When Sharron Angle, the tea party-loved candidate gunning for Harry Reid's Senate seat in Nevada, branded BP's $20 billion escrow fund a "slush fund" this week, the comment raised more than a few eyebrows. Angle reportedly agreed with a caller to a local Nevada radio station who said the fund equated to "extortion," with Angle adding, "Government shouldn't be doing that to a private company. And I think you named it clearly: It's a slush fund." The Washington Post's Greg Sargent dubbed it her "Rand Paul moment." Of course, Angle's remark wasn't all that surprising, given that the "slush fund" label has been thrown around by other Republicans like Rep. Joe "We're sorry, BP" Barton (R-Tex.). And also given that Angle herself is prone to gaffes, including calling a reporter an idiot for quoting her website and suggesting armed revolt if "this Congress keeps going the way it is."
What is surprising is Angle's response and retraction, offered today in a statement from her campaign. The former Nevada assemblywoman now says the slush fund quip was "incorrect" and insensitive on her part. The statement also says, "My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step—BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it." Here, in full, is Angle's statement:
Setting the record straight about BP and the Obama Administration
There's been some confusion this morning regarding my position on BP and the oil spill.
Having had some time to think about it, the caller and I shouldn't have used the term "slush fund"; that was incorrect.
My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step—BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it. But there are multiple parties at fault here and there should be a thorough investigation. We need to look into the actions, (or inactions) of the Administration and why the regulatory agency in charge of oversight was asleep at the wheel while BP was cutting corners. Every party involved should be held fully accountable.
All in all, a pretty thorough correction by Angle, and a necessary one. Now, if she would only retract her armed insurrection idea, and her lemons-into-lemonade reference when talking about pregnancies resulting from incest and rape, and her idea to abolish the Department of Education, and her claim that the unemployed are "spoiled"...well, then we might be able to take her a bit more seriously.
The first thing you notice when you see the names Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is the title: "Rep." Namely, member of the US House of Representatives, a chamber that's one-half of a Congress deeply unpopular among most Americans right now. Ellsworth and Blount and just about every other incumbent running for office in 2010 understand that "Washington" and "career politician" are labels to be avoided at all costs. But you'd think, in a campaign advertisement, guys like Ellsworth and Blunt would at least acknowledge the fact that their current employer is the House of Representatives, right?
Wrong. In two new ads, one from Ellsworth and one from Blunt who're both angling for the US Senate this fall, neither congressman so much as mentions his current job here in Washington. As he walks through a decrepit warehouse, Ellsworth says in his ad, "One thing that 25 years as a sheriff teaches you is zero tolerance for bull. There's too much at stake. But out in Washington it's like they live and breathe the stuff." A two-term congressman and Blue Dog Democrat, Ellsworth goes on to rail against lobbyists and special interests in the 30-second ad, and typically paints himself as an outsider aiming to breathe fresh air into the corrupt Senate:
Likewise, Missouri congressman Roy Blunt avoids mentioning his current job, and instead stresses his previous roles as a teacher and president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. "Irresponsible spending and crippling debt are killing jobs today, and our children's future tomorrow," he says in the ad. Yet Blunt's omission is even more glaring than Ellsworth's. Blunt, after all, has full Washington resume: A House member since 1997, he's former Majority Whip and Majority Leader, and right now he's the second-highest GOPer on the House energy and commerce committee. Here it is:
Ellsworth and Blunt's ads are notable for their complete omission of the two congressman's jobs, but not at all surprising. Upwards of 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the job that Congress is doing. Another glaring example is Nevada gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose campaign has done a stellar job of airbrushing out Rory's ties to his largely unpopular father (at least outside Democratic circles.)
The lesson here is this: Any candidate who touts his Washington credentials on the campaign trail is committing political seppuku and sealing his or her own demise. Watch for plenty more ads like these in the weeks and months to come, as the wave of occupational amnesia spreads to more incumbents fighting for survival.
From Gallup comes the latest bit of news suggesting the tea party isn't as revolutionary as its members like to think: When asked what they considered "extremely serious threats" to the country's future wellbeing, tea partiers cited the exact same things as run-of-the-mill Republicans. Shocker, right? Both groups overwhelmingly pointed to federal debt (61 percent of tea partiers, 55 percent of GOPers), Big Government (49 percent, 43 percent), health care costs (41 percent, 37 percent), and "terrorism" (51 percent, 51 percent) as the biggest threats to American prosperity. And in the category of unimportant threats, both groups dismiss the environment/global warming and discrimination against minorities. Here's a good breakdown from Gallup:
So what's the takeaway here? That media coverage of the tea party is overblown? That they're not such a novel group after all? That's the message gleaned by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent:
The Tea Party movement gets a disproportionate share of media attention because of all the funny costumes, Hitler references, and fantasizing about armed revolution. But it's hard to see what's distinctive about the Tea Partiers' actual political views and priorities.
Which isn't to say the tea party should be written off as entirely a wing of the GOP. The more libertarian strains of the tea party don't always align with the GOP party line, especially on an issue like the US' military presence abroad. (Rand Paul, running for US Senate in Kentucky, has suggested scaling back US military bases in Europe, for instance—an idea that's anathema to the GOP rank and file.)
But on the whole Sargent's right. In the past year, tea party coverage has focused more on the outlandishness of the burgeoning group than the (lack of) rigor or originality of its ideas. So, are we about to see a decrease in tea party coverage? Don't bet on it.
The Associated Press reports today on Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), yet another incumbent candidate once thought a shoo-in but who is now facing a tough reelection bid in November. The liberal, anti-war Feingold will likely square off against businessman Ron Johnson, the presumed GOP candidate, in what's shaping up to be a brutal midterm election for the Democrats. On the whole, the AP's take on the brewing battle up in Wisconsin—according to several polls, Feingold, a four-term senator, leads Johnson by a mere one or two percentage points—is standard stuff.
What's most intriguing about Wisconsin’s Senate race—and what the AP fails to dig into—is Johnson's background and wealth. Johnson made his fortune through his company making plastic packaging materials, and it's becoming clear he plans to use that wealth to defeat Feingold. The GOPer has already spent $1 million on ads, and could spend up to $15 million to beat Feingold. If he does, Johnson will join a veritable bloc of candidates in battleground states like Florida and California who've staked out a paradoxical, almost hypocritical position in the midterm elections: the super wealthy who claim to be political insurgents and who, in some cases, ally with the influential tea party masses. They're candidates who somehow think voters won't notice or care that they’re spending millions this election season, cutting ads and jetting around their states, while claiming to relate to and connect with normal Americans at a time of record unemployment and economic hardship in the US.
For six years, former presidential hopeful Fred Thompson played Arthur Branch, the gruff, straight-shooting district attorney in the television series Law and Order. Thompson's character had an unflinching commitment to the letter of the law. The same can't be said for a firm that Thompson has been pitching for lately in TV ads: a mortgage company that's landed in hot water in a half-dozen states for allegedly preying on elderly Americans and, in some cases, violating state law.
This spring, Thompson, a jowly ex-GOP senator from Tennessee, signed on to serve as the national spokesman for American Advisors Group (AAG). In an ad for the company, Thompson stands in front of a charming white house with an American flag flying out front and sings the praises of a lesser-known mortgage product called a reverse mortgage: "Join hundreds of thousands of other Americans who have used a reverse mortgage as a safe, effective financial tool," he implores viewers.
Thompson's new employer, however, has a troubled track record. Regulators in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington State have cracked down on the firm for deceptive marketing and consumer fraud. In February, for instance, the Illinois attorney general, Lisa Madigan, sued AAG and its president for direct-mail solicitations that Madigan described as "extremely misleading." That same month, the state of Massachusetts temporarily banned the company from doing business in the state.