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“Ted Cruz Loses His Wingnut Welfare”: How The New York Times Smacked Down A Decades-Old Conservative Racket

There has been a controversy for many, many years over the conservative movement’s manipulation of the New York Times’ bestseller list to create the impression of massive popularity of their wingnutty ideas among the public. This is not to say that right-wingers don’t ever legitimately sell books. They do, of course. But all you have to do is look at the sheer number of these books that are published to see that something else is going on. It is called “wingnut welfare.”

Paul Krugman gave the best definition for this phenomenon:

[T]he lavishly-funded ecosystem of billionaire-financed think tanks, media outlets, and so on provides a comfortable cushion for politicians and pundits who tell [right wing] people what they want to hear. Lose an election, make economic forecasts that turn out laughably wrong, whatever — no matter, there’s always a fallback job available.

Obviously this reality has important incentive effects. It encourages conservatives to espouse ever-cruder positions, because they don’t need to be taken seriously outside their closed universe. But it also, I’ve been noticing, makes them remarkably lazy.

How this has worked in book publishing is quite interesting in that it has played a major role in the conservative movement’s message operation for many decades. It started innocuously enough back in the 1960s when the movement first gained traction in the wreckage of the Goldwater campaign.

Goldwater had written a major bestselling book four years earlier called “The Conscience of a Conservative,” which had electrified the right and went on to become a massive success, particularly among young conservatives who considered it their political bible. There had been a serious hunger among these folks for a book that set out what they saw as conservative principles, written in an accessible way, and this book was it.

“Conscience” was actually ghostwritten by L. Brent Bozell II, William F. Buckley’s brother-in-law and a senior editor at National Review, who had been one of Goldwater’s speech writers. According to movement lore, Goldwater perfunctorily thumbed through the book once it was finished and said to run with it. It was the beginning of a very lucrative conservative racket, even if, in this case, the book was a genuine runaway hit. It showed the way for a whole genre of political books aimed specifically at conservative readers.

In 1964 came one of the first big bestsellers in this new genre, “A Choice Not an Echo,” by an ambitious activist by the name of Phyllis Schlafly who helped organize Republican women into clubs, an organizing tactic later adopted by the conservative movement as a whole. Historian Rick Perlstein amusingly illustrated the phenomenon of the engaged suburban movement conservative of the time with this quote:

“I just don’t have time for anything,” a housewife told a news magazine. “I’m fighting Communism three nights a week.”

These clubs and political organizations bought books in bulk and the idea later morphed into a system by which various conservative business and political entities from think-tanks to publishers to public relations firms to television networks to the Republican party itself promoted, bought, sold and otherwise churned them among themselves, each taking a nice little piece of the profit. Making the public believe they were actually popular with large numbers of people was just frosting on the cake. (Here’s a vivid example of how it works.)

At some point the New York Times figured this out and began to list such alleged best-sellers with a “dagger” next to them denoting bulk sales, which sort of takes the fun, if not the profit out of it. And it wasn’t long ago that some authors got wind of another layer of the scam at their own expense. They sued their publisher, the right-wing Regnery Publishing for selling what would otherwise be boring, remainder bin books to various affiliated organizations at a steeply reduced price and even for free as promotional items. The authors did not receive royalties for such sales and they weren’t happy about it, one of them even complaining, “they’ve structured their business essentially as a scam and are defrauding their writers.” Imagine that.

Apparently it was one thing to manipulate the sales for the glory of being on the New York Times bestsellers list and quite another to also cheat the authors themselves. Regnery retorted, “these disgruntled authors object to marketing strategies used by all major book publishers that have proved successful time and again as witnessed by dozens of Regnery bestsellers.” Regnery won that case.

And the con went on as if nothing had happened. Just ask Mitt Romney:

Mitt Romney boosted sales of his book this spring by asking institutions to buy thousands of copies in exchange for his speeches, according to a document obtained by POLITICO.

Romney’s book tour ran from early March to late May of this year, and took him to bookstores, universities, conferences and private groups around the country. Their giant purchases helped his book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, debut on top of the New York Times best-seller list, though with an asterisk indicating bulk purchases.

The hosts ranged from Claremont McKenna College to the Restaurant Leadership Conference, many of whom are accustomed to paying for high-profile speakers like Romney. Asking that hosts buy books is also a standard feature of book tours. But Romney’s total price — $50,000 — was on the high end, and his publisher, according to the document from the book tour — provided on the condition it not be described in detail — asked institutions to pay at least $25,000, and up to the full $50,000 price, in bulk purchases of the book. With a discount of roughly 40 percent, that meant institutions could wind up with more than 3,000 copies of the book — and a person associated with one of his hosts said they still have quite a pile left over.

Or Sarah Palin, who just did it through her own PAC:

Sarah Palin has been using her political action committee to buy up thousands of copies of her book, “Going Rogue,” in order to mail copies of the memoir to her donors, newly filed campaign records show.

The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate had her political organization spend more than $63,000 on what her reports describe as “books for fundraising donor fulfillment.” The payments went to Harper Collins, her publisher, and in some instances to HSP Direct, a Virginia-based direct mail fundraising firm that serves a number of well-known conservative politicians and pundits.

Senator and 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz is a wily politician who was trying to be a little bit more clever with his manipulation. But he got caught and the New York Times is finally pulling the plug. As Salon’s Scott Eric Kaufman pointed out:

In essence, The Times accused Cruz’s publisher of trying to buy its way onto the bestseller list by having a firm like Result Source hire thousands of people across America to individually purchase a copy of “A Time For Truth,” in the hope that some of those retailers are on the secret list of booksellers who report their sales to the Times, or that the aggregate purchasers will simply be too high for the Times to ignore.

The Times is standing by its decision to take Cruz off the list despite all the conservative caterwauling Kaufman catalogs in his piece. It appears they feel sure of their facts. Perhaps the bigger question is why Ted Cruz didn’t go with the standard operating procedure. Couldn’t he find anyone to bulk buy his dull campaign book?

There are, of course, many forms of wingnut welfare. Book publishing scams are just one of the oldest. The more lucrative forms are the ones that give Republican politicians a big money payout on Fox or a sinecure at one of the think-tanks to keep their “brand” alive for future political ambitions or advisory posts to someone in power. And needless to say, certain industries like say military contractors (cough, Halliburton,cough) are happy to hire those who might be useful to them. Indeed,  the entire lobbying industry could be defined as a bipartisan form of welfare.

What sets wingnut welfare apart from the normal everyday corruption and profit motive that characterizes our political system is its commitment to the ideology set forth in that original Goldwater book so long ago. They have never changed course or re-evaluated their beliefs in light of any evidence. The movement and the edifice that’s been built around it is impervious to doubt or evolution. It is, in their minds, infallible.

In fact, it’s more useful to think of it as a religion or a cult.When they said “The Conscience of a Conservative” was their bible, they weren’t kidding. They’re not lazy, they’re just faith-based.


By: Heather Digby Parton, Salon, July 13, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | Book Publishers, NYT Best Seller List, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Moral Idiot”: Rand Paul Compared Taxation To Slavery And Betrayed The Emptiness Of His Political Philosophy

Rand Paul brought some libertarian philosophy into the Republican presidential primary this week, in the form of the old “taxation is slavery” bumper sticker. He even indexed it to a handy percentage scale! Andrew Kaczynski has the tape: “I’m for paying some taxes. But if we tax you at 100 percent then you’ve got zero percent liberty. If we tax you at 50 percent you are half-slave, half-free.”

Paul is probably getting his argument from Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, which famously argued: “Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor.” (Note that not even he went so far as to say taxation was literally identical to slavery.) His book was probably the most convincing case that can be made for this stone-cold form of libertarianism, where all “redistributive” policy is morally abhorrent and only the night watchman state is permissible.

Nevertheless, it’s still garbage. Nozick’s book constructs a detailed procedural account of justice, arguing that redistributive taxation is theft because it is a coerced transfer. He was a smart guy, and it’s very hard to get one’s hooks into his argument. The weakness, as with all extremist accounts of property rights, is not with the logic but the premises — particularly when it comes to the very beginning of property.

Go back far enough in history, and there would have been no property of any kind. The moment somebody fences off a piece of land, it necessarily destroys the liberty of everyone else in the world, since they no longer have the right to access that land. Nozick admits this is the case, but still wants to set up initial property rights. So he embraces a concept that he calls the “Lockean proviso.”

This proviso allows appropriation of unowned things, so long as it does not worsen the situation of anyone else. And what about people last in line, so to speak, who can’t appropriate anything because everything is already taken? Well, they will benefit from the general prosperity brought on by market capitalism.

Note what kind of argument this is: It rests on the overall welfare-enhancing consequences of adopting Nozick’s ideas.

The whole point of the “taxation is slavery-ish” argument is that infringing liberty to increase general welfare is morally impermissible. Yet here is Nozick, leaning on a boon to general welfare to justify a violation of liberty so he can get property rights going. This is no different from taxing the rich to provide food stamps, or from the kind of single-payer health insurance system that socialist Bernie Sanders endorses.

The upshot is that the austere libertarianism implied by Paul’s statement is fundamentally unworkable. The horse stumbled right out of the gate, and has to be put down. Neither Milton Friedman nor Friedrich von Hayek went nearly so far. Even Nozick himself apparently abandoned it after a few years.

Let me also comment on Paul’s gruesome tin ear on display here.

What is slavery really? In the U.S. context — and given the reference to Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, this is clearly what Paul was getting at — slavery was full property rights in human beings.

It was also incomprehensibly brutal. Owning a person presented a challenge to Southern capitalists, since slave labor has no monetary incentive to work. They solved this problem neatly, with daily violence. Set a steadily increasing daily work quota (pounds of cotton picked, typically), and if it was not achieved, make up the difference with an equal number of stripes with the whip.

In this way, Southern slaves were forced to increase their labor productivity by some 400 percent from 1800 to 1860, achieving a level that was not matched until the development of the mechanical cotton picker. Southern slavery thus robbed both the body and the mind, using systematic torture to force slaves into inventing and spreading techniques of extreme manual dexterity (picking cotton by hand is very difficult).

So if Rand Paul really believes that 1 percent taxation is exactly equal to 1 percent slavery, why doesn’t he sound like an abolitionist? Why not seize one of the federal armories in an attempt to start an all-out war against a monstrous injustice? Indeed, by this measure there would be more slavery today (about 27 percent of GDP taxed) than in in 1860 (1.4 percent taxed, 12.6 percent of the population enslaved).

Only a moral idiot would think to make such an equivalence.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 9, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | Libertarians, Rand Paul, Slavery | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Hypocrisy Is Really Just The Start”: Republicans Learn The Wrong Lessons From 2012

A few months ago, Politico published a piece about the Republican message machine settling on its preferred 2016 narrative. The headline said the GOP plan is to “turn Hillary into Mitt Romney.”

“A consensus is forming within the Republican Party that the plan of attack against Hillary Clinton should be of a more recent vintage, rooted in her accumulation of wealth and designed to frame her as removed from the concerns of average Americans,” the article explained.

Three months later, the New York Times reports that Republicans are spending “heavily” on focus groups, testing this message.

Inside an office park [in Orlando], about a dozen women gathered to watch a 30-second television spot that opened with Hillary Rodham Clinton looking well-coiffed and aristocratic, toasting champagne with her tuxedoed husband, the former president, against a golden-hued backdrop.

The ad then cut to Mrs. Clinton describing being “dead broke” when she and her husband left the White House, before a narrator intoned that Mrs. Clinton makes more money in a single speech, about $300,000, than an average family earns in five years.

The message hit a nerve. “She’s out of touch,” said one of the women, who works as a laundry attendant.

This gathering was organized by American Crossroads, a Republican super PAC created by Karl Rove, but the party broadly seems to have embraced this message.

And if Clinton is really lucky, they won’t change their minds.

As we talked about in April, there is a certain irony to the entire line of attack. In 2012, when Democrats rolled out the “out-of-touch plutocrat” message against Romney, Republicans spent months in fainting-couch apoplexy. Democrats are engaging in “class warfare,” they said. The divisive rhetoric was “un-American,” voters were told. How dare Democrats “condemn success”?

In 2015, those same Republicans have suddenly discovered they’re not so offended after all. Imagine that.

But the hypocrisy is really just the start. The real issue is the degree to which Republicans are confused about why the line of criticism against Romney was effective.

There’s an over-simplicity to the GOP’s thinking: Romney was rich; Democrats labeled him out of touch, voters believed it, so Romney lost. But that’s not what happened, at least not entirely. Once again, the problem was not that Romney was extremely wealthy; the problem was that Romney was extremely wealthy while pushing a policy agenda that would benefit people like him.

The Democratic pitch would have fallen flat if they’d simply mocked the candidate’s riches. It resonated, however, because Romney breathed life into the caricature – vowing to give tax breaks to the wealthy, promising to take health care and education benefits away from working families, and expressing contempt for the “47 percent” of Americans Romney saw as parasites.

When Democrats effectively told the American mainstream, “Romney isn’t on your side,” the GOP nominee made it easy for voters to believe it. The car elevators were simply gravy on top of an already effective narrative.

The point is, substance matters. Policy agendas matter. There’s a lengthy history of low-income voters in America voting for very wealthy candidates who are committed to fighting for those voters’ interests.  Names like Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Rockefeller are familiar additions to the roster of politicians who’ve championed the needs of families far from their income bracket. Struggling voters didn’t reject them as “out of touch” because they couldn’t personally relate to poverty – rather, these voters rallied behind the wealthy candidates, without regard for their status, because of their policy agenda.

Indeed, as I type, Hillary Clinton is delivering a speech on her economic vision, much of which is focused on investing in working families as a recipe for economic growth.

Republicans are convinced what really matters isn’t the scope of Clinton’s policies, but rather, the size of her bank account. That’s ridiculous.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent talked to David Axelrod, a former top aide to President Obama, who said, “The Republicans may try and make a lifestyle case, but lifestyle is the least of it. It’s what you believe and where you propose to lead.”

It’s baffling that the GOP doesn’t understand this obvious and basic dynamic.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 13, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scott Walker And The Masters Of Deceit”: Tailoring His Views To The Particular Audience He Is Addressing

As Scott Walker finally makes his presidential bid official today, National Journal‘s Tim Alberta wonders if the candidate can perpetually get away with tailoring his views to the particular audience he is addressing. That certainly seems to be the calculation in Walker-land:

[A]ccording to Walker allies, he’s going to pursue exactly the opposite strategy Romney used in 2012. Whereas Romney started in the middle and moved rightward throughout primary season, Walker is starting on the right and will shift toward the middle.

“You start in Iowa and lock up conservatives, because if you don’t do that, none of the rest matters,” said one longtime Walker adviser, who requested anonymity to discuss campaign strategy. “It’s much easier to move from being a conservative to being a middle-of-the-road moderate later on.”

The adviser added: “In Iowa, you see the beginnings of that. He’s capturing that conservative wing first and foremost, and then moving from Iowa to the other states and bringing other voters into the fold.”

Pretty candid, I’d say, particularly when you remember the brouhaha that erupted in 2012 when Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom talked about the “pivot” his candidate was about to execute after locking up the GOP nomination:

“Everything changes,” Mr. Fehrnstrom, 50, said on CNN, with a slight smirk that suggested he believed he was about to use a clever line. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

So here’s a Walker “adviser” (who did have the good sense to stay unnamed) saying the same sort of thing. Won’t there be some angry recriminations from conservatives who are being told Walker’s going to start sounding like a different person once Iowa is in the bag?

Maybe, but it’s worth thinking about the subject Alberta uses at the top of his story to demonstrate Walker’s slippery nature:

“I’m pro-life,” Scott Walker said, looking directly into the camera. “But there’s no doubt in my mind the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one. That’s why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options. The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”

That was last October, less than a month before Election Day, when the Wisconsin governor was locked in a tight reelection battle with Democrat Mary Burke. Her allies were attacking Walker for signing a bill that required women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. He responded with this memorable 30-second ad, part of an ongoing effort to soften Walker’s image in the eyes of on-the-fence voters. In deeply polarized Wisconsin, they would decide the race. Exit polling shows they broke to him: Walker beat Burke among independents by 11 points en route to winning a second term.

Walker will announce Monday that he’s running for president. And dovetailing with the campaign launch will be a ceremony in which the governor signs into law a 20-week abortion ban that makes no exception for rape or incest. This hard-line stance on abortion, juxtaposed against the tone he struck on the issue last fall, provides a window into Walker’s political style and helps explain how he got to this point.

That “hard-line stance” has been packaged across the country with the very rhetoric about “safety” and “information” that Walker used in his gubernatorial campaign. The latter is a deliberate deception to make medically unnecessary and onerous requirements imposed on abortion providers and the women seeking their services sound innocuous. And it’s part of a long, long pattern of deceit by antichoicers who act as though they’re only concerned with women’s health and rare late-term abortions even as they fight with each other as to whether an outright ban on all abortions should include a rape-incest exception or perhaps even extend to “abortifacient” birth control methods like IUDs. So they’re not exactly going to be upset at Scott Walker for playing the same game:

“Even as he cut that abortion ad, there isn’t a single pro-life voter in the state who suddenly thinks he’s pro-choice,” said Matt Batzel, executive director of American Majority, a conservative activist group. “They know he shares their views.”

You could undoubtedly say the same about Walker’s business backers, who may well have laughed up their sleeves during this last campaign when the good and gentle governor disclaimed any interest in passing a right-to-work law–which is practically the first thing that happened after he was safely returned to office.

So perhaps there is something about Scott Walker that inspires the kind of trust in ideologues which makes a little deception now and then acceptable so long as it produces electoral victories and he delivers the goods in the end.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, July 13, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Iowa, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Did Build That”: As Trump Embarrasses Them On Immigration, Republicans Have No One To Blame But Themselves

The always excellent Greg Sargent makes a great point this morning at the Plum Line: Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for the quandary Donald Trump is putting them in.

Just as Southern conservatives could have saved themselves from looking like racist neanderthals desperate to keep a symbol of hate and slavery flying over their governments by taking action of their own accord, so too could the GOP have stood up for immigration reform and put the kibosh on a xenophobic huckster like Trump. But it was not to be:

Really, now — nobody could have predicted that if Republicans failed to pass immigration reform when they had the chance in 2013 and 2014, it would become a major issue in the 2016 race, in ways that are alarming GOP strategists. Yet, shockingly, here we are.

Donald Trump’s foray into the immigration debate has now sparked a flare-up between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. And some Republicans are openly warning that Trump’s comments threaten to do severe damage to the GOP brand among Latinos.

Of course they will, and for good reason. Trump is merely saying in front of a microphone what millions of Republicans across the country say behind closed doors and anonymously in online comments sections. That Trump’s vicious beliefs are widely shared among conservatives is precisely the reason why otherwise business-friendly Republicans eager to win back a greater share of the Hispanic vote could not see their way to passing immigration reform, for fear of Tea Party challenges from the right.

Republicans in leadership could have simply told their nativist base to pound sand, but that might not have been an option: after all, merely sneezing the wrong direction on the issue may have cost Eric Cantor his seat. Either way, the GOP has only itself to blame for the Trump debacle. They had the opportunity to nip this in the bud and take the tough stand to pass immigration reform. They chose not to, and now they’re reaping the whirlwind.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 12, 2015

July 14, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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