A Quiet Deal in Dixie: The Right’s Stealth Plan for the US Goes Back Farther Than You Think

 

When and how were the seeds sown for the modern far-right’s takeover of American politics? Nancy MacLean reveals the deep and troubling roots of this secretive political establishment — and its decades-long plan to change the rules of democratic governance — in her new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Get your copy by making a donation to Truthout now!

Many journalists have seen the “Powell Memorandum” of 1971 — written by then future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. — as the blueprint for a well-oiled infrastructure on the right. However, in this excerpt from Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean argues that its roots began in the 1950s with a treatise from an obscure economics professor.

As 1956 drew to a close, Colgate Whitehead Darden Jr., the president of the University of Virginia, feared for the future of his beloved state. The previous year, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its second Brown v. Board of Education ruling, calling for the dismantling of segregation in public schools with “all deliberate speed.” In Virginia, outraged state officials responded with legislation to force the closure of any school that planned to comply. Some extremists called for ending public education entirely. Darden, who earlier in his career had been the governor, could barely stand to contemplate the damage such a rash move would inflict. Even the name of this plan, “massive resistance,” made his gentlemanly Virginia sound like Mississippi.

On his desk was a proposal, written by the man he had recently appointed chair of the economics department at UVA. Thirty-seven-year-old James McGill Buchanan liked to call himself a Tennessee country boy. But Darden knew better. No less a figure than Milton Friedman had extolled Buchanan’s potential. As Darden reviewed the document, he might have wondered if the newly hired economist had read his mind. For without mentioning the crisis at hand, Buchanan’s proposal put in writing what Darden was thinking: Virginia needed to find a better way to deal with the incursion on states’ rights represented by Brown.

To most Americans living in the North, Brown was a ruling to end segregated schools — nothing more, nothing less. And Virginia’s response was about race. But to men like Darden and Buchanan, two well-educated sons of the South who were deeply committed to its model of political economy, Brown boded a sea change on much more.

At a minimum, the federal courts could no longer be counted on to defer reflexively to states’ rights arguments. More concerning was the likelihood that the high court would be more willing to intervene when presented with compelling evidence that a state action was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection” under the law. States’ rights, in effect, were yielding in preeminence to individual rights. It was not difficult for either Darden or Buchanan to imagine how a court might now rule if presented with evidence of the state of Virginia’s archaic labor relations, its measures to suppress voting, or its efforts to buttress the power of reactionary rural whites by under-representing the moderate voters of the cities and suburbs of Northern Virginia. Federal meddling could rise to levels once unimaginable. James McGill Buchanan was not a member of the Virginia elite. Nor is there any explicit evidence to suggest that for a white southerner of his day, he was uniquely racist or insensitive to the concept of equal treatment. And yet, somehow, all he saw in the Brown decision was coercion. And not just in the abstract. What the court ruling represented to him was personal. Northern liberals — the very people who looked down upon southern whites like him, he was sure — were now going to tell his people how to run their society. And to add insult to injury, he and people like him with property were no doubt going to be taxed more to pay for all the improvements that were now deemed necessary and proper for the state to make. What about his rights? Where did the federal government get the authority to engineer society to its liking and then send him and those like him the bill? Who represented their interests in all of this? I can fight this, he concluded. I want to fight this.

While it is hard for most of us today to imagine how Buchanan or Darden or any other reasonable, rational human being saw the racially segregated Virginia of the 1950s as a society built on “the rights of the individual,” no matter how that term was defined, it is not hard to see why the Brown decision created a sense of grave risk among those who did. Buchanan fully understood the scale of the challenge he was undertaking and promised no immediate results. But he made clear that he would devote himself passionately to this cause.

Some may argue that while Darden fulfilled his part — he found the money to establish this center — he never got much in return. Buchanan’s team had no discernible success in decreasing the federal government’s pressure on the South all the way through the 1960s and ’70s. But take a longer view — follow the story forward to the second decade of the twenty-first century — and a different picture emerges, one that is both a testament to Buchanan’s intellectual powers and, at the same time, the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance.

For what becomes clear as the story moves forward decade by decade is that a quest that began as a quiet attempt to prevent the state of Virginia from having to meet national democratic standards of fair treatment and equal protection under the law would, some sixty years later, become the veritable opposite of itself: a stealth bid to reverse-engineer all of America, at both the state and the national levels, back to the political economy and oligarchic governance of midcentury Virginia, minus the segregation. Alas, it wasn’t until the early 2010s that the rest of us began to sense that something extraordinarily troubling had somehow entered American politics.

All anyone was really sure of was that every so often, but with growing frequency and in far-flung locations, an action would be taken by governmental figures on the radical right that went well beyond typical party politics, beyond even the extreme partisanship that has marked the United States over the past few decades. These actions seemed intended in one way or another to reduce the authority and reach of government or to diminish the power and standing of those calling on government to protect their rights or to provide for them in one way or another.

Some pointed to what happened in Wisconsin in 2011. The newly elected governor, Scott Walker, put forth legislation to strip public employees of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, by way of a series of new rules aimed at decimating their membership. These rules were more devilishly lethal in their cumulative impact than anything the anti-union cause had theretofore produced. What also troubled many people was that these unions had already expressed a readiness to make concessions to help the state solve its financial troubles. Why respond with all-out war?

Truthout Progressive Pick

Revealing the architects of the right-wing movement to disempower the majority of Americans.

Click here now to get the book!

Copyright (2017) by Nancy MacLean.

Nancy MacLean

Nancy MacLean is the award-winning author of Behind the Mask of Chivalry (a New York Times “noteworthy” book of the year) and Freedom is Not Enough, which was called “contemporary history at its best” by the Chicago Tribune. The William Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, she lives in Durham, North Carolina.

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/41176-a-quiet-deal-in-dixie-the-right-s-stealth-plan-for-the-us-goes-back-farther-than-you-think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Republicans trust such warnings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Parker contributed reporting.

 

 

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

A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Familiar Tactic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critical Timing

But many on the Republican right wanted to do more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Sabotage of Democracy by Bill Moyers

October 4, 2013

BILL MOYERS: And now to the people who refuse to let democracy work. The people who hate government so much they’ve shut it down. Unable to abide by the results of democracy when they don’t win, they turned on it.

Republicans have now lost three successive elections to control the Senate and they’ve lost the last two presidential elections. Nonetheless, they fought tooth and nail to kill President Obama’s health care initiative. They lost that fight, but with the corporate wing of Democrats, they managed to bend it toward private interests.

So we should be clear on this, Obamacare, as it’s known, is deeply flawed. Big subsidies to the health insurance industry. A bonanza for lobbyists. No public option. And as The New York Times reported this week, “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law.” Largely because states controlled by Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.

As far as our bought and paid for legislative process goes, Obama’s initiative made it through the sausage factory. Yet even after both the House and Senate approved it, the president signed it, and the Supreme Court upheld it, the Republicans keep insisting on calling the law a “bill,” thumbing their noses and refusing to accept that it is enacted legislation.

Now they’re fighting to prevent it from being implemented. Here was their order of the day on Thursday from the popular right wing blog RedState.com:

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

Once upon a time when I was a young man working on Capitol Hill, it was commonplace that when a bill became law, everybody was unhappy with it. But you didn’t bring down the government just because it wasn’t perfect. You argue and fight and vote and then, due process having been at least raggedly served, on to the next fight.

That was a long time ago. Long before the Tea Party minority, armed with huge sums of secret money from rich donors, sucked the last bit of soul from the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. They became delusional. Then rabid. Like this:

SENATOR STEVE KING: If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it. It is an unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.

BILL MOYERS: That’s false, of course. Just like those right-wing talking points that keep grinding through the propaganda mills of Fox News:

AINSLEY EARHARDT on Fox and Friends: Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.

BILL MOYERS: Not true.

MICHELLE MALKIN on Fox and Friends: That healthcare plan puts a discount on the lives of elderly people and would result in the redistribution of health away from the elderly and the infirm to other special favored interests and patients.

BILL MOYERS: Again, not true. Nor is this, from the multi-millionaire fabulist Rush Limbaugh:

RUSH LIMBAUGH from the Rush Limbaugh Show: What we now have is the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. Obamacare is just a massive tax increase, that all it is.

BILL MOYERS: That’s just a tiny sample of the lies and misinformation perpetrated by the right with the song and dance compliance of its richly paid mouthpieces. Sarah Palin set the bar for truth at about ankle height with those fictitious “death panels” that she still insists will decide our rendezvous with the Grim Reaper.

SARAH PALIN on Cashin’ In: Of course there are death panels in there, but the important thing to remember is that’s just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome, evil policy of Obama’s and that is Obamacare.

BILL MOYERS: Despite what they say, Obamacare is only one of their targets. Before they will allow the government to reopen, they demand employers be enabled to deny birth control coverage to female employees. They demand Obama cave on the Keystone pipeline. They demand the watchdogs over corporate pollution be muzzled, and the big, bad regulators of Wall Street sent home. Their ransom list goes on and on. The debt ceiling is next. They would have the government default on its obligations and responsibilities.

When the president refused to buckle to their extortion, they threw their tantrum. Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.

Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”

This man is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich. It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.

It was also Newt Gingrich, speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.

Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media.

NEWT GINGRICH on Crossfire: I’m Newt Gingrich on the right.

BILL MOYERS: On CNN.com the other day he issued a call to arms to his fellow bomb-throwers, “…don’t cave on shutdown.”

At least let’s name this for what it is, sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means. And let’s be clear about where such reckless ambition leads. As surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.

© 2013 Public Affairs Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
http://billmoyers.com/segment/bill-moyers-essay-shutdown-showdown/

Marlin Stutzman and post-policy nihilism

By Steve Benen, maddowblog.msnbc.com, October 3, 2013 -

Excerpt

…the last time Republicans shut down the federal government…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.

Full text

For many of us, to remember the last time Republicans shut down the federal government is to think of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Specifically, the far-right Georgian admitted in November 1995 that he closed the government in part because President Clinton hurt his feelings on Air Force One — the president didn’t chat with Gingrich during an overseas flight and then made the Speaker exit at the rear of the plane.

It was a moment that captured the entire fiasco quite beautifully. A petulant, out-of-control Republican leader shut down the government largely to spite the president who made him feel bad.

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.”

Go ahead, Republicans, tell us another one about how the shutdown is Democrats’ fault.

I’ve long argued that congressional Republicans are now defined by a post-policy nihilism, but even I’m surprised an elected GOP member of Congress would say this out loud, on purpose, and on the record.

The quote is just … perfect. “We’re not going to be disrespected” helps capture the extent to which Republican lawmakers are acting like a street gang, hurting the country deliberately out of some twisted sense of self-serving pride. “We have to get something out of this” reinforces the way in which GOP officials are holding the country hostage, expecting a ransom to be paid.

And “I don’t know what that even is” makes clear that 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.

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/10/03/20801266-marlin-stutzman-and-post-policy-nihilism

Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical

by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Oct 3, 2013

Excerpt

…the people who will lose the most during a government shutdown…are those who live day-to-day on their wages, those at the lower end of the nation’s economy, and the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like this. And what happens to those people is the focus of the faith community; that is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to them…The government shutdown seems to have gotten the attention of the nation…The only positive I see in this crisis is that the right issues — the moral issues — might finally get our attention...The issues here are deeper than politics now; they are moral, and, I would argue, theological….The Bible speaks clearly about the role of government, and that is what really is being challenged here…pressuring the nation to shut down the government, instead of keeping debate within the political process, is contrary not only to our best political traditions, but also to what our Scriptures say. And underlying this current crisis, there is a clear hostility to government itself, government per se, from a group of political extremists that I believe is unbiblical. It is a minority of our elected officials who are demonstrating their anti-government ideology. But that extreme minority has captured their party and the political process, and has driven the nation into dangerous crisis based upon fear...The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good — protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a society — and even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts…Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor.…There is a powerful vision for promoting the common good here, a vision of prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy. That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again…To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority…

Full text

One of the most depressing things I heard on the first day of the government shutdown was that it was a record fundraising day for both parties. Washington, D.C., is no longer about governing; it is just about winning and losing. But the people who will lose the most during a government shutdown — and then an impending United States government default on paying its debts — are those who live day-to-day on their wages, those at the lower end of the nation’s economy, and the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like this. And what happens to those people is the focus of the faith community; that is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to them. Faith leaders have been meeting to discuss what we must do in response to this political crisis brought on by absolute political dysfunction.

The government shutdown seems to have gotten the attention of the nation. And if this ends in a default on our debt, the potentially catastrophic crashing of the economy will certainly wake us up. The only positive I see in this crisis is that the right issues — the moral issues — might finally get our attention.

Let me make myself clear on the politics here: Debates over fiscal matters — budgets, taxes, and spending — are supposed to take place within the political process, in negotiations, compromises, conferences between the Senate, House, and White House, and settled by elections. We can’t use government shutdowns and debt repayments as bargaining chips in these debates. Most political leaders I know, both Republicans and Democrats, believe in government and governing. They may differ over how big or small or limited, but they are not hostile to government itself.

The issues here are deeper than politics now; they are moral, and, I would argue, theological. Too often our political affiliation drives our theological worldview instead of our theology driving our politics. The Bible speaks clearly about the role of government, and that is what really is being challenged here. It’s time for those people of faith who want to shut down the government to read their Bibles. Because pressuring the nation to shut down the government, instead of keeping debate within the political process, is contrary not only to our best political traditions, but also to what our Scriptures say. And underlying this current crisis, there is a clear hostility to government itself, government per se, from a group of political extremists that I believe is unbiblical. It is a minority of our elected officials who are demonstrating their anti-government ideology. But that extreme minority has captured their party and the political process, and has driven the nation into dangerous crisis based upon fear.

This kind of crisis should cause people of faith to fast and pray and read their Bibles. And whether or not you are a person of faith, you might find it interesting to see what the Bible says about the mess we are now in.

The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good – protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a societyand even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts. The Scriptures also make it clear that governmental authority is responsible for fairness and justice and particularly responsible to protect the poor and vulnerable. Read Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor. And it wasn’t just the kings of Israel who were held accountable for the poor, but also the kings of neighboring countries — all governments. That’s what the Bible says; so let me be as clear as I can be.

There are two ways the political extremists are being unbiblical. First, to be hostile to the role of government is unbiblical according to the Scriptures. Second, because of their hostility to government, many of those who are promoting this crisis are also hostile to the poor, who are supposed to be protected by the government. They blame the poor for their poverty instead of asking how government can protect the most vulnerable and even help lift them out of poverty.

The facts and the faces of those who suffer first and worst from these crises must be lifted up — and that is the role of the faith community. Already, thousands of children are losing their Head Start programs, mothers with children are losing WIC (Women, Infants, and Children program), and many of those most dependent on their paychecks are now losing them.

Jeremiah, speaking of King Josiah, said, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.” The subsequent line is very revealing: “‘Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 22:16). Of Solomon, the Scriptures say, through the words of the queen of Sheba, “Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king to execute justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:9). Psalm 72 begins with a prayer for kings or political leaders: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. … May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (Ps. 72:1-4).

There is a powerful vision for promoting the common good here, a vision of prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy.

That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it again.

For people of faith, government is never ultimate but needs to play the important and modest role of servant. The criteria for evaluation and judgment of civil authority is whether it is serving the people, whether it is guarding their security, whether it is maintaining a positive and peaceful social order, whether it is helping to make the lives of its citizens better, and, in particular, whether it is protecting the poor. To be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority.

But people of faith will ascribe ultimate authority only to God, to whom civil authority will always be accountable.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/why-the-government-shut

The Conservative Crackup: How the Republican Party Lost Its Mind

By Kim Messick, Salon.com, September 1, 2013

In a recent article, I argued [2] that the Republican Party has been captured by a faction whose political psychology makes it highly intransigent and uninterested in compromise. That article focused on the roots of this psychology and how it shapes the Tea Party’s view of its place in American politics. It did not pursue the question of exactly how this capture took place — of how a major political party, once a broad coalition of diverse elements, came to be so dependent on a narrow range of strident voices. This is the question I propose to explore below.

In doing so, we should keep in mind three terms from political science (and much political journalism) — “realignment,” “polarization” and “gridlock.” These concepts are often bandied about as if their connections are obvious, even intuitive. Sometimes, indeed, a writer leaves the impression that they are virtually synonymous. I think this is mistaken, and that it keeps us from appreciating just how strange our present political moment really is.

“Realignment,” for instance, refers to a systematic shift in the patterns of electoral support for a political party. The most spectacular recent example of this is the movement of white Southerners from the Democratic to the Republican Party after the passage of major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s. Not coincidentally, this event was critically important for the evolution of today’s Republican Party.

After the Civil War and the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s, the identification of white Southerners as Democrats was so stubborn and pervasive as to make the region into the “solid South” [3] – solidly Democratic, that is. Despite this well-known fact, there is reason to suspect that the South’s Democratic alliance was always a bit uneasy. As the Gilded Age gave way to the first decades of the 20th century, the electoral identities of the two major parties began to firm up. Outside the South, the Democrats were the party of the cities, with their polyglot populations and unionized workforces. The Republicans drew most of their support from the rural Midwest and the small towns of the North. The Democrats’ appeal was populist, while Republicans extolled the virtues of an ascendant business class: self-sufficiency, propriety, personal responsibility.

It will be immediately evident that the Republican Party was in many ways a more natural fit for the South, which at the time was largely rural and whose white citizens were overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The South’s class structure, less fluid than that of the industrial and urban North, would have chimed with the more hierarchical strains of Republican politics, and Southern elites had ample reason to prefer the “small government” preached by Republican doctrine. But the legacy of Lincoln’s Republicanism was hard to overcome, and the first serious stirrings of disillusion with the Democratic Party had to wait until 1948. That year, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, enraged by President Truman’s support for some early civil rights measures, led a walkout of 35 Southern delegates from the Democratic Convention. Thurmond went on to become the presidential nominee of a Southern splinter group, the States’ Rights Democratic Party (better known as “Dixiecrats” [4]), and won four states in the deep South.

The first Republican successes in the South came in the elections of 1952 and 1956 [5], when Dwight Eisenhower won five and eight states, respectively*. These victories, however, were only marginally related to racial politics; Eisenhower’s stature as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II had a much larger role, as did his party’s virulent anti-communism. Nixon held only five of these states in 1960.

The real turning point came in 1964. After passage of the Civil Rights Act, Barry Goldwater’s conservative campaign, with its emphasis on limited government and states’ rights, carried five Southern states, four of which had not been won by a Republican in the 20th century. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of Southern states since, with the single exception of former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. The South is now the most reliably Republican region [6] of the country, and supplies the party with most of its Electoral College support.

The South’s realignment explains a lot about our politics. But it doesn’t, in itself, explain one very important fact: why the post-civil rights Republican Party went on to become the monolithically conservative party we have today. We can put this point as a question: Why didn’t the Republican Party end up looking more like the pre-realignment Democrats, with a coalition of Northern moderates and liberals yoked to conservative Southerners? (And the Midwest along for the ride.) In effect, we’re asking how realignment is related to “polarization” — the ideological sorting out that has led to our present party system, in which nearly all moderates and liberals identify as Democrats and nearly all conservatives as Republicans.

It’s important to ask this question for at least two reasons. First, because it highlights the fact that realignment and polarization are analytically distinct concepts — a point often passed over in discussions of this subject. The sudden migration of Southern whites into Republican ranks is obviously connected with polarization; what we need to know is exactly how and why. Which brings us to the second reason. Because the answer we’re led to is so refreshingly old-fashioned and therefore, in today’s intellectual culture, completely counterintuitive: They are connected through the agency of political actors.

In “Rule and Ruin,” [7] his wonderful history of the collapse of Republican moderation, the historian Geoffrey Kabaservice documents the process by which conservative activists remade the Republican Party in their image. (If I could recommend only one book this year to students of American history, it would be this one.) Filling a broad canvas with an enormous wealth of detail, Kabaservice shows us that conservatives always thought of themselves as engaged on two fronts: Moderate Republicans were as much the enemy as liberal Democrats. William Rusher, Bill Buckley’s colleague at National Review, remarked revealingly that the modern conservative movement formed itself “in opposition to the Eisenhower administration.”

One can’t help but admire the tenacity, focus and creativity that conservative activists brought to their task. They transformed the Republican Party at every level: from the grass roots, where they assumed control of local bodies such as city councils, caucuses and county commissions, to the state and national party machinery. They also built a network of institutions [8] designed to cultivate and publicize conservative ideas. These ranged from relatively sophisticated periodicals and think tanks (National Review, the early Heritage Foundation) to rawer, more demotic facsimiles (the American Spectator, the Cato Institute). Groups such as the Moral Majority arose, especially on the religious right, and new media technologies allowed for the consolidation of conservative voices on talk radio and cable television.

These actions were all part of the same relentless design: to purge the Republican Party of moderate voices and to install conservatives in every position of meaningful power and influence. But they had another side as well. Because as a party shapes itself it also shapes its electorate. And a party engaged in a process of purification, if it wants to continue to win elections, needs a similarly purified electorate.

The realignment of Southern whites must be understood in this context. When they deserted the Democratic Party in the mid-’60s, they presented Republicans with a huge electoral windfall. Republicans then had to decide how to invest this unexpected capital. In doing so they had to balance at least two things: numbers and intensity. Numbers are important, of course — you can’t win elections without them — but it’s an old adage in politics that an intense 51 percent is better than a relaxed 55 percent. The Republican decision to embrace an increasingly radical version of conservatism should be seen, in effect, as an attempt to leverage the intensity and loyalty of their new Southern voters. These qualities were expected to offset the loss of any moderate or liberal supporters who might abandon the party as it lurched to the right.

It was a perfectly rational strategy, and it worked brilliantly. Between 1968 and 1992 — 24 years, an entire generation — Democrats won exactly one presidential election, the post-Watergate campaign of 1976. But after ’92 the strategy began to break down on the national level, due mainly to demographic factors: There simply weren’t enough rural white voters anymore to win presidential elections in a consistent way. But by then the right was fully in control of Republican politics and uninterested in sharing power (or policy) with their moderate brethren. They developed a narrative to counter any suggestion that ideological rigidity was the cause of the party’s losses in national (and, increasingly, statewide) races: the quixotic claim [9] that it had nominated “moderates” unable to bring out the conservative majorities who lurk, abandoned and bereft, in the heartland.

In the meantime the ritual purges have continued — the immediate denunciations, thundered from various media pulpits, whenever a Republican politician utters an unorthodox opinion; the threat (or reality) of primary challenges to silence dissent; the invocation of paranoid fantasies that inflame “the base” and make them ever more agitated and vindictive.

Now, in 2013, we have the politics that 50 years of this process have created. The Democratic Party has fewer conservatives than it once did, but is still a broadly coalitional party with liberal and moderate elements. It controls the coasts, has strength in the industrial Midwest, and is making inroads in the upper, more urbanized South and in Florida. It confronts a Republican Party almost wholly dependent on the interior states of the old Confederacy. (The party continues to win in the mountain and prairie West, but the region is too sparsely populated to provide any real electoral heft.) Because of its demographic weakness, it is more beholden than ever to the intensity of its most extreme voters. This has engendered a death spiral in which it must take increasingly radical positions to drive these voters to the polls, positions that in turn alienate ever larger segments of the population, making these core voters even more crucial — and so on. We have a name these days for the electoral residue produced by this series of increasingly rigorous purifications. We call it “the Tea Party.”

The cry of the hour is that our politics is “dysfunctional” [10] — mired in “gridlock,” all bipartisanship lost. This is of course true, but it must be seen as merely the latest result of the conservative politics of purity. After all, when does a politician, in the normal course of affairs, have a reason to do something? When he thinks it will gain him a vote, or that not doing it will cost him a vote. It follows that politicians have a reason to be bipartisan — to work with the opposition — only when doing so will increase, not decrease, their electoral support. And this can only happen if they potentially share voters with their opposition. But the Republican electorate is now almost as purified as the Republican Party. Not only is it unlikely to support Democratic candidates, it’s virtually certain to punish any Republican politician who works with Democrats. The electoral logic of bipartisanship has collapsed for most Republicans; they have very little to gain, and much to lose, if they practice it. And so they don’t.

Unfortunately, our government isn’t designed to function in these conditions.  The peculiarities of our system — a Senate, armed with the filibuster, that gives Wyoming’s 576,000 people as much power as California’s 38,000,000; gerrymandered districts in the House; separate selection of the executive and the legislature; a chronically underfunded elections process, generally in partisan hands and in desperate need of rationalization — simply won’t permit it. What we get instead is paralysis — or worse. The Republican Party, particularly in the House, has turned into the legislative equivalent of North Korea — a political outlier so extreme it has lost the ability to achieve its objectives through normal political means. Its only recourse is to threats (increasingly believable) that it will blow up the system rather than countenance this-or-that lapse from conservative dogma. This was the strategy it pursued in the debt ceiling debacle [11] of 2011, and if firebrands such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have their way it will guide the party’s approach to the same issue this fall, and perhaps to government funding (including “Obamacare”) as well. Realignment and polarization have led us to gridlock and instability.

The relentless radicalization of the Republican Party since 1964 is the most important single event in the political history of the United States since the New Deal. It has significantly shaped the course of our government and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But this means it has also shaped the individual life of every citizen— the complex amalgam of possibilities and opportunities available (or not) to each of us. The conservative visionaries of the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted a new world. We’re all living in it now.

* The 1928 election is something of an exception to this statement; eight Southern states, offended by Democratic candidate Al Smith’s Catholicism, voted instead for Herbert Hoover. But it seems safe to regard this election as an outlier; FDR won every Southern state in the next four presidential elections.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/conservative-crackup-how-republican-party-lost-its-mind

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/kim-messick
[2] http://www.salon.com/2013/08/10/the_tea_partys_paranoid_aesthetic/
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixiecrat
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#South_in_Presidential_elections
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#.22Southern_strategy.22_today
[7] http://www.amazon.com/Rule-Ruin-Moderation-Destruction-Development/dp/0199768404/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377452992&sr=1-1&keywords=Rule+and+ruin
[8] http://www.amazon.com/The-Rise-Counter-Establishment-Conservative-Political/dp/1402759118/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
[9] http://spectator.org/archives/2012/11/08/when-conservatism-is-a-secon
[10] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2010/08/19/our_dysfunctional_politics_106815.html
[11] http://www.amazon.com/Not-Ask-What-Good-Representatives/dp/1451642083/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377461798&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=%22ask+not+what+good+we+do%22
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservativism
[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/editors-picks
[16] http://www.alternet.org/tags/south
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/democratic-party
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/civil-war
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-news-0
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

The Billionaires Behind The Hate

RADICAL RIGHT – by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, Lee Fang, and Alex Seitz-Wald, progress@americanprogressaction.org, December 8, 2009

Excerpt

Billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch are the wealthiest, and perhaps most effective, opponents of President Obama’s progressive agenda…are also responsible for a vicious attack campaign aimed directly at obstructing and killing progressive reform. Over the years, millions of dollars in Koch money has flowed to various right-wing think tanks, front groups, and publications…In addition to its efforts to misinform the public, Koch Industries has spent nearly $9 million dollars so far on direct lobbying, much of it on climate change legislation…In their quest to block health care reform, Koch-funded groups have fostered extremism…part of their opposition stems from a long family tradition of funding conservative movements to shift the country to the far right. Fred Koch, father of Charles and David and the company’s namesake, helped to found the John Birch Society in the late 1950s. The John Birch Society harnessed Cold War fears into hate against progressives, warning that President Kennedy, Civil Rights activists, and organized labor were in league with communists. By presenting progressive reform as a capitulation to the Soviet Union, Fred Koch and the other industrialists bankrolling the Birch Society were able to galvanize hundreds of thousands of middle class people into supporting their narrow agenda of cutting corporate taxes and avoiding consumer regulations.

Full text

Billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch are the wealthiest, and perhaps most effective, opponents of President Obama’s progressive agenda. They have been looming in the background of every major domestic policy dispute this year. Ranked as the 9th richest men in America, the Koch brothers sit at the helm of Koch Industries, a massive privately owned conglomerate of manufacturing, oil, gas, and timber interests. They are best known for their wealth, as well as for their generous contributions to the arts, cancer research, and the Smithsonian Institute. But David and Charles are also responsible for a vicious attack campaign aimed directly at obstructing and killing progressive reform. Over the years, millions of dollars in Koch money has flowed to various right-wing think tanks, front groups, and publications. At the dawn of the Obama presidency, Koch groups quickly maneuvered to try to stop his first piece of signature legislation: the stimulus. The Koch-funded group “No Stimulus” launched television and radio ads deriding the recovery package as simply “pork” spending. The Cato Institute — founded by Charles — as well as other Koch-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, produced a blizzard of reports distorting the stimulus and calling for a return to Bush-style tax cuts to combat the recession. As their fronts were battling the stimulus, David’s Americans for Prosperity (AFP) spent the opening months of the Obama presidency placing calls and helping to organize the very first “tea party” protests. AFP, founded in 1984 by David and managed day to day by the astroturf lobbyist Tim Phillips, has spent much of the year mobilizing “tea party” opposition to health reform, clean energy legislation, and financial regulations.

 

 

STOPPING CLEAN ENERGY: David Koch presents himself as a champion of science. Next year, because of his donations, a wing of the Smithsonian will be named after him. Nevertheless, Koch has done more to undermine the public’s understanding of climate change science than any other person in America. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, funded in part by Koch foundations, has waged an underhanded campaign to falsely charge that a set of hacked e-mails somehow unravels the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring. Koch finances the “Hot Air” tour, a nationwide roadshow using a balloon to depict climate change science as “hot air.” Despite the brothers’ extravagant wealth, Koch’s Americans for Prosperity has run populist ads mocking environmentalists as spoiled brats more concerned about their “three homes and five cars” than about economic conditions. In addition to its efforts to misinform the public, Koch Industries has spent nearly $9 million dollars so far on direct lobbying, much of it on climate change legislation. With a team of Koch-funded operatives going as far as attempting to crash the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week, the brothers may succeed in scuttling any prospect for addressing climate change.

 

 

STOPPING HEALTH REFORM: Much of the fierce opposition to health reform can be credited to Koch organizations. As the health care debate began, AFP created a front group, known as “Patients United,” dedicated itself to attacking Democratic health care reform proposals. Patients United has blanketed the country with ads distorting various provisions of the health reform legislation, particularly the public option. Patients United even centered a media campaign around Shona Robertson-Holmes, claiming she had a brain tumor the Canadian system refused to treat. However, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Patients United has been exaggerating Holmes’ case, and that she in fact had a benign cyst. In their quest to block health care reform, Koch-funded groups have fostered extremism. A speaker with the roving Patients United bus tour repeatedly compared health reform to the Holocaust while an eight-by-five foot banner at an AFP health care rally with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) read, “National Socialist Health Care: Dachau, Germany” superimposed over corpses from a concentration camp. Although many were surprised at the level of anger AFP channeled into Democratic healthcare town halls in August, it wasn’t the first time Koch groups have helped to hijack the health reform debate. Back in 1994, Americans for Prosperity, then known as Citizens for a Sound Economy, worked closely with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich to bring mobs of angry men to health reform rallies with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.

 

 

 

A LONG HISTORY OF STOPPING PROGRESS: The Koch brothers clearly have a financial stake in blocking reform. Koch Industry oil refineries are major carbon dioxide polluters, and George-Pacific, a Koch Industries timber subsidiary, is one of the largest contributors to the loss of carbon-sink capacity. According to the EPA, Koch Industries is responsible for over 300 oil spills in the U.S. and has leaked three million gallons of crude oil into fisheries and drinking waters. So there are clear business-related reasons why Koch would want to block regulatory enforcement, clean energy, labor, and other reforms. But part of their opposition stems from a long family tradition of funding conservative movements to shift the country to the far right. Fred Koch, father of Charles and David and the company’s namesake, helped to found the John Birch Society in the late 1950s. The John Birch Society harnessed Cold War fears into hate against progressives, warning that President Kennedy, Civil Rights activists, and organized labor were in league with communists. By presenting progressive reform as a capitulation to the Soviet Union, Fred Koch and the other industrialists bankrolling the Birch Society were able to galvanize hundreds of thousands of middle class people into supporting their narrow agenda of cutting corporate taxes and avoiding consumer regulations.

 

Inside Groundswell: Read the Memos of the New Right-Wing Strategy Group Planning a “30 Front War”

Ginni Thomas, Allen West, and a crew of conservative journalists and activists have formed a hush-hush coalition to battle progressives—and Karl Rove.

By David Corn | Thu Jul. 25, 2013 9:53 AM PDT

Been hearing the phrase “politics over public safety” deployed against Obama lately by prominent conservatives? Meet Groundswell.

Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington—including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner—has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for “a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation,” according to documents obtained by Mother Jones.

MoJo’s full coverage of Groundswell.

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell—including aides to congressional Republicans—cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and “clueless” GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks. (For more on Groundswell’s “two front war” against Rove—a major clash on the right—click here [6].)

One of the influential conservatives guiding the group is Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a columnist for the Daily Caller and a tea party consultant and lobbyist. Other Groundswell members include John Bolton, the former UN ambassador; Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy; Ken Blackwell and Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council; Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch; Gayle Trotter, a fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum; Catherine Engelbrecht and Anita MonCrief of True the Vote; Allen West, the former GOP House member; Sue Myrick, also a former House GOPer; Diana Banister of the influential Shirley and Banister PR firm [7]; and Max Pappas, a top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Among the conveners listed in an invitation to a May 8 meeting of Groundswell were Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network; Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who resoundingly lost a Maryland Senate race last year (and is now running for a House seat); Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society; Sandy Rios, a Fox News contributor; Lori Roman, a former executive director of the American Legislative Exchange Council; and Austin Ruse, the head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Conservative journalists and commentators participating in Groundswell have included Breitbart News reporters Matthew Boyle and Mike Flynn, Washington Examiner executive editor Mark Tapscott, and National Review contributor Michael James Barton.

Groundswell has collaborated with conservative GOPers on Capitol Hill, including Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Cruz and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a leading tea partier. At its weekly meetings, the group aims to strengthen the right’s messaging by crafting Twitter hashtags; plotting strategy on in-the-headlines issues such as voter ID, immigration reform, and the sequester; promoting politically useful scandals; and developing “action items.”

A certain amount of secrecy cloaks Groundswell’s efforts. Though members have been encouraged to zap out [8]tweets with a #GSW hashtag [9], a message circulated to members of its Google group noted that the role of certain advocates should be kept “off of the Google group for OPSEC [operational security] reasons.” This “will avoid any potential for bad press for someone if a communication item is leaked,” the message explained. (The Groundswell documents were provided to Mother Jones by a source who had access to its Google group page and who has asked not to be identified.)

“We want to protect the strategic collaboration occurring at Groundswell and build on it. Please be careful about bringing guests and clear them ahead of time.”

Washington is full of coalitions that meet to coordinate messaging and strategy. For two decades, conservative strategist Grover Norquist [10], who heads Americans for Tax Reform, has held his now-famous Wednesday morning meetings for a broad spectrum of Republicans, including conservatives opposed to gay rights and abortion rights and those who favor them, as well as GOPers on different sides of the immigration reform debate. Groundswell, which meets at the same time as Norquist’s group, appears to be a more ideologically pure version of the Norquist confab, and its emergence—given the prominent role of Ginni Thomas and the participation of journalists—prompts several intriguing questions. 

Critics have contended [11] that Thomas’ work as a lobbyist opposing Obamacare posed a conflict of interest for her husband, who would rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform initiative. (Clarence Thomas joined the Supreme Court minority that favored striking down the law.) And Common Cause has maintained [12] that Justice Thomas had a conflict of interest when he participated in the Citizens United case because his wife at the time was running a conservative nonprofit fighting the “tyranny” of President Barack Obama that would benefit from removing limits on such groups’ spending and fundraising. With her involvement in Groundswell—which zeroes in on contentious issues that come before the high court, including voting rights, abortion, and gay marriage—Ginni Thomas continues to be intricately associated with matters on which her husband may have to render a decision. Ginni Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.

The participation of journalists in coordinating messaging with ideological advocates and political partisans raises another set of issues. Conservatives expressed outrage when news broke in 2009 about Journolist, a private email list where several hundred progressive-minded reporters, commentators, and academics exchanged ideas and sometimes bickered. (I was on Journolist, mainly as a lurker [13].) The late Andrew Breitbart once offered $100,000 [14] for the full Journolist archives and denounced it as “the epitome of progressive and liberal collusion that conservatives, Tea Partiers, moderates and many independents have long suspected and feared exists at the heart of contemporary American political journalism.” The Groundswell documents show conservative journalists, including several with Breitbart News, colluding on high-level messaging with leading partisans of the conservative movement.
How Groundswellers Win “Brownie Points”
Notes prepared after a Groundswell meeting held on March 27 detailed the group’s mission and origins [9]:

Groundswell evolved out of conversations among conservative leaders after the November elections. This is the eighth meeting. Now others are asking to be included. Growth needs to be strategic; it should be made up of senior level people willing to collaborate. It is important to keep a balance of social conservatives, national security conservatives, and constitutional conservatives. Outreach has occurred to incorporate groups with extensive reach: Heritage, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, AFP [Americans for Prosperity], FRC [Family Research Council] and the NRA, among others…Our country is in peril. This is a critical moment needing critical leadership. We want to protect the strategic collaboration occurring at Groundswell and build on it. Please be careful about bringing guests and clear them ahead of time.

The memo declared that the goal was not to merely ponder, but to be proactive:

What Groundswell is not is a room of note takers. The goal of Groundswell is to sync messages and develop action from reports and information exchanged. Going forward there should be an action item accompanying each report.

At the March 27 meeting [9], Groundswell participants discussed one multipurpose theme they had been deploying for weeks to bash the president on a variety of fronts, including immigration reform and the sequester: Obama places “politics over public safety.” In a display of Groundswell’s message-syncing, members of the group repeatedly flogged this phrase in public. Frank Gaffney penned a Washington Times op-ed [15] titled “Putting Politics Over Public Safety.” Tom Fitton headlined a Judicial Watch weekly update [16] “Politics over Public Safety: More Illegal Alien Criminals Released by Obama Administration.” Peter List, editor of LaborUnionReport.com, authored a RedState.com post [17] called “Obama’s Machiavellian Sequestration Pain Game: Putting Politics Over Public Safety.” Matthew Boyle used the phrase [18] in an immigration-related article for Breitbart. And Dan Bongino promoted Boyle’s story on Twitter by tweeting [19], “Politics over public safety?” In a message to Groundswellers, Ginni Thomas awarded “brownie points” to Fitton, Gaffney, and other members for promoting the “politics over public safety” riff.

“If we lose on immigration, we lose on every other issue. They key to defeating this bill is Sen. Rubio.”

There was much more on the agenda for the March 27 meeting [9] than a single talking point. The group routinely addresses an ambitious to-do list for its campaign against the left. At that session, Groundswellers discussed several immigration-related “action items.” These included attempting to link the pending reform bill to Obamacare and collecting health care reform horror stories to provide to Cruz, a leading opponent of the Senate immigration reform bill. (Cruz has repeatedly compared [20] the legislation to the health care reform law.)

Groundswell members saw immigration as a life-or-death issue. “If we lose on immigration,” the post-meeting memo noted, “we lose on every other issue. The key to defeating this bill is Sen. Rubio. He can gracefully remove himself from the ‘gang of 8′ and still save face…The messaging on this issue has to be ‘we can’t trust Obama’ to enforce immigration laws after the amnesty.” 

The group also reviewed how best to oppose the confirmation of Tom Perez [21], Obama’s nominee for labor secretary. Groundswellers claimed that Perez, then a senior Justice Department official, supported “Muslim Brotherhood organizations and Shariah.” (One Groundswell memo maintained that Perez “is extremely antagonistic toward whites.”) A third agenda item that Wednesday morning was beating back the effort to end the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay Scouts. And there was yet another issue for the Groundswell members to stoke: “John Kerry has family ties to Iran that opens the doors to blackmail and other national security risks. Kerry’s son in law is an Iranian American with extensive family still in Iran.” The post-meeting memo suggested Twitter hashtags to push: #CantTrustObama, #PoliticsOverPublicSafety, #SequesterLies.

“We’re Failing the Propaganda Battle”
The Groundswellers feel that they too often lose the political narrative to their progressive rivals. One memo that circulated among members declared, “We must reclaim the language and put ‘a face’ on our messages; tell stories. Write articles on 4th grade level!” 

A Groundswell memo noted, “Terms like, ‘GOP,’ ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Conservative’ communicate ‘racism.’” They proposed an alternative: “Fredrick Douglas Republican.”

Notes from a February 28 Groundswell gathering [22] reflected both their collective sense of pessimism and desire for aggressive tactics:We are failing the propaganda battle with minorities. Terms like, ‘GOP,’ ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Conservative’ communicate ‘racism.’” The Groundswellers proposed an alternative: “Fredrick Douglas Republican,” a phrase, the memo noted, that “changes minds.” (His name is actually spelled “Frederick Douglass.”) The meeting notes also stated that an “active radical left is dedicated to destroy [sic] those who oppose them” with “vicious and unprecedented tactics. We are in a real war; most conservatives are not prepared to fight.” 

The notes from the March 20 meeting [23] summed up Groundswell griping: “Conservatives are so busy dealing with issues like immigration, gay marriage and boy scouts there is little time left to focus on other issues. These are the very issues the Left wants to avoid but we need to magnify. R’s cannot beat Obama at his own game but need to go on the offense and define the issues.” The group’s proposed offensive would include hyping the Fast and Furious [24] gun-trafficking controversy, slamming Obama’s record, and touting Benghazi as a full-fledged scandal. “The problem,” the memo noted, “is Speaker Boehner and [Rep.] Mike Rogers (Intelligence Community) are refusing to deal” with the Benghazi issue. It added, “Leaders can and should be shamed into doing the right thing.”

Another problem for right-wingers, this memo pointed out, was that though “a group of freshmen and sophomore representatives in Congress…are willing and ready to stand up” for conservative causes, “no one is willing to step up and become that leader.” Reflecting the dim view held by Groundswell members of House GOPers, the memo maintained that too many Republican lawmakers were co-opted by power and reluctant to challenge House Republican leaders: “The Speaker holds the control in the House. He controls committees, chairmanships, meeting rooms, etc. Conservatives sell out rationalizing their compromises will position them to advance their agenda through committee work. In reality they are being bought.” Boehner, according to his memo, was too frightened to confront Obama head-on regarding budget issues because he “believes that Newt lost his speakership due to the government shutdown.”

Venting about weak and squishy GOP leaders was a regular feature of Groundswell gatherings. One action item put it bluntly [25]:

GAP of REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP: how do we tell them they are failing their base; will lose in 2014 unless they fight for principles (as opposed to show disdain for them and accommodate Obama; O is dividing Rs and they seem clueless: IDEAS NEEDED!

A week later, Newt Gingrich was scheduled to address the group [26] on the “lack of Republican Leadership right now, and Rove.” For 10 minutes.

At the March 27 meeting, Groundswellers once more voiced their anger with the GOP establishment and Rove—ideological sellouts, they believed, who undercut conservative candidates in order to back Republicans deemed more electable. They discussed the efforts among conservatives to respond to the Republican Party’s recently released autopsy [27] (PDF) of the 2012 elections, which called on the party to be more inclusive of minorities and less severe on social issues.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, the post-meeting memo huffed, “is sending messages to the party…If we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us. He is preparing the way for a change on social issues by giving a warning, ‘don’t go Old Testament’ and advising the party to consider what Rove said about the next nominees could speak favorably of homosexual marriage in the campaign.” The memo summed up Groundswell’s preferred solution to GOP woes: “embrace the libertarian and conservative wing of the party.”
“I’m Going to Need Help Pushing Back”
Shortly after its creation, Groundswell started bolstering interactions between right-wing advocates and conservative members of the Senate and the House. On March 5, Gaston Mooney, a staffer for the Senate Republican Steering Committee, posted a message [28] to Groundswell’s Google group asking for questions that could be posed to Gina McCarthy, Obama’s nominee to lead the EPA, during confirmation hearings or in meetings between her and individual senators. (She was confirmed as EPA chief this month.)

“If we were all gay illegal aliens, the party likes us. [RNC chair Reince Priebus] is preparing the way for a change on social issues by giving a warning, ‘don’t go Old Testament.’

At an April 3 meeting [29], Groundswell members were encouraged to send Paul Teller, executive director of the Republican Study Committee, the caucus of House conservatives, “feasible asks in exchange for raised debt ceiling.” The post-meeting memo noted, “House conservatives want clear consensus on what the conservative grassroots want to see negotiated.” Here was a chance for Groundswellers to shape the next debt ceiling showdown.

In Groundswell’s first months, one of the most active members in its Google group was Danielle Cutrona, chief counsel to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. She frequently placed information—speeches, articles, press releases—on Groundswell’s Google group. In February, she posted opposition research material [30] regarding a judicial appointment and asked members to distribute it: “Any help is much appreciated.” In another message to Groundswell, she requested assistance in opposing the pro-immigration reform GOP establishment. “I’m going to need help pushing back,” [31] she wrote.

On one occasion [32], Cutrona promoted a column [33] from the conservative site RedState.com. Headlined “Who is Going to Put an End to the McCain/Graham Circus?” this RedState.com post excoriated Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham as “Benedict Arnolds” for retreating on their opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary and for “their treachery on the issue of illegal immigration.” Cutrona, who occasionally used her official Senate email to communicate with Groundswell members, was encouraging this band of conservatives to spread the word that two party colleagues of her boss were ideological traitors. A spokesman for Sessions says that this blog post did not reflect Cutrona’s views and “was simply one of scores of diverse news and opinion pieces she emailed on immigration.”

“Even If the Idea Isn’t Perfect, I Can Help Massage It”
Several conservative journalists have enthusiastically participated in Groundswell’s deliberations. In March, Mark Tapscott, the executive editor of the conservative Washington Examiner, sent his most recent column [34] to group members [35]. It focused on a theme that Groundswellers had resolved to hype: President Obama is a divider. And after a meeting that month, Tapscott wrote to the group [36], “Enjoyed hearing from all of you who spoke earlier today. It’s amazing how much we are accomplishing on so many fronts.” But Tapscott tells Mother Jones that after attending one or two meetings at the invitation of Ginni Thomas, he decided to stop participating: “The implication of attending is that you’re participating in their planning, and, as a journalist, I don’t think that’s appropriate. Other journalists may think differently.”

At another Groundswell gathering, according to the minutes [9], the members decided to ask Breitbart‘s Stephen Bannon to arrange for his media organization “to get senators on the record regarding their support [or non-support]” of the filibuster that GOP Sens. Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz were threatening to mount against the gun control bill. This suggested that the Groundswellers thought they could task Breitbart News to pursue a story that would be strategically useful for the group. (Breitbart News was already covering the possible filibuster.)

“It’s amazing how much we are accomplishing on so many fronts,” the Washington Examiner‘s Mark Tapscott wrote to fellow Groundswell members.

Groundswell has forged a particularly close relationship with Breitbart. Matthew Boyle, one of Breitbart‘s more prominent reporters, has attended Groundswell meetings, used the group as a source for tips and a mechanism to promote his stories, and joined in its efforts to whip up coordinated bullet points to be deployed by conservative advocacy shops. In February, he tried to enlist the group [37] to push a story [38] he had written the year before at the Daily Caller, in which he maintained the Justice Department was in cahoots with the liberal group Media Matters to smear conservative whistleblowers and journalists. In a long note addressed to all Groundswellers—written at a time when reporter Bob Woodward was making (what turned out to be inflated) claims about the Obama White House intimidating foes—Boyle said, “Figured this might be a good time to bring this story back up and see if there’s a way to drive it.”

Boyle said he was hoping to prompt congressional Republicans to launch an investigation. He contended he had only revealed the “tip of the iceberg” and shared his suspicion that many government agencies (State, the CIA, the Pentagon, the EPA, and more) were conspiring with “far left wing groups” to undermine conservatives in the media: “I think we can get at the heart of the Obama admin’s weaknesses here.” He explained: “Any evidence obtained would be more proof of collusion between the administration and the media and far left groups, while at the same time serving as evidence of whatever ridiculously moronic big government policies they’re pushing are.” 

The following month, Boyle sent a message to Groundswell members [39] seeking tips and offering to help shape stories Groundswellers wanted to disseminate: “I’m saying we can get pieces out fast on Breitbart. Whenever you have an idea, email or call me with a pitch and I’ll do my best to get the story out there. Keep us on offense, them on defense. Even if the idea isn’t perfect, I can help massage it to get there.”

A high-priority cause for Groundswellers is voter identification efforts—what progressives would call voter suppression—and when Groundswellers developed a thread on their Google group page exploring the best way to pitch the right’s voter identification endeavors as a major voting rights case was pending in the Supreme Court, the coalition’s friendly journalists joined right in. Dan Bongino, the ex-Secret Service agent and 2012 Senate candidate, kicked off the discussion [40]: “We need to reframe this. This narrative of the Left has already taken hold in MD. The words ‘Voter ID’ are already lost & equated with racism. Maybe a ‘free and fair elections initiative’ with a heavy emphasis on avoiding ANY voter disenfranchisement combined with an identification requirement which includes a broader range of documents.”

Sheryl Kaufman, communications director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine, chimed in: “‘OBAMAGRATION’—I love it!! Communicates the similarity with Obamacare.”

In response, Tapscott suggested, “How about ‘Election Integrity’?” And Gaffney weighed in: “I like it.” Fitton noted that Judicial Watch had an “Election Integrity Project.” Boyle proposed, “Fair and equal elections,” explaining, “Terms ‘fair’ and ‘equal’ connect with most people. It’s why the left uses them.” Then came True the Vote’s Anita MonCrief: “We do a lot under the Election Integrity Banner. Does not resonate with the people. Voter Rights may be better. We really have been trying to get the messaging right.”

Minutes later, Breitbart‘s Mike Flynn tried to change the conversation [41], noting that Boyle earlier in the week had reported that Obama’s daughters had been vacationing in the Bahamas while the White House had suspended tours due to the sequester. “The Obama White House has never been so exposed to public criticism as they are right now, because of their decision to cancel WH tours,” Flynn wrote. “Everything should be focused on that front.” He declared, “We have to be willing to march to the sound of the guns.” (Earlier in the week, Boyle had posted his story on the Obama daughters on Groundswell’s Google group page, noting, “I think this fits in nicely with that politics over public safety theme…Enjoy.”) Ignoring Flynn’s missive, Engelbrecht, the president of True the Vote, wrote, “We bill ourselves as an Election Integrity Initiative and have found it strikes the right tone.”

In a response to a request for comment regarding his participation in Groundswell’s message-making, Flynn emailed, “We have reporters covering lots of meetings in DC, as I’m sure you do as well. As you know, it provides critical background to know what’s happening on the Hill.” In a subsequent email, Flynn insisted, “[N]either Boyle nor I have spent 1 minute on any messaging. We haven’t spent any time creating talking points.” Flynn added, “[W]e are journalists with a point of view. We are open about that. We attend meetings of conservatives. Where we are allowed, we attend meetings of leftist activists.” Boyle did not respond to requests for comment.
“We All Lament the Difficulty We Have Persuading Americans”
In between the weekly meetings, Groundswellers keep on scheming, frequently using their Google group to share ideas and need-to-know information. The material is often routine: a John Bolton op-ed [42], a press release opposing [43] the nomination of the EPA administrator, a call to rally support [44] for a Rand Paul filibuster. Often the material reveals the group’s ideological excesses, such as a PowerPoint supposedly proving that John Brennan, the Obama national security adviser who has become CIA chief, is soft on radical Islam. In one post, Ginni Thomas encouraged Groundswell members to watch Agenda: Grinding America Down, a documentary [45] that claims that progressives (including Obama) seek “a brave new world” based on the “failed policies and ideologies of communism” and that an evil left is purposefully “destroying the greatest country in all of world history.” MonCrief posted an email noting that the bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon were “similar to Bill Ayers’ Weather Underground nail bomb.”

But Groundswellers constantly brainstorm via their Google group in search of a magic talking point, or a silver bullet of messaging. On April 24, Keli Carender, the national grassroots coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, posted a message to the Google group, writing, “We should have a unified name for the immigration bill so that as the other side is calling it ‘reform,’ we present a unified front against that notion. If we’re all calling it different things, their ‘reform’ message will win. We only combat the idea that it is reform if we hammer back with one different phrase/name.” She tossed out a few ideas: “Schumer-Rubio bill,” “anti-security bill,” and “amnesty bill.” Sheryl Kaufman, the communications director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine, chimed in that she was fond of a phrase derived by MonCreif: “‘OBAMAGRATION’—I love it!! Communicates the similarity with Obamacare.”

When Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive group, sent out an email regarding the sequester headlined “Don’t let Republicans destroy the economy,” Carender sent a message to Groundswell members via the Google group: “What about a ‘stick with sequester’ (or similar) mantra from our side?” Responding to Carender’s note, Peter List of LaborUnionReport.com wrote, “Most Americans don’t understand sequesters. We need to be more clever than the Left on this…Something amusing and easy for LIVs [low-information voters] to understand. Maybe a tie in to Humpty Dumpty (the economy) and all King Obama’s men (‘tax increases’) not being able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. (I’m open to anything…and just made that up.)”

At another point, List emailed Ginni Thomas an idea for an anti-Obama ad [46] that he thought could go viral:

A 15 sec internet [YouTube ad] featuring ethnically diverse children on a merry-go-round [soft music]…
Nuclear explosion.
Two bullet points on the facts.
Call to action:
Tell President Obama & Congress not to cut our nation’s defense.

Thomas posted the note for all in Groundswell to see. “Brilliant idea,” she commented. “…Taker?”

Several months after Groundswell kicked off, Steven Sutton, vice president of development for the conservative Leadership Institute and a former chief of staff to several House GOPers, proposed a “strategic message development project” for the outfit. “What is needed,” he wrote [47], “is an umbrella thematic message under which each specific issue can be magnified and maximized. For those familiar with it, this is an extension and development of the Leesburg Grid [48] (which the Left has co-opted and now uses extensively, and the Right has ignored and allowed to fall into disuse.)” 

Sutton suggested using four main themes: Obama and liberal policies fail; Obama and liberal policies make things worse; there is a lack of leadership in the White House; and Obama “puts politics ahead of people/our country/America.” These themes, he contended, “are best used sequentially, rather than randomly/haphazardly/isolated…The most important thing is to think thematically and drive these messages.” Sutton went on:

Issues matter. Details matter. Substance matters. But theme matters more. Substance matters only as it helps to reinforce the themes.

We all lament the difficulty we have persuading Americans. After all, we have the facts, figures, and data to prove our points. Why can’t we persuade? There are many tactics we can use to help persuade (telling stories, finding victims, tempering tone). But these tactics pale in comparison to the importance of providing a context…a theme…to help people organize their thoughts and opinions.

Groundswell has set itself up as the theme lab for the true-red activists of the conservative movement. Fearing that some hydra of the left has long been running wild, vanquishing the right, and bringing the nation closer to utter ruin, the members of Groundswell have birthed a hydra of their own.

Additional reporting by Kate Sheppard [49].


Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-rightwing-group-ginni-thomas

Links:
[1] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-rightwing-group-ginni-thomas
[2] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-ginni-thomas-war-karl-rove
[3] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/ginni-thomas-groundswell-conflict-interest
[4] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/07/groundswell-right-wing-strategy-group-members-photos
[5] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/07/groundswell-secret-tape-boehner-issa-benghazi
[6] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-declares-war-karl-rove
[7] http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/meet-craig-shirley-and-diana-banister-the-rights-pitch-perfect-conservatives/2013/07/21/63cea20e-dffe-11e2-b94a-452948b95ca8_story.html
[8] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739843-redacted-gs-mtg-notes-3-27-2013-google-groups
[9] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739869-redacted-groundswell-mtg-notes-3-27-2013-google
[10] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2004/01/grover-norquist-soul-new-machine
[11] http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2012/07/02/new-financial-forms-show-clarence-thomass-wife-continued-to-lobby-against-healthcare-in-2011
[12] http://www.commoncause.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4773617&ct=9039331
[13] http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2010/07/journolist-daily-caller-sarah-palin
[14] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2010/06/29/Reward—100-000-for-Full-JournoList-Archive–Source-Fully-Protected
[15] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/mar/5/putting-politics-over-public-safety/
[16] http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/weekly-updates/politics-over-public-safety/
[17] http://www.redstate.com/tag/putting-politics-over-public-safety/
[18] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/06/26/Immigration-agents-ask-public-lawmakers-to-oppose-bill-on-eve-of-expected-vote
[19] https://twitter.com/dbongino/status/350043418094870528
[20] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2013/06/24/sen_ted_cruz_compares_senate_immigration_bill_to_obamacare.html
[21] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/03/tom-perez-justice-department-trayvon-martin
[22] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739816-redacted-gs-notes-and-action-items-from-meeting
[23] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739865-redacted-groundswell-mtg-notes-3-20-2012-google
[24] http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2012/09/20/the-fast-and-furious-gun-walking-scandal/
[25] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739889-redacted-groundswell-notes-and-action-items-from
[26] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739852-redacted-fwd-country-club-republicans-link-with
[27] http://growthopp.gop.com/rnc_growth_opportunity_book_2013.pdf
[28] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739855-redacted-epa-nominee-questions-google-groups
[29] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739871-redacted-groundswell-mtg-note-april-3-2013-new
[30] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739790-information-action-item-google-groups-2-27
[31] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739525-information-google-groups-2-14
[32] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739831-redacted-who-is-going-to-put-an-end-to-the
[33] http://www.redstate.com/2013/02/27/who-is-going-to-put-an-end-to-the-mccaingraham-circus/
[34] http://washingtonexaminer.com/mark-tapscott-one-dinner-does-not-a-great-divider-unmake/article/2523601
[35] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739833-redacted-links-fr-mark-tapscott-obamacare-hhs-co
[36] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739821-redacted-links-fr-mark-tapscott-obamacare-hhs-co
[37] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739828-redacted-information-opportunity-obama
[38] http://dailycaller.com/2012/09/18/emails-reveal-justice-dept-regularly-enlists-media-matters-to-spin-press/
[39] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739827-redacted-we-can-get-information-out-fast-at
[40] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739867-redacted-13-re-groundswellgroup-fwd-obama-takes
[41] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739798-redacted-11-re-groundswellgroup-fwd-obama-takes
[42] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739774-redacted-ambassador-boltons-op-ed-on-president
[43] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739758-information-cei-press-release-mccarthy-redacted
[44] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739830-redacted-action-rand-paul-filibuster-now-google
[45] http://[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SH8LkIqu1c8
[46] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739609-re-groundswellgroup-fwd-idea-on-sequestration
[47] http://www.motherjones.com/documents/739611-sutton-redraft-for-041013
[48] http://www.yourpatriot.com/Leesburg_Diagram.aspx
[49] http://www.motherjones.com/authors/kate-sheppard

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/07/groundswell-rightwing-group