How Did Conservatives Convince the Public to Think Differently About Government?

Part III of a three-part series exploring how conservatives took their worldview to the streets, undermining long-held views about government and society. Click here to read part I, “What We Can Learn from Conservatives About Winning in Politics,” and part II, “Learning from How Conservatives Push Their Cultural Worldview.”

By Sara Robinson / Blog for Our Future, March 14, 2008

The conservative worldview has succeeded so wildly — and is still holding such tenacious sway over the ways Americans approach their current stack of problems — because the conservatives started out 30 years ago with a focused plan that put promoting their model of reality at the center of every other action. Over the past two posts, I’ve been mining the specific strategies that early planners like Paul Weyrich used to advance the conservative worldview, in the hope that we might gain some insight that will help us engage them directly on this deepest, most important territory.

Progressives will not be able to implement their vision of the future until we’re able to supplant the conservative worldview with our own. We won’t win until we take control of the discourse, offer Americans new ways to make meaning and evaluate and prioritize events, and get them to abandon conservative assumptions about how reality works.

I’d like to thank Bruce Wilson at Talk2Actionagain for turning me onto Eric Huebeck’s 2001 document that summarized, updated, and refocused the original Weyrich strategies. In this final piece, we’ll look some of the specific ways the conservatives structured their campaign to take their worldview to the streets, and ultimately replaced long-held democratic assumptions about government, economics, and society with the deadly and wrong-headed assumptions that now drive the thinking of the entire nation.

Capture Cultural Institutions
Thanks to David Brock, Joe Conason, Chris Mooney, Michelle Goldberg, and many others, more and more of us are becoming aware of the ways that conservatives have quietly moved in to take over almost every public and private institution in America. From churches to university faculties to public broadcasting to the Boy Scouts, the vast network of institutions that once taught people how to live in a liberal democracy and reinforced those values across society has been shredded to the point where it no longer functions. In its place is a new network of institutions — some of them operating within the co-opted shells of the old ones, others brand new — that reinforce the conservative worldview at every turn.

This takeover of the very insitutional fabric of the nation was a central part of the conservative plan from the very beginning. Weyrich understood that to change the discourse, you had to capture and control the institutions that were most directly responsible for promoting and sustaining it. And the rising conservatives pursued that goal with a vengeance.

The basic strategy was to build parallel organizations that shadowed the official ones until they could legitimately assume power within their domains. In some cases these were national institutes, professional organizations, formal committees and expert policy groups; in others, they were simply ad hoc groups of conservative citizens who showed up at all the meetings, studied the domain, wrote letters, and eventually became expert in all the same topics and issues the official authorities dealt with. Either way, over the course of a decade or two, there was hardly an influential institution in America that wasn’t operating without a gaggle of conservatives standing by to criticize every decision and thwart every attempt at action.

In some cases, such as government agencies, these self-appointed shadow officials hung around long enough, and demonstrated enough interest and expertise, that they eventually eased themselves into official positions from which they began to enact the conservative agenda. They joined public boards, got themselves appointed to commissions, and inflitrated local offices. In cases where they couldn’t directly take over, they set themselves up as the determined and loyal opposition, acting as political leg weights that hobbled and slowed down every aspect of goverment business for decades on end as they looked for opportunities to press their issues and impose their will. The official policymakers still held sway, but the constant resistance made them far less effective. In time, people would get frustrated with the inaction, and look for other leaders to get the job done. Too often, the people who’d created the resistance in the first place were the first ones tapped to take over.

Massive funding put up by conservative foundations also gave the movement clout over the country’s great non-profits, from which they insinuated themselves into research, health care, social services, education, and the arts. Pressure from investors, advertisers, and avid letter-writers narrowed the range of acceptable narratives in every kind of media. Shadow “professional” groups were established to challenge the basic Enlightenment-era premises of law, medicine, banking, teaching, pharmacy, and other essential professions.

All of this effort was in the service of one goal — to take over these institutions and eventually use them to promote conservative values and worldview. They understood that when you control these institutions, you control the culture — and ultimately, you will also control the very discourse by which everyone inside the culture interprets reality. We’re coming up against the success of this strategy every time a Federalist Society judge comes up for confirmation, every time a hospital refuses to perform abortions, every time the police commission gets a brutality complaint and looks the other way, and every time we try to get a birth control prescription filled.

Huebeck was very clear that none of this about “reform.” He wrote: “We will not reform existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity.” The conservatives knew that of all the various fronts in the war for American hearts and minds, seizing control of the country’s institutional core was is the one that mattered most.

And, unfortunately, we liberals left them to it. Throughout the 1960s, the Boomers had been challenging the authority of the old institutions, which they (often rightly) found stultifying, socially confining, and too often downright criminal. But there was a serious downside to this. When they abandoned the field, they left foundational American institutions (which had been dominated by GI-era rationalists from both parties) wide open for right-wing takeover — and the result is our lives are now dominated by the authority emanating from a new establishment that is far more stultifying, restrictive, and criminal that the 1960s rebels could have ever imagined.

It’s becoming obvious to more and more of us that we will not win until we start taking these institutions back. We’ve made a good start at creating progressive media networks, organizing our own political infrastructure, and defending education at all levels from conservative incursions. We’re having our say in the marketplace, particularly when it comes to agriculture and low-emissions vehicles. Science is not going gently into the ideological good night.

But it’s all just drops in the bottom of a large and leaking bucket. There are vast sectors in which the takeover proceeds unchallenged — and will remain so until we come back with the same pervasive intensity they brought to the job. We need thousands of those same small cadres of dedicated people who make it their business to target one institution, study it, become expert in it, and eventually mount a public challenge to its authority or move in and take it over. We need local MoveOn groups providing those scoutmasters, and local progressive churches taking strong stands against religious right school boards, and teams of local letter-writers who keep our issues on the op-ed pages of the weekly paper. We need professional organizations in every field that stand up to the ideologues and restore the rule of reason. We need to be as pervasive a presence in the life of conservative institutions as they have been in liberal ones.

It took them over 20 years to effect this takeover, so we also need to expect to be in this one for the long haul.

Don’t Trust the Democratic Party
Huebeck noted ruefully that movement conservatives “shot ourselves in the foot by expecting too much from the Republican Party.” It’s a feeling that’s becoming all too familiar to progressives assessing their relationship with the Democrats.

We’re tempted to forget that Progressives are not necessarily Democrats, any more than movement conservatives were necessarily Republicans. In each case, they are a separate movement that often finds its interests in consonance with those of a certain political party. But in both cases, they stand to lose tremendous amounts of power if they allow themselves to become co-opted and turned into an appendage of that party.

In the end, many conservatives — especially the religious right — lost track of that boundary, and forgot to consider their interests apart from the party. Without enough daylight between the two entities, it was easy for the GOP to start taking their Evangelical base for granted. With every passing election, it seemed, the party relied more and more on the religious conservatives for organization, money, and votes — and gave them less and less in return. This year, the conservative churches are in full fury over this betrayal. If the GOP loses, Evangelical disappointment will be at the heart of their defeat.

This is a special problem during election season, while progressives and the party work especially closely together to take back the White House and ensure a Democratic Congress. But, even as we fight the good fight together, progressives need to remember they are not us; and we are not them. Our movement must never forget that its an an entity apart from the Democratic party, with different interests and expectations of a different future. If we allow ourselves to be co-opted by the party, and are diverted into channeling all of our actions into activities that further the Democrats instead of our own progressive agenda, we’ll very quickly end up in the same place Evangelical conservatives are in right now — used, abused, and tossed aside.

It’s basic physics: Holding ourselves at a little more distance gives us extra leverage, forces them to work a little harder for our votes, and ultimately gives us more power to create the changes we seek.

Invest in our own members; grow our own leaders
Political leaders of all stripes like to expand their territory and hoard their power. Weyrich understood that personal empire-building is a selfish indulgence no successful movement can afford — first, because it leads people to put their own interests ahead of the movement, which should never be tolerated; and second, because it stunts the growth of new leaders and inhibits the transmission of leadership skills.

That’s why the early conservatives insisted that leadership should actively seek out leadership talent, nurture it, and groom it to assume power on its own. The more well-trained leaders the movement has, the bigger it can get, the more it can get done, and the faster its agenda will be adopted. Success depends on building a culture in which leaders are evaluated not by how much territory they control, but by the number and quality of new leaders emerging from underneath their wings.

Furthermore, giving people the chance to learn new skills and offering them new opportunities for personal growth is the most powerful way to bond them emotionally, socially, and even economically to the movement. In a time when people aren’t often given the chance to grow to their potential on the job, political work can provide a far more engaging and satisfying outlet for their ambitions. “Every member [must] be given the support to reach his maximum potential,” wrote Huebeck, who also observed that when we raise each others’ personal confidence and skill, it increases the confidence and skill of the movement as a whole.
This was the clause in the plan that launched a thousand wingnut welfare programs, stocked a hundred think tanks, and catapulted countless Young Republicans to positions of real power. But this lesson is far older than that. Earlier progressives understood the role that unions, churches, and civic organizations played in bringing along people who could become local, regional, and eventually national leaders. This isn’t something that happens just inside the Beltway. Finding and grooming emergent talent everybody’s job; and those who do it well have earned their place among our most esteemed leaders.

Ask people to invest in return
Changing the world is not a spectator sport. The early conservatives weren’t afraid to ask their members for incredible investments of time, energy, and money — investments that were essential if their perceived life-or-death struggle for the hearts and minds of America was to be won.

The money, in particular, matters. The conservatives realized that they would need to fund the the early years of their movement themselves until they racked up enough wins to attract foundation support. We progressives are short on corporate white knights; instead, we’ve built our movement on small donations from millions of Americans. Those people are making investments in us — and with every PayPal transfer they send, they are deepening their emotional bonds to our cause.

However, the problem with a lot of progressive fundraising is that it’s too often aimed at winning short-term battles. Pass or defeat this legislation. Win this election. Fund this organization for another year or two. Once that milestone has passed, groups have to conjure a new reason to get people to pony up. Donors figure that the battle’s won, and they can slack off now. Or it wasn’t won, and there’s no point in continuing to give. Either way, it doesn’t take long for donor fatigue to set in.

The conservatives largely avoided that problem by setting out one huge long-range goal that provided the all-in-one justification for an entire lifetime of generous giving. They were in it for nothing less than a total cultural transformation. Every smaller battle was just another step in the long war, which they expected to outlast their lifetimes. The leaders kept up their high expectations that their members would make enormous sacrifices — not just in the early years, but for decades on end until that transformation was complete. Nobody was allowed to slack off — and few wanted to. As the victories racked up and the stakes grew higher, the atmosphere got positively giddy — and the money pile kept getting bigger as people got more and more excited about the movement’s momentum.

We need to remind the progressive donor base that they play the deciding role in a battle that we, too, can expect to be fighting for the rest of our lives — and which will probably be the most important work of all of our lives. As such, we will continue to expect their full support until the job is done. And the more we win, the more we’ll prove that we deserve it.

Think nationally. Organize locally.
The original progressive movements drew on (and helped build up) a vast network of local political gathering places. By the 1920s, there wasn’t a county or town in the nation that didn’t have a permanent progressive hangout — a place where people came together for news, education, organizing, good times, and help when they needed it. Most of these places were union and grange halls; some were civic clubs, Democratic party offices, lodges, churches, pubs, or just some old place the local folks bought and fixed up for their own use.

The collapse of this physical infrastructure is one of the biggest losses we’ve sustained in the conservative attack on American institutions. Even as the country’s last union and grange halls were being emptied out by Republican labor and farm policies, the rising conservative movement was busy building a shadow network of its own. The religious right’s biggest contribution to the cause may have been the ready-made national chain of conservative meeting halls it provided in every small hamlet and burg. Every Evangelical church in the country was a potential nucleus around which a revolutionary cell could form. (Using churches is dicey business, but ministers were taught where the lines were, and the IRS often enough looked the other way. Besides, the broad “cultural transformation” frame meant that a lot of the most important work wasn’t political at all, but rather social and cultural, and therefore entirely appropriate to a church setting.) The GOP money guys still met (as always) at the exclusive downtown and country clubs; but the churches provided a place where conservatives of all classes could gather for social support, education, training, and coordinated local action in service of their revolution.

We’ve suffered mightily by not having that same ubiquitous network of public outposts from which to run our ground game. has been our biggest boon in re-creating this: it took the lead in using the Internet to help local progressives find each other, and helped them begin to form permanent organizations in remote parts of the country. (Until MoveOn and the Dean meetups brought them together, many rural liberals had spent years believing they were the only ones in town.) The 50-State Strategy is also seeking to correct this, by opening Democratic party offices in as many towns and counties as possible across the country. But, though these are two good starts, we need to stay focused on the task of making sure there isn’t a village in America that doesn’t have a permanent space that progressives can call home. Once we restore our place as an integral part of the country’s physical landscape, becoming a natural and accepted part of its cultural landscape will follow on naturally.

Don’t just talk. ACT.
Huebeck’s definition of political action is pointed and narrow. Action is “1) the subversion of leftist-controlled institutions, or 2) the creation of our own institutions of civil society, whose sole purpose is outreach to, and the conversion of, non-traditionalists.” All action needs to have direct results, and should also deepen the skills of the members who engage in it. And it’s an important way of bonding people to the movement: “Action in the world encourages the identification of the member with, and dedication to the group.”

“For example, we will go to public lectures given by leftists and ask them ‘impolite’ and highly critical questions. We must, of course, be fully prepared beforehand for these sorts of excursions, and we must also be prepared to embarrass ourselves, especially at first,” wrote Huebeck. He also advises local groups to do charity work that will both build esprit de corps and generate good PR. “Bonding with others in one’s generation or society is the means by which values are strengthened and perpetuated. It is vitally important that we bond in such a way that the values perpetuated are our own.”

In other words: Our actions need to be good for the movement’s long-term goal of cultural change; good for the community; good for our group’s reputation; good for our own internal cohesion; and good for us as individuals. It’s an excellent set of criteria, and one that we might want to borrow as a sturdy yardstick for the essential worthiness of every activity we plan.

Concentrate on students and young adults
Conservatives capitalized handsomely on the energy of their youngest members. Weyrich and the rest of the early planners carefully nurtured the small handful of disaffected conservative students remaining on the nation’s campuses. They gave them enormous roles at very young ages, while they still had high enough energy and few enough encumbrances to work crazy hours under insane conditions. They also richly funded conservative college newspapers and journals; granted scholarships to promising students with a conservative bent in law, politics, media, and business; and opened their social and business networks to graduates looking for high-paying work. In a very real sense, they found these kids in their cradles, and promised to look after them to their graves.

They made this investment because they realized that if you get them while they’re young, they’ll stay with you for life. Thirty years later, looking at Washington’s middle-aged conservative True Believers, it’s obvious that this investment in nurturing the party’s most promising young sprouts paid off for them many times over.

We have our moment now, with the vast numbers of young voters who are rushing to the Democrats this election. But the conservative success with an earlier generation of young voters tells us that we need to be very proactive about bringing these kids into the process, giving them some real power and some serious training, and returning their loyalty by attending well to their individual futures using every means available to us. If we want to build a progressive nation that will stand for the next 50 years, it’s not too early to start cultivating solid careers for those who will take over for us when we’re gone.

Be there for each other — especially when the pressure builds
Many of the above strategies — from creating permanent physical structures and solid career paths to establishing reliable internal funding flows — reflects the conservative battlefield mentality. They were determined to be self-sustaining and self-sufficient, beholden to no one in the liberal world. Another piece of this was social independence: Weyrich knew that conservatives had to learn to rely on each other, not the larger culture, for their social and emotional validation.

People creating change take a lot of flak from those profiting handsomely from the status quo. The more you start to win, the stronger and uglier this resistance gets. Movements often crack under this pressure — often when they’re right on the cusp of winning all the marbles, and the opposition is at its most intense.

But the founders of movement conservatism knew that people can withstand almost anything if they have the firm support and acceptance of their peers. They strengthened their followers against this pressure by teaching them not to give two hoots about what the rest of us think. To them, the only people who matter are the ones who believe as they do — the ones they trust to actually have their backs, look after their kids, and throw their bail when the opposition takes out after them with ugly intent.

The changes we seek now will eventually create equally tectonic shifts as we set the country back to right. The money and power is all lined up behind the conservatives; and they’ve already demonstrated their willingness to use it to viciously punish progressives who dare to challenge it.

We will only survive this if we learn to be equally self-sufficient. We cannot care what they think, do, or say about us. We need to make a point of being there for each other when the heat is on, and the cons come after one or another of us, hoping to pick us off. And that kind of defiance comes a lot easier when we make a point of looking to each other for validation, and building bonds of trust that will hold us tightly together when trouble comes.

Don’t Ever Give Up. We’re In This for The Long Haul.
Movement conservatism first started chipping away at the dominant liberal culture in the early 1970s. The strategies in these three articles were largely formulated in the decade that followed; and they’ve been the basic principles governing conservative behavior ever since.

From the very beginning, they realistically viewed their goal of cultural domination as a multi-generational fight. Those who started it didn’t expect to live to see the end of it — and they were right. The people who first plotted strategy and tactics 30 years ago are now passing into death and retirement; their movement is now in the hands of a carefully-nurtured second generation, and a third is already coming of age. The humiliations of the Bush era are sending them back to their local gathering spots to take stock and regroup; but just because they vanish from the scene for a few years, we mustn’t ever delude ourselves that they’ve finally gone away. They will be back — and, no doubt, their comeback will be largely constructed out of these same strategies.

Weyrich and Huebeck warned the faithful about just these kinds of setbacks. “We will not hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over. Our strategy will be to bleed this corrupt culture dry.” They told conservatives that good efforts and good intentions count for nothing, because losing is not an option for them. “The real question is: if the fight is winnable, why have we not won it? If it is not, why are we diverting our efforts elsewhere?”

It’s one last thing to bear in mind, a final challenge from the conservative movement’s master strategists. If the fight is winnable, why have we not won it? If it is not, then why are we diverting our efforts elsewhere? This struggle for America’s heart and soul and mind has gone on from the beginning, and it will never end. Being progressive means committing our entire lives to the work of promoting America’s founding Enlightenment worldview, building a thriving movement that will outlast us, and raising up people who will carry on when we’re gone. As long as conservative culture warriors are out there trying to undermine the very model of reality that defines American democracy, we’re going to need to be out there resisting their incursions and reminding the country why that foundation matters. We, too, are in this for the long haul.

Overview – Government


The Repub­li­cans have changed Amer­i­can pol­i­tics…the Repub­li­can Party may no longer be a nor­mal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a fac­tion that is more of a psy­cho­log­i­cal protest than a prac­ti­cal, gov­ern­ing alter­na­tive…The mem­bers of this move­ment do not accept the logic of com­pro­mise, no mat­ter how sweet the terms. The mem­bers of this move­ment do not accept the legit­i­macy of schol­ars and intel­lec­tual author­i­ties…The mem­bers of this move­ment have no sense of moral decency…if respon­si­ble Repub­li­cans don’t take con­trol, inde­pen­dents will con­clude that Repub­li­can fanati­cism caused this default. They will con­clude that Repub­li­cans are not fit to gov­ern.  And they will be right.   The Mother of All No-Brainers by David Brooks

Think of it as a two-part strategy. First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. If this strategy sounds cynical, that’s because it is… do Republicans really believe that government spending is bad for the economy? No.… why is Mr. Romney denouncing these [defense] cuts? Because, he says, they would cost jobs! This is classic “weaponized Keynesianism” — the claim that government spending can’t create jobs unless the money goes to defense contractors, in which case it’s the lifeblood of the economy. And no, it doesn’t make any sense…As anyone who was paying attention knows, the period during which Democrats controlled both houses of Congress was marked by unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate…  this obstructionism is real, and arguably is the biggest single reaon for our ongo­ing economic weakness. And what happens if the strategy of obstruct-and-exploit succeeds? Is this the shape of politics to come? If so, America will have gone a long way toward becoming an ungovernable banana republic. Obstruct and Exploit by Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 9, 2012

Our political problem, in a nutshell: The party of government is afraid to defend government. Nothing will really change until that changes.  The Greatest Story Never Told by Michael Tomasky

…Any society that allows the market to constitute the axis and framing mechanisms for all social interactions has not just lost its sense of morality and responsibility; it is given up its claim on any vestige of a democratic future. Market fundamentalism along with its structure of extreme inequality and machinery of cruelty has proven to be a death sentence on democracy. The time has come…to rethink what a real democracy might look like and to consider what it will take to actually organize collectively to make it happen. Trickle-Down Cruelty and the Politics of Austerity by Henry A. Giroux

…the fundamental debate we should be having is not the size of government but what the goal of government should be…for both policy and political reasons, the Democrats need to firmly pick the side of middle class and low income Americans, and not worry so much about preserving and protecting the establishment. The Mission of Government by Mike Lux

Washington Has Been Stopped in Its Tracks by Republican Tea Party Types, and It’s Destroying the Country

Why America Can’t Pass Gun Control

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Millionaires Are Now the Majority in Congress: The 1% Literally Rule Us

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann Explain Why Congress is Failing Us,

Government – moral authority

…All politics is moral… But progressives and radical conservatives have very different ideas of right and wrong. The basic idea is this: Democracy is based on empathy, that is, on citizens caring about each other and acting on that care, taking responsibility not just for themselves but for their families, communities, and their nation. The role of government is to carry out this principle in two ways: protection and empowerment.  Obama Returns to His Moral Vision: Democrats Read Carefully! by George Lakoff

.…Whether government is serving its biblical purpose of protecting from evil and promoting good, is more important than ideological debates about its size. How can we move from an ethic of endless growth to an ethic of sustainability, from short-term profits to longer term human flourishing, from the use and consumption of the earth to stewardship and creation care? Protect­ing “life” can no longer be restricted to a few issues, but must be consistently applied to wherever human life and dignity are threatened… The prerequisite for solving the deepest prob­lems this country and the world now face is a commitment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good.… The Prerequisite of the Common Good by Jim Wallis

…Our current discussion of what constitutes “freedom” is shaped far too much by a deeply flawed right-wing notion that every action by government is a threat to personal liberty and that the one and only priority of those who care about keeping people free is for government to do less than it does. This perspective ignores the many ways over the course of our history in which government has expanded the autonomy of our citizens. Consider how much less freedom so many of us would have without civil rights or voting rights laws, without government student loans, without labor laws, without public schools and without Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. (And we don’t take seriously enough the implications of a most basic fact of our national story: that it took big government in Washington to outlaw slavery.)…we need to think more about “positive liberty,” the ability to realize certain goals in our lives. Democratic government can create the framework in which we have more power to reach those ends… Family values hypocrisy By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, December 15, 2014


Teaching the middle class to hate their government was an essential part of the [conservative] plan… A middle class cannot exist without a strong government. This is because only a government has the power to stand up to the giant corporations of today’s world …Thirty years ago at the onset of the Reagan Revolution, the middle class basically appreciated and respected their government…the basic message of Reagan and the conservatives was that everyone would be better off if the federal government just disappeared. They were smart enough not to say this directly, however. Instead, they just landed one body blow after another without openly expressing their desire to destroy the government…. Teaching People to Hate Their Own Govt. Is at the Core of the Project to Destroy the Middle Class By Dennis Marker

Government and corporations

They want to control and privatize government resources. Capitalism is exhausted here. It needs more public money. It’s always needed public money, it needs more now. When you look at the growth of capitalism in America from railroads all the way to the computer, it’s publicly funded…So the reinvention of capitalism is the issue, and the reinvention of government is what is happening. So capitalism is directly claiming public investment now…That’s the system they are steadily building — prisons, schools, public parks, there’s a conversion of the whole system into an investment of capital which is a major extension of what’s always been true. … The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America 

The Biggest Engine of Economic Growth? 8 Ways Taxpayers and the Government Are Necessary to Capitalism 


Five Ways privatization degrades America

The Campaign to Privatize the World 

Military-industrial complex

War Profiteers Make Millions At the Expense of the Public

Corporations Profit From Permanent War 

US Government Pays Contractors Twice as Much as Civil Servants for the Same Work

Shutdown crisis – articles and excerpts

Situational analysis of the government shutdown crisis

It Can’t Happen Here?

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

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

The Ten Hardline Conservatives Pulling the Strings of the GOP Shutdown by Staff, October 11, 2013 – Much of the coverage of the government showdown has focused on a relatively small group of hardline conservatives within the Republican caucus who have backed their party’s leaders into a fight they didn’t want. As Ryan Lizza noted in The New Yorker, these lawmakers mostly represent very safe, heavily Republican and disproportionately white districts that don’t look much like the rest of the country. Many of those on the front lines are recent arrivals to Capitol Hill, and they’re pushing a leadership they see as having been too willing to compromise with Democrats in the past. It’s an important angle… If there’s only a relatively small group of lawmakers who think defunding the law is a dandy idea… Why is this supposedly silent majority of Republicans so docile? Why don’t they push back? The answer lies in the clout wielded by an extensive web of non-governmental conservative groups supported by mountains of dark money. Those groups see the Affordable Care Act as an existential threat to their worldview and their party and have waged a multipronged campaign to kill it in its cradle…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… “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. With a broad, well-funded campaign, these groups have effectively shifted the balance of power in conservative Washington away from Republican leaders on the Hill and onto a cadre of true believers who will go to any length to destroy a modest set of health care reforms that, just 20 years ago, the very same conservative movement was itself advancing. So just looking at the rank-and-file members of the “suicide caucus” isn’t enough – it’s like focusing on the marionette rather than the puppet-master. View Interactive: Who’s pulling the strings?

Michael Needham: The Strategist Behind the Shutdown By STEPHEN MOORE, Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2013 – The 31-year-old Stanford business grad [president of Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the nation's largest conservative think tank] explains how he outmaneuvered GOP leaders and why he thinks House Republicans can defund ObamaCare…Though Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the public face of the high-risk strategy to “defund” ObamaCare, the masterminds behind it are a new generation of young conservatives, chief among them Mr. Needham. From a tactical view, the strategy has been deployed with precision…Needham is not apologetic at all for the shutdown that he sees as regrettable but necessary collateral damage if it focuses the public on the horrors of the health-care law…Mr. Needham and another young activist, Tim Chapman, wrote the business plan for Heritage Action four years ago. The idea was to tap Heritage’s network of conservative donors across the country and create a political lobbying machine to carry conservative ideas across the goal line. “The strategy from day one once it [ACA] passed was repeal, repeal, repeal,” Mr. Needham says… Mr. Needham’s new boss at Heritage is Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator whose former aides populate the staff of Sen. Cruz and other conservative groups and work closely with Mr. Needham. Mr. Needham is…conservative to the core, uncompromising and skilled in the smash-mouth politics now played in Washington. His first job was as research assistant…for Heritage founder Ed Feulner…Needham’s new boss at Heritage is Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator whose former aides populate the staff of Sen. Cruz and other conservative groups and work closely with Mr. Needham. Mr. Feulner was famous for preaching that “in the war of ideas there is no room for pacifists,” and Mr. Needham has taken those words to heart. To his admirers, he has pushed the Republicans to show backbone and stand up for principle. His detractors, many of them inside the party, denounce him as everything from cocky to a GOP wrecking ball…The concern of many Republicans, including strategist Karl Rove, is that Heritage Action’s take-no-prisoners approach is hurting the party. The latest Gallup poll shows the GOP is viewed favorably by only 28% of Americans, down 10 points since September…

House Republicans Changed The Rules So A Majority Vote Couldn’t Stop The Government Shutdown by Ashley Alman, Huffington Post, October 13, 2013   – In its effort to extract concessions from Democrats in exchange for opening the government, the GOP has faced a fundamental strategic obstacle: They don’t have the votes. A majority of the members of the House have gone on record saying that if they were given the opportunity to vote, they would support what’s known as a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government. So House Republican leaders made sure no such vote could happen…Republican members of the House Rules Committee were developing a strategy to keep a clean CR off the floor, guaranteeing the government would remain shut down. Though at least 28 House Republicans have publicly said they would support a clean CR if it were brought to the floor — enough votes for the government to reopen when combined with Democratic support — a House rule passed just before the shutdown essentially prevents that vote from taking place. During a floor speech on Saturday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) drew attention to the quietly passed rule when he attempted to present a motion to accept the Senate’s clean continuing resolution and reopen the government. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), presiding over the chamber, told Van Hollen that the rule he was asking to use had been “altered” and he did not have the privilege of bringing that vote to the floor…the recently passed House Resolution 368 trumped the standing rules…“Mr. Speaker, why were the rules rigged to keep the government shut down?” Van Hollen asked. “The gentleman will suspend,” Chaffetz interjected. “Democracy has been suspended, Mr. Speaker.” (Van Hollen)

The Right’s Obamacare Rhetoric Is Completely Detached from Reality by Joshua Holland, Moyers and Company, October 13, 2013 – …We’re a nation divided not only by partisanship and ideology, but also by wildly divergent realities…Some of the claims ostensibly respectable figures on the right make about the law are simply mind boggling. This week, Ben Carson, a conservative surgeon and activist — and the flavor-of-the-day at Fox News – told a crowd at this year’s “Values Voters Summit” that Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” Forget two world wars, the Great Depression or coming within an inch of annihilation during the Cold War….Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)…was more subtle, concluding merely that the ACA would eventually turn the US into a “police state” and “will ultimately be known as DeathCare.” …This stuff is nothing short of comical when you recall that Obamacare was a conservative answer to the doomed “Hillarycare” [Mitt Romney]called the very similar scheme he’d enacted as governor of Massachusetts, “the ultimate conservatism,” …When you get into the details, the health care law is complex… But the broad strokes are relatively simple: there are a number of (highly popular) new regulations on insurers; there are exchanges where private companies offer a variety of insurance plans; it’s got subsidies that make those plans more affordable for the middle class; there’s an expansion of Medicaid for the poor, and a mandate While people who don’t consume an enormous amount of Fox News can easily laugh off the Hitler comparisons, another line of argument made by virtually every conservative in America is just as unmoored from reality…Nothing [Senator Ted] Cruz said is reflected in any objective reality

Republican members of the House of Representatives leading the right wing extremist movement include Mark Meadows – North Carolina; Steve King – Iowa; Raúl R. Labrador – Idaho; Jeff Duncan – South Carolina; Justin Amash –Michigan; Paul Broun – Georgia; Thomas Massie – Kentucky; Matt Salmon and David Schweikert – Arizona; Phil Gingrey – Georgia; Louie Gohmert – Texas; Michele Bachman – Minnesota; Steve Pearce – New Mexico

The tea party’s revolt against reality By Michael Gerson, Washington Post, September 30, 2013 – …this revolt is against anyone who accepts the constraints of political reality…composing less than 20 percent of the House Republican caucus…The tea-party faction holds the margin of victory in a slim Republican House majority…Conservatives now face the ideological temptation: inviting an unpleasant political reality by refusing to inhabit political reality.

Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead James Fallows Sep 27 2013  -A kind of politics we have not seen for more than 150 years…As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism and an inability to see or describe what is going on…This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.

Suffocating Echo Chamber By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, New York Times, September 25, 2013 …as conservative talk radio spread across America…talk radio, Fox News Channel and right-wing Web sites may have done greatest harm to conservatives themselves. The right-wing echo chamber breeds extremism, intimidates Republican moderates and misleads people into thinking that their worldview is broadly shared…Research suggests that the echo chamber effect is disproportionately a problem on the right, leading inhabitants to perceive a warped reality.

G.O.P. Extremists Defy Description by John Cassidy, TheNew, September 30, 2013…there is a significant minority within the Republican Party, both on Capitol Hill and at its grass roots, that would have preferred to stick with the suicide option to the bitter end…this faction, which is, by far, the most energetic group in the G.O.P…shares something with earlier right-wing movements, such as the John Birch Society…the religious fundamentalism that motivates many American right-wingers…instinctive white-on-black racism that has long tinged American conservatism…History suggests this is a dangerous road to go down. Once an elected government is deemed illegitimate, in whatever sense, normal democratic politics, with its give and take, is difficult to sustain. And that, of course, is what we are now witnessing

Republicans Facing a Test of Unity By ASHLEY PARKER, New York Times,  September 26, 2013 – conservative advocacy groups have emerged as central players — exerting outsize influence, investing tremendous time and resources.… number of key conservative organizations…ForAmerica, a Tea Party group…Heritage Action — the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization… Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers… The Club for Growth…Senate Conservatives Fund…

Marlin Stutzman and post-policy nihilism  By Steve Benen,, October 3, 2013 – …the last time Republicans shut down the federal government [1994]…then-Speaker Newt Gingrich…admitted in November 1995 that he closed the government in part because President Clinton hurt his feelings on Air Force One…We don’t yet know if a similar moment will come to define this Republican shutdown, but I’d like to nominate this gem as an early contender. “We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”…congressional Republicans are now defined by a post-policy nihilism…Republicans are being driven by a mindless radicalism. There’s no meaningful policy goal in mind; there’s no substantive motivation; there isn’t even a strategic end goal. There’s just a primal instinct and a right-wing id causing a national crisis.

Grayson blames shutdown on GOP literally drinking on the job By Josh Eidelson, Salon.Com, October 1. 2013   … Rep. Alan Grayson charged that Republican House members have been literally intoxicated while casting votes on the continuing resolutions that set the stage for today’s government shutdown…Grayson also blamed today’s shutdown on Republicans’ “anarchist ideology” and “blind hatred of government,” …“They are literally offended by the idea that people would get the care they need to stay healthy or alive even though they can’t afford it,” charged Grayson. “They regard it as some kind of crime against nature.”

Permanent Republican minority By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, October 1, 2013  ……What’s behind this two-decade drive to employ the obstructive power of a governmental minority to undo the policies that a majority enacted or to unseat an elected president? Plainly, the gap between the Republican Party and the rest of the nation has widened. And as that gap has grown, Republicans have become more insular and more desperate — a toxic combination for a functioning democracy…The current Republican hold on the House is the product of the lily-white, gerrymandered districts that GOP legislators crafted after the 2010 Census..All this leaves only two ways that Republicans can affect public policy at the national level: They can embrace minority rightsthat is, they can move to the center… Or they can try to maximize the power of their minority status by trying to disrupt the nation to the point that the majority will be compelled to support Republican positions. Rationality dictates the first choice, but rationality doesn’t hold much sway in today’s GOP…Is this course sustainable? Ultimately, no. Eventually, the number of millennials, voters of color and fed-up moderates will rise to the point that 218 sufficiently white and conservative House districts can no longer be crafted. How much havoc Republicans can wreak until then, however, is anybody’s guess..

Where the G.O.P.’s Suicide Caucus Lives Posted by Ryan Lizza,, September 26, 2013 – Excerpt – On August 21st, Congressman Mark Meadows sent a letter to John Boehner. Meadows is a former restaurant owner and Sunday-school Bible teacher from North Carolina. He’s been in Congress for eight months. Boehner, who has served in Congress for twenty-two years, is the Speaker of the House and second in the line of succession if anything happened to the President…Meadows wanted Boehner to use the threat of a government shutdown to defund Obamacare, a course Boehner had publicly ruled out…Meadows won his election last November by fifteen points…His district is eighty-seven per cent white, five per cent Latino, and three per cent black. Before Meadows sent off his letter to Boehner, he circulated it among his colleagues, and with the help of the conservative group FreedomWorks, as well as some heavy campaigning by Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mike Lee, seventy-nine like-minded House Republicans from districts very similar to Meadows’s added their signatures…Not everyone thought it was a terrific … Karl Rove railed against the idea in the Wall Street Journal. The conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer dubbed the eighty Republicans the “suicide caucus.” And yet, a few weeks later, Boehner adopted the course demanded by Meadows and his colleagues. The ability of eighty members of the House of Representatives to push the Republican Party into a strategic course that is condemned by the party’s top strategists is a historical oddity…These eighty members represent just eighteen per cent of the House and just a third of the two hundred and thirty-three House Republicans… just eighteen per cent of the population. Most of the members of the suicide caucus have districts very similar to Meadows’s…The average suicide-caucus district is seventy-five per cent white, while the average House district is sixty-three per cent white… even within the broader Republican Party, they represent a minority view…In previous eras, ideologically extreme minorities could be controlled by party leadership. What’s new about the current House of Representatives is that…Boehner has lost his ability to control his caucus, and an ideological faction, aided by outside interest groups, can now set the national agenda…Through redistricting, Republicans have built themselves a perhaps unbreakable majority in the House. But it has come at a cost of both party discipline and national popularity. Nowadays, a Sunday-school teacher can defeat the will of the Speaker of the House.

Staunch Group of Republicans Outflanks House Leaders By JONATHAN WEISMAN and ASHLEY PARKER, New York Times, October 1, 2013…outside their districts, and sometimes even within them, few have heard of the conservative cadre of House Republicans who have led the charge to shut down the government… a hard-core group of about two dozen or so of the most conservative House members who stand in the way of a middle path… For nearly three years, Mr. Boehner has been vexed by an ungovernable conservative group made of up ideologically committed conservatives from safe House seats… the influence of the group is sparking an internal backlash, as a growing band of moderate and institutional Republicans are demanding that Mr. Boehner stand up to the conservatives to reopen the government and reach bipartisan accommodations in the future….


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


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.

Gridlock and Its Causes

by Gary Hart,, 05/27/2013

There is not a lot of honest exploration of the root causes of what is now widely known as political gridlock. Most political journalism simply reiterates the fact that the legislative branch of government is virtually dysfunctional and deplores the fact.

But this did not happen by accident or in a vacuum. And it will not end until voters tire of it and replace those responsible. Throughout most of American history the U.S. government worked more or less the way it is supposed to, with occasional lurches to the left or the right.

Dysfunction in the early 21st century has its causes. A deep recession caused by deregulation of and consequent predictable speculation in the finance and housing sectors. Two extremely prolonged wars with no clear victories. Large budget deficits caused by tax cuts that failed to stimulate growth and revenues and running the wars off-budget.

This cumulative discontent produced predictable anti-government movements ironically directed not at the political forces that created these policies but at those who opposed them. The journalistic fiction of political “equivalence” is simply that — a fiction meant to avoid pinning the tail on the elephant and being accused of liberal bias.

Anyone who believes the administrations of Carter, Clinton, and Obama are liberal, let alone “socialist,” are living in a dream world. In fact, Democratic members of Congress, including many party leaders, voted for the Iraq invasion and the Bush tax cuts. Any fair assessment of both parties’ performance will show that Democrats have supported Reagan and Bush policies vastly more than Republicans now in office have supported Obama policies. In fact, it is the official, publicly-announced policy of the Republican party to oppose every Obama administration initiative, including appointment of cabinet, sub-cabinet, and judicial nominees.

If you are locked into an ideology that government is bad and ineffective, you have a stake in proving that to be the case, despite the election of a president and administration twice by substantial majorities. Whether a gridlock-committed Republican party will pay a price for opposing the will of the people remains to be seen. At the least it is a high-risk political strategy and at the most it is a rejection of majority government and jeopardization of the national interest.

There is mounting evidence that some Republican elected officials are beginning to foresee the cliff over which Tea Party representatives are headed and fear the damage, even destruction, the Republican party might suffer. It is ludicrous in the extreme for new Tea Party members to claim respect for the House and the Senate and then behave in the most disrespectful manner possible. If these radical individuals wish to alter the American form of government, juvenile behavior is hardly the way to achieve it. Anti-government forces must acknowledge that the size and shape of the national government does not change that much when Republicans are in power.

As always, it is up to the American people to decide what they want. But we must make up our minds. We cannot have a government that works by electing those who want it not to work.

Pro-Capitalist, Anti-Government Extremists

Southern Poverty Law Center / By Leah Nelson [1]  December 18, 2012  |

Back in 1978, when the world was young and “Saturday Night Live” was only in its third season, a young comedian named Steve Martin took to the stage and told his audience how to become millionaires and never pay taxes.

“First … get a million dollars,” he said [2]. “What do [you] say to the tax man when he comes to [your] door and says, ‘You have never paid taxes?’ Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: ‘I forgot!’”

Porter Stansberry, an “investment advisor” with a knack for lining his own pockets, used a slightly different strategy in 2003. When the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) came to his door and accused him of making over a million dollars selling false “inside tips,” the self-aggrandizing financial guru claimed that it was his First Amendment right to tell his subscribers whatever he wanted — even if what he wanted to tell them was, as the SEC put it [3], “baseless speculation and outright lies.”

The courts disagreed. In 2009, after years of very public litigation, a federal appeals panel upheld the SEC’s charges and fined [4] Stansberry $1.5 million.

Stansberry — who had enjoyed some respect in financial circles and whose First Amendment argument (though not his conduct) was endorsed [5] by respected news outlets who feared the case would set a precedent for punishing the press for publishing incorrect financial analysis — did not take the verdict well.

He did not stop peddling advice — but these days, it’s about more than get-rich-quick schemes. Evidently soured on the government by his brush with the law, Stansberry has turned from scam artist to antigovernment radical, using various Internet publications to mix dubious investment advice with apocalyptic warnings about a coming era of tyranny that will destroy America.

His most recent insight? According to a YouTube video distributed across a multitude of far-right websites and discussed with great seriousness by figures like antigovernment conspiracist Alex Jones [6], President Obama is planning to overthrown the Constitution, implement socialism, and seize a third term in office.

According to Stansberry, Obama won’t even have to use force to do it. Instead, the president plans to buy his third term with untold profits gained from mining America’s vast shale oil deposits, which will lead to an era of extraordinary prosperity unlike anything America has seen before.

“All of this new wealth,” Stansberry says, “will seem like a gift from the Prophet Muhammad to the administration of Barack Obama.”

And his supporters will eat it up. Once the black gold really starts flowing, Stansberry claims, the president will execute a Hugo Chavez-like [7] power grab, distributing money and favors to friends, cronies, and political allies, who in return will cheer for him in the streets as he seizes an unconstitutional third term — and, possibly, even a fourth — in office. During his reign of terror, Obama will replace America’s market economy with a socialist dictatorship and “punish and tax those who work hard,” using the wealth they create to “buy favors and luxuries for millions of Americans … who have done nothing to earn it.”

America, of course, will be ruined.

Stansberry is not the only ultra-libertarian to promote such ideas. One of his most prominent fellow travelers is Doug Casey, an antigovernment “investment guru” who on Nov. 29 told subscribers to his newsletter that being a taxpayer in America today is analogous to “being a Jew in Germany in the mid-1930’s.”

On the surface, Casey (who often cross-promotes Stansberry’s articles on his various websites and newsletters and who is described by Stansberry as a friend and mentor) seems a cheerful misanthrope, whose breezy manner and self-deprecating wit (he often says Uncle Scrooge McDuck is his hero) is a refreshing change from the pompous grandiosity of his close cousins in the far-right “Patriot” movement.

But scratch that surface and it’s clear that this self-described “anarcho-capitalist,” who in 2009 outlined a plan to privatize a small country and take it public on the New York Stock Exchange, is courting the same audience of government-fearing radicals. Though he puts a fresh face on tired conspiracies and a new spin on old animosities, Casey’s message is the same: The government is your enemy, and if you don’t prepare, it will destroy you.

If you stripped the Patriot movement of its pseudo-legal rhetoric, conspiracist malarkey and allusions to supposed Christian virtue, you’d end up with an ideology much like the one espoused by Stansberry, Casey and their compatriots. Often described as “anarcho-capitalists” or “voluntaryists,” their belief in essence is that government — any government — is by its very nature tyrannical and unnatural. They propose instead an essentially stateless society in which all relationships, economic and otherwise, are voluntary and untaxed. Services like roads and mail delivery would be built and maintained by private entities that would charge market-based fees for those who desired to use them. Government in any recognizable form simply would not exist.

In some respects, Casey and Stansberry’s rhetoric sounds like laissez-faire capitalism taken to its logical extreme. But Casey, Stansberry, and similar ideologues espouse beliefs that are even further out than that.

Mainstream conservatives often allege that the balance between states’ rights and federal power has tipped too far towards the latter, with the federal government exercising powers the framers of the Constitution never dreamed of. But Casey actually believes that the Constitution itself “was essentially a coup.”

Explaining this assertion in the same Nov. 29 newsletter in which he compared being an American taxpayer to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, Casey said: “[T]he delegates to what we now call the Constitutional Convention were not empowered to replace the existing government — only to improve upon the Articles of Confederation between the then-independent states. The framers of the Constitution drafted it with the notion of a national government already in place.”

They “calmed fears of loss of state sovereignty by calling the new government the ‘United States of America’ – a verbal sleight of hand that worked for over half a century. Then the southern states decided to exercise what these words imply, their right to leave the union … and the wrong side won.”

In other words, as Casey sees things, the Constitution and its built-in plan for a national government caused the Civil War.

“I’ve always suspected that U.S. and world history would be different – and better – if those delegates had done as they were told and just smoothed over the rough spots in the Articles rather than replaced them with the Constitution,” Casey explained in an April 2012 article. “Greater independence among the states could have led to more innovation, and I doubt there would have been the unpleasantness of 1861-’65. People with differing ethical values and economic interests would not have been forced to obey the same laws.”

Translation: Confederate partisans — people whose “ethical values and economic interests” included buying, selling, beating, raping and killing other human beings whose skin color happened to be different from their own — were unjustly stopped by overweening federal power that was built into the Constitution from Day One as part of a long-acting stealth coup to steal power from the states.

This is one place where Casey and portions of the Patriot crowd very definitely part ways.

Patriot ideologues tend to revere the Constitution — at least up to the 14th Amendment — as an almost divinely inspired document, and talk about the founding fathers as near-infallible prophets. In some ways, Casey’s pseudo-history of the United States is the political inverse of the one promoted by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton [8], who contends that the American Revolution was fought to free slaves and that the founding fathers “already had the entire debate on creation and evolution” and chose creationism. Casey, who once described Santa Claus as “God on training wheels” and who jokes about saying grace to Crom, the fictional deity featured in Conan the Barbarian, would not likely get along well with Barton.

Yet in a Venn diagram of antigovernment extremists, Barton is one of the few who would fall clearly outside of the overlap between Casey- and Stansberry-style anarcho-capitalism and Patriot ideology.

The areas of overlap, particularly with the radical “sovereign citizens” movement, are significant – and not unknown to adherents of anarcho-capitalism, or “voluntaryism,” as it is called by some. Carl Watner, who has been publishing a newsletter called “The Voluntaryist” since 1982 and who appears to be the godfather of Casey and Stansberry’s hyper-antigovernment ideology, grapples with many of the same issues that sovereign citizens do.

In a 1994 article titled “Un-Licensed, Un-Numbered, Un-Taxed,” Watner wrote approvingly of what he called “conscientious objectors” (sovereign citizens, as readers of this blog would call them) “who prefer to remain individuals rather than embrace a statist system which licenses, numbers and taxes them in hundreds of ways.”

Watner’s essay focused on the “Embassy of Heaven [9],” an Oregon-based sovereign citizen group and church that sells fake passports and licenses for so-called “Ambassadors of Heaven.” As Watner explains it, members of the “Embassy” consider themselves to be residents of Heaven and subjects of Christ – and like ambassadors from anywhere, they reason, they are entitled to live within the United States without being subject to its jurisdiction.

Voluntaryists and sovereign citizens are not identical. One difference Watner identified between his approach and that of the Embassy of Heaven “is that the church relies upon the Christian religion as its bulwark in resisting the State.”

Not all sovereign citizens belong to an organization like the Embassy of Heaven, but many do carry licenses identifying them as members of nonexistent nations – a concept Watner does not approve of, as it suggests that people properly ought to carry identification in the first place.

“Whereas the Church says its members are not residents of the state, thus escaping its jurisdiction, the voluntaryist says that the state should have no jurisdiction over any one at all,” he wrote. “The state is a coercive institution, completely at odds with the moral laws that decry thievery, slavery and murder. Evil in any form should not be legitimized, so the voluntaryist refuses to grant validity to the state’s claim of jurisdiction, even over residents.”

Still, he managed to find common ground with the “conscientious objectors” of the Embassy of Heaven: “Voluntaryists believe in challenging the state head-on, yet they and other conscientious objectors share a common philosophical insight with the members of the church: might does not make right. The state rests on might: therefore it should be rejected.”

The Embassy of Heaven, therefore, “will then receive our praise for living by the voluntary principle, even if we do not choose to personally endorse it by becoming a member.”

Today, Casey, Stansberry, and other like-minded ideologues continue Watner’s tradition of conceding overlaps between themselves and Patriots, even as clear disparities exists. The two ideologies do appeal to much the same audience – and sometimes, their representatives share the same stage.

At 2012’s “FreedomFest,” for instance, Casey was listed as a keynote speaker together with a plethora of Patriot bigwigs, including Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News personality and 9-11 “truther” [10] who thinks the government was behind the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and G. Edward Griffin, co-author of a popular Fed-bashing tome called The Creature from Jekyll Island [11]. FreedomFest was organized by Mark Skousen [12], a friend of Patriot ringmaster [13] Glenn Beck [14] and nephew of the late W. Cleon Skousen [15], a hugely influential figure in Patriot conspiracist circles.

And at “Libertopia 2012,” Casey was a listed speaker along with Larken Rose, a blogger who made news in 2011 with an post titled, “When Should You Shoot a Cop?” which proposed that it is acceptable to kill law enforcement officers if you perceive them to be violating your constitutional rights. Also featured at Libertopia was Ryan William Nohea Garcia, an “ambassador” for the ultra-libertarian SeaSteading Institute [16], which envisions building custom floating countries in international waters.

Stansberry also has shared platforms with Patriot nabobs. For years, he was a financial columnist for WorldNetDaily [17], a Patriot-leaning online publication with a theocratic bent that specializes in antigovernment conspiracy theories, end-times prophecy and revisionist histories of the Civil War. And this November, he appeared on the “Alex Jones Show” to promote his prediction about Obama’s supposed secret plan to run for a third term. The same episode featured commentary from Edwin Vieira [18], a Patriot grandee and militia supporter who in 2005 called for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, saying that the conservative jurist’s opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute “upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law.” Also appearing was Lew Rockwell [19], a libertarian commentator and blogger with a long history of promoting neo-secessionism and other extreme-right ideologies.

The Patriot movement is noteworthy for its followers’ forceful assertion of the right to bear arms, and form private militias willing to face down tyrannical government forces when the time comes. In contrast, Casey, Stansberry, and their sympathizers make a lot of noise about opposing violence, stressing the need to bring about their desired revolution through education and activism.

But in a 2011 essay titled “The Corruption of America,” Stansberry began to sing a very different tune. “The nation will soon face a choice between heading down the path toward fascism … or turning back the power of government and restoring the limited Republic that was our birthright,” he wrote. “What gives me confidence for the future? Gun sales, for one thing. U.S. citizens legally own around 270 million firearms – around 88 guns per 100 citizens (including children) today. That’s a hard population to police without its consent.”

Sounding very much like his Patriot cousins-in-arms — and very little like a proponent of nonviolent resistance — he continued: “[I]f the government attempts to take our guns … my opinion would change immediately. … But that’s one right the Supreme Court has been strengthening recently.”

“It gives me hope,” Stansberry said, “that most people in America still understand that the right to bear arms has little to do with protecting ourselves from crime and everything to do with protecting ourselves from government.”


See more stories tagged with:

libertarian [20],

anarcho-capitalist [21]

Source URL:


Some Better Targets for the People Who Hate Government

by Paul Buchheit, December 10, 2012 by Common Dreams

One of the pleasures of a weekend away from the city is visiting with people who express points of view that are different from my own. A lot of them hate government. Their comments are sprinkled with colorful references to taxes, waste, and socialism.

Countering with facts and statistics doesn’t seem to work. Instead, listening to their rants can be educational for a progressive, because the anti-government sentiment highlights the masterful job done by conservatives and the wealthy over the years, as they have basically convinced much of America to argue against themselves on matters of politics and the economy.

It would make more sense to take on the real villains.

1. Medical Providers

They’re taking a lot more of our money than Medicare does. According to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, medical administrative costs as a percentage of claims are about three times higher for private insurance than for Medicare. The U.S. Institute of Medicine reports that the for-profit system wastes $750 billion a year on waste, fraud, and inefficiency. As a percent of GDP, we spend $1.2 trillion more than the OECD average.

That’s an amount equal to the entire deficit wasted on private medical care companies. One out of every six dollars we earn goes to doctors, hospitals, drug companies, and insurance companies. All good reasons to redirect our hatred.

2. Retirement Brokers

Various reports have concluded that administrative costs for 401(k) plans are much higher than those for Social Security — up to twenty times more.

It would be difficult to find, or even imagine, any short-term-profit-based private insurer that is fully funded for the next 25 years. Social Security is. It works for all retirees while private plans work for a limited number of investors.

3. Banks

Government is often blamed for local budget shortfalls, but cities and towns around the country have been repeatedly victimized by a “bid-rigging” process that diverts billions of dollars — a few thousand at a time — from numerous unsuspecting communities to the accounts of a few big banks.

Individual homeowners, especially minorities, have also been victimized by the banks. Because of the housing crash and the corresponding decrease in home values, black households lost over half of their median wealth, and Hispanic households almost two-thirds.

There are scandals and scams galore: the privately run Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) headed up the illegal foreclosure business; the banking association LIBOR was guilty of interest rate manipulation; and plenty of financial institutions have engaged in the subtle art of imposing hidden fees. Credit cards are loaded with “gray charges” like surprise subscriptions and auto-renewals that cost the average consumer $356 a year.

Yet we’re forced to keep paying. Shockingly, it has been estimated that 40% of every dollar we spend on goods and services goes to banks as interest.

Public banks, on the other hand, focus on the needs of communities and small businesses rather than on investors. The most well-known example is the Bank of North Dakota (BND), which has successfully worked with local banks throughout the state, promoting business growth through loans that a larger bank might be reluctant to make, while managing to turn a profit every year for the past 40 years.

4. Higher Education Operators

Outside of the banking industry, there may not be a more egregious example of public abuse than the expropriation of higher education by profit-seekers who have subjected underemployed young people to years of student loan obligations. The collection of outstanding student debt is managed in good part by big banks like JP Morgan and Citigroup.

In most countries tuition remains free or nominal, but in America, as noted by Noam Chomsky, the belief that education strengthens a country is giving way to a philosophy of paying for your own educational benefits. Meanwhile, the “corporatization of universities” has led to a dramatic increase in administrators while relatively expensive programs like nursing, engineering and computer science are being cut.

But the easy loans keep accruing interest long after college ends. With a hint of foreboding, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Department of Education reported that the student loan debacle has been fueled by the same forces that led to the subprime mortgage collapse.

5. Big Box and Fast Food Companies

Smaller government is promoted by the very companies that make record profits while forcing their employees to accept public assistance.

While McDonald’s enjoyed profits of 130 percent over the past four years, and Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC) made 45 percent, and while the Walton family made $20 billion in one year, the median hourly wage for food service workers and Walmart employees is about $9 an hour. Many workers are stuck at the $7.25 minimum wage, which according to the National Employment Law Project is worth 30 percent less than in 1968.

Food service and big box store employees, among the fastest-growing job segments in the nation, are making barely enough to stay out of poverty. And it’s not just the employees who are subsidizing their bosses. We all are. Low-wage employees are more dependent on the food stamps and Medicaid that are paid for by our tax dollars.

Some Alternative Targets: Panic, Poison, Plowing, Postage, Prison

What is the incentive for private companies to deal with tragedies like Hurricane Sandy? The Pacific Standard aptly stated that “the free market doesn’t want to be in the flood business.”

What is the incentive for private companies to keep the poisons out of our drinking water? Without sufficient government regulations the Clean Water Act was violated a half-million times in one year.

What is the incentive for private companies to plow the county roads? Or to reduce the number of prisoners in profit-seeking prisons? Or to allow you to send a birthday card for just 45 cents? Or to simply treat its customers with respect rather than as a source of profit?

The “invisible hand” of the free market is unable, or unwilling, to satisfy the needs of society in all these areas. For that it is worthy of our contempt.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at

more Paul Buchheit

Article printed from

Source URL:

Where Do Anti-Government Ideas Come From? by Joe Brewer

 Cognitive Policy Works, October 20, 2010


…candidates across the country are engaging in an ideological battle with one side claiming that government is the problem and the other side claiming that we cannot solve our problems without effective government.  This battle is taking place on a dramatically uneven playing field.  It has been stacked against the public good for decades by deep pockets of corporate wealth….For nearly 40 years now, this system has been growing in size and sophistication.  And it is surgical in its precision and effectiveness. The impacts on the US economy and political system have been devastating…

Full text

An article came out this week in the New York Times about a strategy meeting hosted by the Koch brothers, two billionaires who have funded a staunchly anti-government agenda for years.  This event highlights a deeper current of money that has been invested in an anti-government policy agenda that goes back decades.

In the midst of this election season, candidates across the country are engaging in an ideological battle with one side claiming that government is the problem and the other side claiming that we cannot solve our problems without effective government.  This battle is taking place on a dramatically uneven playing field.  It has been stacked against the public good for decades by deep pockets of corporate wealth.

Policy Agendas More Important Than Election Cycles

David Calahan, a researcher who studies the ideological basis of philanthropy, published a major report in 1999 titled “$1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990′s” that describes the web of money that flowed through the top 20 Conservative think tanks in the United States.  He identified the strategies that allow a well funded minority to dominate public discourse and set the agenda for the country.  One of his major assertions was this:

“In fact, the more fundamental changes in American politics may not be in election results, but rather in the rise and fall of different ideas and their attendant policy agendas.”

Consider the impacts of the Tea Party Movement that arose after President Obama took office.  A non-election agenda was initiated to frame the debate around anti-government sentiments.  It’s veneer of grassroots populism conceals a vast network of media outlets, high-profile spokespeople, training centers, and deep pocketed funders who made the Tea Party possible.  And yes, the Koch brothers are major donors of the effort.

How were they able to get Tea Party candidates on so many ballots?  Why do even the incumbent Republicans feel that they must conform to the extreme views of people like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh?  The answer is that a massive communications infrastructure has been built to reward those who conform (and punish all the rest).

Investing in the long haul pays off.

After building a vast infrastructure it was pretty straightforward to rile millions of people up, especially since these very people experience the brunt of economic collapse.  The ironies run deep in that those who have been hurt the most by deregulation and privatization are the foot soldiers rallied to the call of freedom by this effective system for mass manipulation of public opinion.

How Far Back Does This Go?
The first major effort to build an anti-government communications system can be traced back to 1971 and the Powell Memo, written by Lewis F. Powell.  It laid out the ideas that influenced wealthy conservative businessmen to build a web of think tanks, media outlets, and recruitment centers that would go on the offensive and destroy public good will toward government.  For nearly 40 years now, this system has been growing in size and sophistication.  And it is surgical in its precision and effectiveness.

The impacts on the US economy and political system have been devastating.  These graphs tell the story well… rising international debt, increasing concentrations of wealth, lost savings of working people, explosive individual debt.  The list goes on and on.  All corresponding with the advance of an anti-government agenda throughout the 80′s, 90′s, and 2000′s.

A toxic attitude was spread like a virus and the harmful policies followed.  We are now living in a country where the top 10% control nearly all of the wealth alongside a working poor living in third world conditions.  The uneven playing field has given obvious advantage to those who had the wealth to begin with.

Where Is The Progressive Response?
All hope is not lost.  A number of progressive donors finally got the wake-up call in 2005 and created the Democracy Alliance.  They began pooling their money to invest in think tanks and media outlets of their own.  Organizations like Campaign for America’s Future, Commonweal Institute, and Center for American Progress have come into being and are attempting to catch up.  But the opposition has a 35 year advantage.

Unfortunately, the progressive movement suffered a major casualty in April of 2008.  The Rockridge Institute closed its doors due to inadequate funding support from donors.  Rockridge was a unique think tank founded by George Lakoff to analyze political frames in public discourse in order to help progressives navigate the toxic culture wars of American politics.  One of the major causes for this loss was the massive flux of money into the 2008 election cycle.  Short-term gains were given myopic focus and the long-term was sacrificed.

I worked at the Rockridge Institute during this period.  On the last day of the institute, Evan Frisch and I made a plea to the progressive community that we must invest in cognitive infrastructure.  Here’s a snippet of what we said:

Create a new progressive infrastructure that embodies our ideals and values. This includes a cognitive infrastructure – the ideas, values and modes of thought that express the progressive vision. Simply churning out more policy proposals and statistical analyses without taking into account what people understand the situation to be will leave the populace bored, confused, and distant from the political process.”

This plea is more timely than ever today.  The progressive response remains inadequate because we don’t share a common vision, nor do we invest in the long-haul.  So we see an election in our midst where Democrats are blamed for the harms caused by anti-government Republicans (and a spattering of Conservative Democrats who have infiltrated the other party).  The instigators of harm are smearing the real heroes.  And it’s working!

If we are to turn the tide on this culture war and reclaim the Spirit of America, we’re going to need to arm ourselves with knowledge about the origins of anti-government sentiments.  And we’re going to need to invest in pro-government, pro-community ideas of our own.

Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.