center. In the 100th Congress (1987-1989), only around four percent of Republicans had a score over 0.600, but by the last Congress almost a quarter of the Republican caucus fell into that group. The same dynamic wasn’t apparent on the Democratic side of the aisle: The share of Democrats who scored between -0.600 and -1.000 rose from slightly less than six percent of the caucus in 1989 to just over nine percent in the last Congress.

But that’s not the whole story. DW-Nominate scores don’t measure lawmakers’ liberalism or conservatism. They measure how far their votes are from other votes in the same Congress. As such, it doesn’t factor in shifts in the ideological center itself. That center has shifted dramatically to the right over the last 30 years.

In a 2012 article for The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza quoted Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, from their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:

One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

There is no doubt that at the root of this crisis is a deeply polarized public. But, the key aspect of this story is that the Republican Party veered toward the extreme of its ideological orientation just as the country was becoming more diverse and tolerant – and as the most progressive generation in 70 years was coming of age – and that dissonance has driven them to cast off the legislative norms that have traditionally made our divided government work.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.

http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/10/the-radicalization-of-the-gop-is-the-most-important-political-story-today/

The American Public’s Shocking Lack of Policy Knowledge is a Threat to Progress and Democracy

By Justin Doolittle, Truthout | Op-Ed, October 12, 2013

Excerpt

The genuinely shocking degree of public ignorance regarding the ACA that has been revealed by this slew of recent polls… ought to be viewed as a very serious political crisis and a grave threat to whatever semblance of health our badly disfigured democratic culture still maintains…..

The public is not just uninformed, but also misinformed…having been helplessly subjected to four years of relentless and fantastically dishonest propaganda regarding the policy on which they are opining…

Widespread civic ignorance is intrinsically beneficial to reactionaries and anathema to progressive politics. The lack of basic, sensible policy knowledge among the general public is hardly limited to the arena of health care…

The Republican Party, as well as what David Frum refers to as the “conservative entertainment complex,” combine to operate an extremely powerful, 24/7 propaganda machine, specifically designed to misinform Americans and spread an inherent distrust of any progressive policy ideas…

The reality of a massively uninformed public, though, is simply incongruous with this vision of a progressive future. So long as colossal swaths of the population are in the dark about the major policy issues of our time, the political scene will be ripe for ultra-right-wing demagogues and faux-populists to thwart progress at every turn...The vibrancy and legitimacy of our democratic culture depend on it.

Full text

With implementation of the core provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) finally upon us, pollsters have been busy soliciting current public opinion of the law, as the fanatical Republican Party continues its quixotic mission to destroy it. Ludicrous though it is to subject such a complex and multi-dimensional law to an up-or-down, binary referendum, the American people continue to “disapprove” of the ACA by a modest margin; this polling dynamic has been relatively consistent since 2010.

Far more interesting than the fatuous and oversimplified “approve or disapprove” question, though, is the more concrete polling data that reveals public perception of what is, and is not, actually contained in the reform package. Surely, before subjectivity even enters the equation, there must be a coherent, objective understanding of the law itself. Any negative – or positive – opinion about the ACA that is premised on a thorough lack of knowledge of the law’s actual substance may, of course, be dismissed as essentially meaningless.

The genuinely shocking degree of public ignorance regarding the ACA that has been revealed by this slew of recent polls, more than three years after the law was signed by President Obama, should not be something to which we respond by simply shaking our heads and lamenting that the American people are so “disengaged.” No, this ought to be viewed as a very serious political crisis and a grave threat to whatever semblance of health our badly disfigured democratic culture still maintains.

The public is dramatically uninformed, and misinformed, about the law. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 76 percent of people currently lacking health insurance “didn’t understand the law and how it would affect them.” Just 51 percent of respondents were aware of the existence of the exchanges that launched; 49 percent were aware of the subsidies available for low-income people.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll asked respondents about the exchanges and even provided several choices of launch dates: October 1; Other date in 2013; Date in 2014; Other; or Don’t know/Refused.

Given the structure of the question, the results are astonishing: 64 percent of the public refused to even venture a guess, with just 15 percent answering correctly that the exchanges were set to launch on October 1. Among the uninsured, the bloc of people the new marketplaces are designed to help, it was even more striking: 74 percent did not know, and just 12 percent answered October 1. The poll was taken less than two weeks before the exchanges were set to go live.

As the years pass, there is virtually no evidence that accurate information about the ACA is successfully penetrating the public consciousness: Kaiser concluded “the public’s level of awareness about exactly which provisions are – and are not – included in the health care law has generally not increased in the three and a half years since the law was passed.”

If anything, the trend is going in the opposite direction, with the public having actually become less informed with time: Levels of awareness of other key provisions have either remained stable or declined over time.

For example, the shares who are aware of the law’s subsidies, Medicaid expansion, and closing of the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” have all decreased since right after the law’s passage in 2010 (by 12 percentage points, 6 percentage points, and 7 percentage points, respectively). This leaves substantial shares unaware that the law includes each of these key provisions.

The public is not just uninformed, but also misinformed, about the most consequential social reform signed into law in many decades. More than half of Americans reported to Kaiser that a public option was, in fact, included in the ACA. More than 40 percent believe that the law provides subsidies to undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance, establishes something very closely resembling a death panel, and cuts benefits for seniors currently enrolled in Medicare (43 percent, 42 percent and 42 percent, respectively).

These statistics simply preclude any kind of serious discussion about the law’s “popularity” or lack thereof. It would be no more absurd to approach a group of 12-year-olds and inquire about their views of the conflict in Syria. And that analogy actually understates the case, because the 12-year-olds in question could at least respond honestly and instinctively, without having been helplessly subjected to four years of relentless and fantastically dishonest propaganda regarding the policy on which they are opining.

It’s worth remembering that these are the central provisions of the ACA. If so many citizens are unaware of the core tenets of the law, including those which are specifically geared to benefit them and have generated an enormous amount of media attention, it stands to reason that the dozens of smaller-scale programs and reforms contained within the law are unknown to virtually everyone except the most dedicated policy wonks.

What percentage of the public, for example, is aware of the provisions that

-   Prohibit insurance companies from imposing annual dollar limits on coverage, the cause of so many bankruptcies among American families?

- The 85 percent Medical Loss Ratio provision (requiring that percentage of premiums be spent on actual care rather than administration) that has already resulted in billions of dollars in rebates?

- The expansion of free preventive care?

- The development of Accountable Care Organizations, Electronic Health Records, and bundled payments, to finally address the rampant structural dysfunction in health care?

- The myriad cost control mechanisms?

Our health care system has long been an unconscionable international scandal, with terribly high costs and tens of millions of citizens lacking access. Democratic control of the White House and both chambers of Congress presented a unique opportunity to finally address the problem. The long and often grotesque legislative process eventually produced a law that, while further postponing the country’s eventual and inevitable embrace of some sort of single-payer system, contained a number of exceptionally propitious ideas and long overdue reforms. It’s a clear and undeniable step forward for health care in this country. Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to coherently argue – even for those of us who support single payer – that the ACA, in its totality, is not exceedingly preferable to what had been the status quo, at least from a utilitarian perspective.

How then, can the public be so consistently antipathetic about the law, given that it merely removes some of the most excessive brutality from the American system of health care, while making a multifaceted effort to both expand access and control costs?

It’s been theorized that the broad aversion stems from the fact that around 85 percent of American adults already have health insurance, are reasonably satisfied with it, and are therefore anxious about any sweeping overhauls of a system that is, as they see it, working tolerably well for them.

To be sure, there is some truth to this. For all the systemic problems with health care in this country, most Americans families do have health insurance, and, within this group, many families are facing other, often quite dire economic challenges. Understandably, they might have wanted federal policymaking to be focused elsewhere in 2009 and 2010 (on the foreclosure crisis, for example).

Less Than Half Know About Closing “Doughnut Hole”

Of course, this explanation fails to account for the lack of support for the numerous cost-control mechanisms in the ACA, which, if effective, will benefit everyone, not just the currently uninsured; or, for example, the closing of the dreaded Medicare “doughnut hole,” something that benefits all seniors – and something that, to this day, less than half of Americans know is included in the law.

Nevertheless, due to various social, political and economic realities, not everyone will support sweeping social legislation, and this is unavoidable. The one strain of opposition – or indifference – to the ACA that is not unavoidable, though, and on which the progressive movement should focus, is that which is based on pure lack of information.

Thomas Jefferson once said that, “though the people may acquiesce, they cannot approve what they do not understand.” This is especially true when what they are being asked to approve is something as complicated and far-reaching as the ACA.

Widespread civic ignorance is intrinsically beneficial to reactionaries and anathema to progressive politics. The lack of basic, sensible policy knowledge among the general public is hardly limited to the arena of health care.

It’s no great secret which political actors are responsible for this democratic crisis. Our national political media is led by people like Chuck Todd, who, in a moment of breathtaking honesty, openly confessed that he does not view the dissemination of accurate and factual information as part of his job description as a journalist.

The Republican Party, as well as what David Frum refers to as the “conservative entertainment complex,” combine to operate an extremely powerful, 24/7 propaganda machine, specifically designed to misinform Americans and spread an inherent distrust of any progressive policy ideas.

Indeed, going down the line of policy realms on which the public is ignorant, in virtually every instance, it benefits the ultra-right-wing. Indifference to climate change is rampant. The public judges levels of income inequality in the United States to be much less dramatic than they are in reality. Support for the extraordinarily idiotic “balanced budget amendment” is overwhelming. In all of these cases, wildly uninformed public opinion serves to provide tactical support to Republicans and aid them in their vicious ideological crusades.

There is cause for optimism about the future of progressive politics in the US Demographic realities, seismic shifts in public attitudes on social issues and a lasting feeling of abomination at the unhinged lunacy of the Bush years are just some of the reasons to feel hopeful about our political direction over the long term.

The reality of a massively uninformed public, though, is simply incongruous with this vision of a progressive future. So long as colossal swaths of the population are in the dark about the major policy issues of our time, the political scene will be ripe for ultra-right-wing demagogues and faux-populists to thwart progress at every turn. Progressives have to confront the fact that, technically, Republicans are right when they say that the ACA is “unpopular” or that “the American people” want a balanced budget amendment. This has to change. The vibrancy and legitimacy of our democratic culture depend on it.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19279-the-american-publics-shocking-lack-of-policy-knowledge-is-a-threat-to-progress-and-democracy

How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, October 9, 2013

Why aren’t Republicans more afraid? The entire premise of both the government shutdown and the threats to force the government into debt default is that Democrats care more about the consequences of these actions than the Republicans do…A handful of wide-eyed fanatics in Congress have hijacked the party [6]. The Tea Party base and the hard right politicians driving this entire thing seem oblivious to the consequences. It’s no wonder, since so many of them—particularly those in leadership—are fundamentalist Christians whose religions have distorted their worldview until they cannot actually see what they’re doing and what kind of damage it would cause...The Tea Party is actually driven primarily by fundamentalist Christians whose penchant for magical thinking and belief that they’re being guided by divine forces makes it tough for them to see the real world as it is…this latest power play from the Republicans is, in essence, a move from that demographic to assert their “right” to control the country, even if their politicians aren’t in power… In other words, the Christian right has worked itself into a frenzy of believing that if this health care law is implemented fully, then we are, in fact, facing down either the end of American Christianity itself or quite possibly the end times themselves. In comparison, it’s hard to be too scared by the worldwide financial collapse that they’re promising to unleash if the Democrats don’t just give up their power and let Republicans do what they want. Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.

This is a problem that extends beyond just the immediate manufactured crisis… fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care…

 

Full text

Why aren’t Republicans more afraid? The entire premise of both the government shutdown and the threats to force the government into debt default is that Democrats care more about the consequences of these actions than the Republicans do. Republicans may go on TV and shed crocodile tears about national monuments being shut down, but the act isn’t really fooling the voters [3]: The only way to understand these fights is to understand that the GOP is threatening to destroy the government and the world economy in order to get rid of Obamacare (as well as a panoply of other right wing demands). Just as terrorists use the fact that you care more about the lives of the hostages than they do to get leverage, Republican threats rely on believing they don’t care about the consequences, while Democrats do.

So why aren’t they more afraid? Businessweek, hardly a liberal news organization, said the price of default would be [4] “a financial apocalypse” that would cause a worldwide economic depression.  This is the sort of thing that affects everyone. Having a right wing ideology doesn’t magically protect your investments from crashing alongside the rest of the stock market.

The willingness of Republicans to take the debt ceiling and the federal budget hostage in order to try to extract concessions from Democrats is probably the most lasting gift that the Tea Party has granted the country. More reasonable Republican politicians fear being primaried by Tea Party candidates [5]. A handful of wide-eyed fanatics in Congress have hijacked the party [6]. The Tea Party base and the hard right politicians driving this entire thing seem oblivious to the consequences. It’s no wonder, since so many of them—particularly those in leadership—are fundamentalist Christians whose religions have distorted their worldview until they cannot actually see what they’re doing and what kind of damage it would cause. 

The press often talks about the Tea Party like they’re secularist movement that is interested mainly in promoting “fiscal conservatism”, a vague notion that never actually seems to make good on the promise to save taxpayer money. The reality is much different: The Tea Party is actually driven primarily by fundamentalist Christians whose penchant for magical thinking and belief that they’re being guided by divine forces makes it tough for them to see the real world as it is.

It’s not just that the rogue’s gallery of congress people [6] who are pushing the hardest for hostage-taking as a negotiation tactic also happens to be a bench full of Bible thumpersPew Research shows that people who align with the Tea Party [7] are more likely to not only agree with the views of religious conservatives, but are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.  White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to approve of the Tea Party. Looking over the data, it becomes evident that the “Tea Party” is just a new name for the same old white fundamentalists who would rather burn this country to the ground than share it with everyone else, and this latest power play from the Republicans is, in essence, a move from that demographic to assert their “right” to control the country, even if their politicians aren’t in power.

It’s no surprise, under the circumstances, that a movement controlled by fundamentalist Christians would be oblivious to the very real dangers that their actions present. Fundamentalist religion is extremely good at convincing its followers to be more afraid of imaginary threats than real ones, and to engage in downright magical thinking about the possibility that their own choices could work out very badly. When you believe that forcing the government into default in an attempt to derail Obamacare is the Lord’s work, it’s very difficult for you to see that it could have very real, negative effects.

It’s hard for the Christian fundamentalists who run the Republican Party now to worry about the serious economic danger they’re putting the world in, because they are swept up in worrying that President Obama is an agent of the devil and that the world is on the verge of mayhem and apocalypse if they don’t “stop” him somehow, presumably be derailing the Affordable Care Act. Christian conservatives such as Ellis Washington [8] are running around telling each other that the ACA  will lead to “the systematic genocide of the weak, minorities, enfeebled, the elderly and political enemies of the God-state.” Twenty percent of Republicans believe Obama is the Antichrist [9].Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner [10] argued that Obama is using his signature health care legislation to promote “the destruction of the family, Christian culture”, and demanded that Christians “need to engage in peaceful civil disobedience against President Obama’s signature health care law”.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined in, demanding that the Republicans shut down the government [11] rather than let Obamacare go into effect. The excuse was their objection to the requirement that insurance make contraception available without a copayment, saying ending this requirement matters more than “serving their own employees or the neediest Americans.”

The Christian right media has been hammering home the message that Christians should oppose the Affordable Care Act. Pat Necerato of the Christian News Network accused [12] the supporters of the law of committing idolatry and accused people who want health care of being covetous. The Christian Post approvingly reported various Christian leaders [13], including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, saying things like the health care law is “a profound attack on our liberties” and lamented “Today is the day I will tell my grandchildren about when they ask me what happened to freedom in America.”

Some in the Christian right straight up believe Obamacare portends the end times. Rick Phillips, writing for Christianity.com [14], hinted that Obamacare might be predicted in Revelations, though he held back from saying that was certain. Others are less cautious. On the right wing fundamentalist email underground, a conspiracy theory has arisen claiming that Obamacare will require all citizens to have a microchip implanted [15]. While it’s completely untrue, many Christians believe that this means the “mark of the beast” predicted in Revelations that portends the return of Christ and the end of the world.

In other words, the Christian right has worked itself into a frenzy of believing that if this health care law is implemented fully, then we are, in fact, facing down either the end of American Christianity itself or quite possibly the end times themselves. In comparison, it’s hard to be too scared by the worldwide financial collapse that they’re promising to unleash if the Democrats don’t just give up their power and let Republicans do what they want. Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.

This is a problem that extends beyond just the immediate manufactured crisis. The Christian right has become the primary vehicle in American politics for minimizing the problems of the real world while inventing imaginary problems as distractions. Witness, for instance, the way that fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed [16] to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care.

Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that it’s easy for Christian conservatives to worry more about imaginary threats from Obamacare than it is for them to worry about the very real threat to worldwide economic stability if the go along with their harebrained scheme of forcing the government into default. To make it worse, many have convinced themselves that it’s their opponents who are deluded. Take right wing Christian Senator Tom Coburn [17], who celebrated the possibility of default back in January by saying it would be a “wonderful experiment”. Being able to blow past all the advice of experts just to make stuff up you want to believe isn’t a quality that is unique to fundamentalists, but as these budget negotiations are making clear, they do have a uniquely strong ability to lie to themselves about what is and isn’t a real danger to themselves and to the world.

See more stories tagged with:

christian [18],

religion [19]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/belief/how-christian-delusions-are-driving-gop-insane

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/amanda-marcotte
[3] http://www.salon.com/2013/10/04/gops_fooling_no_one_theyll_always_rightly_be_blamed_for_shutdowns/
[4] http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-10-06/a-u-dot-s-dot-default-seen-as-unprecedented-catastrophe-dwarfing-lehman
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-federal-budget-crisis-months-in-the-planning.html?pagewanted=1&hp
[6] http://gawker.com/the-ten-republicans-who-shut-down-the-government-1440374726
[7] http://www.pewforum.org/2011/02/23/tea-party-and-religion/
[8] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/wnd-obamacare-will-lead-systematic-genocide
[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/americans-believe-obama-anti-christ-global-warming-hoax_n_3008558.html
[10] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/kuhner-liberalism-killing-millions-will-destroy-family-religion-and-civilization
[11] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/10/07/2743471/catholic-bishops-to-house-shut-down-the-government-unless-we-get-our-way-on-birth-control/
[12] http://christiannews.net/2013/01/07/obamacare-why-christians-must-obey-god-rather-than-obama/
[13] http://www.christianpost.com/news/conservative-christians-warn-american-families-at-risk-after-obamacare-is-upheld-77383/
[14] http://www.christianity.com/christian-life/political-and-social-issues/christians-in-conflict-over-obamacare.html
[15] http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/microchip.asp
[16] http://www.alternet.org/environment/how-religious-right-fueling-climate-change-denial
[17] http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/david/coburn-debt-ceiling-breach-wonderful-experim
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christian-0
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/religion-0
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Of Course Michele Bachmann Believes the End Times Are Here

Abby Ohlheiser, Atlantic Wire, Oct 7, 2013

Over the weekend, Rep. Michele Bachmann seemed to confirm what the congresswoman has long hinted: that she believes we are all currently living in the end of days, as fortold by the End Times scripture in the Bible. Speaking to “Understanding the Times” host Jan Markell, Bachmann connected the U.S.’s support of Syrian rebels directly to biblical prophecy that she believes outlines the signs of the end. On the show, Bachmann first falsely claims that the U.S. is funding and arming Islamic extremists in Syria, then says that based on that claim, “we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history.”

Bachmann is a frequent guest on Markell’s program, which is more or less devoted to discerning the signs of where we are in the End Times — her ministry functions off of the basic question of “when” and not “if” when it comes to the end of days. The content of this particular interview was first noticed by Right Wing Watch, who provide an excerpt and transcript of her End Times praise:

“[the U.S.'s funding of al Qaeda in Syria] happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history. Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand. When we see up is down and right is called wrong, when this is happening, we were told this; these days would be as the days of Noah.”

Bachmann’s relationship to “Understanding the Times” and its parent organization the Olive Tree Ministries hasn’t gone unnoticed. Back in 2011, Mother Jones did a long, quite good, story on Bachmann’s mixture of prophecy and politics. Her take on the extent of the U.S.’s backing of Israel is based in it, for instance: in 2010, Bachmann cited Genesis 12:3 while explaining her political stance on the subject: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That’s a quote from God to Abraham, from whom in the Bible all Israelites are descended. And while she’s made a bunch of appearances over the years on Markell’s show, Bachmann herself has played a bit coy with that association, as Mother Jones found:

When Minneapolis’ City Pages first reported on Bachmann’s relationship with Markell in 2005, the then-state senator denied any knowledge of Olive Tree Ministries. However, Markell tells Mother Jones that she’s known Bachmann off and on for 35 years, and says she spoke about Israel at Bachmann’s church in the late 1970s. “My hunch is that they misquoted her,” Markell says. “She’s been at my conference. Why she would have said [otherwise], I don’t know.”

As evidenced by the logo of Olive Tree Ministries, the politics of Israel plays a huge role in many American flavors of End Times prophecy. The more literary set will know this from a Lawrence Wright piece in the New Yorker (later turned into a “This American Life” segment) on Clyde Lott, who tried to breed a blemish-free red heifer, which, according to prophecy, has to be sacrificed in a purity ritual before the Temple of Solomon can be rebuilt.

Talking about the End Times might not be a popular pursuit for members of Congress seeking re-election (which, remember, Bachmann is not), but it isn’t that rare among conservative American Christians. In the past month, two Christian groups have attempted to quantify that belief: a recent survey by the Evangelical polling group Barna  found that over 40 percent of Americans believe we’re in the End Timesa number that matches up with another recent survey asking a similar question from the Public Religion Research Institute, which has a different worldview from Barna. PRRI’s poll adds that 65 percent of White Evangelical Christians believe that the recent severity of natural disasters is a sign of the end. And LifeWay, associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, found that one in three Americans believe that the Syrian conflict is related to End Times prophecy. The LifeWay researchers believe the apocalyptic interest in Syria has a lot to do with its proximity to Israel.

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/10/course-michele-bachmann-believes-end-times-are-here/70275/

Ignore the Spin: This Debt Ceiling Crisis is Not Politics as Usual

by John Light, BillMoyers.com, October 9, 2013

Never before has a minority party linked controversial legislative demands with a threat to shut down the government or imperil the global economy. But House Republicans would have you believe otherwise.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this morning, Rep. Paul Ryan writes that president Obama “says he ‘will not negotiate’ on the debt ceiling. He claims that such negotiations would be unprecedented. But many presidents have negotiated on the debt ceiling—including him. ”

Ryan was referring to a speech given in September before the Business Roundtable — an association of CEOs of large US companies — in which the president said, “You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party, and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt.”

Ryan continued: “He’s refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That’s a shame — because this doesn’t have to be another crisis. It could be a breakthrough.”

But that’s spin: Negotiating would set a dangerous precedent, because Obama’s right that this time really is different. Here are three reasons why.

1. Republicans are testing a new strategy of refusing to negotiate until crisis point

Republican lawmakers such as Ryan push the narrative that Democrats and the president won’t negotiate — but in fact, as Alex Seitz-Wald writes for the National Journal, Democrats requested a conference on the budget with Republicans 19 times between April and October. Republicans blocked all 19 requests. Now that the government is in crisis, Republicans say they want to negotiate, hoping that Democrats feel backed into a corner. But Democrats know that if they accept that paradigm, they’ll be right back in that corner in a few month’s time.

2. The debt ceiling is becoming a more common, and more dangerous, negotiating tool

John Boehner recently claimed that linking the budget to the debt ceiling (and thereby risking default if budget negotiations get ugly) is routine. This, in fact, is not true, writes Richard Kogan, a former Senior Adviser at the Office of Management and Budget. Boehner cited seven debt ceiling increases from Reagan through Clinton tied to budget measures — but, in fact, since Reagan was inaugurated, Congress has rasied the debt ceiling 45 times.

Ryan and others also claim that holding the debt ceiling hostage is something both parties do. Slate’s Dave Weigel runs through why the handful of times Democrats did not quickly give the president a debt limit increase have few parallels to today — in every case, a clean debt ceiling increase got through before the country got close to the impasse we’re at now. Weigel writes:

Raising the debt limit has always been unpopular, and tough to explain to voters. A few times, Democrats balked at raising it for a few days to make a point, then caved in. Many more times, they’ve just voted for the damn thing. John Boehner’s Republicans have only ever agreed to raise the debt limit if they won major policy concessions from the president. Both parties don’t do it. One party does it.

3. Some are actually willing to default

Lastly, this time is different because, for the first time in history, a large contingent of the minority party, The New York Times reports today, “isn’t buying the apocalyptic warnings that a default on United States government debt would lead to a global economic cataclysm.”

“I think we need to have that moment where we realize [we’re] going broke,” Ted Yoho (R-FL) told The Washington Post, arguing for default. “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.”

The Post’s Ezra Klein called this kind of thinking “terrifying,” writing:

Analogies between the finances of families and government are typically pretty flawed. But there’s one worth drawing here: That moment when a family realizes it’s broke and stops paying their mortgage, credit card bill, etc? It’s not a good moment for them. It’s a moment that wrecks their credit score and makes it harder for them to be “not-broke” ever again. To try and improve the U.S.’s finances by sharply and permanently increasing its borrowing costs is like trying to prove to your sister that her house is a firetrap by actually setting it on fire. But Yoho and friends are getting plaudits from the cramped, closed information loop they favor.

Yoho and like-minded colleagues brought America to one brink — government shutdown — looked over the edge, and then dove right in. The fact that they are willing to approach another with the intention to leap into it is, truly, unprecedented.

John Light writes blog posts and works on multimedia projects for BillMoyers.com. Before joining the Moyers team, he worked as a public radio producer. A New Jersey native, John studied history and film at Oberlin College and holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/09/why-this-debt-ceiling-crisis-really-is-different/

The Koch Brothers’ “Samson Option”

By Robert Parry, Consortium News posted on truth-out.org, October 9, 2013

The Koch Brothers and other right-wing billionaires who provoked the government shutdown and now are angling for an even more devastating credit default see themselves as the people who deserve to rule the United States without interference from lesser citizens, especially those with darker-colored skin.

Their “masters of the universe” world view is that they or their daddies or their daddies’ daddies were the ones who “built America” and, thus, it’s their right to tear down the remarkable edifice of U.S. law, politics and economics created over the past two-plus centuries — if the country’s less-deserving inhabitants insist on raising taxes on the rich to fund programs benefiting the poor and the middle class.

That is what we’re watching now, what might be called the Koch Brothers’ “Samson Option,” pulling down the temple to destroy their enemies even if doing so is also destructive to them and their fortunes.

Charles and David Koch and other right-wing billionaires and near-billionaires are blind with anger after wasting millions of dollars on Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and the Republican Party in a failed attempt to defeat Barack Obama, the Democrats and health-care reform. These were the guys who smirked knowingly when Romney sneered at “the 47 percent” of Americans who receive some government help; they got snappish when Obama called them “fat cats”; they demanded the honorific title of “job creators.”

Then, they had to sit in their plush party rooms waiting to celebrate Romney’s victory only to be frustrated by a coalition of voters led by African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and young urban whites who are comfortable in a more diverse country.

Despite all the money and electoral tricks, the Koch Brothers and friends failed to block the reelection of the first African-American president; they watched the Democrats defy the odds and retain the Senate; and they barely managed to hold onto a slender Republican House “majority” through aggressive gerrymandering and other anti-democratic anomalies that overcame the GOP’s loss in the popular vote of about 1½ million ballots.

To make matters worse, these rich white guys had to listen to endless commentary about the coming demographic changes and the need for Republicans to improve their image with racial and ethnic minorities. Through a blinding rage, the Right’s billionaires plotted revenge.

Plotting Obama’s Downfall

Of course, many pragmatic rich folk understand how the extraordinary U.S. system – built by the sweat and ingenuity of countless “average Americans” and protected by the blood of heroic common citizens – has made their fortunes possible. These patriotic multi-millionaires cringe at the spectacle of a U.S. government shutdown and panic at the thought of defaulting on U.S. debt.

But the right-wing billionaires and their political front groups welcome the current chaos. Indeed, they began planning today’s fiscal crisis as soon as their stunning defeat of last November sank in. Rather than behave as a loyal opposition, the Right started plotting soon after Obama took the oath of office a second time, as the New York Times reported:

“Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

“Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed ‘blueprint to defunding Obamacare,’ signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups. It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government. …

“To many Americans, the shutdown came out of nowhere. But interviews with a wide array of conservatives show that the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010 — waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known. …

“Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.

“The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.”

The Right also has relied on its well-financed propaganda machine to obscure for millions of Americans what is actually underway in Washington. The curtain on that was lifted briefly on Sunday with the recognition that the Democrats agreed to the budget terms demanded by House Speaker John Boehner, who then double-crossed them.

On TV interview shows, Boehner conceded that he had struck a deal with the Democrats in which the Senate would accept the lower House budget figures, which included the so-called “sequester” cuts, in exchange for passage of a continuing resolution to keep the government going.

Reneging on a Deal

As the Times reported, “the speaker acknowledged that in July he had gone to the Senate majority leader, Senator Harry Reid … and offered to have the House pass a clean financing resolution. [Boehner’s] proposal would have set spending levels $70 billion lower than Democrats wanted, but would have no contentious add-ons like changing the health-care law. Democrats accepted, but they say Mr. Boehner then reneged under pressure from Tea Party conservatives.”

So, Boehner had laid out terms for a deal that the Democrats disliked but agreed to accept, only to see Boehner pocket their major concession, tack on a host of new demands including stopping health-care reform, and then berating them with the “talking point” that it was the Democrats who wouldn’t negotiate.

There was also the point that House Republicans had refused for six months to appoint members of a conference committee to hammer out budget differences between the House and Senate.

If not for the powerful right-wing media which continues to repeat the “Democrats won’t negotiate” mantra, the American public would have no doubt who provoked the current crisis. But what’s even more significant is what this right-wing strategy means to the future of American democracy.

The position of the Koch Brothers and other right-wing plutocrats is that democracy itself is the problem. It’s bad enough that they have to listen to views that they disagree with; they certainly shouldn’t have to sit back and watch these lesser beings elect leaders and enact policies that involve raising taxes on the rich to provide benefits to other Americans.

While reflective of “free-market” extremism, this right-wing view also has a racial component, since the Right’s billionaires have relied on Tea Party foot soldiers to fight these political wars – and many of those white populist right-wingers are attracted by neo-Confederate ideology, i.e. the supposed “rights” of states to ignore federal mandates, especially those designed to help blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.

“States’ rights” have had a long and grim history in the United States, touted from the early years of the Republic as necessary to defend slavery, then leading to the Civil War and to a near-century of Jim Crow racial segregation.

After the civil rights movement of the 1960s, opportunistic Republicans, such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, saw their chance to snatch the South by playing to white resentment against integration. So, they played up their commitment to “states’ rights” and were rewarded by switching the Deep South from the Democrats to the GOP.

Danger of Fair Elections

Today, however, the Right fears that the nation’s demographic changes could mean that fair elections would end frequently with the selection of candidates who favor stronger federal action to address problems confronting the nation and the world, from the economic risk posed by the concentration of wealth in the top one percent to the existential threat posed by global warming.

An energetic federal government is needed to address these challenges. If the Great American Middle Class is to survive, Congress will have to raise taxes on the rich and invest that money in national infrastructure, cutting-edge research, affordable education, expanded health care and other domestic programs. If global warming is to be slowed and eventually reversed, the federal government must move quickly to reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions while revamping the U.S. energy system.

But the Right wants to prevent such government activism. So, it has developed strategies to give more weight to the votes of white Republicans and less weight to the votes of blacks, Hispanics and other groups that tend to go Democratic. That’s why organizations supported by the Koch Brothers and other right-wing billionaires have backed Republican efforts to impose strict voter ID laws, reduce voting hours and aggressively gerrymander congressional districts to lump Democratic votes in one while ensuring solid Republican majorities in others.

The Right is implementing a strategy as old as the southern poll tax and literacy tests for blacks, i.e. the need to negate post-Civil War amendments that guaranteed equal rights under the law and the right to vote regardless of the color of a person’s skin.

Today’s right-wing strategy follows the thinking of urbane conservative William F. Buckley, who explained in 1957 – when Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders were agitating for enforcement of post-Civil War provisions – that “The white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Now the Buckley doctrine is being applied nationwide. But the problem for the Right is that even with all the voter suppression and shorter voting hours creating nightmarish lines especially in minority neighborhoods, the American people still reelected Barack Obama and favored Democrats over Republicans for Congress.

Thanks to gerrymandering and other anti-democratic moves, the Right still has a tenuous foothold through its control of the House and can count on the Senate GOP minority to filibuster nearly everything.

However, for the Right to have the power to implement policies of its choice, a new strategy was needed. It surfaced first in 2011 with the threat to default on the nation’s debt, which coerced President Obama into accepting severe cuts in federal spending, called the “sequester.”

Now, in 2013, the Republican Right has doubled down on that strategy, merging a government shutdown with an impending credit default in an effort to extort more concessions from Obama and the Democrats. But the larger goal is to create a new constitutional structure in which the Right, regardless of its minority status, gets to dictate what the federal government can and cannot do.

To make this strategy work, however, requires a readiness to play Samson and to pull down the temple on your enemies as well as yourself. That appears to be the extreme option that the Koch Brothers and their fellow right-wing billionaires have chosen. If they can’t rule America, they will reduce the country to economic rubble through a fiscal crisis and a premeditated financial collapse.

Then, perhaps out of the rubble, a chastened American people will emerge to accept their subordinate position in this new plutocratic structure. In the future, they will know better than to do something that the Koch Brothers and their right-wing friends don’t like.

All that stuff about a government of the people, by the people and for the people will finally have perished from the earth.

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19331-the-koch-brothers-samson-option

Many in G.O.P. Offer Theory: Default Wouldn’t Be That Bad

By JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times, October 8, 2013

WASHINGTON — Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, a reliable friend of business on Capitol Hill and no one’s idea of a bomb thrower, isn’t buying the apocalyptic warnings that a default on United States government debt would lead to a global economic cataclysm.

“We always have enough money to pay our debt service,” said Mr. Burr, who pointed to a stream of tax revenue flowing into the Treasury as he shrugged off fears of a cascading financial crisis. “You’ve had the federal government out of work for close to two weeks; that’s about $24 billion a month. Every month, you have enough saved in salaries alone that you’re covering three-fifths, four-fifths of the total debt service, about $35 billion a month. That’s manageable for some time.”

As President Obama steps up his declarations about the dire consequences of not raising the debt limit, increasing numbers of Congressional Republicans are disputing that forecast, as well as the timing of when the Treasury might run out of money and the implications of a default, further complicating the negotiating situation for both Mr. Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner, who must find a way out of the impasse.

Both men were counting on the prospect of a global economic meltdown to help pull restive Republicans into line. On Wall Street, among business leaders and in a vast majority of university economics departments, the threat of significant instability resulting from a debt default is not in question. But a lot of Republicans simply do not believe it.

A surprisingly broad section of the Republican Party is convinced that a threat once taken as economic fact may not exist — or at least may not be so serious. Some question the Treasury’s drop-dead deadline of Oct. 17. Some government services might have to be curtailed, they concede. “But I think the real date, candidly, the date that’s highly problematic for our nation, is Nov. 1,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee.

Others say there is no deadline at all — that daily tax receipts would be more than enough to pay off Treasury bonds as they come due.

“It really is irresponsible of the president to try to scare the markets,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. “If you don’t raise your debt ceiling, all you’re saying is, ‘We’re going to be balancing our budget.’ So if you put it in those terms, all these scary terms of, ‘Oh my goodness, the world’s going to end’ — if we balance the budget, the world’s going to end? Why don’t we spend what comes in?”

“If you propose it that way,” he said of not raising the debt limit, “the American public will say that sounds like a pretty reasonable idea.”

In a news conference, Mr. Obama said repeatedly that those who doubted the repercussions of a default were making a huge mistake.

“When I hear people trying to downplay the consequences of that, I think that’s really irresponsible, and I’m happy to talk to any of them individually and walk them through exactly why it’s irresponsible,” he said. “And it’s particularly funny coming from Republicans who claim to be champions of business. There’s no business person out here who thinks this wouldn’t be a big deal, not one. You go to anywhere from Wall Street to Main Street, and you ask a C.E.O. of a company or ask a small-business person whether it’d be a big deal if the United States government isn’t paying its bills on time. They’ll tell you it’s a big deal. It would hurt.”

The turmoil created by the partial shutdown of the federal government has already sent investors fleeing from stocks to the safe harbor of Treasury bonds, long considered the safest investment on earth because the full faith and credit of the United States government has never been questioned. If that safe harbor is undermined, most economists have said loudly and repeatedly, the impact could be catastrophic.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, both bastions of Republican support, sent letters to Congress on Tuesday urging action on the debt ceiling.

“Our nation has never defaulted in the past, and failing to raise the debt limit in a timely fashion will seriously disrupt our fragile economy and have a ripple effect throughout the world,” wrote Jay Timmons, the president of the manufacturers’ group.

Some Republicans trust such warnings.

“Unlike some of my colleagues, I’ve been told by too many people in the financial business that there will be reactions in the market,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “Of course I’m worried.”

But the voices of denial are loud and persistent, with some Republicans saying that the fallout from the continuing shutdown and the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration has been less severe than predicted.

Mr. Paul acknowledged that some economists disagreed with him, but said others agreed. Peter Morici, a conservative economist and a frequent guest on Fox Business, dashed off a column on Tuesday in which he argued that “House Republicans, by refusing to raise the debt ceiling until they obtain budget reforms, may be the country’s last hope to avoid a financial ruin.”

Congressional Republicans have varied arguments. To Representative Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia and a candidate for the Senate, it is a question of ranking the evils.

“There are a lot of things that are going to affect our economy,” he said. “The greatest threat right now is Obamacare. It’s already destroyed jobs, it’s already destroyed our economy, and if it stays in place as it is now, it’s going to destroy America.”

Representative Ted Yoho, a freshman Florida Republican who had no experience in elective office before this year, said the largest economy on earth should learn from his large-animal veterinary practice.

“Everybody talks about how destabilizing doing this will be on the markets,” he said. “And you’ll see that initially, but heck, I’ve seen that in my business. When you go through that, and you address the problem and you address your creditors and say, ‘Listen, we’re going to pay you. We’re just not going to pay you today, but we’re going to pay you with interest, and we will pay everybody that’s due money’ — if you did that, the world would say America is finally addressing their problem.”

Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan and a leader of the House’s libertarian wing, said: “There’s no way to default on Oct. 17. We will have enough money to make interest payments. The issue is, how do we restructure our government so we don’t have to keep hitting the debt ceiling?”

And while Representative Trent Franks, Republican of Arizona, conceded that a government that could no longer borrow money would have to curtail some of its contracting, he said Democrats should not get carried away.

“It’s like everything else here,” he said. “People on both sides of every argument seem to employ hyperbole when they could just state the truth and it would still be of significant consequence.”

Ashley Parker contributed reporting.

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/09/us/politics/many-in-gop-offer-theory-default-wouldnt-be-that-bad.html?hp&_r=1&

A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and MIKE McINTIRE, New York Times, October 5, 2013

WASHINGTON — Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.

It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.

“We felt very strongly at the start of this year that the House needed to use the power of the purse,” said one coalition member, Michael A. Needham, who runs Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “At least at Heritage Action, we felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight that we were going to pick.”

Last week the country witnessed the fallout from that strategy: a standoff that has shuttered much of the federal bureaucracy and unsettled the nation.

To many Americans, the shutdown came out of nowhere. But interviews with a wide array of conservatives show that the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010 — waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known.

With polls showing Americans deeply divided over the law, conservatives believe that the public is behind them. Although the law’s opponents say that shutting down the government was not their objective, the activists anticipated that a shutdown could occur — and worked with members of the Tea Party caucus in Congress who were excited about drawing a red line against a law they despise.

A defunding “tool kit” created in early September included talking points for the question, “What happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?” The suggested answer was the one House Republicans give today: “We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.”

The current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a well-financed, broad-based assault on the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.

The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.

One sample Twitter offering — “Obamacare is a train wreck” — is a common refrain for Speaker John A. Boehner.

As the defunding movement picked up steam among outside advocates, Republicans who sounded tepid became targets. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee dedicated to “electing true conservatives,” ran radio advertisements against three Republican incumbents.

Heritage Action ran critical Internet advertisements in the districts of 100 Republican lawmakers who had failed to sign a letter by a North Carolina freshman, Representative Mark Meadows, urging Mr. Boehner to take up the defunding cause.

“They’ve been hugely influential,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “When else in our history has a freshman member of Congress from North Carolina been able to round up a gang of 80 that’s essentially ground the government to a halt?”

On Capitol Hill, the advocates found willing partners in Tea Party conservatives, who have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they do not get their way on spending issues. This time they said they were so alarmed by the health law that they were willing to risk a shutdown over it. (“This is exactly what the public wants,” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, said on the eve of the shutdown.)

Despite Mrs. Bachmann’s comments, not all of the groups have been on board with the defunding campaign. Some, like the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, which spent $5.5 million on health care television advertisements over the past three months, are more focused on sowing public doubts about the law. But all have a common goal, which is to cripple a measure that Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and leader of the defunding effort, has likened to a horror movie.

“We view this as a long-term effort,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. He said his group expected to spend “tens of millions” of dollars on a “multifront effort” that includes working to prevent states from expanding Medicaid under the law. The group’s goal is not to defund the law.

“We want to see this law repealed,” Mr. Phillips said.

A Familiar Tactic

The crowd was raucous at the Hilton Anatole, just north of downtown Dallas, when Mr. Needham’s group, Heritage Action, arrived on a Tuesday in August for the second stop on a nine-city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour.” Nearly 1,000 people turned out to hear two stars of the Tea Party movement: Mr. Cruz, and Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator who runs the Heritage Foundation.

“You’re here because now is the single best time we have to defund Obamacare,” declared Mr. Cruz, who would go on to rail against the law on the Senate floor in September with a monologue that ran for 21 hours. “This is a fight we can win.”

Although Mr. Cruz is new to the Senate, the tactic of defunding in Washington is not. For years, Congress has banned the use of certain federal money to pay for abortions, except in the case of incest and rape, by attaching the so-called Hyde Amendment to spending bills.

After the health law passed in 2010, Todd Tiahrt, then a Republican congressman from Kansas, proposed defunding bits and pieces of it. He said he spoke to Mr. Boehner’s staff about the idea while the Supreme Court, which upheld the central provision, was weighing the law’s constitutionality.

“There just wasn’t the appetite for it at the time,” Mr. Tiahrt said in an interview. “They thought, we don’t need to worry about it because the Supreme Court will strike it down.”

But the idea of using the appropriations process to defund an entire federal program, particularly one as far-reaching as the health care overhaul, raised the stakes considerably. In an interview, Mr. DeMint, who left the Senate to join the Heritage Foundation in January, said he had been thinking about it since the law’s passage, in part because Republican leaders were not more aggressive.

“They’ve been through a series of C.R.s and debt limits,” Mr. DeMint said, referring to continuing resolutions on spending, “and all the time there was discussion of ‘O.K., we’re not going to fight the Obamacare fight, we’ll do it next time.’ The conservatives who ran in 2010 promising to repeal it kept hearing, ‘This is not the right time to fight this battle.’ ”

Mr. DeMint is hardly alone in his distaste for the health law, or his willingness to do something about it. In the three years since Mr. Obama signed the health measure, Tea Party-inspired groups have mobilized, aided by a financing network that continues to grow, both in its complexity and the sheer amount of money that flows through it.

A review of tax records, campaign finance reports and corporate filings shows that hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and spent since 2012 by organizations, many of them loosely connected, leading opposition to the measure.

One of the biggest sources of conservative money is Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt “business league” that claims more than 200 members, each of whom pays at least $100,000 in dues. The group’s board is headed by a longtime executive of Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by the Koch brothers, who were among the original financiers of the Tea Party movement. The Kochs declined to comment.

While Freedom Partners has financed organizations that are pushing to defund the law, like Heritage Action and Tea Party Patriots, Freedom Partners has not advocated that. A spokesman for the group, James Davis, said it was more focused on “educating Americans around the country on the negative impacts of Obamacare.”

The largest recipient of Freedom Partners cash — about $115 million — was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, according to the groups’ latest tax filings. Run by a political consultant with ties to the Kochs and listing an Arizona post office box for its address, the center appears to be little more than a clearinghouse for donations to still more groups, including American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association, both ardent foes of the health care law.

American Commitment and 60 Plus were among a handful of groups calling themselves the “Repeal Coalition” that sent a letter in August urging Republican leaders in the House and the Senate to insist “at a minimum” in a one-year delay of carrying out the health care law as part of any budget deal. Another group, the Conservative 50 Plus Alliance, delivered a defunding petition with 68,700 signatures to the Senate.

In the fight to shape public opinion, conservatives face well-organized liberal foes. Enroll America, a nonprofit group allied with the Obama White House, is waging a campaign to persuade millions of the uninsured to buy coverage. The law’s supporters are also getting huge assistance from the insurance industry, which is expected to spend $1 billion on advertising to help sell its plans on the exchanges.

“It is David versus Goliath,” said Mr. Phillips of Americans for Prosperity.

But conservatives are finding that with relatively small advertising buys, they can make a splash. Generation Opportunity, the youth-oriented outfit behind the “Creepy Uncle Sam” ads, is spending $750,000 on that effort, aimed at dissuading young people — a cohort critical to the success of the health care overhaul — from signing up for insurance under the new law.

The group receives substantial backing from Freedom Partners and appears ready to expand. Recently, Generation Opportunity moved into spacious new offices in Arlington, Va., where exposed ductwork, Ikea chairs and a Ping-Pong table give off the feel of a Silicon Valley start-up.

Its executive director, Evan Feinberg, a 29-year-old former Capitol Hill aide and onetime instructor for a leadership institute founded by Charles Koch, said there would be more Uncle Sam ads, coupled with college campus visits, this fall. Two other groups, FreedomWorks, with its “Burn Your Obamacare Card” protests, and Young Americans for Liberty, are also running campus events.

“A lot of folks have asked us, ‘Are we trying to sabotage the law?’ ” Mr. Feinberg said in an interview last week. His answer echoes the Freedom Partners philosophy: “Our goal is to educate and empower young people.”

Critical Timing

But many on the Republican right wanted to do more.

Mr. Meese’s low-profile coalition, the Conservative Action Project, which seeks to find common ground among leaders of an array of fiscally and socially conservative groups, was looking ahead to last Tuesday, when the new online health insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, were set to open. If the law took full effect as planned, many conservatives feared, it would be nearly impossible to repeal — even if a Republican president were elected in 2016.

“I think people realized that with the imminent beginning of Obamacare, that this was a critical time to make every effort to stop something,” Mr. Meese said in an interview. (He has since stepped down as the coalition’s chairman and has been succeeded by David McIntosh, a former congressman from Indiana.)

The defunding idea, Mr. Meese said, was “a logical strategy.” The idea drew broad support. Fiscal conservatives like Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth, signed on to the blueprint. So did social and religious conservatives, like the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The document set a target date: March 27, when a continuing resolution allowing the government to function was to expire. Its message was direct: “Conservatives should not approve a C.R. unless it defunds Obamacare.”

But the March date came and went without a defunding struggle. In the Senate, Mr. Cruz and Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, talked up the defunding idea, but it went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled chamber. In the House, Mr. Boehner wanted to concentrate instead on locking in the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, and Tea Party lawmakers followed his lead. Outside advocates were unhappy but held their fire.

“We didn’t cause any trouble,” Mr. Chocola said.

Yet by summer, with an August recess looming and another temporary spending bill expiring at the end of September, the groups were done waiting.

“I remember talking to reporters at the end of July, and they said, ‘This didn’t go anywhere,’ ” Mr. Needham recalled. “What all of us felt at the time was, this was never going to be a strategy that was going to win inside the Beltway. It was going to be a strategy where, during August, people would go home and hear from their constituents, saying: ‘You pledged to do everything you could to stop Obamacare. Will you defund it?’ ”

Heritage Action, which has trained 6,000 people it calls sentinels around the country, sent them to open meetings and other events to confront their elected representatives. Its “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour,” which began in Fayetteville, Ark., on Aug. 19 and ended 10 days later in Wilmington, Del., drew hundreds at every stop.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, led by Mr. DeMint when he was in the Senate, put up a Web site in July called dontfundobamacare.com and ran television ads featuring Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee urging people to tell their representatives not to fund the law.

When Senator Richard M. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, told a reporter that defunding the law was “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” the fund bought a radio ad to attack him. Two other Republican senators up for re-election in 2014, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, were also targeted. Both face Tea Party challengers.

In Washington, Tea Party Patriots, which created the defunding tool kit, set up a Web site, exemptamerica.com, to promote a rally last month showcasing many of the Republicans in Congress whom Democrats — and a number of fellow Republicans — say are most responsible for the shutdown.

While conservatives believe that the public will back them on defunding, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority — 57 percent — disapproves of cutting off funding as a way to stop the law.

Last week, with the health care exchanges open for business and a number of prominent Republicans complaining that the “Defund Obamacare” strategy was politically damaging and pointless, Mr. Needham of Heritage Action said he felt good about what the groups had accomplished.

“It really was a groundswell,” he said, “that changed Washington from the utside in.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-federal-budget-crisis-months-in-the-planning.html?_r=2&