Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller said what’s been said countless times and worse acted on by the GOP countless times. That is that more than a few of their numbers have reflexively dithered, delayed, and flat-out tried to torpedo every policy initiative or piece of legislation that President Obama has backed solely as Rockefeller said, “because he’s the wrong color.” Rockefeller should know. He sits on a number of Senate committees and subcommittees and he’s undoubtedly seen and heard the blatant displays of not-so-subtle bigotry from more than a few of his GOP congressional adversaries. But Rockefeller is only the latest political luminary to state the obvious. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist bluntly told an interviewer that he got out of the GOP because of its open hostility to Obama. Crist made sure that he meant hostility based not on legitimate political disagreements but on race when he specifically referred to Obama as the “African-American President.”
The relentless racial hostility toward Obama goes far beyond simply the routine racial lampooning and mocking of Obama in grotesque signs, posters, chants and harangues by loose-hinged tea party elements and unreconstructed bigots. It has been subtly stoked and orchestrated by the GOP with the clear political aim of disrupting, destabilizing and rendering politically impotent Obama’s program, initiatives and proposed legislation.
The final presidential vote in 2008 gave plenty of warning of the lethalness of the GOP’s core conservative white constituency when aroused. Overall, Obama garnered slightly more than 40 percent of the white male vote. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. The only thing that even made Obama’s showing respectable in those states was the record turnout and percentage of black votes that he got. They were all Democratic votes.
A Harvard post-election assessment of the 2008 presidential vote found that race did factor into the presidential election and that it cost Obama an added three to five percent of the national popular vote. Put bluntly, if Obama had been white the election would have been a route. During the GOP presidential primary campaign, GOP presidential candidates made sure of that with the stream of race-tinged references Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney made to food stamps, welfare, work ethics and an entitlement society. Then there were the racially-loaded newsletters from Ron Paul that resurfaced. The candidates when challenged ducked, dodged and denied any racial intent, or in the case of Paul’s newsletter, that he even penned them.
His 2012 reelection victory gave even more warning that little had changed. In fact, it got worse, he got a smaller percentage of the overall white vote than he did in 2008, and that included a small but significant defection of younger white voters who backed him in 2008.
There has not been a moment that has gone by that top GOP congressional leaders have not called Obama out on some issue. The framing of their criticism has not been polite, gentlemanly or exhibited the traditional courtesy and respect for the office of the presidency. This has done much to create a climate of distrust and vilification that has made it near legitimate, even expected, that Obama be heckled. The GOP’s official heckling has taken many forms, all mean-spirited and petty, rather than purely the customary expression of opposition to policies that clashing political parties and their leaders show toward each other.
The near textbook example of how the GOP has subtly used race to sledge hammer Obama has been its take-no-prisoners drumbeat attack on Attorney General Eric Holder. He’s been called on the GOP congressional carpet in countless hearings, and pilloried, insulted, and abused for every concocted sin from his alleged master mind bungling of the fast and furious gun sting to his supposed politicizing of the Justice Department. The attacks have all been punctuated by screams for his resignation or firing. Holder is not just a convenient surrogate punching bag for Obama. He is the one top administration official who’s not afraid to punch back at the GOP for its blatant play of the race card. He’s as much said so and this has only made his inquistors even more manic in their racial assault on Obama vis-a-vis Holder.
The GOP also in a cynical, thinly transparent move has even tried to turn the racial tables on Obama by tarring him as the race divider and baiter. His lambaste of the GOP at a keynote speech at Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention in April for doing everything humanly possible to subvert voting rights through its endless legislative ploys and constructing every obstacle it can to enforcement was the opening needed to use this tact. It won’t be the last time for this.
Which just proves again that Rockefeller and Crist as so many others before them got it right. For many in the GOP, Obama is simply the wrong color and that won’t change.
By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Huffington Post Blog, May 8, 2014
It’s been called “the most dangerous threat to American sovereignty”; “An anti-human document, which takes aim at Western culture, and the Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions,” that will bring “new Dark Ages of pain and misery yet unknown to mankind,” and “abolish golf courses, grazing pastures and paved roads,” in the name of creating a “one-world order.”
It’s been the subject of several forewarning books and DVDs; there are organizations dedicated to stopping it and politicians have been unseated for supporting it. Glenn Beck has spent a good portion of his career making people scared of it.
Not sure what it is? You’re not alone.
The Daily Beast got a sneak peek at a new report by Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights group, which deconstructs the mythology of Agenda 21 and the organizations, individuals, and even elected officials who’ve spent years promulgating the conspiracy theory surrounding it.
Before diving into the fiction that has inflated Agenda 21 to fear mongering status, we must first understand the facts. What, exactly, is Agenda 21?
While the name might sound a bit ominous, Agenda 21 is a voluntary action plan that offers suggestions for sustainable ways local, state and national governments can combat poverty and pollution and conserve natural resources in the 21st century. (That’s where the ’21’ comes from. Get it?) 178 governments—including the U.S. led by then-President George H.W. Bush—voted to adopt the program which is, again, not legally binding in any way, at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.
It wasn’t long after Agenda 21 was introduced that right wing opposition began to swirl. The SPLC points to Tom DeWeese as one of the first to pounce on the U.N. plan. In 1998 DeWeese founded the American Policy Center, a group based in Remington, Virginia that focuses on “environmental policy and its effect on private property rights” and “the United Nations and its effect on American national sovereignty.” The SPLC report quotes DeWeese as describing Agenda 21 as a “blueprint to turn your community into a little soviet,” promoted by non-governmental organizations that pressure governments to enforce it. According to DeWeese, “It all means locking away land, resources, higher prices, sacrifice and shortages and is based on the age old socialist scheme of redistribution of wealth.”
DeWeese has continued to deride the dangers of Agenda 21 well into the 21st Century, making appearances on Fox News and fitting in nicely with the Tea Party movement. The American Policy Center was just the first of many anti-Agenda 21 organizations to spring up in the past 15 or so years and the SPLC points out the 11 most pervasive.
To those who don’t closely follow the carryings on of fringe conspiracists, Glenn Beck might be the most recognizable face of the modern Anti-21 movement. Particularly during his reign at Fox News, Beck used his cable TV soapbox to scare his loyal viewers. “Those pushing…government control on a global level have mastered the art of hiding it in plain sight and then just dismissing it as a joke,” the SPLC quotes Beck saying around 2011 while waving a copy of the 294-page Agenda 21 document on his show. “Once they put their fangs into our communities and suck all the blood out of it [sic], we will not be able to survive.”
Never one to miss an opportunity to cash on in people’s fears, Beck published a dystopian science fiction novel in 2012 called Agenda 21, about a version of America where mating partners are arranged, children are raised away from their parents in group homes, and the book’s heroine spends hours walking on a sort of treadmill that generates energy in an apartment in a planned community. In the book’s afterword, Beck warns, “[I]f the United Nations in partnership with radical environmental activists and naive local governments get their way, then the themes explored in this novel may start to look very familiar, very quickly.”
But while Glenn Beck can technically be dismissed as nothing more than a fringe figure, a conspiratorial talking head—no matter how large his audience may be—the elected officials who have taken a similarly strong stance against Agenda 21 cannot. In the report, the SPLC points out Newt Gingrich, who said he would “explicitly repudiate” the plan if elected president during his 2012 White House bid; Oklahoma Sen. Sally Kern and Arizona state Sen. Judy Burges who both introduced anti-Agenda 21 legislation that ultimately failed; and former Georgia Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers who “organized a four-hour, closed-door anti-Agenda briefing in October 2012” during which “attendees were told President Obama was using ‘mind control’ techniques to push land use planning, and that the U.N. planned to force Americans from suburbs into cities and also was implementing mandatory contraception to curb population growth.” U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has claimed that Agenda 21 sought to abolish “golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads.”
And as recently as 2012, the SPLC writes, the Republican National Committee’s platform included the line, “We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.”
Several anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi groups have also jumped on the anti-Agenda 21 bandwagon, seizing the opportunity to blame the controversial document on none other than the Jews.
“Anti-Semitism is basically a conspiracy theory,” the American Jewish Committee’s Ken Stern told the SPLC. He explains how neo-Nazis have linked Agenda 21 to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a falsified document that is alleged to reveal a secret Jewish plot to take over the world. “It’s Jews conspiring to harm non-Jews, and that conspiracy explains a lot of what goes wrong with the world,” Stern said.
To be sure, not all of Agenda 21’s opponents are on the far right of the political spectrum. The group Democrats Against U.N. Agenda 21 hosted a conference on the plan in California in 2011. Its founder, “self-described lesbian feminist Rosa Koire,” wrote the book Behind the Green Mask: U.N. Agenda 21, which claims the the plan will ultimately lead to the U.S.’s economic demise.
In fact, the anti-Semitic crowd’s interest in the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory sort of explains why it appeals to all of its followers, regardless of political leanings.
“Any time you get some sort of UN program that suggests any kind of change in the way people live, even if it seems outwardly benign and even voluntary, it’s going to be taken up by people with a conspiracist bent,” Michael Barkun, a Syracuse University political scientist and scholar of conspiracy theories, told the SPLC.
At this point in the explanation, it bears asking whether any of this matters. Is the federal government—or any state or local subsidiaries—even considering implementing any of the plan’s suggestions for sustainable development? The SPLC report states plainly: “For all the agitation, it’s not clear.” 98 percent of people who responded to a June 2012 poll by the American Planning Association said they didn’t know enough about Agenda 21 to support or oppose it. Six percent said they were against it, while nine percent stated that they were in favor.
The SPLC does note that some politicians, like Chattanooga, Tennessee Mayor Ron Littlefield, have denounced the anti-Agenda 21 conspiracists as modern-day Joseph McCarthy’s who will finally tire the public with their scare tactics. Still, they write, “an enormous number of politicians, commentators, activists, conspiracy theorists and others have swallowed the story of the anti-Agenda 21 zealots making any kind of rational discussion of the environment and related issues extremely difficult.”
“And that is the basic problem,” the report continues. “Dealing with the serious problems that confront our nation and our planet becomes incredibly difficult when the public discussion is poisoned with groundless conspiracy theories.”
By: Caitlin Dickson, The Daily Beast, April 13, 2014
Paul Ryan triggered a firestorm of recrimination this week. Speaking recently on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio program, the Wisconsin Republican and self-styled budget wonk linked poverty to “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”
Setting aside the factual claim — the notion that poverty is especially concentrated in America’s inner cities is an increasingly antiquated one — these comments elicited a quick and forceful rebuke from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who decried them as “a thinly veiled racial attack.” She explained: “[W]hen Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”
Ryan has since backpedaled, protesting that race was nowhere in his thoughts: “This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever.”
Maybe so, but there’s a history here that the Republican Party can’t ignore — one that explains why Lee was so quick to jump on his comments, why the Congressional Black Caucus announced themselves “deeply troubled” by remarks they described as “highly offensive” and why so many others have sharply criticized Ryan.
By calling out his use of “code words,” Lee put Ryan in the company of past politicians who have blown the proverbial dog whistle — using surreptitious references to race to garner support from anxious voters. Examples of dog whistling include Barry Goldwater’s endorsement of “states’ rights”; Richard Nixon’s opposition to “forced busing”; Ronald Reagan’s blasts against “welfare queens”; and George H.W. Bush’s infamous Willie Horton ad.
These instances of racial pandering typically have been treated as disconnected eruptions, when in fact the GOP has made a concerted effort to win support through racial appeals. This pattern is so entrenched — and so well known — that two different chairs of the Republican National Committee have acknowledged and apologized for this strategy.
“By the seventies and into the eighties and nineties,” RNC chair Ken Mehlman said in a 2005 speech before the NAACP, “Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.” Five years later, his successor Michael Steele similarly acknowledged that “for the last 40-plus years we had a ‘Southern Strategy’ that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South.”
Despite the mea culpas, race baiting has continued: recall New Gingrich’s 2012 tarring of Barack Obama as “the best food-stamp president in American history.” Or consider another Gingrich jibe from the last election: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” he claimed. “So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.”
What, then, of Paul Ryan? Was he dog whistling? To many, his strong echoing of Gingrich, coupled with the larger GOP history of racial pandering, suggested so. Nor did Ryan help himself by invoking the conservative scholar Charles Murray — a man who co-wrote a controversial 1994 book, The Bell Curve, tying intelligence to race, and who in 2000 explained that genetics will likely show, “One reason that we still have poverty in the United States is that a lot of poor people are born lazy.”
But what of Ryan’s insistence he did not consider race whatsoever, or his later explanation that he had been “inarticulate” in his comments? Perhaps Ryan genuinely did not recognize the racial narrative embedded in his remarks about an inner city culture that devalues work. But at best, this suggests that Ryan has uncritically adopted the charged rhetoric of his party without understanding its racial undertones.
Less charitably, in weighing Ryan’s protestations of innocence, we should be clear that denying racial intent is par for the course in dog whistling. The whole point of speaking in coded terms is to transmit racial messages that can be defended as not about race at all. Today’s broadly shared anti-racist ethos condemns naked appeals to racial solidarity; those politicians who nevertheless seek to trade on racial provocations must do so in ways that maintain plausible deniability.
Another defense is to insist that Ryan is no bigot. Here’s one version, from Republican political strategist Ron Christie: “Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is not racist nor did he blow a ‘dog whistle’ to launch a thinly veiled racist attack against black people. I offer this from the perspective of someone who has known Paul for more than 20 years: there is not a racist bone in his body.” The fact that Christie is black no doubt lends credibility to his testimony.
But this retort misses the point. Dog whistling is not rooted in fiery hatred but rather in cool calculation — it’s the strategic, carefully considered decision to win votes by stirring racial fears in society. Suppose we stipulate that Ryan is no bigot. So what? The question is not one of animus on Ryan’s part, but of whether — as a tactical matter — he sought to garner support by indirectly stimulating racial passions.
Of course, an individual’s mindset in any particular instance is almost impossible to know. We cannot be certain what Ryan intended. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Ryan employed rhetoric closely connected to a dismal history of Republican racial demagoguery.
Barbara Lee was correct to respond forcefully. In our political culture, dog whistling all too often takes the form of warnings about a “tailspin of culture” in the “inner cities” and “generations of men not even thinking about working.” Sharply rebuked, hopefully Ryan and others will think twice — or, if Ryan is to be believed, then think for the first time — about using political rhetoric imbued with ugly racial stereotypes.
By: Ian Haney Lopez, Law Professor at UC Berkeley and Senior Fellow at Demos; Moyers and Company, Bill Moyers Blog, March 16, 2014
“Conservatism Is Too Big For Its Own Good”: The Right No Longer Understands The Difference Between The Movement And The Party
There’s a moment every year at the Conservative Political Action Conference when some eminence from the 1970s talks about the good old days at CPAC, hearkening back to the time when Ronald Reagan would show up and speak to a a small room of only about 500 activists. Things have changed. Now there are about 500 journalists who get registered to report on CPAC, which has bloated to some 10,000 participants in the fat years.
Maybe conservatism is just too big for its own good.
The conservative movement has grown large because it aspired to be something greater than a part of the Republican coalition. It wanted to become the entirety of the GOP. Instead of splitting into different interest groups, the conservative movement devises ad-hoc philosophies to integrate single-issue advocates into a larger coalition. You’re not just for low taxes or against abortion, you’re a conservative!
In this sense, the conservative movement has become a kind of parallel institution that drains resources, attention, talent, and energy from the GOP’s own electoral and governing efforts. Conservative Inc. is an enterprise with enough resources and power to be an attractive alternative to America’s official institutions of electoral power.
If you are a Republican politician and don’t have the wherewithal to become president of the United States, perhaps you have enough talent to become president of Conservatism. It’s an unofficial position, but has plenty of benefits. You won’t have the psychic pleasures of representing the electoral will of the American public, but you also won’t be burdened by any real responsibilities either.
Naturally, the idea of being a player without responsibility provides more attractions for charlatans, rabble-rousers, and opportunists.
Shades of this phenomena began in the 1990s presidential primaries. Whereas Pat Buchanan picked a principled fight with his party over issues like trade and foreign policy, candidates like Alan Keyes ran less for president than for publicity: mailing lists filled out, speaking fees increased, and radio shows picked up on more networks.
By the 2012 Republican primaries, it was obvious that there were in fact two competitions happening on the same debate stages. Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and even Newt Gingrich were not running for president in the same way that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were.
This seems not to happen in the Democratic primaries. Sure, 2004 saw Howard Dean emerge as the leader of “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” But there is no parallel universe called Liberalism where he and Mike Gravel could become well-paid industries unto themselves as think leaders, book hawkers, and distinguished dinner guests. Dean became chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a political job with actual responsibilities and geared toward winning elections, not just flame wars.
The composition of the Democratic coalition seems stronger precisely because it is more splintered and more issue driven. No one is afraid that Planned Parenthood or the teachers’ unions are going to impose a broad-ranging ideological revolution on the nation. The public assumes that they will simply lobby for their particular, limited interests and that the party to which they belong will have a moderating effect on them.
But the conservative movement really is large enough to exert a destabilizing gravitational force on the entire political culture. Its opponents fear that its size and strength make the GOP immoderate. And they may be right.
In any GOP presidential primary, the candidates who are running to be unofficial head of the conservative movement can do a great deal of damage to the GOP’s eventual nominee. They can pressure the eventual candidate to over-commit to the right in the primary race, essentially handing them more baggage to carry in the general election. Or they can cripple the eventual primary winner by highlighting the nominee’s deviations from the movement, dispiriting the GOP’s base of voters.
When the attendees of CPAC gather in Washington early next month and conduct their presidential straw poll with the self importance of a warning shot, it might profit them to consider whether they intend to elect a new president of their ideological ghetto or one for their nation.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, February 26, 2014
As a notable Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain was able to pull together an email list of several hundred thousand people. His campaign obviously didn’t turn out well, but Cain eventually created an online media venture called Best of Cain, which continues to send out messages to former supporters on a wide range of topics.
How wide a range? Those on Cain’s mailing list recently received an alert with an all-caps subject line about a “breakthrough remedy” for erectile dysfunction. It was, of course, an ad – and a rather clumsy one at that. Cain supporters were told they were at risk of losing their loved one unless they got their “manhood mojo back.”
For many of us, it would appear as if Herman Cain has begun spamming Americans who supported his presidential campaign. But as Ben Adler reports in a fascinating piece, Cain and other Republicans believe they’ve come up with a lucrative business plan.
While [Cain] has been particularly unabashed in his embrace of the practice, he is not the only past presidential candidate hawking sketchy products. Newt Gingrich now pings the e-mail subscribers to his Gingrich Productions with messages from an investment firm formed by a conspiracy theorist successfully sued for fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mike Huckabee uses his own production company’s list to blast out links to heart-disease fixes and can’t-miss annuities.
The joke about Cain and Gingrich during the 2012 campaign was that they weren’t at all serious about their pursuits of the presidency but instead just lining up future paydays. After Huckabee, who’d parlayed a strong showing in 2008 into publishing deals and his own Fox News show, declined to run again, some wags snickered that his new livelihood must have been too hard to give up. Now all three seem to be proving the cynics right…. Collectively, Cain, Gingrich, and Huckabee are pioneering a new, more direct method for post-campaign buckraking. All it requires is some digitally savvy accomplices – and a total immunity to shame.
There’s a reason I love this Chris Hayes comment from a while back: “Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks.”
One of the striking things about the ventures launched by Cain, Gingrich, and Huckabee is the odd incentive dynamic they’ve helped create: political activities that used to be based on partisanship, ideology, and/or ego are now profit-making opportunities.
A Republican may not have any interest in actually becoming president, but he or she now knows that a presidential campaign can create a lucrative mailing list. So why not run anyway for the sake of future paychecks?
It’s not just elections, either. Last summer, for example, as conservatives prepared for their government shutdown, Brian Walsh, a former spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, “[T]his is about political cash, not political principle.” Far-right groups were getting the base riled up, collecting contributions and email addresses, and weren’t especially concerned with the policy outcome.
More recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made the rounds on conservative media, talking up a possible lawsuit he might file against the NSA. In practice, the senator was encouraging interested Americans to visit his campaign website, submit their contact information, and chip in a donation while they were there. (The lawsuit he vowed to file hasn’t materialized.)
At the intersection of politics and profit is a Republican machine in search of email addresses, clicks, and cash. It’s not that conservative causes are irrelevant; it’s just that they’re hardly the only motivation for GOP players as interested in list-building as coalition-building.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 28, 2014