If Only Right-Wing Christians Knew Where Their Ideas Came From

by Ira Chernus, AlterNet, November 12, 2013

mini-excerpts

Right wing political landscape

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod…the evangelical Christian religious right?…what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government…the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right…Tea Partiers align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them…Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American.

History

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical, not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards…use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems…Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”…the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement…The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites [William Jennings Bryan] were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

Progressive movement – strategy

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy. A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback. That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

Communications/message

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language…The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals…moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.

Full Excerpt

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod, the one that used to get all the attention: the evangelical Christian religious right? That’s where the spotlight ought to be…

We know the corporate-business types want an active federal government, because it can be counted on to serve their interests, especially if Republicans regain control of it. We know that the libertarians, who are the driving force in the Tea Party, want to shrink government; that’s their whole reason for being.

What we don’t know yet, and what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government. Even the conservative evangelicals themselves don’t know, because the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right.

Many politically active evangelicals are happy to be Tea Partiers [3] and align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them…Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American.

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical, not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards…use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems…Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”…the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement…The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites [William Jennings Bryan] were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy.

A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback [7].

That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language.

Smart progressives will start learning that language, figuring out how to communicate with evangelicals and discover common ground. Smart progressives will also learn how to remind evangelicals, gently but persuasively, of their own radical political history, which many may not know.

The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals. Though we are far from the 19th century, evangelicals can now, as then, bring a unique kind of energy into progressive movements that can pay off. As a side benefit, moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.       

Full text

The media spotlight has focused on the growing split in the Republican Party between its corporate-business wing and the libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers. But what about the third leg of the GOP tripod, the one that used to get all the attention: the evangelical Christian religious right? That’s where the spotlight ought to be.

We know the corporate-business types want an active federal government, because it can be counted on to serve their interests, especially if Republicans regain control of it. We know that the libertarians, who are the driving force in the Tea Party, want to shrink government; that’s their whole reason for being.

What we don’t know yet, and what will determine the fate of the GOP, is which way the religious right will break in this intramural fight over the role of government. Even the conservative evangelicals themselves don’t know, because the split in the GOP runs smack down the middle of the religious right.

Many politically active evangelicals are happy to be Tea Partiers [3] and align with the libertarian call for smaller government. They see government as a force imposing its secular ways upon them. And Tea Party politicians have been equally happy to talk the religious right talk because it wins them votes.

Many other evangelicals will join the corporate-business Republicans in rejecting the Tea Party’s extremist anti-government agenda. They’ll see why Tea Partying is a trap for them. Only a powerful government can do the things evangelicals want most, like banning abortion and gay marriage, and more generally, imposing strict rules of personal behavior on every American. The more the Tea Party weakens the government, the more it deprives the religious right of its most potent tool. That should be easy enough for most conservative evangelicals to see.

What most won’t see, though, is the hidden place where evangelicals and libertarians do meet: way back in U.S. history, where both movements were inspired by a radical worldview. Just as the libertarian call for less government has its roots in radical [4], not conservative, assumptions about human nature, so the religious right’s call for government intervention has deep roots in evangelical demands for policies that were radically progressive at the time. Some of them are still radical, even by today’s standards.  

As early as the 1820s, the evangelical style of Christianity was beginning to dominate American political life. It didn’t stop dominating until the 19th century was over.

Looking back across the history of that century you’ll find evangelicals, demanding strong government intervention in everyone’s life, popping up in all sorts of places. And most of those places are well to the left of where you might expect them, if your view of evangelical politics is shaped only by the era of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell.

Most famously, evangelical Christians led and filled the ranks of the movement to abolish slavery. Some (though far too few) even took the lead in treating African Americans as genuine equals. The best recent writing on the causes of the Civil War shows that evangelicalism was a crucial factor creating widespread popular resistance to the “peculiar institution.”

Without the spur of evangelical fervor there probably would have been no Republican Party, no President Lincoln, and no secession of the South. Slavery would not only have continued in the United States; it probably would have spread throughout the territories that became the new states of the Southwest, making it that much harder ever to abolish.

Antebellum evangelical reformers also took the lead in demanding that government provide free public education for all, more humane treatment of prisoners and the disabled, and more equality for women. Of course, most of their specific policy prescriptions seem too conservative by today’s progressive standards. But in their own day they were out on the cutting left edge of political life. And one of their demands—that government renounce war as an instrument of national policy—still sounds as radical as ever.

You’ll find all of these examples, and more, if you pick up any good book on 19th-century U.S. history.

I picked up one such book at random, just as I was beginning to write this column: Alan Trachtenberg’s The Incorporation of America [5], one of the most insightful histories of the Gilded Age, from the 1870s to the 1890s. When historians go looking for evangelicals supporting left-leaning government policies, they almost always look at the era of reform before the Civil War, not the Gilded Age that followed it. Yet just thumbing through Trachtenberg’s book I easily found evidence that the pattern lasted right through the 19th century.

Trachtenberg points out the powerful evangelical impulse in two of the era’s greatest political bestsellers, Henry George’s Progress and Poverty and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. George wrote glowingly of “the noble dreams of socialism.” Bellamy advocated “the religion of solidarity… a system of public ownership… to realize the idea of the nation … as a family, a vital union, a common life.”

Both denounced the injustices of the emerging corporate system with “evangelical fervor,” says Trachtenberg, sustained by “religious emotions of ‘solidarity.’”

But there was more going on than just utopian words. There were workers organizing in the factories and the streets, dominated in the 1870s and 1880s by the Knights of Labor. The Knights intended to use government to achieve their goals—goals that today’s progressives still struggle for, like a fair and just income tax structure, guaranteed equal pay for women, and government ownership of utilities and transportation systems.

And they built their movement upon “an unmistakable fusion of republicanism and evangelical Protestantism,” in Trachtenberg’s words. “Workers found in Protestantism a profound ‘notion of right’ for their struggles.” They made “’the religion of solidarity’ proclaimed by Edward Bellamy and other Protestant reformers … a living experience within labor.” Obviously they saw no conflict between evangelical Christianity and a strong central government enforcing laws to create economic justice.

By the 1890s the Knights’ leading role in labor movement had been eclipsed by the American Federation of Labor. But as the Knights declined, the spirit that moved them was being picked up by an eclectic mix of movements that came to be grouped under the umbrella term, Populists. Their program was laid out most famously in the 1892 declaration of the People’s Party, which demanded that government support the interest of “the people,” not “capitalists, corporations, banks, trusts.”

That declaration was “composed in evangelical accents” and “rang with echoes of revivalism” as well as “backwoods democracy and grassroots outrage,” as Trachtenberg writes. “Populist spokesmen clothed themselves in the garb of righteous evangels.”

Like the Knights, the Populists were on a crusade to eliminate sin. But their political ideas also “drew from the movement’s roots in native radicalism, in a secular rhetoric of ‘equal rights’ and ‘anti-monopoly.’” And the main weapon Populists aimed to use was political power—enough power to make sure that their policies were enacted through government legislation, regulation, and strict enforcement.

Like most historians, Trachtenberg traces the decline of the Populists to their fateful decision, in1896, to join with the Democrats in making William Jennings Bryan their joint candidate for president. Bryan ran three times for the top job and lost all three times. Today, on the left, he’s most remembered as the evangelical Christian zealot who decried the teaching of evolution in the 1924 Scopes trial. But the infamous trial came near the end of his long life.

For most of that life he, more than any other American, carried the banner of radical reform in the name of God. It’s worth reading the details in Michael Kazin’s recent biography of Bryan [6]. Kazin, a leading authority on Populism and an important progressive intellectual in his own right, makes it clear that in the late 19th century, and on into the early 20th, millions of evangelical Protestants saw it as a religious duty to demand that a strong government right the economic wrongs of the corporate capitalist system. The left in that era could not have emerged as a significant force without the tremendous boost it got from evangelical faith.

All this history should be more than mere curiosity to us. The Knights of Labor, the Populists, and the Bryanites were in many ways the forerunner of today’s progressive left. Their fusion of evangelical Christianity and strong progressive government holds lessons for, and poses questions to, progressives today.

The Republican Party may or may not be cracking up. Cracks in the GOP alliance don’t necessarily mean any advantage for progressives, of course. But they are windows of opportunity, if the left knows how to take advantage of them. It’s all a question of strategy.

A smart first step for progressives is to do whatever we can to widen those cracks. It’s the religious right, long the progressive left’s favorite target, that is now the richest target of opportunity. Because politically progressive evangelical Christianity is not merely a relic of the 19th century. It’s making a comeback [7].

That presents left progressives with a challenge. In your struggle for justice, would you ally with people who share your commitment to greater economic equality but would like to see government ban abortion and gay marriage? Today the question may seem abstract and hypothetical. Soon enough it may become a very real issue of debate for progressive strategists, and there are bound to be good arguments on both sides.

However, everyone should be able to agree that at least progressives outside the evangelical community should begin talking to folks inside that circle who are open to hearing the progressive message. Evangelicals will have to filter the message through their own beliefs, which means phrasing it in a somewhat different language.

Smart progressives will start learning that language, figuring out how to communicate with evangelicals and discover common ground. Smart progressives will also learn how to remind evangelicals, gently but persuasively, of their own radical political history, which many may not know.

The main goal here should be to make the progressive tent wide enough to make room for evangelicals. Though we are far from the 19th century, evangelicals can now, as then, bring a unique kind of energy into progressive movements that can pay off. As a side benefit, moving evangelicals to the left will also widen the cracks in the shaky conservative alliance and hasten the day when it can no longer hold itself together.    

See more stories tagged with:

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Source URL: http://admin.alternet.org/belief/if-only-right-wing-christian-evangelicals-knew-where-their-ideas-came

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://admin.alternet.org/authors/ira-chernus
[3] http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/just-enough-city/2013/apr/22/how-religious-right-and-libertarians-buried-hatche/
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/if-only-tea-party-crowd-knew-where-their-ideas-came
[5] http://us.macmillan.com/theincorporationofamerica/AlanTrachtenberg
[6] http://www.randomhouse.com/book/90625/a-godly-hero-by-michael-kazin
[7] http://www.christianpost.com/news/author-new-evangelical-left-pushing-bounds-of-christianity-49287/
[8] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/gop
[9] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[10] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/libertarian-0
[11] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/christian-0
[12] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/evangelical
[13] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/religious
[14] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/right-wing
[15] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[16] http://admin.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Tea Party Radicalism Is Misunderstood: Meet the “Newest Right”

By Michael Lind, Salon.com, posted on Alternet.org,  October 6, 2013

To judge from the commentary inspired by the shutdown, most progressives and centrists, and even many non-Tea Party conservatives, do not understand the radical force that has captured the Republican Party and paralyzed the federal government. Having grown up in what is rapidly becoming a Tea Party heartland–Texas–I think I do understand it. Allow me to clear away a few misconceptions about what really should be called, not the Tea Party Right, but the Newest Right.

The first misconception that is widespread in the commentariat is that the Newest Right can be thought of as being simply a group of “extremists” who happen to be further on the same political spectrum on which leftists, liberals, centrists and moderate conservatives find their places. But reducing politics to points on a single line is more confusing than enlightening. Most political movements result from the intersection of several axes—ideology, class, occupation, religion, ethnicity and region—of which abstract ideology is seldom the most important.

The second misconception is that the Newest Right or Tea Party Right is populist. The data, however, show that Tea Party activists and leaders on average are more affluent than the average American. The white working class often votes for the Newest Right, but then the white working class has voted for Republicans ever since Nixon. For all its Jacksonian populist rhetoric, the Newest Right is no more a rebellion of the white working class than was the original faux-populist Jacksonian movement, led by rich slaveowners like Andrew Jackson and agents of New York banks like Martin Van Buren.

The third misconception is that the Newest Right is irrational. The American center-left, whose white social base is among highly-educated, credentialed individuals like professors and professionals, repeatedly has committed political suicide by assuming that anyone who disagrees with its views is an ignorant “Neanderthal.” Progressive snobs to the contrary, the leaders of the Newest Right, including Harvard-educated Ted Cruz, like the leaders of any successful political movement, tend to be highly educated and well-off. The self-described members of the Tea Party tend to be more affluent and educated [2] than the general public.

The Newest Right, then, cannot be explained in terms of abstract ideological extremism, working-class populism or ignorance and stupidity. What, then, is the Newest Right?

The Newest Right is the simply the old Jeffersonian-Jacksonian right, adopting new strategies in response to changed circumstances. While it has followers nationwide, its territorial bases are the South and the West, particularly the South, whose population dwarfs that of the Mountain and Prairie West. According to one study [3] by scholars at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas:

While less than one in five (19.4%) minority non-Southerners and about 36% of Anglo non-Southerners report supporting the movement, almost half of white Southerners (47.1%) express support….

In fact, the role that antigovernment sentiment in the South plays in Tea Party movement support is the strongest in our analysis.

The Tea Party right is not only disproportionately Southern [4] but also disproportionately upscale. Its social base consists of what, in other countries, are called the “local notables”—provincial elites whose power and privileges are threatened from above by a stronger central government they do not control and from below by the local poor and the local working class.

Even though, like the Jacksonians and Confederates of the nineteenth century, they have allies in places like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the dominant members of the Newest Right are white Southern local notables—the Big Mules, as the Southern populist Big Jim Folsom once described the lords of the local car dealership, country club and chamber of commerce.  These are not the super-rich of Silicon Valley or Wall Street (although they have Wall Street allies). The Koch dynasty rooted in Texas notwithstanding, those who make up the backbone of the Newest Right are more likely to be millionaires than billionaires, more likely to run low-wage construction or auto supply businesses than multinational corporations. They are second-tier people on a national level but first-tier people in their states and counties and cities.

For nearly a century, from the end of Reconstruction, when white Southern terrorism drove federal troops out of the conquered South, until the Civil Rights Revolution, the South’s local notables maintained their control over a region of the U.S. larger than Western Europe by means of segregation, disenfranchisement, and bloc voting and the filibuster at the federal level. Segregation created a powerless black workforce and helped the South’s notables pit poor whites against poor blacks. The local notables also used literacy tests and other tricks to disenfranchise lower-income whites as well as blacks in the South, creating a distinctly upscale electorate. Finally, by voting as a unit in Congress and presidential elections, the “Solid South” sought to thwart any federal reforms that could undermine the power of Southern notables at the state, county and city level. When the Solid South failed, Southern senators made a specialty of the filibuster, the last defense of the embattled former Confederacy.

When the post-Civil War system broke down during the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, the South’s local notable class and its Northern and Western allies unexpectedly won a temporary three-decade reprieve, thanks to the “Reagan Democrats.” From the 1970s to the 2000s, white working-class voters alienated from the Democratic Party by civil rights and cultural liberalism made possible Republican presidential dominance from Reagan to George W. Bush and Republican dominance of Congress from 1994 to 2008. Because their politicians dominated the federal government much of the time, the conservative notables were less threatened by federal power, and some of them, like the second Bush, could even imagine a “governing conservatism” which, I have argued [5], sought to “Southernize” the entire U.S.

But then, by the 2000s, demography destroyed the temporary Nixon-to-Bush conservative majority (although conceivably it could enjoy an illusory Indian summer if Republicans pick up the Senate and retain the House in 2016). Absent ever-growing shares of the white vote, in the long run the Republican Party cannot win without attracting more black and Latino support.

That may well happen, in the long run. But right now most conservative white local notables in the South and elsewhere in the country don’t want black and Latino support. They would rather disenfranchise blacks and Latinos than compete for their votes. And they would rather dismantle the federal government than surrender their local power and privilege.

The political strategy of the Newest Right, then, is simply a new strategy for the very old, chiefly-Southern Jefferson-Jackson right. It is a perfectly rational strategy, given its goal: maximizing the political power and wealth of white local notables who find themselves living in states, and eventually a nation, with present or potential nonwhite majorities.

Although racial segregation can no longer be employed, the tool kit of the older Southern white right is pretty much the same as that of the Newest Right:

The Solid South. By means of partisan and racial gerrymandering—packing white liberal voters into conservative majority districts and ghettoizing black and Latino voters–Republicans in Texas and other Southern and Western states control the U.S. Congress, even though in the last election more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans. The same undemocratic technique makes the South far more Republican in its political representation than it really is in terms of voters.

The Filibuster. By using a semi-filibuster to help shut down the government rather than implement Obamacare, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is acting rationally on behalf of his constituency—the surburban and exurban white local notables of Texas and other states, whom the demagogic Senator seems to confuse with “the American people.” Newt Gingrich, another Southern conservative demagogue, pioneered the modern use of government shutdowns and debt-ceiling negotiations as supplements to the classic filibuster used by embattled white provincial elites who prefer to paralyze a federal government they cannot control.

Disenfranchisement. In state after state controlled by Republican governors and legislators, a fictitious epidemic of voter fraud is being used as an excuse for onerous voter registration requirements which have the effect, and the manifest purpose, of disenfranchising disproportionately poor blacks and Latinos. The upscale leaders of the Newest Right also tend to have be more supportive of mass immigration than their downscale populist supporters—on the condition, however, that “guest workers” and amnestied illegal immigrants not be allowed to vote or become citizens any time soon. In the twenty-first century, as in the twentieth and nineteenth, the Southern ideal is a society in which local white elites lord it over a largely-nonwhite population of poor workers who can’t vote.

Localization and privatization of federal programs. It is perfectly rational for the white local notables of the South and their allies in other regions to oppose universal, federal social programs, if they expect to lose control of the federal government to a new, largely-nonwhite national electoral majority.

Turning over federal programs to the states allows Southern states controlled by local conservative elites to make those programs less generous—thereby attracting investment to their states by national and global corporations seeking low wages.

Privatizing other federal programs allows affluent whites in the South and elsewhere to turn the welfare state into a private country club for those who can afford to pay the fees, with underfunded public clinics and emergency rooms for the lower orders. In the words of Mitt Romney [6]: “We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”

When the election of Lincoln seemed to foreshadow a future national political majority based outside of the South, the local notables of the South tried to create a smaller system they could dominate by seceding from the U.S. That effort failed, after having killed more Americans than have been killed in all our foreign wars combined. However, during Reconstruction the Southern elite snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and succeeded in turning the South into a nation-within-a-nation within U.S. borders until the 1950s and 1960s.

Today the white notables of the South increasingly live in states like Texas, which already have nonwhite majorities. They fear that Obama’s election, like Lincoln’s, foreshadows the emergence of a new national majority coalition that excludes them and will act against their interest. Having been reduced to the status of members of a minority race, they fear they will next lose their status as members of the dominant local class.

While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them. They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.

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[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html?_r=0
[3] http://www.shsu.edu/~sgu001/mpsa2011.pdf
[4] http://www.salon.com/2011/08/02/lind_tea_party/
[5] http://www.amazon.com/Made-Texas-Southern-Takeover-American/dp/0465041213
[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/romney-let-them-go-to-emergency-rooms/2012/09/24/3ac90b0e-0680-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/radicalism
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/south-0
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/right-0
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/editors-picks
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/white-people
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/civil-war
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Washington Has Been Stopped in Its Tracks by Republican Tea Party Types, and It’s Destroying the Country

By Robert Reich, RobertReich.org, June 10, 2013

Excerpt

Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform. It’s as if an entire branch of the federal government—the branch that’s supposed to deal directly with the nation’s problems, not just execute the law or interpret the law but make the law—has gone out of business…A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.

Full text

Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform.

It’s as if an entire branch of the federal government—the branch that’s supposed to deal directly with the nation’s problems, not just execute the law or interpret the law but make the law—has gone out of business, leaving behind only a so-called “sequester” that’s cutting deeper and deeper into education, infrastructure, programs for the nation’s poor, and national defense.

The window of opportunity for the president to get anything done is closing rapidly. Even in less partisan times, new initiatives rarely occur after the first year of a second term, when a president inexorably slides toward lame duck status.

But the nation’s work doesn’t stop even if Washington does. By default, more and more of it is shifting to the states, which are far less gridlocked than Washington. Last November’s elections resulted in one-party control of both the legislatures and governor’s offices in all but 13 states — the most single-party dominance in decades.

This means many blue states are moving further left, while red states are heading rightward. In effect, America is splitting apart without going through all the trouble of a civil war.

Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, for example, now controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades. The legislative session that ended a few weeks ago resulted in a hike in the top income tax rate to 9.85 percent, an increased cigarette tax, and the elimination of several corporate tax loopholes. The added revenues will be used to expand early-childhood education, freeze tuitions at state universities, fund jobs and economic development, and reduce the state budget deficit. Along the way, Minnesota also legalized same-sex marriage and expanded the power of trade unions to organize.

California and Maryland passed similar tax hikes on top earners last year. The governor of Colorado has just signed legislation boosting taxes by $925 million for early-childhood education and K-12 (the tax hike will go into effect only if residents agree, in a vote that is likely in November).

On the other hand, the biggest controversy in Kansas is between Gov. Sam Brownback, who wants to shift taxes away from the wealthy and onto the middle class and poor by repealing the state’s income tax and substituting an increase in the sales tax, and Kansas legislators who want to cut the sales tax as well, thereby reducing the state’s already paltry spending for basic services. Kansas recently cut its budget for higher education by almost five percent.

Other rightward-moving states are heading in the same direction. North Carolina millionaires are on the verge of saving $12,500 a year, on average, from a pending income-tax cut even as sales taxes are raised on the electricity and services that lower-income depend residents depend on. Missouri’s transportation budget is half what it was five years ago, but lawmakers refuse to raise taxes to pay for improvements.

The states are splitting as dramatically on social issues. Gay marriages are now recognized in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Colorado and Washington state permit the sale of marijuana, even for non-medical uses. California is expanding a pilot program to allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions.

Meanwhile, other states are enacting laws restricting access to abortions so tightly as to arguably violate the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. In Alabama, the mandated waiting period for an abortion is longer than it is for buying a gun.

Speaking of which, gun laws are moving in opposite directions as well. Connecticut, California, and New York are making it harder to buy guns. Yet if you want to use a gun to kill someone who’s, say, spray-painting a highway underpass at night, you might want to go to Texas, where it’s legal to shoot someone who’s committing a “public nuisance” under the cover of dark. Or you might want to live in Kansas, which recently enacted a law allowing anyone to carry a concealed firearm onto a college campus.

The states are diverging sharply on almost every issue you can imagine. If you’re an undocumented young person, you’re eligible for in-state tuition at public universities in 14 states (including Texas). But you might want to avoid driving in Arizona, where state police are allowed to investigate the immigration status of anyone they suspect is here illegally.

And if you’re poor and lack health insurance you might want to avoid a state like Wisconsin that’s refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government will be picking up almost the entire tab.

Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.

Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”

But the trend raises three troubling issues.

First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.

Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.

Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.

A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.

 


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/conservatives-immobilize-congress

Links:
[1] http://robertreich.org/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-reich
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/civil-rights
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/congress-0
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gun-control
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/second-amendment
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/states-rights
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-news-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

The Sequester and the Tea Party Plot

by  Robert Reich, Huffington Post,  03/01/2013

Excerpt

Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population.

Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government.

Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Far-fetched? Perhaps. But take a look at what’s been happening in Washington and many state capitals since Tea Party fanatics gained effective control of the Republican Party, and you’d be forgiven if you see parallelsWhat they set out to do was not simply change Washington but eviscerate the U.S. government — “drown it in the bathtub,” in the words of their guru Grover Norquist…They knew the only way to dismember the federal government was through large spending cuts without tax increases.

Nor do they seem to mind the higher unemployment their strategy will almost certainly bring about….

A conspiracy theorist might think they welcome more joblessness because they want Americans to be even more fearful and angry. Tea Partiers use fear and anger in their war against the government — blaming the anemic recovery on government deficits and the government’s size, and selling a poisonous snake-oil of austerity economics and trickle-down economics as the remedy.

They likewise use the disruption and paralysis they’ve sown in Washington to persuade Americans government is necessarily dysfunctional, and politics inherently bad. Their continuing showdowns and standoffs are, in this sense, part of the plot…Tea Partiers now running the GOP are serious only about dismembering the government.

And he seems to accept that the budget deficit is the largest economic problem facing the nation, when in reality the largest problem is continuing high unemployment (some 20 million Americans unemployed or under-employed), declining real wages, and widening inequality. Deficit reduction now or in the near-term will only make these worse.

the President … should stop talking about the budget deficit and start talking about jobs and wages, and widening inequality – as he did in the campaign. And he should give up all hope of making a deal with the Tea Partiers who now run the Republican Party.

Instead, the President should let the public see the Tea Partiers for who they are — a small, radical minority intent on dismantling the government of the United States. As long as they are allowed to dictate the terms of public debate they will continue to hold the rest of us hostage to their extremism.

Full text

Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population.

Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government.

Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Far-fetched? Perhaps. But take a look at what’s been happening in Washington and many state capitals since Tea Party fanatics gained effective control of the Republican Party, and you’d be forgiven if you see parallels.

Tea Party Republicans are crowing about the “sequestration” cuts beginning today (Friday). “This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington,” says Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), a Tea Partier who was first elected in 2010.

Sequestration is only the start. What they set out to do was not simply change Washington but eviscerate the U.S. government — “drown it in the bathtub,” in the words of their guru Grover Norquist – slashing Social Security and Medicare, ending worker protections we’ve had since the 1930s, eroding civil rights and voting rights, terminating programs that have helped the poor for generations, and making it impossible for the government to invest in our future.

Sequestration grew out of a strategy hatched soon after they took over the House in 2011, to achieve their goals by holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States — notwithstanding the Constitution’s instruction that the public debt of the United States “not be questioned.”

To avoid default on the public debt, the White House and House Republicans agreed to harsh and arbitrary “sequestered” spending cuts if they couldn’t come up with a more reasonable deal in the interim. But the Tea Partiers had no intention of agreeing to anything more reasonable. They knew the only way to dismember the federal government was through large spending cuts without tax increases.

Nor do they seem to mind the higher unemployment their strategy will almost certainly bring about. Sequestration combined with January’s fiscal cliff deal is expected to slow economic growth by 1.5 percentage points this year – dangerous for an economy now crawling at about 2 percent. It will be even worse if the Tea Partiers refuse to extend the government’s spending authority, which expires March 27.

A conspiracy theorist might think they welcome more joblessness because they want Americans to be even more fearful and angry. Tea Partiers use fear and anger in their war against the government — blaming the anemic recovery on government deficits and the government’s size, and selling a poisonous snake-oil of austerity economics and trickle-down economics as the remedy.

They likewise use the disruption and paralysis they’ve sown in Washington to persuade Americans government is necessarily dysfunctional, and politics inherently bad. Their continuing showdowns and standoffs are, in this sense, part of the plot.

What is the President’s response? He still wants a so-called “grand bargain” of “balanced” spending cuts (including cuts in the projected growth of Social Security and Medicare) combined with tax increases on the wealthy. So far, though, he has agreed to a gross imbalance — $1.5 trillion in cuts to Republicans’ $600 billion in tax increases on the rich.

The President apparently believes Republicans are serious about deficit reduction, when in fact the Tea Partiers now running the GOP are serious only about dismembering the government.

And he seems to accept that the budget deficit is the largest economic problem facing the nation, when in reality the largest problem is continuing high unemployment (some 20 million Americans unemployed or under-employed), declining real wages, and widening inequality. Deficit reduction now or in the near-term will only make these worse.

Besides, the deficit is now down to about 5 percent of GDP — where it was when Bill Clinton took office. It is projected to mushroom in later years mainly because healthcare costs are expected to rise faster than the economy is expected to grow, and the American population is aging. These trends have little or nothing to do with government programs. In fact, Medicare is far more efficient than private health insurance.

I suggest the President forget about a “grand bargain.” In fact, he should stop talking about the budget deficit and start talking about jobs and wages, and widening inequality – as he did in the campaign. And he should give up all hope of making a deal with the Tea Partiers who now run the Republican Party.

Instead, the President should let the public see the Tea Partiers for who they are — a small, radical minority intent on dismantling the government of the United States. As long as they are allowed to dictate the terms of public debate they will continue to hold the rest of us hostage to their extremism.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest is an e-book, “Beyond Outrage,” now available in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/sequestration-tea-party_b_2788453.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=030113&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

On inaugural eve, Obama’s most virulent foes want the celebration stopped

By Marc Fisher, Washington Post, January 14, 2013

Eldon Bell, a retired Air Force officer and physician, is making no plans to see Barack Obama’s second inauguration, in part because Bell considers the president arrogant and dishonest, but more so because Bell is not yet persuaded that the swearing-in will occur at all.

“Whether I watch depends on who’s being inaugurated,” says Bell, 78. “If it’s this guy, probably not, because I don’t pay much attention to illegitimate things.”

At this late date, Bell and his fellow believers in the notion that Obama was born overseas or is otherwise ineligible to be president still expect some court somewhere to buy into one of their theories. After more than 100 court cases, no judge has.

Even after Obama convincingly won reelection despite four years of low popularity ratings, a sluggish economy and a highly motivated opposition, advocates of various counterfactual theories about the president — he’s a foreigner, he’s a Marxist, he’s a Muslim — say they’re sticking to their fight.

“This inauguration is a mistake and those who permit it to happen will have to live with their own consciences,” says Bell, a former Washingtonian who retired to South Dakota.

Most Americans have moved on from earlier dalliances with denials of the president’s biography. National opinion polls have shown increases over the past three years in the percentage of Americans who agree that Obama was born in the United States and that he is a Christian. But a persistent minority — between a tenth and a fifth in most polls — still believe he is Muslim, foreign-born or a socialist.

Those voters tend to be vehement opponents of Obama, and on Inauguration Day, they will not be at the party — and they’re still searching for ways to have the president declared illegitimate.

“Let’s face it, this is a man very deep into an ideology that is not American,” says the Rev. Clenard Childress, a New Jersey minister and antiabortion activist who says black and white voters alike returned Obama to office “to feel better about ourselves and get the guilt of racism off us.”

Childress says it’s 50-50 that Obama is a Muslim who was born in Kenya: “But what I really care about is do we have the same values? Do you believe in the sanctity of life? Do you believe in marriage as being between man and woman? And this president does not.”

Just because the election is over doesn’t mean the confrontations of the first term will end, Childress says. In addition to the fiscal battles on Capitol Hill, the minister says, social issues will keep Obama opponents fired up, starting with next month’s antiabortion rally on the Mall and continuing with court and political battles over same-sex marriage.

“There will never be more contentiousness than in the next two years,” he says. “I told my congregation: Just strap yourselves down, it’s going to be nasty.”

Those who monitor anti-Obama movements say the inauguration will do nothing to quiet the rapids. “The rhetoric since the election has actually gotten more vicious,” says Kevin Davidson, better known as “Dr. Conspiracy,” his handle on his Web site, Obama Conspiracy Theories, which keeps tabs on those who declare Obama’s presidency illegitimate.

Davidson, a retired software developer in South Carolina, has been predicting for four years that hardcore anti-Obama agitation would dissipate, but it keeps going, driven, he believes, by anti-black sentiment. “I’ve seen more openly racist remarks since the election,” he says. “Before November, they were careful to control the racist language because they were trying to persuade people to vote against him. Now they sort of don’t care.”

Hard-core opponents say that even without another election, they will keep up their efforts to end Obama’s tenure. “We have to think about impeachment for abusing executive power,” says Cliff Kincaid, who runs America’s Survival, a collection of Web-based groups portraying the nation as threatened by socialism, the United Nations and liberal culture. “The Republicans seem not to realize that Obama is a Marxist who wages class warfare and could not qualify for a sensitive government position based on his associates and his character.”

Kincaid, based in Owings, Md., recognizes that impeachment is a long shot, so he is focusing on pushing the GOP rightward. “We can survive Obama,” he says, “but is there another Reagan-like conservative who can lead the charge? Romney refused to run as a conservative. We had a failure of conservative candidates and conservative media, not of conservative philosophy.”

Although many Americans have thought about whether the president’s approach to health care and the role of government equates to socialism — “socialist” was the most looked-up word in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary in 2012 — polling indicates more widespread support for the conclusion that Obama is what he has called himself, a pragmatist. Before his first inauguration, he said that “what is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking. . . .”

Still, Obama’s more severe critics see him as highly ideological. Francis Cianfrocca, a New York cybersecurity entrepreneur, believes the president is determined to limit freedom and wealth. “He called people like me ‘fat cats,’ ” says the successful businessman. “What are we supposed to do with that? A lot of the personalization of the opposition to him comes from his saying personal things against capitalism, business people and Republicans.”

Although Cianfrocca thought of Obama as “a thoroughgoing socialist looking for wholesale reconstruction of the economy,” the president’s reelection persuaded the businessman that “the country is with him and that gives him tremendous moral authority.”

Cianfrocca’s disagreements with the president are mainly philosophical; he believes the country will right itself and flourish again within a decade. Many birthers and other hardcore anti-Obama activists, in contrast, see the president as the final architect of the collapse of American power.

“I despair for the future of our country,” says Bell. “He’s an emperor with no clothes.”

Even if the birther movement has lost some steam since Obama released his birth certificate in 2011, Davidson sees evidence that birthers are diversifying into other anti-Obama issues, using their Web sites and radio shows to focus attention on the next phase of the health-care debate, the attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya and the latest Cabinet nominations.

Although Dr. Conspiracy is obsessed with tracking the birthers — before he retired, he worked on the software that state governments use to manage vital records, and that got him interested in the debate over Obama’s birth certificate — he is not one of them. After engaging with thousands of people who believe Obama has committed identity fraud, he says, “I know two examples in the entire country of birthers who changed their views. It’s just in the nature of believers that you can’t back down.”

Conspiracy theories have been an undercurrent in American politics since the birth of the republic, but after decades in which such ideas could be hawked only through obscure newsletters and shortwave radio, the Internet and cable TV have made it far easier to connect with like-minded souls.

From inside the information silos of left and right, Obama can seem to be the subject of the most virulent hatred of any modern president. But that’s been said of the past three occupants of the White House. Hillary Clinton said during her husband’s presidency that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to get him, and an energetic network of Enemies of Bill questioned his qualifications and honesty from long before his candidacy through his impeachment in 1998.

George W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon hold the modern records for highest disapproval ratings in Washington Post-ABC News polling, but such surveys don’t capture the relatively small numbers of people who turn unhappiness with a president into a dyspeptic worldview.

“There’s a certain world of people who move from one conspiracy theory to the next,” says Bill Bryan, proprietor of The Fogbow, a Web site devoted to debunking anti-Obama movements. “Obama is perfect for them. They just hate him so much, and the election won’t end that. They really believe that one day soon, he’ll be declared an illegal president and Obamacare will vanish with a poof and Sotomayor and Kagan will have to leave the Supreme Court.”

“I got sucked into their vortex,” Bryan says, “but when I run into normal people, like waiters at a restaurant, only half of them have even heard of birthers, so I take comfort in that.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/on-inaugural-eve-obamas-most-virulent-foes-want-the-celebration-stopped/2013/01/14/2050f75e-54f6-11e2-a613-ec8d394535c6_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

The Strange Sexual Obsessions Driving the Tea Party Movement by David Rosen

CounterPunch, September 19, 2010 

…The November election will determine whether the Tea Party will take control of the Republican Party and pull the Congress even further to the reactionary right…

Knowing full well that the majority of Americans reject conservative Christian values, the Tea Party has campaigned on fighting personal taxes, the federal debt and the “tyranny” of Washington…

At the heart of this unstated agenda are white Christian America’s deep-seated fears of sex, race and interracial “pollution.”…

Race, and particularly interracial sex and procreation, is the other unstated, hot-button issue that galvanizes the Tea Party movement. Demographic profiles depict the movement as a predominately middle-aged and older white constituency, often from smaller towns and cities throughout heartland America. 

Unstated, their lives have been uprooted by capitalist globalization and they are desperately clinging to post-WWII white skin privileges that assured them the benefits of a “middle-class” life. A half-century later, capitalism has betrayed them; sadly, they refuse to acknowledge it, instead blaming liberals, immigrants and a world beyond their control. The promotion of false consciousness is corporate media’s principal responsibility… 

Over the last two years, white, rightwing Christian activists, along with their political shills and media pundits, have rallied to the Tea Party. During this process, a mean-spirited constituency emerged that voices insulating and defamatory comments about the President as well as other black, Hispanic and (Middle-Eastern) Muslim Americans….These comments are not only provocative, but serve a political purpose of galvanizing discontent among a growing segment of older, working- and middle-class white Americans. This movement represents a neo-fascist propensity toward political tyranny. 

Race and sex have divided the New World since its founding four centuries ago…fear about the “pollution” of the nation’s white “stock” has haunted American politics. It underscored the belief in America’s “manifest destiny” as an imperialist power;…and it inflamed the Klan, fueling its terror and lynching campaigns as well as ‘60s racists. 

The great white fear of interracial “pollution” has found is most acute expression with Obama’s president. He is the offspring of not simply an interracial relationship, but an international coupling as well. He is the child of 21st century globalization, the symbolic representation of a hope for a world without boarders, without race prejudice, without white privilege.

 

In the face of today’s widespread sexual and racial “pollution,” those aligned with the Tea Party are fearful, furious. They are desperately holding onto a fictitious past. They worry that America is becoming a mongrel nation and that their privileged status is vanishing. However unstated, unconscious, there fears might be, Tea Party candidates O’Donnell and Paladino speak to a collective prejudice shared by many Americans. It is fear anchored in 19th century notions of nationhood, racial purity and imperial conquest. It is a prejudice that violates the spirit of what is the great hope of America. 

Full Text

Tea Party advocates and rightwing media pundits were gleeful in the aftermath of this week’s primary election results. They were buoyed by their candidates’ strong showings throughout the country against the Republican establishment, particularly in Delaware and New York. The November election will determine whether the Tea Party will take control of the Republican Party and pull the Congress even further to the reactionary right. 

Amidst all the victory hoopla, stories about the questionable sexual- and race-related attitudes and behavior of two of the Tea Party’s principal proponents, Delaware’s senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell and New York’s gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, have garnered as much notoriety as their often-questionable policy pronouncements. 

Delaware candidate O’Donnell proposed in a 1996 MTV program and again in a 1998 article, “The Case for Chastity,” that masturbation is sinful and that looking at pornography is equivalent to adultery. She proudly declared:

When a married person uses pornography, or is unfaithful, it compromises not just his (or her) purity, but also compromises the spouse’s purity. As a church, we need to teach a higher standard than abstinence. We need to preach a righteous lifestyle.

She has apparently not revised or repudiated her position in the intervening years.

The New York gubernatorial candidate Paladino has come under increasing media scrutiny for a growing number of apparent indiscretions. They include revelations about his collection of Internet porn which he gladly shares with his construction-industry “buddies” and racially-provocative e-mails depicting Pres. Obama as an African tribesman or a ‘70s-era pimp (with his wife, Michelle, depicted as a “ho”). More troubling are revelations about his extra-marital affair with an employee and the “love child” he fathered. 

What is most striking about these incidents is not the specific actions, but the fact that Tea Party proponents have shrugged off these embarrassments as inconsequential in assessing their candidates for public office. With an almost, aw-shucks attitude, the Tea Party right sees the values and actions of their candidates like the conduct of ordinary folk, their next-door neighbors. 

In fairness, a candidate’s private actions, to the extent that they are not criminal (e.g., pedophilia, rape) or inflict real suffering on another (e.g., physical and psychological abuse), shouldn’t be the principal factor in evaluating the candidate’s competency to govern. 

Over the last few years, Republicans like Sen. David Vitter, Sen. John Ensign and Gov. Mark Sanford have been outed for their sexual indiscretions with little political fall-out. These conservative Republicans have adhered to a liberal moral standard and have gone on with their political careers with only a little mud on their respective faces, suffering no real price to pay. Yet, as was evident with the revelations about president candidate John Edward and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, when comparable revelations of sexual indiscretions about Democratic came out, those involved were forced from the political playing field. Such is the nature of the moral double-standard that defines American politics. 

Hidden at the root of the Tea Party movement are the issues of sex and race, especially interracial sex and the resulting “pollution” of the white “stock.” The movement has sought to keep conventional “culture wars” issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research at an arms-length’s-distance from its organizing efforts. Knowing full well that the majority of Americans reject conservative Christian values, the Tea Party has campaigned on fighting personal taxes, the federal debt and the “tyranny” of Washington. 

Nevertheless, the Tea Party’s appeal to traditional Christian values, its unstated secret agenda, was publicly exposed by the O’Donnell and Paladino revelations. At the heart of this unstated agenda are white Christian America’s deep-seated fears of sex, race and interracial “pollution.”

* * *

The sex-poses at the heart of the O’Donnell and Paladino campaigns are not isolated occurrences. As a “grassroots” movement, innumerable local Tea Party political leaders have been exposed in a variety of sex scandals and questionable practices. A handful of these are illustrative: 

In South Carolina in the wake of the Gov. Sanford scandal, a conservative blogger, Will Folks, revealed “several years ago, prior to my marriage, I had an inappropriate physical relationship with Nikki [Haley].” Haley immediately responded, “I have been 100 percent faithful to my husband throughout our 13 years of marriage.” The revelation came out amidst a hard fought Republican primary that she won.

In Ohio, the Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate, Eric Deaton, was indicted for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor at the end of August.

Also in Ohio, State Senator Kevin Coughlin, a Tea Party die-hard from Akron, was outed for his affair with a fellow Republican while his wife was pregnant. 

In Indiana, Rep. Mark Souder resigned his seat from the 3rd District that he held since 1994 over an illicit affair. He was a true-blue conservative Republican with an A-plus standing with the National Rifle Association and 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Without referring to the unstated affair that drove him from office, Souder pathetically proclaimed, “I am so ashamed to hurt those I love.”

The movement, drawing upon its more libertarian stains, has sought to impose restraint on its most reactionary tendencies: 

In Montana, the Big Sky Tea Party Association fired its leader, Tim Ravndal, over the homophobic comments he made. Referring to homosexuals as “fruits,” Rayndal insisted that he did not imply an anti-gay intention. This issue is particularly sensitive in Montana due to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Nevertheless, Rayndal opposed a Helena sex education proposal to teach gender tolerance.

In Florida, Everett Wilkinson, state director of the Tea Party Patriots, took a neutral position on gay marriage: “On [this] issue itself, we have no stance, but any time a state’s rights or powers are encouraged over the federal government, it is a good thing.” He is following the position advocated by Bob Barr, a former Republican Georgia congressman who wrote the original Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), who is a strong Tea Party proponent and a fierce libertarian who now opposes DOMA. 

Nevertheless, the Tea Party’s inherent fear of sex is always close to the surface. Earlier this year, Scott Southworth, the DA from Juneau County, WS, and a strong Tea Party backer, warned local teachers that if they used a new state sex ed course they could be committing a crime and serve up to six years in prison. He found particularly objectionable sexual relations between two consenting adolescents, often referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” affairs, that, according to state law, he considered incidents of sexual assault.

* * *

Race, and particularly interracial sex and procreation, is the other unstated, hot-button issue that galvanizes the Tea Party movement. Demographic profiles depict the movement as a predominately middle-aged and older white constituency, often from smaller towns and cities throughout heartland America. 

Unstated, their lives have been uprooted by capitalist globalization and they are desperately clinging to post-WWII white skin privileges that assured them the benefits of a “middle-class” life. A half-century later, capitalism has betrayed them; sadly, they refuse to acknowledge it, instead blaming liberals, immigrants and a world beyond their control. The promotion of false consciousness is corporate media’s principal responsibility. 

Since Obama’s 2008 election, Congressional Republicans have engaged in a systematic campaign to block nearly all Obama and Democratic legislative initiatives that would redress the Bush-era fiscal and social crisis. This do-nothing effort has been extremely effective, making all Americans suffer while the rich have prospered and the corporate media obfuscated accountability. 

Over the last two years, white, rightwing Christian activists, along with their political shills and media pundits, have rallied to the Tea Party. During this process, a mean-spirited constituency emerged that voices insulating and defamatory comments about the President as well as other black, Hispanic and (Middle-Eastern) Muslim Americans. These statements range from snide depictions of the President and his wife as in the Paladino emails to the belief among some 20 percent of the population that the President is a Muslim or not an American. These comments are not only provocative, but serve a political purpose of galvanizing discontent among a growing segment of older, working- and middle-class white Americans. This movement represents a neo-fascist propensity toward political tyranny. 

Race and sex have divided the New World since its founding four centuries ago. Few recall that the first interracial marriage took on April 5, 1614, when Pocahontas, a Powhatan woman and reputed daughter of Chief Powhatan, married the Englishman John Rolfe near Jamestown, VA. Since then, fear about the “pollution” of the nation’s white “stock” has haunted American politics. It underscored the belief in America’s “manifest destiny” as an imperialist power; it framed the pseudo-science of eugenics that lead to a 1927 Supreme Court decision that legalized the sterilization of 60,000 Americans for feeblemindedness; and it inflamed the Klan, fueling its terror and lynching campaigns as well as ‘60s racists. 

The great white fear of interracial “pollution” has found is most acute expression with Obama’s president. He is the offspring of not simply an interracial relationship, but an international coupling as well. He is the child of 21st century globalization, the symbolic representation of a hope for a world without boarders, without race prejudice, without white privilege. 

In the face of today’s widespread sexual and racial “pollution,” those aligned with the Tea Party are fearful, furious. They are desperately holding onto a fictitious past. They worry that America is becoming a mongrel nation and that their privileged status is vanishing. However unstated, unconscious, there fears might be, Tea Party candidates O’Donnell and Paladino speak to a collective prejudice shared by many Americans. It is fear anchored in 19th century notions of nationhood, racial purity and imperial conquest. It is a prejudice that violates the spirit of what is the great hope of America.
David Rosen is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009); he can be reached at drosen@ix.netcom.com.

© 2010 CounterPunch All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/148223/

 

6 Right-Wing Zealots and the Crazy Ideas Behind the Most Outrageous Republican Platform Ever

By Peter Montgomery, AlterNet, August 28, 2012 |  

TAMPA, FLA. — The official 2012 Republican Party platform is a far-right fever dream, a compilation of pouting, posturing and policies to meet just about every demand from the overlapping Religious Right, Tea Party, corporate, and neo-conservative wings of the GOP. If moderates have any influence in today’s Republican Party, you wouldn’t know it by reading the platform. Efforts by a few delegates to insert language favoring civil unions, comprehensive sex education and voting rights for the District of Columbia, for example, were all shot down. Making the rounds of right-wing pre-convention events on Sunday, Rep. Michele Bachmann gushed [3] about the platform’s right-wing tilt, telling fired-up Tea Partiers that “the Tea Party has been all over that platform.”

Given the Republican Party’s hard lurch to the right, which intensified after the election of Barack Obama, the “most conservative ever” platform is not terribly surprising. But it didn’t just happen on its own. Here are some of the people we can thank on the domestic policy front.

1. Bob McDonnell. As platform committee chair, McDonnell made it clear he was not in the mood for any amendments to the draft language calling for a “Human Life Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution and legal recognition that the “unborn” are covered by the 14th Amendment (“personhood” by another name). McDonnell is in many ways the ideal right-wing governor: he ran as a fiscal conservative and governs like the Religious Right activist he has been since he laid out his own political platform in the guise of a master’s thesis at Pat Robertson’s Regent University.

His thesis argued [4] that feminists and working women were detrimental to the family, and that public policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals, or fornicators.” When running for governor of Virginia, McDonnell disavowed his thesis, but as a state legislator he pushed hard to turn those positions into policy. As the Washington Post noted, “During his 14 years in the General Assembly, McDonnell pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out in that research paper, including abortion restrictions, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor his view of the traditional family. In 2001, he voted against a resolution in support of ending wage discrimination between men and women.” As governor, McDonnell signed the kind of mandatory ultrasound law that is praised in this year’s platform. When his name was floated as a potential V.P. pick, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood decried [5] his “deeply troubling record on women’s health.”

2. Tony Perkins. Perkins heads the Family Research Council, whose Values Voter Summit is the Religious Right’s most important annual conference, where activists rub shoulders with Republican officials and candidates. Perkins bragged [6] in an email to his supporters how much influence he and his friend David Barton (see below) had on the platform. Perkins was an active member of the platform committee, proposing language to oppose school-based health clinics that provide referrals for contraception or abortion, and arguing for the strongest possible anti-marriage equality language. Perkins also introduced an amendment to the platform calling on the District of Columbia government to loosen its gun laws, which Perkins says still do not comply with recent Supreme Court rulings.

The media tends to treat Perkins, a telegenic former state legislator, as a reasonable voice of the Religious Right, but his record and his group’s positions prove otherwise. Perkins has been aggressively exploiting [7] the recent shooting at FRC headquarters to divert attention from the group’s extremism by claiming that the Southern Poverty Law Center was irresponsible in calling FRC a hate group. Unfortunately for Perkins, the group’s record of promoting hatred toward LGBT people is well-documented. Perkins has even complained that the press and President Obama were being too hard on Uganda’s infamous “kill the gays” bill, which he described [7] as an attempt to “uphold moral conduct.” It’s worth remembering that Perkins ran a 1996 campaign for Louisiana Senate candidate Woody Jenkins that paid $82,600 to David Duke for the Klan leader’s mailing list; the campaign was fined [8] by the FEC for trying to cover it up.

3. David Barton. Texas Republican activist and disgraced Christian-nation “historian” Barton has had a tough year, but Tampa has been good to him. He was perhaps the most vocal member of the platform committee, and was a featured speaker at Sunday’s pre-convention “prayer rally.” During the platform committee’s final deliberations, Barton couldn’t seem to hear his own voice often enough. He was the know-it-all nitpicker, piping up with various language changes, such as deleting a reference to the family as the “school of democracy” because families are not democracies. He thought it was too passive to call Obamacare an “erosion of” the Constitution and thought it should be changed to an “attack on” the founding document. He called for stronger anti-public education language and asserted that large school districts employ one administrator for every teacher. He backed anti-abortion language, tossing out the claim that 127 medical studies over five decades say that abortion hurts women.

Progressives have been documenting Barton’s lies for years, but more recently conservative evangelical scholars have also been hammering [9] his claims about American history. The critical chorus got so loud that Christian publishing powerhouse Thomas Nelson pulled Barton’s most recent book – which, ironically, purports to correct “lies” about Thomas Jefferson – from the shelves. Of course, Barton has had plenty of practice at this sort of thing, from producing bogus [10] documentaries [10] designed to turn African Americans against the Democratic Party to pushing his religious and political ideology into Texas textbooks [11]. Barton’s right-wing friends like Glenn Beck have rallied around him. And nothing seems to tarnish Barton with the GOP allies for whom he has proven politically useful over the years.

4. Kris Kobach. Kris Kobach wants to be your president one day; until now, he has gotten as far as Kansas Secretary of State. He may be best known as the brains behind Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, and he successfully pushed for anti-immigrant language in the platform, including a call for the federal government to deny funds to universities that allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition – a plank that puts Kobach and the platform at odds with Kansas law. Immigration is not Kobach’s only issue. He is an energizing force behind the Republican Party’s massive push for voter suppression laws around the country, and he led the effort to get language inserted into the platform calling on states to pass laws requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration.

He also pushed language aimed at the supposed threat to the Constitution and laws of the US from “Sharia [12] law”; getting this language into the platform puts the GOP in the position of endorsing a ludicrous far-right conspiracy theory. Kobach hopes that will give activists a tool for pressuring more states to pass their own anti-Sharia laws. In the platform committee, he backed Perkins’ efforts to maintain the strongest language against marriage equality. Even an amendment to the marriage section saying that everyone should be treated “equally under the law” as long as they are not hurting anyone else, was shot down by Kobach. Kobach also claims [13] he won support for a provision to oppose any effort to limit how many bullets can go into a gun’s magazine.

5. James Bopp. James Bopp is a Republican lawyer and delegate from Indiana whose client list is a who’s-who of right-wing organizations, including National Right to Life and the National Organization for Marriage, which he has represented [14] in its efforts to keep political donors secret. As legal advisor to Citizens United, Bopp has led legal attacks on campaign finance laws and played a huge role in the issue of unlimited right-wing cash flooding our elections. Bopp chaired this year’s platform subcommittee on “restoring constitutional government,” which helps explain its strong anti-campaign finance reform language.

Bopp is also an annoyingly petty partisan, having introduced [15] a resolution in the Republican National Committee in 2009 urging the Democratic Party to change its name to the “Democrat Socialist Party.” In this year’s platform committee, Bopp successfully pushed for the removal of language suggesting that residents of the District of Columbia might deserve some representation in Congress short of statehood. His sneering comments [16], and his gloating fist [17]- [17]pump [17] when the committee approved his resolution, have not won him any friends among DC residents – not that he cares. He also spoke out against a young delegate’s proposal that the party recognize civil unions, which Bopp denounced [18] as “counterfeit marriage.” In spite of all these efforts, Bopp has been at the forefront of Romney campaign platform spin, arguing [19] in the media that the platform language on abortion is not really a “no-exceptions” ban, in spite of its call for a Human Life Amendment and laws giving 14th Amendment protections to the “unborn.”

6. Dick Armey. Former Republican insider Dick Armey now runs FreedomWorks, the Koch [20]- [20]backed [20], [20]corporate [20]- [20]funded [20], [20]Murdoch [20]- [20]promoted [20] Tea Party astroturfing group – or, in its words, a “grassroots service center.” Armey has been a major force behind this year’s victories of Tea Party Senate challengers like Ted Cruz in Texas and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both of whom knocked off “establishment” candidates. FreedomWorks also backed Rand Paul in Kentucky and Mike Lee in Utah in 2010. As Adele Stan has reported [21], FreedomWorks’ goal is to build a cadre of far-right senators to create a “power center around Jim DeMint,” the Senate’s reigning Tea Party-Religious Right hero.

To put Armey’s stamp on the platform, FreedomWorks created a “Freedom Platform” project, which enlisted Tea Party leaders to come up with proposed platform planks and encouraged activists to vote for them online. Then FreedomWorks pushed the party to include these planks in the official platform:

•Repeal Obamacare; pursue patient-centered care

•Stop the tax hikes

•Reverse Obama’s spending increases

•Scrap the tax code; replace with a flat tax

•Pass a balanced budget amendment

•Reject cap and trade

•Rein in EPA

•Unleash America’s vast energy potential

•Eliminate the Department of Education

•Reduce the bloated federal workforce

•Curtail excessive federal regulation

•Audit the fed

An Ohio Tea Party Group, Ohio Liberty Coalition, celebrated [22] that 10 of 12 made it to the draft – everything but the flat tax and eliminating the Department of Defense. But FreedomWorks gave itself a more generous score, arguing [23] for an 11.5 out of 12. FreedomWorks vice president Dean Clancy said the platform’s call for a “flatter” tax “opens the door to a flat tax” and said they considered the education section of the platform a “partial victory” because it includes “a very strong endorsement of school choice, including vouchers.”

Honorable mention: Mitt Romney. This is his year, his party and his platform. The entire Republican primary was essentially an exercise in Romney moving to the right to try to overcome resistance to his nomination from activists who distrusted his ideological authenticity. The last thing the Romney campaign wanted was a fight with the base, like the one that happened in San Diego in 1996, when Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition delighted in publicly humiliating nominee Robert Dole over his suggestion that the GOP might temper its anti-abortion stance. Romney signaled his intention to avoid a similar conflict when he named Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to chair the platform committee.

Keeping Everybody Happy

The new GOP platform reflects Romney’s desire to placate every aspect of the party’s base. It also demonstrates both the continuing [24] power [24] of the Religious Right within the GOP, as well as ongoing efforts [25] to erase any distinctions between social conservatives and anti-government zealots, as demonstrated by Ralph Reed welcoming [26] Grover Norquist to his Faith and Freedom coalition leadership luncheon on Sunday.

 

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/6-right-wing-zealots-and-crazy-ideas-behind-most-outrageous-republican-platform-ever
Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/peter-montgomery
[3] http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/right-wing-finally-unites-behind-romney-anti-obama-hate-fest-tampa?akid=9276.229476.pdsq0L&rd=1&src=newsletter699502&t=3&paging=off
[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/29/AR2009082902434.html
[5] http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/abortion/236437-mcdonnell-tied-to-ultrasound-law-in-planned-parenthood-attack
[6] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/religious-righting-republican-platform
[7] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/religious-right-exploiting-tragedy-blunt-criticism-its-extremism
[8] http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2012/08/flashback-federal-election-commission.html
[9] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/even-more-conservative-scholars-publicly-question-david-bartons-scholarship
[10] http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/david-barton-propaganda-masquerading-history
[11] http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/texas-textbooks-what-happened-what-it-means-and-what-we-can-do-about-it
[12] http://www.salon.com/2012/08/21/gop_embraces_anti_sharia/
[13] http://www.kansas.com/2012/08/23/2460486/kobach-adds-touches-to-republican.html
[14] http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2012/06/board-investigating-complaint-marriage-groups-refusal-disclose-donors
[15] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0409/21638.html
[16] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/gop-platform-committee-disses-dc
[17] http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/dc+statehood+bopp.gif
[18] http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0812/79936.html
[19] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/24/did-republicans-actually-endorse-a-full-abortion-ban-maybe-not/
[20] http://www.alternet.org/story/148598/tea_party_inc.%3A_the_big_money_and_powerful_elites_behind_the_right_wing%27s_latest_uprising
[21] http://www.alternet.org/hot-news-views/tea-partys-cruz-vanquishes-gop-pick-us-senate-texas-run
[22] http://www.ohiolibertycoalition.org/republican-platform-committee-accepts-10-of-12-tea-party-platform-issues/
[23] http://www.freedomworks.org/press-releases/republican-party-adopts-majority-of-tea-party’s-“f
[24] http://www.alternet.org/story/153949/5_signs_the_christian_right_still_wields_too_much_power_in_america
[25] http://www.alternet.org/story/150622/tea_party_jesus%3A_koch%27s_americans_for_prosperity_sidles_up_to_religious_right_for_2012_campaign
[26] http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/right-wing-finally-unites-behind-romney-anti-obama-hate-fest-tampa?akid=9276.229476.pdsq0L&rd=1&src=newsletter699502&t=3
[27] http://www.alternet.org/tags/election-2012
[28] http://www.alternet.org/tags/kobach
[29] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mcdonnell-0
[30] http://www.alternet.org/tags/romney-0
[31] http://www.alternet.org/tags/armey
[32] http://www.alternet.org/tags/barton
[33] http://www.alternet.org/tags/perkins
[34] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bopp

 

Inside the plan to steal the election By Steven Rosenfeld, Alternet.org

Saturday, Aug 25, 2012 

Excerpt

The conservative initiative True the Vote is designed to obstruct the voting process at every turn…the heart of the GOP election fraud brigade at the Colorado summit…they had big money behind them and were organizing on a scale that recalled the early days of the Christian Coalition.

...Fund’s 2004 book, Stealing Elections, one of the first Republican tirades to make outsized and false claims that Democrats were involved in vast conspiracies to illegally vote…True the Vote is a voting vigilante group …They represent the most extreme views on the Right when it comes to voting—that the process is filled with corruption that is bound to be exploited by local political bosses and machines, which, of course, are Democratic. Where liberals see that a third of all eligible voters in America do not vote and want to make the process more accessible, the right believes to do so would mean the end of America as they know it.

America is filled with leave-me-alone, blame-the-government types and paranoid groups on the left and right. But most fringe groups have not been given millions by rich right-wingers between 2009 and todaythree main focuses: policing new voter registrations and winnowing existing voter rolls; training polling place watchers to spot and protest all kinds of slights that undermine voting; and filing suits to prompt states and counties to purge voter rolls. It claims it has 300 active chapters in three dozen states… All of this is to prevent illegal voting, presumably for Democrats.they want officials to follow the law as they see it, which is not always as the law isin 2012, if you’re a new national group fueled by voting fraud fantasies, a God-given mission, and have plenty of money and spunk, you have a capacity to create chaos for unsuspecting voters, and confidence that you’ll be around long after November.

“They are convincing otherwise civic-minded people that there’s massive voter fraud out there and that their work is needed to protect the ballot,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist who has been deeply involved in Texas voting rights battles for years. “They’re playing on fears and civic duty and promoting themselves all along the way… They think they are doing something patriotic. To me, that is the most distasteful thing.”

Full text

The Colorado Summit

I grabbed some handouts, stepped into the windowless conference room, got some coffee, and sat at one of a half-dozen cloth-covered tables. It didn’t feel like a political freak show. To be honest, it felt a bit familiar. To my right was a woman in her 50s, a quality control manager from Colorado Springs who was worried about elections. Around the table were Tea Partiers, a young woman who was a GOP county leader, and retirees concerned about government and democracy. I could relate to their worries that American democracy was in big trouble. These were civic-minded grassroots people not unlike those I’d met in Ohio after the 2004 election, when I helped publicize the ways that state’s GOP tried to suppress and steal John Kerry’s votes.

In the eight years since Ohio, I’ve learned that what really happens in elections is more complicated than easily minted conspiracy theories. At worst, I thought most attendees were low-hanging fruit, ready to be molded by this movement’s disingenuous national leaders—like Fund, who knows the real facts and ignores them, or Christian Adams, an embittered ex-Justice Department civil rights attorney who felt he could not work for Eric Holder and quit, and now inveighs against the DOJ’s liberal biases. Later, when a handful of attendees started snickering at California’s gays and civil unions, and loudly applauded an Oliver North-like local Republican County chairman who cited the most deadly Nazi fighter pilot’s wartime survival credo in his powerpoint—as advice on beating Obama—I thought, wow, let’s hope this crew is all bark and no bite.

The summit began with a classic political attack video—dark imagery, brooding camera angles, dropping all the names of liberals that Republicans love to hate, such as ACORN and Project Vote (which helped run ACORN’s voter drives). The screen decried “dead people” on the rolls, duplicate registrations, double voting, registrations with addresses from empty lots, and other would-be horrors that scholars say are the vast exception not rule in voting. Anita MonCrief, an African American who worked at Project Vote before quitting and becoming a conservative celebrity, recounted how poor people were paid to register voters, often turning in faked names and multiple registrations. (These are easily caught by election offices). Then the founder of the King Street Patriots, out of which True the Vote emerged, took the stage. You may have seen Katherine Englebrecht on Fox News. She’s tall, trim, blonde, articulate and driven—a typical activist.

“How did we as an organization get from working at the polls a few years ago to feeling the need to put together a video like that?” she began. “That is a story I would like to open today’s event with and share with you, what we’ve seen, and I suspect many of you possibly have seen yourselves.” She paused and looked at the room—perhaps 60 people filled the tables. “How many of you have worked at the polls before?” A few hands went up. “Okay. As a general statement, if you work at the polls, it is hard to find volunteers?” More murmurs and yeses were heard. “Agree or disagree, the process might lend itself to manipulation?” “Yes,” a woman shouted.

“I am just going to go way out here, agree or disagree,” she continued. “If you don’t have enough volunteers, and you have a process that is weak, can those weaknesses be exploited for political gain?” More fervent yeses replied. Englebrecht paused. “I think you’re right, and a lot of people across the country think you’re right.”

The way Englebrecht told her story, you would think she was another suburban mom whose faith-and-family moorings were upended during the 2008 presidential race and couldn’t stop shuddering at the way the mainstream media was not telling the truth—prompting sleepless nights, smeared glitter and glue on her kitchen floor as she made protest signs, her subsequent discovery of kindred spirits in the Tea Party, and a husband who asked her, “Have you lost your mind?” But according to Houston’s Maureen Haver, who ran a non-profit doing voter registration drives in Harris County’s poor and minority neighborhoods in 2008 and was among the first liberal registration groups to be attacked by Engelbrecht, there’s more to her story than what she shared in Denver.

Englebrecht didn’t say she and her husband live outside Harris County—where Houston is located and is more populous than 22 states. They run an oil services company worth millions. She has a record of disrupting public meetings going back to 2009, Haver said, when pre-Tea Party activists disrupted that summer’s congressional town hall meetings. Englebrecht didn’t say that she and her husband this year started a new company with the provocative name, Plan B Firearms. Acccording to Tea Party Web sites, “Plan B” refers to the steps ”patriots” might have to take if Obama gets re-elected.

No, in Denver, she put on a plucky smile and earnestly pitched for volunteers to enroll in True the Vote’s training sessions—to either review voter rolls online, or to join their fall poll watcher brigades to prevent electoral skullduggery. Of course, she added that True the Vote was a “non-partisan” organization, even though they were selling black T-shirts with Ronald Reagan’s profile on them. (They also had Elvis shirts.)

Republican ‘Election Integrity’

True the Vote’s paranoid and possibly disruptive civic activism in 2012 comes from its very predictable history. It is hardly the first group to peer behind the curtain of how elections are run in America, and quickly assume that anything and everything that could go wrong, would go wrong, and be used against their comrades. As Englebrecht recited their history, it foreshadowed the tools and strategy they’ve since developed and are deploying in 2012’s presidential election.

“We had heard there was a need for people to go and work the polls,” she said, referring to their roots in 2009. “We thought we would go work for a day, and check it off our list and move onto something else…” But then they discovered how erratic elections can be, especially when states pass all kinds of complex laws and rely on poorly paid volunteer poll workers to implement them with little or no training.

“What we saw ranged from levels of confusion and incompetence, frankly that were very disturbing, when you consider the importance of the proceedings in the polls,” she said. “When you have so much slack in the process, you know, whether or not the code was followed based on a wink and a nod… We saw people not show any form of ID whatsoever and be allowed to vote. In Texas, you have to show some form of ID. In Colorado you have to show ID. In some of our sister states, it is even illegal to ask for identification.”

Here is where her propagandizing and right-wingers jump orbits. Engelbrecht was talking to an audience who, by a show of hands, were more than half Tea Party members, avid Drudge Report readers, and mostly vote by mail. In other words, most don’t vote in the venues they were hearing about. But they still shook their heads and gasped anyway.

“We saw people who would come in with multiple registration cards,” she continued. “And when they would present the first one and be told, ‘I’m sorry, it looks as though you already voted in an earlier election,’ they’d go, ‘Huh, how about this card?’” That was good enough for poll workers, she said, her voice rising. “People would come in and want to vote and they’d open the poll book—in Texas, we print out these little labels, and you stick this label in the book and sign your name. Well, the label was in the book and that person’s name was signed. But that wasn’t his signature. Somebody beat ’em to the punch… There’s a lot of latitude for people who want to subvert the process.”

I might have been the only one in the room to realize that most of her anecdotes—if they were true—probably have little or nothing to do with padding elections. They could just as easily be explained by bureaucratic bungling, bad poll worker training, confusion by voters who don’t understand what they got in the mail or other factors. These problems also are not solved by stricter voter ID laws. In some counties, election administration can be as drab as polling places are chaotic. But that’s not a political conspiracy.

Her war stories continued. They were low-rent compared to later speakers, who described a full-throated U.S. Justice Department conspiracy to ignore discrimination against white voters, or Fund telling people that they should enjoy bullying liberals because they were doing God’s work. “Your opposition are cartoon characters. They are. They are fun to beat up. They are fun to humiliate,” he intoned. “You are on the side of the angels. And these people are just frauds, charlatans and liars.”

Propaganda and Internet Tools

True the Vote’s response to the problems it perceives is ambitious. It’s also incredibly error-prone, according to its track record thus far in 2012. The group’s pre-Election Day focus is not just about training poll observers—people who’ll watch how voters are checked in and speak up if they don’t like what they think they see. They’re also focused on voter registration rolls, trying to identify, weed out, challenge and remove people who they believe are illegal or phantom voters. This is where things get dicey.

Drawing on the power of Internet organizing and Tea Party networks, they’ve developed an infrastructure where they “crowd-source” analysis of voter registration records, using software and vetting standards they created. True the Vote will take various state databases, starting with voter registration lists (which are always in flux as people register, move and die), driver’s license databases and jury lists, and look for inconsistencies. If they don’t like the way a person’s signature varies from form to form, it is flagged as suspicious. If they see that too many voters are registered at an address, it is flagged. If a driver’s license has a different address than a voter registration form, it is flagged. Their research team then seeks to turn over these names to county or state officials, who they urge to investigate—and, of course, remove ineligible voters from the rolls.

Mark Antill, their national research director, explained that they developed the software to first identify addresses with the most registrants attached to them. “When you find 80 people [registered] at an empty lot, you push a button and all 80 people get challenged,” he told the room. “When you vote once, and some guy votes twice, that is an issue.”

If the local election officials do not remove names from voter lists (and there are detailed federal laws that mostly bar voter purges within 90 days of an upcoming federal election, and require that names be left on voter lists to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised) then True the Vote wants those offices to take other steps. Antill said Colorado will send a postcard to the voter in question saying he must present proof before getting a ballot this fall; or that he can’t vote by mail until he shows up with documents at a polling place. (He did not say where they got the legal authority to do that, and I didn’t want to be too pushy. But in a state where 70 percent of people vote by mail, and 10 percent vote early, that hurdle could easily prevent infirm elderly people from voting.)

True the Vote’s Texas adversaries have seen these tactics before. “They are challenging new voter applications as they come in. They are challenging registrations that already exist on the rolls,” said Houston’s Haver. “They believe it’s grounds for a challenge if you have six people living at a household on a registration form.” Angle said, “They couldn’t operate in Texas or anywhere else unless they had officials supporting them.”

That is exactly what they have in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Kansas and a handful of other states. At the Denver summit, Colorado’s Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman fully backed their agenda. So did Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who told attendees “you will be demonized, called a racist and a vote suppressor” but encouraged them to soldier on.

But True the Vote has not found as welcome a reception in Wisconsin, where the state board overseeing elections—composed of retired judges—rejected its effort to partner with them. This past winter, the group initially sought an official role validating the petitions calling for the gubernatorial recall. After that was rejected, several thousand volunteers across the country looked for errors on their home computers and flagged questionable signers. To be fair, examining 800,000 signatures and addresses in a month is a gigantic undertaking. Where their independent assessment became politically predictable was when they claimed that about 40 percent of the petitions they examined were incomplete or required “further investigation.” Of course, that figure brought the total number of legal signers—in their eyes—below the threshold to qualify the gubernatorial recall.

Following Whose Law?

It’s important to understand why True the Vote feels victimized and how that affects its politics, whether its results are amateurish or not. In Wisconsin, election officials give the benefit of the doubt to the voter when assessing voting documents and deciding disputes. That is true in many states. True the Vote takes the exact opposite approach. If there are any doubts, then in True the Vote’s world the burden of proof immediately shifts to the accused, not the accuser, to defend their voting rights. And if proof is not forthcoming, they believe that person’s voting credentials should be revoked.

Moreover, True the Vote’s assessment—and this is the case in its voter registration program and poll watcher trainings—is based on what they want to see in the law. But that’s not the same as what actually exists in the law. This split leads to a predictable collision between what they think they see, and what they think should be in law, and how local election officials process the same information and officially react to it. A Wisconsin Government Accountability Board report issued in May assessed their vetting of recall petitions. It concluded they “created results that were significantly less accurate, complete, and reliable than the review and analysis completed by the G.A.B.”

Another group affiliated with True the Vote, Minnesota Majority, used a similar method, also based on sloppy database analyses, and presented the Hennepin County Attorney (where Minneapolis is) with what it claimed were more than 1,500 instances of illegal felon voting during the November 2008 election. They claim Al Franken only won because felons illegally voted. That charge, which is repeated in Fund’s new book, was vigorously rejected this month by Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman. He said they brought 1,500 allegations — but there was only sufficient proof to charge 38 people.

What is dangerous here is that the voter fraud movement’s leaders know these facts, but that’s not what they are telling the grassroots at meetings like Colorado’s summit. Instead, they’re deliberately misinforming local activists who care about elections, and encouraging them to take the law into their own hands when the courts fail them.

“You know the job of a recounter. You count, you count, you count until your candidate is ahead, and then you stop counting,” Fund glibly explained to the Denver conference room. Never mind that he described precisely what the Minnesota Majority did in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election—they stopped “disqualifying” petitions when they had the number they wanted.

“We know this,” Fund thundered. “Eleven-hundred felons voted illegally. The margin was 312 votes. Minnesota Majority uncovered this. The media didn’t. The prosecutors didn’t. It had consequences. Al Franken went on to become the 60th vote in the U.S. Senate, in the majority that passed Obamacare.”

What we know is that there is an ascendant nationwide right-wing movement to police American elections. We know that movement is turning to dishonest public intellectuals to educate its ranks. We know the focus is much bigger than new voter ID laws, and that True the Vote may or may not disrupt polling place voting this fall. We also know that after November they will be around to share their “lessons” from the voting wars and push solutions. We might hope that they will be honest about the true scope and scale of voting problems that inevitably will surface, especially as they delve into the details of running elections. However, that’s probably naïve.
 
The conservative initiative True the Vote is designed to obstruct the voting process at every turn. Will it work?
 
I was nervous getting onto the flight to Denver. Since 2004, I have been a national radio producer, investigative reporter, author and consultant—writing about how elections are won, lost, bungled and improved, with a big focus on voter registration. But I had never snuck into a meeting of right-wing voting vigilantes who are the frontline of a national voter suppression strategy, and where the main speaker was a man whose new book I’d aggressively debunked days before, in an AlterNet article lauded by a leading election law blog and Washington Post. The meeting was a state summit organized by a group called True The Vote. The author was John Fund, who absurdly claims that more than 1,000 felons voted illegally in Minnesota in 2008, sending Democrat Al Franken to the U.S. Senate, where he was the final vote that passed Obama’s health care reform.

I didn’t want to be outed or bullied. I support citizen activism and was intrigued, even if I knew I was heading into the heart of the GOP election fraud brigade at the Colorado summit. On the plane, I wondered why many of the right-wing activists I hoped to meet in Denver believe as they do—eyeing almost all phases of the voting process with suspicion and mistaking errors as political conspiracies. The group’s Web site was very thin, but as knowledgeable people told me, they had big money behind them and were organizing on a scale that recalled the early days of the Christian Coalition.

The next day, Saturday, August 18, I got up early, ate quickly and took my props—a copy of Fund’s 2004 book, Stealing Elections, one of the first Republican tirades to make outsized and false claims that Democrats were involved in vast conspiracies to illegally vote, and a blog post saying the summit was open to walk-ins. I looked like I was going golfing and headed for the Sheraton conference center. A few minutes before 9, I got in line behind a manicured middle-aged man wearing an Americans for Prosperity T-shirt, the group founded and still funded by the Koch Brothers, and a few retirees, all white, and asked if they any room left. They nodded. When time came for pay, a perky woman at the welcome desk asked my name for a badge. Next to her sat Fund, selling and signing his book. I quickly replied, “Steve Rose,” what my friends call me. No one blinked. Then I bought the book for $20. He signed, “Keep Fighting. John Fund.”

Once inside, the meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer “for truth in America” in Jesus’ name, and then some of the most incredible tirades against liberals I’d ever heard, including Fund’s messianic exhortation to work against all those who “bear false witness,” which, ironically, is exactly what he and True the Vote does.

Voting Vigilante

True the Vote is a voting vigilante group that never should have grown past its Texas cowboy-meets-Tea Party justice roots. Its top leaders have a jaunty, string ‘em up, guilty-until-proven-innocent mindset. They represent the most extreme views on the Right when it comes to voting—that the process is filled with corruption that is bound to be exploited by local political bosses and machines, which, of course, are Democratic. Where liberals see that a third of all eligible voters in America do not vote and want to make the process more accessible, the right believes to do so would mean the end of America as they know it. They think it’s patriotic to be self-appointed judges, juries and if necessary, citizen police, to stop what they believe is rampant illegal voting. This purview goes far beyond today’s fights over voter ID.

America is filled with leave-me-alone, blame-the-government types and paranoid groups on the left and right. But most fringe groups have not been given millions by rich right-wingers between 2009 and today. As 2012’s presidential election approaches, True the Vote has three main focuses: policing new voter registrations and winnowing existing voter rolls; training polling place watchers to spot and protest all kinds of slights that undermine voting; and filing suits to prompt states and counties to purge voter rolls. It claims it has 300 active chapters in three dozen states. It claims to have thousands of volunteers using its web-based software who are identifying thousands of questionable voter registrations or possibly illegal voters in battleground states. It is trying to partner with Republican election officials to detect and investigate suspicious names, and then stop those people from voting this November unless they prove their eligibility.

On Election Day, it says it wants to deploy one-million people at polling places to watch who shows up, how people are checked for ID, how they are given ballots, and ensure that people who ask poll workers for help fill out their own ballots. All of this is to prevent illegal voting, presumably for Democrats.

True the Vote has training materials online. Members are organizing Election Day hotlines and county-based chains of command for poll watchers. They are lining up lawyers to take their reports to sympathetic state officials. They’re being encouraged by Republicans in high office—such as Florida’s governor, secretaries of state in Colorado, Kansas and Ohio, attorneys general in Texas and Colorado. They are reviving discarded strategies from George W. Bush’s Justice Department by suing the state of Indiana and 160-plus counties all over America, to pressure them to purge voter rolls. They could collect court costs if they win—which would further fund their efforts. These Election Day plans and litigation strategy mimic the liberal groups they revile, such as Project Vote, ACORN, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and labor unions.

They could be very disruptive this fall, were it not for a track record so far in 2012 that has revealed them to be more amateurish than impactful. In fact, their allegations—which election officials have to take seriously—are filled with error rates on par with ACORN’s voter drives. (Part of that is because they want officials to follow the law as they see it, which is not always as the law is—leading election officials to investigate and dismiss a majority of their allegations.) However, bad behavior by some of their poll watchers—such as in Racine, Wisconsin, this June, during the Scott Walker recall election—has prompted that state’s top election board to issue stricter poll watcher guidelines for the fall. But in 2012, if you’re a new national group fueled by voting fraud fantasies, a God-given mission, and have plenty of money and spunk, you have a capacity to create chaos for unsuspecting voters, and confidence that you’ll be around long after November.

“They are convincing otherwise civic-minded people that there’s massive voter fraud out there and that their work is needed to protect the ballot,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist who has been deeply involved in Texas voting rights battles for years. “They’re playing on fears and civic duty and promoting themselves all along the way… They think they are doing something patriotic. To me, that is the most distasteful thing.”

The Colorado Summit

I grabbed some handouts, stepped into the windowless conference room, got some coffee, and sat at one of a half-dozen cloth-covered tables. It didn’t feel like a political freak show. To be honest, it felt a bit familiar. To my right was a woman in her 50s, a quality control manager from Colorado Springs who was worried about elections. Around the table were Tea Partiers, a young woman who was a GOP county leader, and retirees concerned about government and democracy. I could relate to their worries that American democracy was in big trouble. These were civic-minded grassroots people not unlike those I’d met in Ohio after the 2004 election, when I helped publicize the ways that state’s GOP tried to suppress and steal John Kerry’s votes.

In the eight years since Ohio, I’ve learned that what really happens in elections is more complicated than easily minted conspiracy theories. At worst, I thought most attendees were low-hanging fruit, ready to be molded by this movement’s disingenuous national leaders—like Fund, who knows the real facts and ignores them, or Christian Adams, an embittered ex-Justice Department civil rights attorney who felt he could not work for Eric Holder and quit, and now inveighs against the DOJ’s liberal biases. Later, when a handful of attendees started snickering at California’s gays and civil unions, and loudly applauded an Oliver North-like local Republican County chairman who cited the most deadly Nazi fighter pilot’s wartime survival credo in his powerpoint—as advice on beating Obama—I thought, wow, let’s hope this crew is all bark and no bite.

The summit began with a classic political attack video—dark imagery, brooding camera angles, dropping all the names of liberals that Republicans love to hate, such as ACORN and Project Vote (which helped run ACORN’s voter drives). The screen decried “dead people” on the rolls, duplicate registrations, double voting, registrations with addresses from empty lots, and other would-be horrors that scholars say are the vast exception not rule in voting. Anita MonCrief, an African American who worked at Project Vote before quitting and becoming a conservative celebrity, recounted how poor people were paid to register voters, often turning in faked names and multiple registrations. (These are easily caught by election offices). Then the founder of the King Street Patriots, out of which True the Vote emerged, took the stage. You may have seen Katherine Englebrecht on Fox News. She’s tall, trim, blonde, articulate and driven—a typical activist.

“How did we as an organization get from working at the polls a few years ago to feeling the need to put together a video like that?” she began. “That is a story I would like to open today’s event with and share with you, what we’ve seen, and I suspect many of you possibly have seen yourselves.” She paused and looked at the room—perhaps 60 people filled the tables. “How many of you have worked at the polls before?” A few hands went up. “Okay. As a general statement, if you work at the polls, it is hard to find volunteers?” More murmurs and yeses were heard. “Agree or disagree, the process might lend itself to manipulation?” “Yes,” a woman shouted.

“I am just going to go way out here, agree or disagree,” she continued. “If you don’t have enough volunteers, and you have a process that is weak, can those weaknesses be exploited for political gain?” More fervent yeses replied. Englebrecht paused. “I think you’re right, and a lot of people across the country think you’re right.”

The way Englebrecht told her story, you would think she was another suburban mom whose faith-and-family moorings were upended during the 2008 presidential race and couldn’t stop shuddering at the way the mainstream media was not telling the truth—prompting sleepless nights, smeared glitter and glue on her kitchen floor as she made protest signs, her subsequent discovery of kindred spirits in the Tea Party, and a husband who asked her, “Have you lost your mind?” But according to Houston’s Maureen Haver, who ran a non-profit doing voter registration drives in Harris County’s poor and minority neighborhoods in 2008 and was among the first liberal registration groups to be attacked by Engelbrecht, there’s more to her story than what she shared in Denver.

Englebrecht didn’t say she and her husband live outside Harris County—where Houston is located and is more populous than 22 states. They run an oil services company worth millions. She has a record of disrupting public meetings going back to 2009, Haver said, when pre-Tea Party activists disrupted that summer’s congressional town hall meetings. Englebrecht didn’t say that she and her husband this year started a new company with the provocative name, Plan B Firearms. Acccording to Tea Party Web sites, “Plan B” refers to the steps ”patriots” might have to take if Obama gets re-elected.

No, in Denver, she put on a plucky smile and earnestly pitched for volunteers to enroll in True the Vote’s training sessions—to either review voter rolls online, or to join their fall poll watcher brigades to prevent electoral skullduggery. Of course, she added that True the Vote was a “non-partisan” organization, even though they were selling black T-shirts with Ronald Reagan’s profile on them. (They also had Elvis shirts.)

Republican ‘Election Integrity’

True the Vote’s paranoid and possibly disruptive civic activism in 2012 comes from its very predictable history. It is hardly the first group to peer behind the curtain of how elections are run in America, and quickly assume that anything and everything that could go wrong, would go wrong, and be used against their comrades. As Englebrecht recited their history, it foreshadowed the tools and strategy they’ve since developed and are deploying in 2012’s presidential election.

“We had heard there was a need for people to go and work the polls,” she said, referring to their roots in 2009. “We thought we would go work for a day, and check it off our list and move onto something else…” But then they discovered how erratic elections can be, especially when states pass all kinds of complex laws and rely on poorly paid volunteer poll workers to implement them with little or no training.

“What we saw ranged from levels of confusion and incompetence, frankly that were very disturbing, when you consider the importance of the proceedings in the polls,” she said. “When you have so much slack in the process, you know, whether or not the code was followed based on a wink and a nod… We saw people not show any form of ID whatsoever and be allowed to vote. In Texas, you have to show some form of ID. In Colorado you have to show ID. In some of our sister states, it is even illegal to ask for identification.”

Here is where her propagandizing and right-wingers jump orbits. Engelbrecht was talking to an audience who, by a show of hands, were more than half Tea Party members, avid Drudge Report readers, and mostly vote by mail. In other words, most don’t vote in the venues they were hearing about. But they still shook their heads and gasped anyway.

“We saw people who would come in with multiple registration cards,” she continued. “And when they would present the first one and be told, ‘I’m sorry, it looks as though you already voted in an earlier election,’ they’d go, ‘Huh, how about this card?’” That was good enough for poll workers, she said, her voice rising. “People would come in and want to vote and they’d open the poll book—in Texas, we print out these little labels, and you stick this label in the book and sign your name. Well, the label was in the book and that person’s name was signed. But that wasn’t his signature. Somebody beat ’em to the punch… There’s a lot of latitude for people who want to subvert the process.”

I might have been the only one in the room to realize that most of her anecdotes—if they were true—probably have little or nothing to do with padding elections. They could just as easily be explained by bureaucratic bungling, bad poll worker training, confusion by voters who don’t understand what they got in the mail or other factors. These problems also are not solved by stricter voter ID laws. In some counties, election administration can be as drab as polling places are chaotic. But that’s not a political conspiracy.

Her war stories continued. They were low-rent compared to later speakers, who described a full-throated U.S. Justice Department conspiracy to ignore discrimination against white voters, or Fund telling people that they should enjoy bullying liberals because they were doing God’s work. “Your opposition are cartoon characters. They are. They are fun to beat up. They are fun to humiliate,” he intoned. “You are on the side of the angels. And these people are just frauds, charlatans and liars.”

Propaganda and Internet Tools

True the Vote’s response to the problems it perceives is ambitious. It’s also incredibly error-prone, according to its track record thus far in 2012. The group’s pre-Election Day focus is not just about training poll observers—people who’ll watch how voters are checked in and speak up if they don’t like what they think they see. They’re also focused on voter registration rolls, trying to identify, weed out, challenge and remove people who they believe are illegal or phantom voters. This is where things get dicey.

Drawing on the power of Internet organizing and Tea Party networks, they’ve developed an infrastructure where they “crowd-source” analysis of voter registration records, using software and vetting standards they created. True the Vote will take various state databases, starting with voter registration lists (which are always in flux as people register, move and die), driver’s license databases and jury lists, and look for inconsistencies. If they don’t like the way a person’s signature varies from form to form, it is flagged as suspicious. If they see that too many voters are registered at an address, it is flagged. If a driver’s license has a different address than a voter registration form, it is flagged. Their research team then seeks to turn over these names to county or state officials, who they urge to investigate—and, of course, remove ineligible voters from the rolls.

Mark Antill, their national research director, explained that they developed the software to first identify addresses with the most registrants attached to them. “When you find 80 people [registered] at an empty lot, you push a button and all 80 people get challenged,” he told the room. “When you vote once, and some guy votes twice, that is an issue.”

If the local election officials do not remove names from voter lists (and there are detailed federal laws that mostly bar voter purges within 90 days of an upcoming federal election, and require that names be left on voter lists to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised) then True the Vote wants those offices to take other steps. Antill said Colorado will send a postcard to the voter in question saying he must present proof before getting a ballot this fall; or that he can’t vote by mail until he shows up with documents at a polling place. (He did not say where they got the legal authority to do that, and I didn’t want to be too pushy. But in a state where 70 percent of people vote by mail, and 10 percent vote early, that hurdle could easily prevent infirm elderly people from voting.)

True the Vote’s Texas adversaries have seen these tactics before. “They are challenging new voter applications as they come in. They are challenging registrations that already exist on the rolls,” said Houston’s Haver. “They believe it’s grounds for a challenge if you have six people living at a household on a registration form.” Angle said, “They couldn’t operate in Texas or anywhere else unless they had officials supporting them.”

That is exactly what they have in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Kansas and a handful of other states. At the Denver summit, Colorado’s Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman fully backed their agenda. So did Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who told attendees “you will be demonized, called a racist and a vote suppressor” but encouraged them to soldier on.

But True the Vote has not found as welcome a reception in Wisconsin, where the state board overseeing elections—composed of retired judges—rejected its effort to partner with them. This past winter, the group initially sought an official role validating the petitions calling for the gubernatorial recall. After that was rejected, several thousand volunteers across the country looked for errors on their home computers and flagged questionable signers. To be fair, examining 800,000 signatures and addresses in a month is a gigantic undertaking. Where their independent assessment became politically predictable was when they claimed that about 40 percent of the petitions they examined were incomplete or required “further investigation.” Of course, that figure brought the total number of legal signers—in their eyes—below the threshold to qualify the gubernatorial recall.

Following Whose Law?

It’s important to understand why True the Vote feels victimized and how that affects its politics, whether its results are amateurish or not. In Wisconsin, election officials give the benefit of the doubt to the voter when assessing voting documents and deciding disputes. That is true in many states. True the Vote takes the exact opposite approach. If there are any doubts, then in True the Vote’s world the burden of proof immediately shifts to the accused, not the accuser, to defend their voting rights. And if proof is not forthcoming, they believe that person’s voting credentials should be revoked.

Moreover, True the Vote’s assessment—and this is the case in its voter registration program and poll watcher trainings—is based on what they want to see in the law. But that’s not the same as what actually exists in the law. This split leads to a predictable collision between what they think they see, and what they think should be in law, and how local election officials process the same information and officially react to it. A Wisconsin Government Accountability Board report issued in May assessed their vetting of recall petitions. It concluded they “created results that were significantly less accurate, complete, and reliable than the review and analysis completed by the G.A.B.”

Another group affiliated with True the Vote, Minnesota Majority, used a similar method, also based on sloppy database analyses, and presented the Hennepin County Attorney (where Minneapolis is) with what it claimed were more than 1,500 instances of illegal felon voting during the November 2008 election. They claim Al Franken only won because felons illegally voted. That charge, which is repeated in Fund’s new book, was vigorously rejected this month by Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman. He said they brought 1,500 allegations — but there was only sufficient proof to charge 38 people.

What is dangerous here is that the voter fraud movement’s leaders know these facts, but that’s not what they are telling the grassroots at meetings like Colorado’s summit. Instead, they’re deliberately misinforming local activists who care about elections, and encouraging them to take the law into their own hands when the courts fail them.

“You know the job of a recounter. You count, you count, you count until your candidate is ahead, and then you stop counting,” Fund glibly explained to the Denver conference room. Never mind that he described precisely what the Minnesota Majority did in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election—they stopped “disqualifying” petitions when they had the number they wanted.

“We know this,” Fund thundered. “Eleven-hundred felons voted illegally. The margin was 312 votes. Minnesota Majority uncovered this. The media didn’t. The prosecutors didn’t. It had consequences. Al Franken went on to become the 60th vote in the U.S. Senate, in the majority that passed Obamacare.”

What we know is that there is an ascendant nationwide right-wing movement to police American elections. We know that movement is turning to dishonest public intellectuals to educate its ranks. We know the focus is much bigger than new voter ID laws, and that True the Vote may or may not disrupt polling place voting this fall. We also know that after November they will be around to share their “lessons” from the voting wars and push solutions. We might hope that they will be honest about the true scope and scale of voting problems that inevitably will surface, especially as they delve into the details of running elections. However, that’s probably naïve.

http://www.salon.com/2012/08/25/undercover_at_true_the_vote_salpart/

Right wing operatives

The Massive Republican Campaign to Sabotage the Affordable Care Act by Bob Cesca, HuffingtonPost.com, 11/20/2013 … This is serious business: the well-financed, broadly implemented sabotage campaign designed to rig the law for failure, while also making it more difficult for Americans to receive insurance. Sabotaging the Website…Hackers have attempted more than a dozen cyber attacks against the Obamacare website…Sabotaging the Medicaid Expansion…Americans for Prosperity, funded by Charles and David Koch, launched advertising campaignsSabotaging ACA Marketplace Enrollment…All roads lead back to the Kochs. There’s something especially visceral and sinister about well-protected billionaires telling middle class Americans to go without health insurance… if not enough people enroll in the exchanges, the law entirely falls apart. Combined with everything else, that’s sabotage, plain and simple…

Meet the Evangelical Cabal Orchestrating the Shutdown by Lee Fang, This post first appeared in The Nation, posted on BillMoyers.com, October 9, 2013

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

The Ten Hardline Conservatives Pulling the Strings of the GOP Shutdown by BillMoyers.com Staff, October 11, 2013 – Much of the coverage of the government showdown has focused on a relatively small group of hardline conservatives within the Republican caucus who have backed their party’s leaders into a fight they didn’t want. As Ryan Lizza noted in The New Yorker, these lawmakers mostly represent very safe, heavily Republican and disproportionately white districts that don’t look much like the rest of the country. Many of those on the front lines are recent arrivals to Capitol Hill, and they’re pushing a leadership they see as having been too willing to compromise with Democrats in the past. It’s an important angle… If there’s only a relatively small group of lawmakers who think defunding the law is a dandy idea… Why is this supposedly silent majority of Republicans so docile? Why don’t they push back? The answer lies in the clout wielded by an extensive web of non-governmental conservative groups supported by mountains of dark money. Those groups see the Affordable Care Act as an existential threat to their worldview and their party and have waged a multipronged campaign to kill it in its cradle…Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy… “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups. It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government. With a broad, well-funded campaign, these groups have effectively shifted the balance of power in conservative Washington away from Republican leaders on the Hill and onto a cadre of true believers who will go to any length to destroy a modest set of health care reforms that, just 20 years ago, the very same conservative movement was itself advancing. So just looking at the rank-and-file members of the “suicide caucus” isn’t enough – it’s like focusing on the marionette rather than the puppet-master. View Interactive: Who’s pulling the strings?

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

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

Look Who’s Covertly Con­trol­ling the GOP By Amy Good­man. Craig Unge, Democ­racy Now!   Alternet.org, August 22, 2012   [Karl Rove] Karl Rove, Schem­ing Elec­tion Theft and Rais­ing a For­tune for Vicious Attack Ads, Democ­racy Now! [1] / By Amy Good­man [2], Craig Unger [3]  posted on Alternet.org, August 22, 2012AG… Karl Rove has become the ulti­mate party boss.…CU:… it’s worth going back to how he got power back in the 1980s [in] ­Texas…to show Karl Rove’s power dur­ing the Bush years… in 2000…in O­hio in 2004…Rove did a lot of things that were sort of under the radar and that I think have endur­ing con­se­quences, and they rep­re­sent real threats to democ­racy…I don’t think he’s an ide­o­logue. I think he’s about win­ning….There’s always been this talk of a per­ma­nent Repub­li­can major­ity that Rove is try­ing to forge, and he sees it, the nation, as being entirely Repub­li­can….…Karl Rove barely escaped indict­ment and rose to be the biggest pow­er­house, polit­i­cal pow­er­house, in Amer­ica today…the Valerie Plame scan­dal…Joe Wil­son…Sad­dam Hus­sein…Pres­i­dent Bush’s State of the Union address that called for war against and launched the war again­st I­raq. And the alle­ga­tions, of course, were not just false, but they were based on forged doc­u­ments…this showed that they would stop at noth­ing to main­tain their nar­ra­tive…it’s most impor­tant to under­stand about this man who has now become per­haps the most pow­er­ful polit­i­cal oper­a­tive in America…

Grover Norquist, Enemy of the State? By Thom Hartmann, AlterNet, November 26, 2012 – Is it possible that Grover Norquist, the multi-millionaire K-Street lobbyist long funded by billionaires, is an enemy of the state?…he has connived over the years to get hundreds of members of Congress to violate their own oath of office by pledging a higher oath to keep billionaires’ taxes low than their pledge to the Constitution itself….

And the Constitution, to which they take the Modern Oath, explicitly says that Congress has the explicit power to impose taxes, both to pay for our defense and to provide for the General Welfare of the nation…So, how is it possible that, when the Constitution explicitly says that one of the specific jobs of Congress is to “lay and collect taxes,” and the oath they take explicitly says that they take will do so “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,” that a member of Congress could possibly swear an oath to a multimillionaire K-Street lobbyist to refuse to perform one of their Constitutional duties?

…Is not a man who essentially uses threats – blackmail – that billionaire money will be used to politically destroy members of Congress who refuse to sign his pledge an enemy of the state itself – or at least an enemy of the very Constitution that lawmakers have sworn to uphold without mental reservation or evasion?

Grover Norquist has led hundreds of Republican lawmakers to the brink of treason, swearing to him that they will carry into office mental reservations about the taxation power the Constitution gives them.  It’s high time to de-throne Grover, and let Congress go back to doing its Constitutionally-mandated  job of taking care of the nation’s defense and general welfare, instead of just looking out for the nation’s defense contractors and cranky billionaires.

Pundits and politicians contend for the soul of the Republican party by Paul Harris, Guardian/UK, November 12, 2012 – A civil war is brewing in the GOP – between the realists who have to get elected and the ultras in the conservative media…the fascinating element of this sure-to-be-brutal conflict lies not in the opposing arguments, but in the make-up of each side. For long years, buoyed by Fox News and a legion of talk radio shockjocks, the conservative media and its allies in radical think tanks have been an integral part of the Republican party…internet scribe Matt Drudge, radio host Rush Limbaugh and anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist…Steve Deace, a radio host in Iowa…Bryan Fischer, a radio host with the American Family Association…Limbaugh…Herman Cain…What do these people all have in common? No one elects them.They are pundits and firebrands whose very existence relies on stirring up the base. That is where they get readers, listeners and donors. These people do not fear election losses. They thrive on them. Opposition suits their purpose…Among the GOP’s elected representatives – and its more traditional elites – there is a sudden outbreak of moderation.…it is not really a battle between two sets of warring politicians. Instead, it is a fight between politicians and pundits. It is policy versus talking points, voters versus ratings. Even Democrats should hope the politicians win.

Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy

Norquist still calling cadence in GOP ranks

Pundits and politicians contend for the soul of the Republican party

Is Karl Rove Losing It?

Deconstructing a Demagogue By Timothy Egan, New York Times, January 26, 2012 (Newt Gingrich)

Grover Norquist, the Enforcer by Drake Bennett, Business Week, May 26, 2011

Koch Brothers: Secretive Billionaires With Eye on 2012 by Ed Pilkington, The Guardian/UK November 7, 2011

Newt Gingrich: The Indispensable Republican By John H. Richardson, Esquire, September 2010

Rove Rides Again Bush’s former strategist is secretly seizing control of the GOP – and amassing $135 million to destroy the Democrats by Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone magazine, May 27, 2010

Secrets of the Tea Party: The Troubling History of Tea Party Leader Dick Armey by Beau Hodal, Truthout, March 26, 2010

Zev Chafets’s ‘Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One,’ reviewed by David Frum, Special to The Washington Post, May 25, 2010

The Rove Presidency - Karl Rove’s Life and Political Career by Joshua Green, The Atlantic, September 2007

Karl Rove’s Split Personality by Todd S. Purdum, Vanity Fair magazine, December 2006

Meet Mr. Republican: Jack Abramoff by Matt Taibbi, Rollingstone.com, March 24, 2006

 

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