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“General Gridlock”: Kentucky-Style Politics At Its Weirdest, Mitch McConnell Gets Barbecued

Let’s start with records, and not the political kind.  The sheer tonnage of pulled sinew at the annual Fancy Farm barbecue picnic is cited in the Guinness Book of World Records — this year, 8,500 pounds of mutton and 9,500 pounds of pork, or nine tons of meat, every last shred smoked onsite in a battery of cement pits the size of a football field.

If Sen. Mitch McConnell loses his reelection bid in 2014, his downfall officially began here, in the far western Purchase region of Kentucky, where for the last 133 years political adversaries have traded barbs on a small stage in the country hamlet of Fancy Farm.  The picnic kicks off and frames every major political race in the Commonwealth, a throwback to the long-gone days of unscripted hot-around-the-collar partisan rallies, a sweaty, boisterous, old-fashioned political speaking slugfest and barbecue pig-out.

As a native Kentuckian, I always had Fancy Farm on my radar as potentially interesting to attend, on a lark.  My interest perked in ‘08, when it was rumored Barack Obama might schedule an appearance during his campaign; it’s clear to me now that it wouldn’t have been wise strategy for a presidential candidate, assuming it was ever under serious consideration. The level of decorum required of speakers at Fancy Farm is so low that it’s considered only marginally tacky for Ed Marksberry, an Owensboro contractor running in the Democratic primary and the least of McConnell’s threats from the left, to state the cruel but undeniable truth about the 71-year-old minority leader’s appearance (“People say he looks like a turtle!”) and make a political joke at the expense of his wattle (“After years of kissing the butts of corporate elites, he rubbed his chin right off!”).  People cheer and jeer, journalists scribble in their notebooks.  This year, I was curious to hear Alison Lundergan Grimes, the 34-year-old secretary of state who, having painted only the broadest of policy brushstrokes in the primary, has the full backing of the Democratic National Committee and endorsements from the likes of Bill Clinton and actress/activist Ashley Judd.

Grimes has nicknamed her campaign “Team Switch,” a wry response to “Team Mitch,” and her strategy out of the gate, unsurprisingly in this red state, is to distance herself from Obama. Her staffers wear “I ♥ Coal” stickers; in her only public appearance prior to Fancy Farm, aside from her candidacy announcement, she said that she “disagrees” with Obama on coal, without elaborating further. The sad truth is, it might be impossible to win in Kentucky without being at least lukewarm toward coal (not that I’m giving her an excuse, except that I kinda am). Her campaign sells stylish V-neck T-shirts and handsome lapel pins that should appeal well to women, a demographic she intends to clean up on, and her supporters have already shortened her seven-syllable name to “ALG.”  For barnstorming the Commonwealth while General Gridlock is back in Washington, she’s got a newish-looking campaign bus with a huge image of her pearly white smile.  Onstage, while the male politicians and candidates appear sweaty and stressed out in open-neck button-downs (the exception is McConnell, who looks bored), ALG exudes composure seated between her husband and grandma in a sleeveless red dress, smiling down beatifically upon her flock.

Organizers from St. Jerome Catholic Church say 10,000 to 12,000 people attend Fancy Farm every year. The racial demographic is overwhelmingly white — I counted only eight black people on the day, there to support ALG. Had Obama showed in ‘08, the scene might have been more diverse, if only for the year. The event raises a whopping $250,000 for St. Jerome, a buttermilk-colored church on a hill overlooking the town, which is pocked with political signs for the weekend, or perhaps they’ll be there until the election 15 months hence. To get to Fancy Farm from Louisville, where I’m from, you take I-24 West and pass the conjoined 184-mile Kentucky Lake and 118-mile Lake Barkley, on which pleasure-craft (pontoons and houseboats) and sport-craft (speedboats, jet skis and a sort of hybrid jet-ski-boat called Sea-Doo’s) tie together in inlets to form floating party enclaves, aka redneck yacht clubs. No, I didn’t make that up, the rednecks themselves did. Some of the vessels fly black flags that say “Friends of Coal,” and because the lakes are used by inland barges to access the Tennessee River and the Ohio, you may see a jet-ski buzzing around a mile-long barge piled high with black gold.

You also drive past the pluming stacks of the Shawnee Fossil Plant on the banks of the Ohio, a coal-fired steam plant that provides electricity to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a uranium enrichment facility with technology dating back to the ‘50s. Over his 28 years in office, McConnell has found ways to divert federal dollars to keep the facility open despite it being a major polluter and a sharp decline in demand for enriched uranium since the Cold War ended. Now that the behemoth anachronism is finally scheduled to shutter — it sucks down 12 percent of the state’s electricity, or more than the whole city of Louisville — approximately 1,100 employees will lose their jobs, and Democrats are accusing McConnell of neglect.  Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat with gubernatorial aspirations, is threatening to file suit against the federal government if the cleanup isn’t done right.

The earliest arriving picnickers grab a coveted seat beneath the shelter, which provides a good view of the stage, and of course it’s far nicer to sit in the shade, though life under the shelter is neither relaxing nor comfortable. Folks under the shelter are obliged to chant and heckle not only prior to, but during the political speeches, meaning the P.A. system is turned up loud enough for the audience to hear over itself, the speakers blaring at close range into the roped-off media area in front of the stage.  The seating configuration entails risers around the perimeter and rows of chairs on the floor, and the crowd is split down the middle between conservatives/Tea-Partyers and liberals, so there’s shouting both across the shelter and up toward the stage. The vast majority of conservatives wear red T-shirts that say “Team Mitch.”

Team Mitchers hold signs on long sticks that on one side show an unflattering picture of ALG and on the other, Obama — they “twizzle” the images back and forth. Liberal ALG supporters have signs that say “Ditch Mitch” (a slogan dating back to the ‘80s) and “I Don’t Scare Easy” (in reference to Mitch’s well-earned reputation for mudslinging and his $10 million war chest). There’s a woman for ALG who holds up a Lambchop-like sock puppet, and I’m fairly certain she’s saying “bah bah bah” during speeches by conservatives, or else it’s “blah blah blah.”

In brazen violation of a Fancy Farm rule outlawing noisemakers, Tea Partyers ring bells in support of Tea Party-ish/Republican candidate Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman whose family owns a bell manufacturing business in East Hampton. An authentic Tea Partyer, dressed in Revolutionary War garb, leads chants through a megaphone prior to the speaking — this is Paul Johnson of Walton, Ky., and he bears a striking resemblance to Gen. George Washington, no joke.  He has people on Team Mitch chanting, “Hey, hey, hi ho, the IRS must go!”  This segues rather seamlessly into “Go, Mitch, go!”  Some of the more cynical Team Mitchers tell Johnson to get off his sinking ship.  From the liberal side comes, “I don’t know what you’ve been told, Mitch McConnell has got to go!”  And then, next thing you know, everyone under the shelter is singing “God Bless America.”

Also onstage is Rep. Ed. Whitefield, R-Hopkinsville, and state agriculture commissioner James Comer (a Republican with gubernatorial aspirations), and state auditor Adam Edelen (another Democrat with gubernatorial aspirations), and assorted other elected officials who won’t get a chance to speak.  Every speaker gets cheered and jeered, regardless, if for no other reason than for the sheer fun of it. Because Fancy Farm is in Graves County, which is a dry county in what they like to call God’s Country, the picnic makes not a dime on alcohol sales, meaning everyone there is sober. Most drink $1 soda bottles of Sun Drop, “The Newest Player in Citrus,” as signs say all around the picnic grounds. St. Jerome’s $250,000 in revenue, as best I could tell, comes from the sale of $3 barbecue sandwiches, $5 raffle tickets for a Dodge pickup, $10 Fancy Farm T-shirts featuring smiley pigs, an all-day bingo marathon, a 5K race the evening before, and a modest collection of carnival games, including a child-size dunking booth. There’s also a $15 ticket to an all-you-can-eat air-conditioned buffet sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

It’s said that Fancy Farm won’t necessarily make a politician, but it can certainly help break one.  Notable no-shows are lampooned onstage and reported in newspapers across the Commonwealth. Rand Paul took it on the chin from ALG for “spending the weekend with his loved ones: the Tea Party members in Iowa.”  And if a politician does show, he or she runs the risk of things getting out of hand. In ‘09, Conway, running for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Republican Jim Bunning, had a profanity laced meltdown. In ‘98, McConnell delivered a vitriolic speech criticizing Democrat Scotty Baesler, who was running for Senate against Bunning. McConnell’s speech was so vicious that it impelled the normally cool and collected Baesler to blow a gasket during his own speech. His gesticulations and facial contortions didn’t translate well on videotape, especially not in slow motion set to classical music by Wagner — Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer. Such was the advertisement Bunning ran, on the recommendation of McConnell.

Prior to the speeches, St. Jerome’s chief picnic organizer and press liaison, Mark Wilson, gives a brief primer on Fancy Farm’s history. Past speakers include George Wallace (when a flashbulb went off with a crack, he supposedly flinched and told the photographer, “I’m a little gun shy”) and Al Gore (we all know how that ended). I could hear the love in Wilson’s voice for both his church and the event itself — he tells everyone there’s a museum being planned “on these hallowed grounds.” He also signs mass emails to the press corps, “God Bless all of you and Happy Politics!” Before singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” a gentleman from St. Jerome’s tells the crowd that if we don’t know the words to just hum along, and jokes that he’ll do the same, except that he’s not joking, he’s actually previewing what’s going to happen. He not only forgets the words, he takes his own advice, humming along into the mic. The National Anthem is sung by a girl who looks about 11 — she gets through it flawlessly. The moderator for the event, Ferrell Wellman, hosts a talk show about state politics on PBS. A bear of a man, he bellows out intros to each speaker like a ring announcer before a prizefight. He also goes over the ground rules, telling the crowd, “This isn’t the World Cup,” meaning no noise makers such as vuvuzelas, the brightly colored plastic horns that sound like a swarm of killer bees. Speaking order is determined by seniority for elected officials and coin flip for candidates, and the speeches (time allotments of five and six minutes) are clocked by state Rep. Gerald Watkins, who wears a track-and-field-grade stopwatch around his neck.

Most speakers begin with a few scripted zingers to satisfy their supporters, and then quickly outline a bit of policy while reacting to hecklers in a good-natured but firm way.  For instance, McConnell tells the liberal side, “Y’all came down here just to push me around,” and it sounds both accusatory and playful. The senior senator is the first speaker, and he opens with a zinger intended to cast ALG as a privileged daddy’s girl, the only time he’ll deign to mention her in his speech: “I want to say how nice it is to see [former Kentucky Democratic chairman]  Jerry Lundergan back in the game. Like the loyal Democrat he is, he’s taking orders from the Obama campaign about how to run his daughter’s campaign.”  And then punch line: “They told him to make a pitch on the Internet for the women’s vote and he sent a check to Anthony Weiner.”

The Team Mitchers laugh and shout approval, and then the Senate minority leader goes into his boilerplate criticisms of Obama, making sure to mention all the ways he’s prevented the president from ending the world as we know it.  Most of his speech is about the ways he has “stopped” Obama from legislating disaster for the American people — a depressing trip down memory lane, and remarkable to hear just how perverted the man has become regarding his legacy. His supporters boo when ALG supporters accuse him of being an obstructionist. “We’re not just deciding who runs Kentucky,” he warbles down to the crowd.  “We’re going to be deciding who runs the Senate.”

Bevin mounts a furious attack on McConnell, ticking off zinger after zinger and telling his supporters that their bells are tolling for McConnell: “… ask not for whom the bells toll, Senator.  They toll for you!” McConnell has been quick to dismiss Bevin as nothing more than a dilettante nuisance, but onstage at Fancy Farm, he has the look and tenor of a real candidate. At the very least he could weaken Team Mitch in the primary, and burn up a lot of their cash.

ALG did her part too, by far and away the most compelling presence at the dais. “There is a disease of dysfunction in Washington … Sen. McConnell is at the center of it,” she told the crowd.  “If doctors told Sen. McConnell he had a kidney stone, he’d refuse to pass it.” She went on to outline an agenda for protecting Medicare and Social Security. She wants to give equal pay to women and pass the Violence Against Women Act — a bill McConnell voted “no” on, claiming he wants tougher legislation. As ALG spoke, he wore a tight-lipped smile, as if he were trying to pass a kidney stone in front of everyone. A pretty blond girl tapped my shoulder, wearing a pink dress fit for a debutante ball, and said that the crowd turnout for ALG was record-setting for a Democratic candidate at Fancy Farm. She also made sure to ask which media outlet I worked for. No, she couldn’t give a head count for ALG supporters, nor could she explain the rationale by which she’d come to her conclusion. Instead, she insisted that McConnell’s five busloads of supporters had been paid $10 a head to show up and be supportive.  I promised that I’d try to find a way to use her purely unsubstantiated rumors.

The stakes at Fancy Farm 2014 will be sky high — I highly recommend it, even if you hate politics.  The theatrics are spellbinding, and you get to see them sweat. ALG actually handed Conway a Kleenex to wipe his forehead — it was unclear if she’d been using it herself. McConnell had already been whisked away in a dark SUV when Ed Marksbury made the remarks about his turtle appearance, and most of Team Mitch had departed also. The old battleax wasn’t going to sit there and take shit from no challengers, save for ALG, who got to speak second as an elected official. Not that McConnell isn’t taking Bevin and ALG seriously — his chief of staff is leaving D.C. to concentrate entirely on the campaign back home. Do the bells toll for the least popular senator in the country among both conservatives and liberals alike?  If you believe in signs, McConnell’s empty chair was draped in an American flag, military coffin-style.

By: Brian Weinberg, Salon, August 6, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Welcome To The Post Civil Rights Era”: Gov Rick Scott To Launch New Purge Of Florida Voter Rolls

Gov. Rick Scott will soon launch a new hunt for noncitizens on Florida’s voter roll, a move that’s sure to provoke new cries of a voter “purge” as Scott ramps up his own re-election effort.

Similar searches a year ago were rife with errors, found few ineligible voters and led to lawsuits by advocacy groups that said it disproportionately targeted Hispanics, Haitians and other minority groups. Those searches were handled clumsily and angered county election supervisors, who lost confidence in the state’s list of names.

“It was sloppy, it was slapdash and it was inaccurate,” said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards. “They were sending us names of people to remove because they were born in Puerto Rico. It was disgusting.”

The state’s list of suspected non-U.S. citizens shrank from 182,000 to 2,600 to 198 before election supervisors suspended their searches as the presidential election drew near. “That was embarrassing,” said elections chief Jerry Holland in Jacksonville’s Duval County. “It has to be a better scrub of names than we had before.”

Election supervisors remain wary of a new removal effort, which the U.S. Supreme Court effectively authorized in June when it struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling nullified a federal lawsuit in Tampa that sought to stop new searches for noncitizen voters, and Scott quickly renewed his call for action.

“If there’s anybody that we think isn’t voting properly, from the standpoint that they didn’t have a right to vote, I think we need to do an investigation,” Scott said the day of the high court decision. Last fall, Scott joined the Republican Party in a fundraising appeal that accused Democrats of defending the right of noncitizens to vote.

Scott’s top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, is now creating a new list of suspected noncitizen voters by cross-checking state voter data with a federal database managed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Detzner’s director of elections, Maria Matthews, sent a letter to election supervisors Friday, promising “responsible measures that ensure due process and the integrity of Florida’s voter rolls” and vowing to include supervisors “in the planning and decision-making.”

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, chairman of the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, said Detzner told him the state would resume its purge of potential noncitizens within 60 days. “I’ve been told that they will go slow,” Garcia said. “I’m completely confident that the process will work.”

Hillsborough County halted its purge last year after several voters on a list of 72 flagged by the state proved their citizenship.

A voter whose citizenship is questioned has the right to provide proof of citizenship in a due-process system that includes certified letters and legal notices.

If the next list is anything like the last one, its burden will fall most heavily on urban counties with large Hispanic populations, notably Miami-Dade.

“Ineligible voters will be removed when their ineligibility is substantiated by credible and reliable data,” said Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley.

Townsley and a half-dozen county election supervisors interviewed across the state were emphatic that anyone who is not a U.S. citizen should not be able to cast a ballot. But they also say the state must meticulously document any case of a suspected ineligible voter and share all data with the counties — including access to the federal database known as SAVE.

Some supervisors remain irked that Detzner’s office still has not granted them access to the database after promising to do so last fall.

Okaloosa County election supervisor Paul Lux said the state’s questionable data damaged relations between the state and counties last year.

“We said then, ‘If you can’t give us good data, why should we kill ourselves vetting it?’ ” Lux said.
Relations have improved, but Lux said he’s not hopeful that the SAVE database will be much better.
“If the federal government is as good at collecting data as they are with doing other things, then I’ve got to wonder about the quality of this data,” Lux said. “If we get the information sooner, we can get started and have plenty of time to do our own due diligence.”

Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which opposed previous purge efforts, said the state’s motive is to remove poor and minority voters who are less likely to vote Republican.

“For every voter they purge, we will nationalize and register many, many more,” she said.
Voter purges aren’t necessarily a bad thing, said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school.

She said many states require voter-list maintenance efforts to prune the rolls of voters who are no longer eligible or who have died, but purges close to an election should be avoided. “They offer lots of opportunities for eligible voters to get improperly removed because they frequently happen in a rushed, haphazard manner behind closed doors,” Pérez said. “And the data is usually flawed.”

On Twitter, Pasco County’s election supervisor, Brian Corley, said: “Info from FL SOS [Secretary of State] must be credible & reliable! Integrity of voter rolls is paramount!”

By: Steve Bousquet and Michael Van Sickler, The Miami Herald, August 4, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Revenge Of The Abortion Barbies”: The GOP’s Growing Terror Of Mobilized Women

Erick Erickson is the insecure frat-boy id of the Republican Party. Oh, sure, party leaders wring their hands about their problem with women voters, but deep down, we’re all “Abortion Barbie” to a whole lot of them. Only Erickson is creepy enough to say so.

In case you missed it: Erickson — last seen freaking out over women as breadwinners, and being schooled by Fox host Megyn Kelly — apparently had a panic attack today over Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, and decided to call her “Abortion Barbie.” That’s clever, and likely to do his party as much good with women as when Rush Limbaugh decided to call Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

But Erickson’s outburst comes in a week when Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus melted down over CNN and NBC plans for a Hillary Clinton miniseries, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got so rattled by Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes that he disrespected her by attacking her dad, as though the girl in the race didn’t matter enough to engage directly.

Psychologically a lot of Republicans seem to have problems with women, with our real and imagined power. The conservative project of controlling us is coming undone, and their fear is showing. But politically, they’ve got even bigger problems, with women’s genuine and growing political power. From Wendy Davis to Alison Grimes to Michelle Nunn in Georgia (she’s leading all her GOP Senate rivals in the latest PPP poll), female candidates are giving Red State Democrats some hope that they may win more statewide power sooner rather than later.

So Mr. let loose another well-timed slur to give us a window onto his fear and loathing.

Reince Priebus has so many fears: He of course fears Hillary Clinton, since the GOP doesn’t have a candidate who could win a primary who could beat her if she runs. He fears his party’s likely 2016 roster, which may not be as chock-full of wacko birds as the Michele Bachmann-Herman Cain 2012 slate, but will still have plenty of characters to scare moderate voters. He fears a rerun of the grueling 2012 debate schedule, where said wacko birds had more than enough time to hang themselves with their own words.

And so his silly attack on the Hillary Clinton miniseries is a three-fer, for Priebus: It’s a way to attack Clinton, to reduce the number of 2016 GOP debates and to declare fealty to Fox News. He took his complaints to Sean Hannity Monday night, and the Fox host supportively stroked his hand and echoed his complaints, declaring that the CNN and NBC miniseries will be a “love letter to Hillary.” Both Priebus and Hannity would like the 2016 GOP race to be contested entirely on the friendly terrain of Fox News, where candidates are received lovingly, and viewers are reassured their party will win in a landslide, until Karl Rove’s “Republican math” fails him and they have to announce the election of yet another Democrat.  It wouldn’t seem to have worked out so well for them last time around, but I guess it’s better than going out into the big scary world where Democrats have a growing edge with the largest single voting bloc: women.

Then there’s Mitch McConnell. It’s way too early for Democrats to get overconfident about Grimes’ chances in Kentucky. McConnell will have a lot of money and loves to fight dirty. But there was something unsettling about his decision to attack Grimes’ father at the iconic Fancy Farms event over the weekend. “I want to say how nice it is to see [former Kentucky Democratic chairman] Jerry Lundergan back in the game,” he told the crowd. “Like the loyal Democrat he is, he’s taking orders from the Obama campaign about how to run his daughter’s campaign.” In fact the family is much closer to the Clintons, who are hugely popular with Kentucky Democrats, so McConnell’s decision to attack Grimes through first her father, and then through the president, was not just coded sexism but racism, and betrays his fear of a strong woman candidate – not just Grimes, but Hillary Clinton.

But at least he didn’t call her “Abortion Barbie.”

We all know the Republican Party is demographically doomed, but the question is how soon will its dominance with white voters become irrelevant in a multiracial America. It will be very soon if Republicans continue to repel white women. Depressingly (to me), white women went for Mitt Romney in 2012 after backing Obama in 2008. But in many states, younger white women and college-educated white women are a swing electorate that can accelerate the transition from red to blue.

So keep slurring Wendy Davis, and Alison Lundergan Grimes, and Hillary Clinton, Republicans! While you continue to insult and stereotype African-American and Latino voters, you’re making sure that the Obama coalition not only holds together but expands in 2014 and 2016.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, August 6, 2031

August 7, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Even If He Wins, He Loses”: For Rush Limbaugh, The Damage Is Already Done

One week after it was first reported that talk radio giant Cumulus Media might cut ties with Rush Limbaugh and pull his show from 40 of its stations nationwide, the end result of the contractual showdown remains unclear. But we do know this: The damage has been done to Limbaugh and his reputation inside the world of AM radio as an untouchable star.

By opting to publicly negotiate its contract and making it clear the broadcast company is willing to walk away from his program, Cumulus has delivered a once unthinkable blow to Limbaugh’s industry prestige. (Cumulus is also threatening to drop Sean Hannity’s syndicated radio show.)

Even if Limbaugh wins in the end, he loses. Even if Limbaugh manages to stay on Cumulus’ enviable rosters of major market talk stations, Limbaugh comes out of the tussle tarnished and somewhat diminished.

Recall that one year after Limbaugh ignited the most severe crisis of his career by insulting law student Sandra Fluke for three days on the air, attacking her as a “slut,” the talker’s team announced the host was unhappy with Cumulus. Angry that its CEO had been noting in the press how many advertisers Limbaugh had lost over the Fluke firestorm (losses that continue to accumulate), an anonymous Limbaugh source told Politico the host was so angry he might walk away from Cumulus when his contract expired at the end of the year.

Well, last week Cumulus called Limbaugh’s bluff, plain and simple. And now the talker’s side appears to be scrambling to make sure his show remains with Cumulus. But again, the damage is done. If Limbaugh really were an all-powerful source in AM radio, he would walk away from Cumulus. But he’s not, and he can’t.

Cumulus is reportedly driving a hard bargain and wants to reduce the costs associated with carrying Limbaugh’s show, especially since he’s unable to attract the same advertisers he used to. If in the end a deal is struck and Limbaugh stays with Cumulus for a reduced rate, what happens when the talker’s contract expires with another large AM station group? Of course they’re going to demand the same deal Cumulus got in exchange for keeping Limbaugh’s show, or they’ll threaten to drop the talker, too. And then on and on the process will repeat itself as broadcasters realize that maybe they can get Limbaugh on the cheap.

By the way, this is the exact opposite of how Limbaugh renewals used to be handled. Years ago, owners and general managers at Limbaugh’s host stations lived in fear of getting a phone call from Limbaugh’s syndicator, Clear Channel-owned Premier Networks, informing them the host was moving across town to a competitor when his contract was up. But today, Cumulus negotiates its Limbaugh contract via the press, apparently without the slightest concern about ending its association with him.

Of course, Limbaugh and Clear Channel could hold their ground, refuse to budge on Cumulus’ demands and walk away from the radio giant with AM stations from coast to coast. That is an option, but it’s also an unpleasant one in terms of what it would mean to Limbaugh’s once-unvarnished reputation as the AM talk gold standard.

Just look at what would likely happen to Limbaugh in New York City, the largest radio market in America. He’s currently heard on WABC-AM, which has broadcast Limbaugh for decades and has served as his unofficial flagship station in America. But Cumulus owns the station and it’s one that Limbaugh would get yanked off if the two sides can’t come to an agreement. Where would Limbaugh likely end up in New York? On WOR-AM, a talk station that Clear Channel purchased last year, many observers believed, as a way to make sure Limbaugh would have a New York home if his deal ended at WABC-AM.

So what’s wrong with Limbaugh moving to WOR-AM? Only the fact that the station is currently a ratings doormat, ranked 25th in that market with less than half the audience of WABC-AM. Yes, it’s likely Limbaugh would improve that station’s ratings if he moved over there. But at this stage in his career for Limbaugh to have to start over in the most important radio market in the country and do it on such a low-rated station? If you don’t think that kind of demotion would sting, you don’t understand the oversized egos that fuel talk radio in America.

The move to lowly WOR-AM would also call into question why debt-ridden Clear Channel opted to boost Limbaugh’s salary by an astounding 40 percent in 2009, assuring him a $400 million payday over a ten-year contract.

Then again, Limbaugh is no stranger to sagging ratings, especially in New York City. Back in his prime a decade ago, Limbaugh helped power WABC-AM to become the number five-rated station in all of New York. Today, with Limbaugh still its marquee draw, the station has fallen to number 15 in the ratings, which may explain why Cumulus is willing to negotiate his departure.

Other cities would also pose a post-Cumulus problem. In Chicago for instance, Limbaugh would get dropped from WLS (which has also seen declining ratings in recent months), and without a Clear Channel-owned talk station in the market to pick him up, Limbaugh would have to find a new AM home. But based on the current radio landscape in Chicago, there would appear to be very few logical takers. (The city’s top-rated AM information stations lean heavy on news and local talk; less on right-wing syndicated hosts like Limbaugh.)

Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, Talkers editor Michael Harrison insisted, “Rush is going to be around as long as he wants.” He added, “He’ll be 90 years old and still have a show.” Harrison may be right. But last week’s public shaming by Cumulus will likely be remembered for years as a turning point in Limbaugh’s broadcast trajectory.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, August 5, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time For Conservatives To Face Reality”: Deal With It, ObamaCare Will Not Be Repealed Or Defunded

On March 21, 2010, my former boss and mentor, David Frum, wrote a story that ran on under the headline “Waterloo.” It harshly criticized conservatives for their uncompromising opposition to the bill officially titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but which most of us know simply as ObamaCare. David agreed that in a perfect world, ObamaCare would never see the light of day. However, surveying the legislative landscape, David observed that the GOP never had enough votes to defeat the health-care bill.

While conservatives could not prevent the bill from becoming law entirely, David argued that they could have engaged with Democrats and possibly watered down many of the bill’s most unconservative provisions. Instead, though, the GOP refused to participate at all because the worse the bill the unchecked Democratic Congress passed, the better Republicans would do in the 2010 midterm elections.

“Waterloo” went live on the website at around 5 p.m. on the 21st. Within 24 hours, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks took David to lunch and fired him, essentially for daring to disagree.

More than three years and two elections have passed since David was shouted down for pointing out the flaws in the GOP’s “strategy” for handling ObamaCare. History appears to have provided David right. While the GOP did seize control of the House in November 2010, the party has failed to secure the Senate and, more importantly, Barack Obama won re-election. Realistically, what that means is that repeal is not an option, since even if the GOP did somehow manage to secure a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2014 (which even the most optimistic prognosticators will tell you is not going to happen), the GOP still could not affect repeal (since the president would veto). And yet, despite this harsh reality, serious members of the GOP are still promising voters that they will repeal the law. Indeed, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz are threatening to shut down the government if the president does not defund the law.

Not surprisingly, plenty of smart liberals have taken note of the GOP’s obstinacy on this issue. But more interesting is the fact that some of the brightest voices within the conservative movement are beginning to speak out against the futility of the strategy that my old boss was fired for raising back in 2010. The question ought never have been whether we can prevent ObamaCare, but rather how bad ObamaCare was going to be when the bill finally was delivered to the president for signing.

Late last week, Charles Krauthammer finally put his foot down in the face of Cruz and Lee’s continued efforts to shape GOP policy proposals as if they lived in a perfect conservative world that simply does not exist. Krauthammer did not mince words, describing the Cruz/Lee ultimatum as “nuts.” While he acknowledged that he would support defunding ObamaCare if he thought it would work, he also said it’s obvious that it won’t work, and that he does not fancy “suicide.” Indeed, while Lee and Cruz will undoubtedly claim those who don’t support their cause are less than full conservatives, Krauthammer correctly observed that one’s position on their proposal has little to do with principle and everything to do with “sanity.”

Interestingly, the point that Krauthammer makes is virtually identical to the one David made three years ago. The proposition underlying both articles is that electoral realities must govern ideological decision-making. In a perfect world, Republicans simply could have prevented ObamaCare’s passage by voting against it. Similarly, now, in a perfect world, Republicans would have the votes to repeal or defund ObamaCare.

But alas, this is not a perfect world and that being the case, true conservatives adjust their tactics and their expectations. Over the past three years, the GOP base has become so enamored with the idea of ideological purity that they have been willing to throw the realities of real world politics overboard to chase it. But real defenders of conservatism must learn to embrace the painful compromises of day-to-day governance. Otherwise, we will become a party that stands by and debates itself while living under completely unchecked legislation shaped wholly by our ideological opponents.


By: Jeb Golinkin, The Week, August 6, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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