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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

“Tom Cotton And The GOP’s Wimpy Fear Of Iran”: The Republican Party’s Judgment Has Been Grossly Distorted By Fear

When did the Republican Party become such a bastion of cowards?

That’s what I wondered the moment I heard about the letter to the Iranian government, signed by 47 Republican senators, that aims to scuttle U.S.-led negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.

Oh, of course the letter is meant to look like the opposite of cowardly. It’s supposed to serve as the latest evidence of the GOP’s singularly manly swagger, which the party has burnished non-stop since George W. Bush first promised to track down Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” (Or maybe it goes back to Ronald Reagan insinuating that Jimmy Carter lacked the resolve to stand up to Leonid Brezhnev. Or to Barry Goldwater indicating that he alone had the guts to use atomic weapons against the godless Commies of North Vietnam.)

But it’s actually a sign that the Republican Party’s judgment has been grossly distorted by fear. That’s why critics who are railing against the letter for its supposedly unconstitutional subversion of diplomatic protocol miss the point. The problem with the letter isn’t that it broke the rules. The problem with the letter is that it’s gutless.

The ringleader of the senatorial troublemakers, freshman Tom Cotton of Arkansas, wants us to believe he and his colleagues have seen through Barack Obama’s dangerous willingness to capitulate to the mullahs in Tehran, and that they alone are tough enough to derail the bad deal the president is prepared, and even eager, to make.

But really, who’s wimpier? A party so terrified by the prospect of normalizing relations with a vastly less formidable foreign power after 36 years of rancor and distrust that it engages in unprecedented acts of diplomatic sabotage, thereby crippling the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy? Or that president himself, who believes that after those 36 years of rancor and distrust this vastly less formidable foreign power can be negotiated into delaying its nuclear ambitions for a decade?

I think the answer is obvious.

As The Week‘s Ryan Cooper has cogently argued, the GOP’s position seems to be based on the assumption that if Iran produced one nuclear device or a handful of them, it would launch them at the United States. I’ll admit, that’s a scary thought. But it’s also completely deranged. In the time it would take for an Iranian nuclear missile to reach its target, the United States could launch dozens if not hundreds of vastly more powerful and accurate retaliatory strikes that would leave Persian civilization in ruins.

Actually, that’s not true. There would be no ruins. Just uninhabitable, radioactive dust.

And here’s the thing: Iran’s leaders know this.

It’s one thing for a single terrorist to embrace suicide for what he takes to be a noble ideological goal and the promise of heavenly reward. It’s quite another for the leaders of a nation of 77 million people to act in such a way that every last inhabitant of the country and every product of its culture would be instantly incinerated. That, quite simply, isn’t going to happen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fears about Iran’s intentions aren’t quite as pusillanimous as Tom Cotton’s. Iran, for one thing, is much closer to Israel than the U.S., which means that it can be targeted with much less sophisticated rockets that would reach their destination much more quickly. Moreover, one or two nukes is all it would take to wipe out Israel’s major population centers, making the country far more existentially vulnerable. And then there’s the burden of Jewish history, which understandably inspires more than a little paranoia.

But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it sensible. Paranoia, after all, is an irrational fear — and reason tells us that while Iran would very much like some day to succeed in building a single nuclear device, Israel already possesses dozens of nuclear warheads, as well as something even more valuable: its status as a staunch ally of the United States. Iran has every reason to believe we would respond to a nuclear strike on Israel just as severely as we would respond to an attack launched against us. That means that no such suicidal assault against Israel is going to happen either.

As usual, The Onion may have conveyed the absurdity of the situation more effectively than anyone, in a satirical headline from 2012 that’s gotten renewed play in recent weeks: “Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon.”

When leading politicians in the most militarily powerful nation on the planet believe they see a mortal threat in a country with a GDP roughly the size of Maryland’s and lacking even a single bomb — well, that’s a sign of world-historical spinelessness.

Democrats should be saying so. Loudly and repeatedly.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 11, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Israel, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Scramble For The Stupid Vote”: Slumming For Support In The Fever Swamps Of White Cultural Resentment

Dinesh D’Souza is no one’s idea of a thoughtful participant in the nation’s public conversation. Still, his tweet on Wednesday morning may have set a new low for the right-wing rabble-rouser. Commenting on a widely circulated image of President Obama taking a picture of himself with a selfie stick, D’Souza tweeted the following message: “YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF THE GHETTO… Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment.”

The tweet has created quite a stir, especially among people who think it demonstrates D’Souza’s racism. But I think it reveals something that might actually be worse: his willingness to pander shamelessly to racists in order to increase his own power and influence.

And really, isn’t that what’s most outrageous about the contemporary Republican Party — how ready and even eager it is to go slumming for support in the fever swamps of white cultural resentment?

Yes, even worse than its lamentable enthusiasm for prostrating itself before the super-rich. For one thing, while money can certainly influence the outcome of an election, it’s unclear how much or in what way. Just ask the notorious Koch brothers, who spent over $400 million during the last presidential election cycle with decidedly mixed results. Then there’s the fact that the Democrats have their own super-rich donors, showing that money doesn’t directly translate into a fixed ideological agenda. This is true even among the most reliably Republican donors, whose policy commitments can be as unpredictable as anyone’s.

Far greater civic damage is done by the GOP pandering to (and flattering the prejudices of) right-wing cultural populists.

It all began with Barry Goldwater’s 1964 bid to catapult himself into the White House on the backs of states-rights segregationists and Orange County conservatives. Goldwater lost in a landslide, but 16 years later Ronald Reagan succeeded with a similar strategy, combining culturally alienated Southern white voters with disaffected blue-collar northern Democrats to form a winning electoral coalition for the Republican Party.

As the size of that coalition has slowly shrunk over the intervening decades — due to a mixture of demographic attrition and changes in the ideological configuration of the Democratic Party since the early 1990s — the GOP has had to work ever-harder to motivate the coalition’s remaining members to show up at the polls on Election Day. And that has turned the Republican primaries into contests over who can pander to them the most egregiously.

That’s what’s inspired such sparkling policy gems as Mitt Romney’s proposal that undocumented workers “self-deport” and Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax cut gimmick. It’s also given us Sen. Ted Cruz — a politician whose every word and action seems driven by the singular desire to transform himself into an archetype of the median Fox News viewer.

And then there’s Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who’s already in the lead to win this election cycle’s award for Achievements in Pandering.

Exhibit A is a form of groveling that these days just about every Republican engages in when asked if he or she accepts the truth of Darwinian evolution. Walker played this sorry game on his recent trip to London, when the question was posed to him by a reporter and he chose to “punt.”

When members of the right-wing media dismiss such questions as exercises in confirming that conservatives belong to a different cultural “tribe” than liberals, they have a point. A president’s views on evolutionary biology are in almost all imaginable circumstances irrelevant to his job, and most liberals who scoff at Republican expressions of evolutionary agnosticism probably know no more about biological science than their ideological opponents.

Yet there is still something more than a little pathetic about the abject refusal of Republican candidates for high office to defend the reigning scientific consensus on the matter, at the risk of offending the most stridently fundamentalist Christians. Why not be similarly non-committal about whether the sun orbits the Earth or vice versa? Just because these believers have arbitrarily decided that it’s acceptable to defer to scientists on one issue but not the other?

A politician less terrified of antagonizing scientifically illiterate voters might respond to a question about evolution like this: “Yes, I believe life evolved on Earth, not because I’m a scientist but precisely because I’m not. Scientists study these questions, they revise their views in light of new evidence, all the evidence gathered today points toward evolution, and that’s good enough for me. As a Christian, I have faith that God played a role in evolution that we can’t fully grasp through science, but that doesn’t mean the science is wrong.”

A statement like that would take the faith of religious voters seriously while not pretending that ignorance is acceptable or treating it as something positively admirable. But of course it might also alienate a few Know Nothings, and that’s apparently not something Walker is willing to risk doing.

He is not only unwilling to risk offending fundamentalists, but also seems actively committed to wooing people who think that what America really needs in 2015 is to stick it to university professors.

That’s Exhibit B: Walker’s effort to cut $300 million from the budget for the University of Wisconsin system — coincidentally at the precise moment he’s gearing up to compete in the notoriously far-right GOP Iowa caucuses.

I have no idea if Walker actually believes professors are parasites on the Wisconsin state budget — or if he’s merely ingratiating himself to those who do. What matters is that in taking this stance he’s allied himself with the forces in American society that consider Advanced Placement history courses to be a problem rather than a plus, and who know so little about university life that they actually think professors are coddled wards of the state instead of richly educated researchers and teachers who work endless hours for modest pay and (thanks in part to slanderous statements by public figures like Scott Walker) precious little social esteem.

Is this really what America needs now — a scramble to nail down the stupid vote? That is the spectacle the Republican Party seems once again poised to provide.

Add it to the list of reasons I won’t be voting for the GOP anytime soon.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, February 20, 2015

February 21, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Roots Of The GOP’s Race Problem”: Half A Century Later, One Of Our Two Parties Is Still Dedicated To Fighting Against Civil Rights

Fifty years ago Thursday, Lyndon Johnson delivered the commencement address at the University of Michigan and first uttered the words “great society.” Before you click away, this is not one of those columns soberly assessing his vision’s accomplishments and failures. Rather, I ask a different question: What if there had been no civil-rights revolution, and we’d taken conservatives’ advice?

This question struck me as I was reading through a Great Society-at-50 assessment by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. Being an AEI scholar, Eberstadt is, as you’d imagine, quite critical of a lot of Great Society anti-poverty and other “transfer” programs. But he ungrudgingly acknowledges one point: With respect to the civil rights revolution, which obviously was a key part of the Great Society, ending legal segregation really did take a massive effort, one that could only have been led by the federal government.

The country was largely united behind this effort by 1964. But not conservatives. Of course, most of those conservatives were Southern Democrats. Not all of them, though. 1964 was the year of Barry Goldwater, when the nascent conservative movement that had started in the 1950s took control—for the time being—of the GOP. Today, Goldwater is a hero of the conservative movement. Here is how he thought segregation could be ended in the United States, in a quote from his famous 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative: “I believe that the problem of race relations, like all social and cultural problems, is best handled by the people directly concerned. Social and cultural change, however desirable, should not be effected by the engines of national power. Let us, through persuasion and education, seek to improve institutions we deem defective. But let us, in doing so, respect the orderly processes of the law. Any other course enthrones tyrants and dooms freedom.”

Incredible. “The people directly concerned.” That was the whole problem—they were handling it, in their inimitable way.  Those sheriff’s deputies turning dogs and fire hoses on children—why, they weren’t being racist at all. They were dethroning tyranny.

Goldwater had a long history of racist positions, going back to his opposition to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. The American people largely thought him a crazy man in 1964, and of course he lost to Johnson by titanic proportions. But let’s just say he’d won. What might have happened, had we followed his suggested path? How much longer would legal segregation have remained in place in the South? How much innocent blood would have been emptied onto Southern streets? We’d have had a race war on our hands that would have made Watts look like an episode of The Flip Wilson Show.

How long would Southern states have remained segregated? When would those states have integrated of their own volition, because it was the right thing to do? Hard to say. Probably once the citizens of Alabama came face to face with the reality that they couldn’t win a national championship with an all-white team. But that would have been, with a federal government sitting on the sidelines, something like 1974. In the meantime, we might well have had a second civil war.

But we didn’t, and we didn’t for one reason: government. The federal government stepped in and made integration happen. Only the federal government could have done it. The end of legal segregation remains America’s greatest triumph. And it didn’t take a village. It took a government.

I like the way today’s conservatives rush to point out, as they will in this comment thread, that most of the opposition to the civil rights bill was Democratic, as I noted above. There’s no denying that. But the more relevant point for today is this: Over the next few years, those people left the Democratic Party. They knew there was no place for them there.

In today’s GOP, however, the successors to the Richard Russells and Harry Byrds have been welcomed with open arms. And Barry Goldwater is not merely one guy among many guys they kind of like from the past. He is conservatism’s great hero! And 1964 is thought of as a shining moment in their movement’s history! And here we are, 50 years later, with the Republican Party looking as if it just might nominate for president a guy (Rand Paul) who once admitted that he’d have opposed the Civil Rights Act and basically was still against it (and Paul is one of the better Republicans on race!). Half a century, and society has changed for the better in amazing ways. But one of our two parties is still dedicated to fighting it.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 22, 2014

 

May 22, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Perry ‘Next In Line’?”: Dick Morris Hoping For A New Lease On His Own Shady Career

There’s already been some Twitter-jokes about Dick Morris’ touting of Rick Perry’s 2016 prospects as the “kiss of death” for the Texas governor. But since Morris is just raising the banner of the famous “Next In Line” hypothesis of GOP presidential nomination contests that others will pick up sooner or later, we might as well take the con man’s argument seriously.

For those unfamiliar with the meme, “Next In Line” is one of those theories that sounds compelling thanks to the very limited sample size of recent presidential nominating contests. But it is based on the idea that Republicans are “orderly” and “hierarchical,” and naturally gravitate towards presidential candidates who have already been vetted in previous contests.

Now to some extent, the “Next in Line” meme is based on truisms: obviously, someone who has already run for president has, other things being equal, a relative advantage in name ID, contacts in key states, and fundraising networks. That’s true for any office in either party. But the idea that Republicans just “fall in line” mechanically behind the previous second-place finisher starts falling apart when you look at individual cycles. It doesn’t really apply to Nixon ’60 or Poppy ’88; far more important than their performance in previous nominating cycles is the fact that both were sitting vice presidents when they first won a presidential nomination. It doesn’t apply to Goldwater; yes, he won a smattering of delegates in 1960, but the only real threat to Nixon that year was Nelson Rockefeller. Nixon ’68 is indeed an example of a thoroughly vetted, previous candidate winning the nomination, but the “Next In Line” hypothesis would have suggested a ’64 also-ran like Romney (who pulled out before NH in ’68), Scranton (who didn’t run), or Rocky (who entered late in ’68 and fell short).

In 1976, the nominee was appointed president Gerald Ford, who had never run for president. You can argue that 1980 nominee Ronald Reagan won because he ran a close second in ’76, but the more important reality is that as the great symbol of a rapidly rising conservative movement, he would have won the first time around (technically the second, since he briefly ran in ’68), perhaps easily, had he not been facing an incumbent president.

The candidate who best fits the “Next in Line” hypothesis was Bob Dole in 1996. Still, Dole won against as weak a field Republicans have ever experienced before 2012. W. was by no means “Next in Line” in 2000. And in 2008 and 2012, while previous candidates did win, anyone who watched the actual competition in either year would be hard pressed to imagine it as a matter of disciplined Republicans falling into line behind the “inevitable” nominee.

If “Next in Line” really was some sort of iron law, of course, it’s unclear it would stipulate a 2016 nomination for Perry, who dropped out of the 2012 contest on January 19 after finishing fifth in Iowa and a very poor sixth in New Hampshire. Yes, there was a brief moment in the early autumn of 2013 when Perry looked like a king-hell rising star and Mitt Romney’s worst nightmare, but he rapidly blew it via a variety of issue mispositionings and debate gaffes, and perhaps the most overrated campaign organization in living memory.

Morris deems Perry Next-In-Line simply by dismissing the other 2012 losers as, well, losers, and then suggesting that Perry can do better this time if he does this and that and doesn’t do this and that. If he had some ham, he could make a ham sandwich, if he had some bread.

The reality is that proponents of Next-in-Line, along with other theories that dismiss disorderly factional fights in the GOP as so much thrashing about before the Establishment’s favorite is accepted, have a real problem in 2016. Nobody’s got a significant early lead in the polls. Christie and Bush have serious handicaps, particularly in the “electability” department that sometimes makes Establishment types grudgingly acceptable to grass-roots conservatives. Paul Ryan appears uninterested in running. Important party factions like the antichoicers, the Christian Right leadership, and Republican governors, don’t seem to have a consensus favorite. You could make a case, on paper, for someone like Scott Walker, who scratches more itches than most. But he’s got ethics problems and the kind of personality that makes him reminiscent of 2012’s on-paper winner, Tim Pawlenty, who never even made it to 2012.

I suppose you could say that on such a muddy track, Rick Perry’s got as much of a chance as anybody. But if he does somehow win the nomination, there will be nothing “orderly” or predictable about it–other than that Dick Morris will get a new lease on his shady career for having prominently “mentioned” him so early.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 30, 2014

May 1, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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