Tuesday, May 18, 2010

They will never go away

Anne Laurie: Masters of Their GOP Domain

Must-read nightmare fuel. Tim Dickinson has an article in the May 27 issue of Rolling Stone explaining how Karl Rove is taking the Republican Party “boutique”. (Warning: the header cartoon is NSFW or if you’ve eaten in the last several hours).

... Along with his protégé Ed Gillespie, who succeeded him as George W. Bush’s top political adviser, Rove had gathered together the heavyweights of the GOP’s fundraising network. In attendance were the political director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as the leaders of two new megadollar campaign groups loyal to Rove: American Crossroads and the American Action Network. Rove’s plan was straightforward: to seize control of the party from Michael Steele, whose leadership of the Republican National Committee was imploding in the wake of a fundraiser at a lesbian bondage club. By building a war chest of unregulated campaign cash – an unprecedented $135 million to be raised by these three groups alone – Rove would be able to wage the midterm elections on his own terms: electing candidates loyal to the GOP’s wealthiest donors and corporate patrons. With the media’s attention diverted by the noisy revolt being waged by the Tea Party, the man known as “Bush’s brain” was staging a stealthier but no less significant coup of the Republican Party.

“What they’ve cooked up is brilliant,” says a prominent Democrat. “Evil, but brilliant.”

... [T]aking control of the party, they knew, would require a new kind of political machine. The Supreme Court, in its recent decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, opened the floodgates for unlimited political spending by corporations and individuals. But the court left in place strict limits on contributions to party committees – and it preserved the legal firewall that bars campaigns from coordinating directly with the outside groups now empowered to spend millions on their behalf.

That’s where Rove and Gillespie come in. As free-agent strategists, they are in a unique position to skirt such prohibitions and coordinate all parts of the GOP – both inside and outside the official party structure – because they’re not officially in charge of any of it. In the run-up to November, they will be the ones ensuring that the many tentacles of the court-sanctioned shadow party – from startups like American Crossroads to stalwarts like the National Rifle Association – operate in concert. “They will be making sure that everybody is expending themselves properly, as opposed to duplicating efforts or working at cross-purposes,” says Mary Matalin, who served with Rove in the Bush White House. “That’s something that the committees and the campaigns really don’t do – legally cannot do.”

The linchpin of Rove’s coup is American Crossroads – a shadow version of the RNC for the party’s richest donors. Organized under the same part of the tax code that gave us Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the fundraising group can collect unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations. Before the Citizens United decision rewrote the rules of campaign finance, these so-called “independent expenditures” could only be used to support issues, not candidates. But now groups like American Crossroads can use their funds to openly back GOP candidates – or quietly work to destroy Democratic opponents by investing in the dirty tricks of which Rove is a Jedi master.

The group is intended, Gillespie tells Rolling Stone, to become a fixture in GOP politics for 2010 and beyond: “The idea is that there needs to be an institutional entity – a transparent, professionally run Republican operation – that will be there every cycle.” The strategic logic behind the group is simple: to narrow the fundraising deficit that has daunted the GOP since Democrats discovered how to raise megabucks online. “Obama had $1.1 billion in 2008,” says Gillespie, who chaired the RNC under Bush. “John McCain and his supporters spent $634 million. That’s a sizable gap.” American Crossroads, he boasts, will be the place where the real money goes to “play.”

As soon as Steele took control of the RNC, Rove and McConnell began scrambling to keep the party’s big money together – under their control, rather than Steele’s. The plot to form American Crossroads was hatched over breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel in early 2009 by their lieutenants, Gillespie and Steven Law, McConnell’s former chief of staff and a ruthless advocate for big business. As a top deputy to Bush labor secretary Elaine Chao – McConnell’s wife – Law had steered a “modernization” of the nation’s labor laws that stripped 6 million middle-class workers of the right to overtime pay. He then decamped for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he spearheaded a $20 million campaign to block a new law that would facilitate unionization. Today, Law serves as the CEO of American Crossroads, overseeing the group’s day-to-day operations, while the board of directors is run by Duncan and another Rove ally, former RNC communications director Jim Dyke.

With these top aides in place, Rove and Gillespie blessed American Crossroads as the destination for the GOP’s big money. Since last year, they’ve helped the group raise millions from elite donors like Harold Simmons, the Dallas billionaire who pioneered the leveraged buyout. The move represents a dramatic transformation of the traditional approach to party fundraising. “This is the plutocratic wing of the GOP getting together and deciding that, in the era of unlimited corporate contributions, they don’t need a formal Republican Party anymore,” says a top Democrat. “It’s all about the accumulation of power. McConnell and Duncan are not movement conservatives. They are establishment guys – absolutely unapologetic for that. They’ve got all the money they need – and now they don’t have to put up with those pesky, true-believing activists.”

A third group integral to Rove’s plan – the American Action Network – is so closely integrated with American Crossroads that it has moved into neighboring offices two blocks from the White House. Co-founded by private-equity titan and longtime GOP operative Fred Malek, who once helped Richard Nixon target a “Jewish cabal” in the administration, AAN bills itself as an “action tank” – a think tank that will also inject money directly into federal races. It plans to raise $25 million for its campaign efforts this fall – expenditures that will be directed by a former chief of staff to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. “It’s the beginning of the future,” says Rollins. “Independent expenditures will play a very, very significant role. There are no rules anymore.”

Even leading advocates of election reform concede that, given the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, there is little to prevent Rove from running the whole show. Political parties are barred from coordinating specific ads with “independent” groups – but that leaves plenty of wiggle room for other forms of strategizing. And even if Rove and Co. were to cross the line, there would likely be no consequences: The Federal Election Commission, which has sole enforcement responsibility, is gridlocked by its three GOP-appointed commissioners, who consistently vote to stymie any oversight. “The existing FEC is not going to enforce the laws,” says Fred Wertheimer, the founder of Democracy 21, an advocate of campaign-finance reform.

... “We’re on a parallel course here, with two very different concepts of how our democracy should function,” says Wertheimer. “One is based on involving massive numbers of small donors to be the primary funders of elections. The other is based on involving massive amounts of corporate wealth to literally overwhelm our elections and dominate Washington. You couldn’t have two more conflicting approaches to the way our democracy ought to function. This is going to be an enormous battle.”

Notice how the malignant shadow of the Nixon White House continues to poison American politics almost 40 years after we let Gerry Ford “put that dark chapter behind us”. Another argument, as if we needed it, to demonstrate why a full public examination of the crimes of the Cheney Regency less-than-transparent behavior of the George W. Bush administration is the only way to keep our political grandchildren from suffering the consequences of a Mary Cheney/Pierce Bush/Track Palin coup d’etat.

Read, as they say, the whole thing. President Obama may be less of a savior than even us more cynical progressives hoped, but we can’t afford to turn away from the political arena as long as people like Karl Rove walk among us.

  • from the comments:

    Mike in NC

    Notice how the malignant shadow of the Nixon White House continues to poison American politics almost 40 years after we let Gerry Ford “put that dark chapter behind us”.

    Everybody really needs to read “Nixonland”. Then go read it again, for Christ’s sake. Scum like Rove and Gillespie and Luntz will never go away.

DougJ: Why Newt Is So Much Fun To Watch

This was the title of a piece Joe Klein wrote a few years back. Klein continued:

It’s almost always a joy listening to Gingrich when he’s on a tear. And he’s almost always on a tear of some sort. I caught up with Newt as he wandered around New Hampshire last week, which is what people who think they’re running for President do. Please, God, no, you say. Not that angry guy again. “He’s probably carrying too much baggage to be President,” said Peter Bergin, a Republican state representative from Amherst, N.H. “But he sure is a terrific idea man. He needs to be part of the debate.”

Absolutely. We might even create a new federal position to accommodate him, sort of like party ideologist in the old Soviet Union, except that the U.S. job would be the opposite of what it was in the U.S.S.R. Instead of imposing orthodoxy, the party idea-ologist—ideology is so un-American—would propose unorthodoxy. Gingrich was certainly wild with ideas last week, flicking them off at warp speed, like a dog shaking himself clean after romping through a pond.

You can see how much fun Newt is to watch here or read about it here:

The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.

Krugman’s piece today on the media’s recent discovery that the right is insane got me thinking about this:

Maybe it was just deference to power: as long as America was widely perceived as being on the way to a permanent Republican majority, few were willing to call right-wing extremism by its proper name.

I think this is about right (though in fairness, Klein’s Newt fluffery took place in 2006, after Republicans had lost some power).

“Liberal hawks” have never given a very good explanation of why they were so gung-ho about Iraq—just a lot of “no one could have predicted Bush would screw it up so badly” etc. Likewise, liberal wingnut fluffers (not all of whom were that pro-Iraq War) have never given an adequate explanation of why they thought George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich and the like were such serious people.

The answer in both cases is probably the same: it made a lot of sense professionally to suck up to the right at the time. I’d like to see Klein and others admit this for once.

Think Progress: NRA Members Echo Fiery Right-Wing Anti-Obama Rhetoric: ‘He Hates The Second Amendment’

ThinkProgress reported from the NRA Convention this past weekend. This is our sixth dispatch. See our previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.

Last weekend, ThinkProgress interviewed dozens of NRA members at the NRA’s annual conference in Charlotte, NC. While many offered reasonable positions on issues that haven’t been widely publicized — such as closing the “terror gap” gun loophole and whether gun owners should be to allowed bring weapons into bars and consume alcohol — the vast majority of NRA members ThinkProgress spoke with echoed the misinformed and extreme anti-Obama rhetoric espoused by right-wing heroes such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and other Fox News hosts.

Indeed, right-wing leaders brought their inflammatory rhetoric to this year’s conference. NRA favorite Ted Nugent repeatedly claimed that “there’s a Marxist in the White House,” while Palin and Beck entertained thousands of NRA members with classic anti-Obama one-liners.

PALIN: Don’t doubt for a minute that, if they thought they could get away with it, they would ban guns and ban ammunition and gut the Second Amendment.

BECK: The people that we have running the country, these are not Democrats. These are revolutionaries! They are Marxist revolutionaries!

Not surprisingly, many of the NRA’s members repeat this right-wing noise. ThinkProgress has compiled a video of some of the more egregious examples of anti-Obama rhetoric taken from interviews at the conference:

NRA MEMBER 1: He’d just as soon get rid of all the guns in the country I’m sure.

NRA MEMBER 2: I think he would try to eliminate the Second Amendment if he could.

NRA MEMBER 3: I think we’re headed toward socialism. And I think if that happens we’ll be not long after that we’ll be headed toward communism.

NRA MEMBER 4: He has no respect for the country, no respect for the Constitution. … I believe he hates the Second Amendment.

NRA MEMBER 5: He’s an idiot. … I think that he’s anti-American. I think he’s trying to destroy our country and turn it into a socialist country.

Watch the video compilation:

The fear campaign has paid off for the gun industry. Since Obama took office, gun and ammunition sales have skyrocketed.

And while Attorney General Eric Holder has said he would seek to reinstate the assault weapons ban — a move that Americans overwhelmingly support — the White House has said it’s not looking to push the issue. Obama has said repeatedly that he believes in the Second Amendment, and has no intention of taking away anyone’s guns. “I continue to believe that we can respect and honor the Second Amendment rights in our Constitution,” he said last year, “the rights of sportsmen and hunters and homeowners who want to keep their families safe to lawfully bear arms, while dealing with assault weapons that…are helping to fuel extraordinary violence.”

Think Progress: CA lawmaker proposes bill to keep away TX’s textbooks (which call slavery the ‘Atlantic triangular trade’).
Earlier this year, Texas faced national scrutiny for the efforts of a determined bloc of far-right ideologues on the Texas State Board of Education to rewrite history in the state’s social studies textbooks and curriculum. They succeeded in making students learn about the “conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s,” “documents that supported Cold War-era Sen. Joseph McCarthy,” and the difference “between legal and illegal immigration.” Because of the state’s size, Texas has significant pull in shaping what the nation’s social studies books will say. However, California state Sen. Leland Yee (D) has introduced a bill to keep Texas at bay:

Under Yee’s bill, SB1451, the California Board of Education would be required to look out for any of the Texas content as part of its standard practice of reviewing public school textbooks. The board must then report any findings to both the Legislature and the secretary of education.

The bill describes the Texas curriculum changes as “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings” and “a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”

Tom Adams, director of the state Department of Education’s standards and curriculum division, said the Texas standards could make their way into national editions of textbooks, but those aren’t used in California. “Our main concern is whether materials meet California’s standards,” he said. “There’s nothing in our review process that says we should be following Texas or anything like that.”

A new report in the Guardian reveals that the Texas State Board of Education also “dropped references to the slave trade in favour of calling it the more innocuous ‘Atlantic triangular trade,’ and recasts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as driven by Islamic fundamentalism.” The board will be meeting again this week and conservatives have promised to “keep working to the last moment to correct years of liberal bias in history classes.”

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