2010 - %3, February

Music Monday: John Birch Paranoid Blues

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 5:26 PM EST

If you're the type that likes to extrapolate complex political messages from presidential musical performances (and, really, who doesn't?), Bob Dylan's performance at the White House earlier this month probably caught your attention. He may not have eclipsed Bill Clinton's rendition of "We are the World," but, coming as it did on the heels of one of the worst albums...maybe ever, vintage Dylan was a welcome sight to see. If there was one flaw, though, it was the song selection: "The Times They Are A-Changing'" might have captured the mood just right in 2008, but it seemed a bit too "hopey-changey" for the depressed political landscape of 2010. Dylan could have struck a better chord with something much more obscure: "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues."

That's not just my liberal frustration talking. After decades of well-deserved irrelevance, the John Birch Society has undeniably experienced something of a renaissance over the last year, culminating in the group's participation inand co-sponsorship oflast week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). As the Washington Independent's Dave Weigel noted, as recently as "two years ago, RedState.com blasted Ron Paul for endorsing the 'conspiracy nuts' of the JBS. One year ago, National Review’s John Derbyshire implied that it was a vile smear to connect Ron Paul to the Birchers." Now, Birchers are more than welcome at an event that, according to its organizers, brings together all of the "leading conservative organizations and speakers who impact conservative thought in the nation."

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Rand Paul: Not Pro-Coal Enough?

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 5:18 PM EST

With Rand Paul emerging as a surprisingly viable threat from the right in Kentucky's Republican Senate primary, what's Secretary of State Trey Grayson to do? The answer, in ads that he released in the state today, appears to be to attack Paul as not pro-coal enough.

The ads feature Rand Paul, in a stump speech for his father's failed presidential bid, calling coal "a very dirty form of energy." Grayson, on the other hand, pledges that he will "consistently favor Kentucky coal to create good jobs and get our economy moving again."

"I'll fight against Obama's war on coal, and for clean coal and for Kentucky jobs," he concludes.

Yes, that "war on coal" that Obama created a new "clean coal" task force two weeks ago to perpetrate ...

Charlie Crist Mans Up

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 4:01 PM EST

The White House meeting between the nation's governors and President Barack Obama had just ended, and a bevy of chief executives was standing at the microphones in front of the entrance to the West Wing. Reporters were tossing questions about budget shortfalls and health care at the govs. Toward the front of the pack was Governor Charlie Crist, the Florida Republican who's in a tough Senate primary contest against Marco Rubio, the former speaker of the state's House of Representatives and a Tea Party darling. One reason this sitting governor might lost the GOP primary to his conservative challenger is that a year ago Crist eagerly supported Obama's stimulus bill and hugged the president when Obama visited Florida.

Governor Crist, I shouted to get his attention, and he turned toward me. Last week, I asked, a number of leading Republicans in Washington claimed that Obama's stimulus has created no new jobs—is that an accurate assessment of what's happened in Florida? Without pause, Crist replied, it is "not the case in Florida." He reported that the stimulus legislation has "created or maintained" 87,000 jobs, including 20,000 education positions, in the Sunshine State. The stimulus was "necessary," he added, for preserving jobs in Florida.

Several reporters near me raised their eyebrows. This was an unambiguous answer—and a direct shot at Washington Republicans, Rubio, and the Tea Party crowd. I followed up: then why are Washington GOPers saying the stimulus hasn't produced any jobs? It's a "political year," Crist said, adding that the stimulus was "important" to the effort to fight unemployment.

Another reporter chimed in: "Any regrets" about accepting the stimulus money? Crist shot back, "I don't apologize for it at all." And in defense of his man-hug of Obama, he explained that he was raised "to respect the presidency of the United States." What about the criticism coming from Rubio for embracing Obama and the stimulus? this other reporter asked. "He's wrong, and I'm right," Crist said defiantly.

That ended this line of inquiry. There was nothing left for Crist to say. He had not tried to weasel out. Even though most political handicappers consider him a goner in the Rubio race—a soon-to-be victim of the Tea Party-ization of the GOP—Crist was not trimming his sails to make nice with the right wing of his party. It was a rare moment. The journalists watching were impressed—though none appeared to believe this stick-to-my-guns approach would benefit Crist in the GOP primary. Later on, a White House reporter remarked to me, "You don't always get a chance to help a politician self-immolate."

Perhaps. But it was encouraging to see a pol not bob and weave when it would be convenient for him to do so. Crist may be standing firm only because at this point he has nothing to lose. Clearly, he realizes his only chance is to take on the Tea Party, not to run scared. Moderate GOPers, if they still exist, can be proud of him.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

An Old Party Getting Ever Older

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 3:40 PM EST

Daniel Larison points out that young people still hate the Republican Party, which owes its recent resurgence almost entirely to a huge shift in voting preference among senior citizens. Ross Douthat correctly reads the tea leaves but doesn't go far enough:

These figures should make small-government conservatives a lot more nervous than they make partisan Republicans. After all, you can win an awful lot of elections just by mobilizing the over-65 constituency — they’re well-informed, they turn out to vote, and there are more of them every day. But the easiest way to do it, as the Democrats proved for years and years and years, is to defend Medicare and Social Security.

....If the Republican Party depends too heavily on over-65 voters for its political viability, we could easily end up with a straightforwardly big-government party in the Democrats, and a G.O.P. that wins election by being “small government” on the small stuff (earmarks, etc.) while refusing to even consider entitlement reform. That’s a recipe for one of two things: Either the highest taxes in American history and a federal government that climbs inexorably toward 30 percent of G.D.P., or a Greece or California-style disaster.

This goes a long was toward explaining the recent Republican U-turn on Medicare and Social Security spending. Defending every last dime allocated to Medicare was, of course, a tactical move designed over the summer to gin up opposition to Democratic healthcare reform measures. But beyond that, it was also a metamorphosis that was almost inevitable. The 20-something generation has been trending Democratic so strongly for the past decade that Republicans have no choice anymore but to cater to seniors, the same way that the rise of the Christian right gave them no choice but to cater to religious fundamentalism. And catering to seniors means, above all else, defending Social Security and Medicare.

In the long run, contra Ross, this is a disaster not just for small-government conservatives but for the GOP as well. Their earlier embrace of social fundamentalism was largely responsible for driving away young voters in the first place, and now, left only with a core of middle-aged and elderly voters that they need to keep loyal, they're likely to pursue policies that push the young even further away. This might produce occasional victories, but no political party can survive this kind of vicious cycle in the long run. Having long since alienated blacks, Hispanics, and virtually the entire Northeast, Republicans can hardly afford to permanently lose young voters as well. The white South and the elderly just aren't enough to sustain a national party.

Sketchy Conservative Health Care Fundraising

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 3:33 PM EST

As Jon Chait warned on Saturday, conservatives are beginning to freak out because they thought they had "won" the health care reform fight and they don't know how to respond now that Democrats are pushing forward. Case in point is the email from a conservative political action committee called RightMarch that I wrote about earlier warning that Obama is "Planning to Push Through Gov't Healthcare TODAY." That's not true, of course. But the saddest thing about this particular email isn't the tone—it's that it appears to be a sketchy fundraising ploy rather than an attempt to mobilize grassroots action. The email offers to send faxes to members of Congress, for which it charges gullible conservatives $19 and up. A few phone calls would be a lot cheaper and would probably make a bigger difference.

Far be it for me to tell conservatives how to spend their money, but RightMarch PAC looks like a pretty poor choice for your political donation dollars. According to filings with the Federal Election Commisssion, the PAC took in over $1 million in the second half of 2009, and spent more than half that—$540,824—on operating expenses. It's not as if they've always spent that kind of cash—in the first half of 2009, the PAC raised $29,358 and spent 29,874.61 on operating expenses. And here's the bottom line: RightMarch PAC says its purpose is to "raise and distribute funds for, to and independently on behalf of conservative candidates, and against liberal candidates, in targeted primary and general federal elections across America." You might think that would mean that it actually gave a significant percentage of its income to candidates. Since RightMarch seems to have given $2,000 to federal candidates in all of 2009, you'd be wrong.

RightMarch is run by a Dr. William Greene, who, according to this New York Times article from 2005, is the president of Strategic Internet Campaign Management—a company that has received thousands of dollars from RightMarch over the years. (He's also supposedly a friend of anti-abortion activist Randall Terry.) Right-wing bloggers have suggested that some of the other companies that appear frequently on RightMarch's disclosure forms—like Virginia-based Response Enterprises—are also associated with Greene. Since the company doesn't appear to have a website or a phone number, it's hard to know for sure. Just another example of conservatives treating their constituents like suckers.

Ask the White House: Are GOPers Liars?

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 3:27 PM EST

At the White House daily briefing on Monday, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs a simple question: are Republican leaders liars? I prefaced my query by noting that last week numerous GOPers claimed that the stimulus bill has created no new jobs, yet over the weekend Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger noted that the stimulus has led to creating or saving 150,000 jobs in his state of California, and on Monday at the White House, Republican Governor Charlie Crist, responding to a question from me, declared that the stimulus had done the same regarding 87,000 jobs in Florida, including 20,000 positions for teachers and educators. So, I put it to Gibbs, do you think those Republicans dissing the stimulus are "purposefully lying."

There was a slight pause, perhaps as he calibrated. Then Gibbs replied, "I don't believe they believe their own statements." That was a polite way of saying, yes. He pointed out that House Republican whip Eric Cantor had isssued a statement asserting that Obama's stimulus had yielded no job creation, yet Cantor had also tried to obtain stimulus funds for a high-speed rail project in Virginia, contending that this particular project would create jobs. How can Cantor reconcile those two remarks? Gibbs asked.

I followed up: if the congressional Republicans say stuff they don't believe, how can the White House work with them on health care reform? With Thursday's health care summit in mind, Gibbs answered, "because the president will be in the room"—meaning that should the Republicans fiddle with the facts at this gathering, Obama will be ready to call them out. By the way, the summit will be open to live television coverage.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

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Ron Paul and the Future of Conservatism

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 2:45 PM EST

As Justine Sharrock reports in our current issue, the hottest new conservative organization under the sun is Oath Keepers, a group that recruits uniformed soldiers, police, and veterans and urges them to disobey "unconstitutional" orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Their founder is Stewart Rhodes, a former aide to Rep. Ron Paul.

So does this mean that Paul's star is on the rise? After spending the weekend at CPAC, the annual conservative shindig in Washington DC, Dave Weigel thinks it is. Paul easily won the straw poll of attendees with 31% of the vote, and although the Republican establishment did its best to downplay this, Dave sees more going on:

The importance of minimizing Paul’s win united conservative activists like almost nothing else that came from the three-day conference. Even Brad Dayspring — who, as a spokesman for GOP whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), counts on Paul for “no” votes — fired off two tweets dismissing the result. But the 2,395 ballots cast were a CPAC record, up from the 1,757 cast in 2009, when Mitt Romney scored his third conservative win. And moments after the Paul results were booed, the crowd gave a roaring ovation to radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck, who rewarded it with a 56-minute lecture on “progressivism’s” war on American values with historical lessons — the evil of the Federal Reserve, the destructiveness of Woodrow Wilson, the folly of “spreading democracy” — that had featured prominently in Paul’s speech, too.

....Paul’s victory [...] provided a look at the ideological hardening going on within the conservative movement as it girds for the 2010 elections....The far-right John Birch Society, of which Paul has been a longtime supporter, made a showy return to the mainstream conservative fold with a co-sponsorship and booth at CPAC; because the organization helpfully offered free, spacious merchandise bags, plenty of CPAC attendees walked around sporting JBS logos. Oath Keepers, a year-old coalition of right-wing military veterans, helped distribute copies of the Paul documentary — a favor to Paul activist Michael Moresco, who had won the organization’s “citizen activist of the year” award for biking from the Statue of Liberty to Alcatraz Prison.

....Outside of the conference, some critics accused activists of a kind of nihilism that wouldn’t be productive for Republicans. “CPAC has becoming increasingly more libertarian and less Republican over the last years,” grumbled Mike Huckabee on his Fox News show, “one of the reasons I didn’t go this year.” Huckabee would only allow that the Paul win reflected “the anger and the mood” that was fueling Tea Party protests and Democratic losses in some key elections.

Now, Dave is a libertarian and (I assume) a Ron Paul fan. So there's some special pleading here. Paul's views on civil liberties, torture, and overseas wars, after all, make him a perpetual outcast from mainstream conservatism no matter how much press the tea partiers get. Still, this year's CPAC spectacle, fueled largely by Ron Paul's worldview, might spell more trouble for the GOP than its leaders think. Dave's piece may oversell Paul's appeal, but it's worth keeping in the back of your mind as the meltdown of the Republican Party careers along.

What Utility Executives Really Think

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 2:16 PM EST

In the battle over climate legislation, your local utility company doesn't get as much attention as the big oil giants and coal companies of the world. But behind the scenes they've been powerful players; electric utilities spent $134.7 million last year, the second highest lobbying expenditure among energy interests looking to shape the debate on Capitol Hill.

While Exelon CEO John Rowe and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers have been big boosters of carbon caps, the vast majority aren't so enthusiastic– even if they realize regulations are probably coming soon.

A recent survey finds the majority of utility executives don't see a problem with greenhouse gases at all. Forty-four percent of the 329 utility executives, managers and engineers surveyed don’t believe global warming is caused by human activity. Another 7 percent don't believe the planet is warming at all.

Seventy percent oppose climate legislation currently under consideration. But despite opposing legislation, the majority of participants--65 percent--believe a cap on carbon will be enacted at the federal level by 2012. Only 6.7 percent don't think there will ever be regulations on planet-warming gases. A full 80 percent of respondents listed regulations as the industry's top concern.

Executives are, however, enthusiastic about nuclear power, which they list it as the preferred "environmentally friendly" energy source, with wind power and natural gas following behind. Support for nuclear power has gotten a shot in the arm recently as part of the clean-energy crusade from both senators and the White House, where nuclear payouts have been offered in exchange for support for climate legislation.

Utilities can be expected to play a significant ongoing role in the debate over carbon limits, though they don't often get the attention that other interests draw.

Conservative Health Care Freakout Begins

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 2:13 PM EST

On Saturday, Jon Chait warned that a storm is coming:

[Conservatives'] mustache-twirling bonhomie has started to give way to the realization that the legislative door to health care reform is wide open, and Democrats simply need to walk through it. By no means is it clear that they'll succeed. But I've been waiting for conservatives, filled with hubris at having swept liberalism into the dustbin of history, to wake up to the fact that health care reform is very far from dead, and start to freak out.... 

You can imagine how this feels to conservatives. They've already run off the field, sprayed themselves with champagne and taunted the losing team's fans. And now the other team is saying the game is still on and they have a good chance to win. There may be nothing wrong at all with the process, but it's certainly going to feel like some kind of crime to the right-wing. The Democrats may not win, but I'm pretty sure they're going to try. The conservative freakout is going to be something to behold.

Chait is basically saying that health care reform is "The Play." Conservatives are the Stanford band, and health care reform supporters are the Cal Golden Bears. Behold:

Democrats aren't really any closer to finishing health care reform than they were on Friday, but I'm already starting to see some major freakouts. One example is an email from one of the conservative email lists I'm on, entitled "Obama Planning to Push Through Gov't Healthcare TODAY":

ALERT: Did you think that, because Barack Hussein Obama has called for a "bipartisan healthcare reform summit" on Feb. 25th, that the Democrats were serious about starting over and including the Republicans' ideas in their plans?

WRONG! According to liberal bastion The New York Times, "President Obama will put forward comprehensive health care legislation intended to bridge differences between Senate and House Democrats ahead of a summit meeting with Republicans next week, senior administration officials and Congressional aides said Thursday."

But that’s not all they’re reporting:

Democratic officials said the president’s proposal was being written so that it could be attached to a budget bill as a way of averting a Republican filibuster in the Senate. The procedure, known as budget reconciliation, would let Democrats advance the bill with a simple majority rather than a 60-vote supermajority.

So, in other words, Obama is LYING about compromising on his healthcare plans, and Reid and Pelosi are preparing to use a parliamentary trick to ram ObamaCare down the throats of the American people!

[...]

Here's the "trick" that Obama, Pelosi and Reid are planning to use to ram ObamaCare through: it's called "reconciliation". As the Wall Street Journal explains, "House Democrats would pass a series of ‘fixes' to the Senate bill. The Senate would then pass the House reconciliation bill, sending amendments to President Obama to a bill that -- strictly speaking -- didn't exist, because it hadn't yet emerged from the House. The House would then retroactively pass the Senate bill as is."

So by using the "reconciliation" process, the Senate will only need 51 votes to pass their socialized healthcare bill!

Never mind that reconciling differences between House and Senate bills is what the reconciliation process is for. Never mind that it's been used repeatedly to pass major legislation—including crucial health care reforms like the State Childrens' Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and COBRA (the R stands for "reconciliation). Conservatives are convinced that passing legislation by majority vote is bad. (Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wy., thinks you should need 70 or 80 votes in the Senate to pass health care reform.) So they're freaking out about it.

No Joking Please, We're British

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 1:58 PM EST

On Friday I twittered:

If my browsing speed doesn't improve soon, I'm going to fly a plane into the internet. Don't pretend you weren't warned.

Just joking! But a reader emails me a warning that if you live in Britain, you'd better be careful with stuff like this. Paul Chambers was arrested last month for twittering a not dissimilar joke:

Yesterday, the court heard that the message read: "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"

Rob Desira, prosecuting, told the court: "The message was posted on the Twitter social networking site. He admitted posting the message into the public domain but never intended the message to be received by the airport or for them to take it seriously."

....After his arrest, Chambers was suspended from work pending an internal investigation. Detectives also confiscated his iPhone, laptop and home computer...."I would never have thought, in a thousand years, that any of this would have happened because of a Twitter post. I'm the most mild-mannered guy you could imagine."

OK, maybe it was a dumb thing to do. But arrested, suspended from work, laptop and phone confiscated, and now facing possible jail time? Come on.