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“He’s No Aberration”: Tom Perkins Is Willing To Say What The Rest Of The Ultrarich Are Secretly Thinking

Tom Perkins incensed the Internet (again), when he suggested Thursday that only taxpayers should get the right to vote and that the wealthiest Americans who pay the most in taxes should get more votes. Yep, you read that right.

The sentiment is especially offensive when you consider the demographics associated with the statement (read: white and male), but it isn’t the most absurd thing he’s said. That would be a letter Perkins wrote to The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 24, in which he compared “the progressive war on the American 1 percent, namely the ‘rich’  ” to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, particularly that the 1 percent face a “rising tide of hatred” akin to Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against Jews in 1938.

The strangest thing about the letter isn’t that he thought that or even admitted it in a paper of record. What boggles the mind is the outpouring of support he received from like-minded ultrarich Americans and conservatives.

Billionaire investor Sam Zell, appearing on Bloomberg TV recently, denounced what he termed “the politics of envy,” arguing the 1 percent have earned their position in society. “I guess my feeling is that [Perkins] is right: The 1 percent are being pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so,” he said in an exchange with anchor Betty Liu. “The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.”

And The Wall Street Journal, a publication most beloved by the rich, similarly came to his defense. Anyone wondering whether the paper’s editors had printed Perkins’s letter to embarrass or expose him had their answer: They published it because they were sympathetic to the argument. Under the curious headline “Perkinsnacht,” the editorial board published an indictment of “liberals in power,” waxing dramatic about how “liberal vituperation makes our letter writer’s point.” The editors concluded: “The liberals aren’t encouraging violence, but they are promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents.”

Support for Perkins’s argument was so widespread that The Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson wrote a piece questioning what exactly was making “some conservatives take a leave of their senses” in coming to Perkins’s defense. The best response to that question came (as usual) from New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait. “Perkins’s letter provided a peek into the fantasy world of the right-wing one percent, in which fantasies of an incipient Hitler-esque terror are just slightly beyond the norm.”

It wasn’t just the wealthy who came to Perkins’s side. One of the most cogent conservative arguments I read came from Michelle Malkin, who argued that it’s dangerous to marginalize a group, any group, even millionaires and billionaires. It was a good point, but it was something else in her piece that caught my attention. She called Perkins a “truth-teller” whose “message in defense of our nation’s achievers will transcend, inspire, embolden and prevail.” No matter, she lamented, “the mob is shooting the messenger anyway.”

That’s just it: Perkins isn’t an aberration, and his message is offensive precisely because it speaks to something a lot of rich people and conservatives actually believe. Perkins hadn’t gaffed. He hadn’t misspoken. Although he would later qualify his remarks, he was making a point that many of the uber-rich believe instinctively. They’re just too prudent to say so.

Perkins’s most recent statement—that people who pay more in taxes should get more votes—hasn’t had time to attract the kind of support his first one garnered, but it has parallels in Erick Erickson’s 53 percent movement. The RedState.org founder’s counterpunch to Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99 percent” slogan was meant to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes. The assumption is that Occupy protesters are among the now famous (thanks, Mitt Romney!) 47 percent of the country who don’t.

The sentiment would resurface again on the presidential campaign trail when Romney said the thing that doomed his candicacy. A refresher: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Another thing Romney left off but might as well have said? Those who believe they are entitled to vote. Romney and Perkins have good reason to want to keep the 47 percent from voting. Namely, the 47 percent won’t make it a priority to protect the interests of the long-suffering 1 percent. They have more pressing concerns, like, say, groceries.

And that gets to another of Perkins’s fears: that the 1 percent is somehow endangered and at risk of “economic extinction.” To wit: “The fear is wealth tax, higher taxes, higher death taxes—just more taxes until there is no more 1 percent. And that will creep down to the 5 percent and then the 10 percent,” he said. It’s the irrationality of this fear that has garnered the bulk of media attention. But it’s also worth reflecting for a moment on just how poor Perkins’s conception of percentages is. (Pauses for dramatic effect. Moves on.)

There are a few other statistics Romney didn’t mention, such as that two-thirds of households that don’t pay federal income tax do pay payroll taxes. Or that 18 percent of all tax filers paid neither payroll nor income taxes. Of those who paid neither, nearly all of them were elderly or had incomes under $20,000.

Romney thought he was speaking in confidence, but Perkins isn’t worried about that. Perkins, as Malkin so deftly observed, is a truth-teller. He’s saying what the right-wing 1 percent truly believe but are too scared to admit publicly.

 

By: Lucia Graves, The National Journal, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Bring On The Pajama Bashing”: Conservatives Can’t Help But Give Vent To Their Ugliest Impulses And Anxieties

Just as we understand the world through stories, our political narratives often revolve around characters, ordinary people who become momentarily famous as supposedly representative of some policy issue or cultural trend. Sometimes they’re fictional, and sometimes they’re people who have chosen to push themselves into a political debate. But often it’s someone who dips a toe into the political waters, then finds the cameras swinging on to them in what surely is a bracing lesson in the contemporary media’s appetites.

What ensues is a debate about just what this person is supposed to represent. Is she the embodiment of a problem conservatives refuse to solve? Is he the truest of Americans, held down by liberal meddling? Or is this person, down to his or her very soul, everything we want the public to hate about the other side?

I’ve written before about the standard media practice of offering “exemplars,” or ordinary people used as the vehicle through which to tell the story of a policy issue or an event. The kind of political exemplars pushed by the parties aren’t as common, but each one gets much more attention. Last week saw another episode of these exemplar controversies, and certainly one of the oddest ones yet. Despite some of the weird details, it was familiar in the way it wound up: with conservatives showing the worst of themselves. They haven’t seemed to realize that no matter who starts these arguments, the right almost always loses them. That isn’t because liberals are so brilliant at choosing these exemplars, or because liberals control the media in which the argument plays out. It’s because once things get going, conservatives can’t help but give vent to their ugliest impulses and anxieties, driven on by the mistaken belief that all Americans will see things the way they do.

Last week, the pro-Obama group Organizing for America put up a web ad with a photo of a 20-something man wearing pajamas and drinking hot chocolate in what looked like a Christmas-morning scene, to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance. Immediately, many in the conservative media reacted as though just looking at this young fellow had transported them back to the junior high schoolyard where the class bully had called them sissies. The only way to restore their manhood, apparently, was to go after some random kid in a web ad by saying he’s kinda gay.

The National Review‘s Rich Lowry kicked things off with a column imputing to this fictional character, now named “Pajama Boy,” an entire history and a series of character flaws. “He might be glad to pay more for his health insurance to include maternity benefits he doesn’t need as a blow against gender stereotyping,” Lowry wrote. But that was one of the more restrained assaults on Pajama Boy’s masculinity. A writer for the popular conservative site Pajamas Media (so named as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the belief that bloggers are just people sitting in their pajamas spouting off, though by now they seem to have changed their stance on pajamas), wrote a piece beginning, “Whatever horrifying condition deprived Pajama Boy of his genitals, I suppose we must be thankful he can’t pass it along to future generations.” He went on to assert cleverly that left-wing academics also “have no genitals” and concluded, “Side with the left long enough, and your genitals fall off. As well they should.” Lowry’s National Review colleague Mark Steyn wrote, “Obamacare pajama models, if not yet mandatorily gay, can only be dressed in tartan onesies and accessorized with hot chocolate so as to communicate to the Republic’s maidenhood what a thankless endeavor heterosexuality is in contemporary America.” Don’t even ask what happened on Twitter.

It should go without saying that if you see a photo of a somewhat nerdy-looking young man and your first impulse is to shout, “Gay! Gay! That guy’s gay!” then maybe you should do some hard thinking about where this powerful sexual anxiety comes from.

So what happens when this is all said and done? Democrats put up a web ad, then conservatives blow a gasket and end up looking shrill and homophobic. This kind of pattern has repeated itself many times. Recall Sandra Fluke, the activist who became briefly famous when she testified before Congress about a controversy over insurance coverage for birth control at the university where she was a law student. Though she said nothing about her personal life, conservatives immediately attacked her for believing that women should have the right to a sex life. Rush Limbaugh, the most powerful conservative media figure in America, called called her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and said, “if we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” And they wonder why there’s a gender gap.

It isn’t that Democrats aren’t willing to criticize the exemplars Republicans elevate. You remember Joe the Plumber, whom John McCain loved so dearly he brought him up in a debate with Obama, praised him in stump speeches, and even produced an ad with salt-of-the-earth Americans proclaiming “I’m Joe the Plumber” as though he was Spartacus. Liberals certainly chuckled when Joe turned out to not actually be a licensed plumber, and took some satisfaction when he failed to turn his celebrity into a career as a lawmaker, losing his 2012 campaign for an Ohio congressional seat by a razor-thin 49-point margin. Liberals were happy to note that the small business owner who starred in a Mitt Romney ad attacking Barack Obama for “you didn’t build that” actually got nearly a million dollars in government loans and contracts.

But there’s a particular venom that characterizes the approach many conservatives take to the liberal exemplars. For example, it’s hard to imagine a prominent liberal columnist driving to Baltimore to poke around the home and business of the family of a 12-year-old boy who advocated for the S-CHIP funding that helped his family afford medical treatment for him and his sister after a serious car accident. But that’s what conservative celebrity Michelle Malkin did in 2007, in an attempt to prove that the boy’s family didn’t deserve the help. It certainly seems as though whenever we meet a new ordinary citizen liberals are touting, the first thought some conservatives have is, “This person must be destroyed.”

There’s also often a disconnect between the attempt to undermine the exemplar and the policy argument conservatives are making. Let’s say Malkin had succeeded in uncovering some dirt on that young boy’s family. What would that have shown—that poor children shouldn’t get health coverage? It was reminiscent of something we learned more about this week, one of the most well-known exemplars in American political history: the “welfare queen” whose bilking of the system Ronald Reagan touted as proof that poor people didn’t deserve help from the government. While liberals believed for many years that Reagan had simply made up the tale (like so many others), Slate has the fascinating backstory of Linda Taylor, who not only defrauded welfare in the 1960s and 70s but may have also committed multiple acts of murder and kidnapping. The problem with Reagan’s use of her story is that he wasn’t arguing that it showed that we needed to do more to crack down on fraud so con artists couldn’t take advantage of the system. Reagan was arguing that this career criminal was actually a typical welfare recipient, and her story showed that benefits should be cut for everyone.

Reagan’s “welfare queen” story had real political potency. These days though, conservatives are more likely to get worked up over some individual liberal (or the photo of someone they presume is a liberal) and eventually find that the public doesn’t share their excitement. Just like they thought Joe the Plumber was going to win them the 2008 election, I guess they think a photo of a guy wearing pajamas is going to get Americans mad at Barack Obama and make them not want to get health insurance. To which liberals should probably respond: Go ahead. Keep telling us about how liberal men aren’t as manly and strong as you are, and how single women are a bunch of sluts, and how racial minorities are ungrateful moochers. How’s that been working out for you lately?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Alternate Media Universe”: The GOP’s Delusional Far-Right Twitter Bubble Explains Their Misinformed, Kooky Thinking

New York magazine’s Dan Amira takes a look at what accounts members of Congress follow on Twitter, and the results are … depressing. Both sides mainly follow the worst of the awful Beltway media. Pundits obsessed with trivialities and conflict and personalities beat out commentators and reporters who understand policy or political science. So Mike Allen wins! Well, the Hill actually wins, beating out Politico, C-SPAN and its smarter, but more expensive, primary competitor Roll Call. But Allen wins in the list of individual media personalities with the largest followings among members of Congress. That top 10 is pretty much depressing from start to finish, though at least Jake Tapper beats Joe Scarborough.

It’s pretty easy to over-interpret these findings. Few members of Congress have any involvement at all in their Twitter feeds — some of them may not know they have Twitter feeds — so what we’re seeing here are the accounts followed by, most likely, junior staffers. They follow Chuck Todd because, you know, they have to. If they miss some dumb thing Chuck Todd says that people start talking about they will get in trouble.

But when the most-followed lists are separated by party affiliation, interesting trends emerge. Republicans are more in lockstep in their following habits. 71 percent of Democrats follow the White House, the most-followed account for the Dems. Seventy-two percent of Republicans follow Eric Cantor, the seventh most followed account for the GOP. (John Boehner is the most-followed, with 88.7 percent of Republican members.) The Heritage Foundation has more elected Republican followers — 70.4 percent of members — than any actual media outlet or reporter. Even Politico. Even the Wall Street Journal. There’s no comparable organization in the top 20 for the Democrats.

On the pundit list, Mike Allen is at the top of both parties’ lists, proof that bipartisanship is alive and awful in Washington, but only 48.8 percent of Democrats follow Allen, compared to 57.7 percent of Republicans — proof that Democrats remain, as ever, the slight lesser of two evils. The rest of the pundit lists serve as a small window into the root of congressional paralysis and dysfunction.

The two lists have only a few names in common. After Allen, the rest of the GOP top five is all Fox reporters and commentators (including two former Bush administration officials), and the rest of the Democratic top five is Maddow, Chuck Todd, Ezra Klein and Jake Tapper — a plurality for MSNBC if you count Ezra, but not a unanimous win. The only outright conservative on the Democratic list is Joe Scarborough. Conservatives would likely argue (incorrectly but whatever) that Joe Scarborough is also a token liberal on the Republican list.

The most left-wing people on the Democratic list are easily MSNBC hosts Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow. (And maybe Krugman.) The GOP list has Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Erick Erickson, Fred Barnes and Michelle Malkin. And, well, if you want to know why Republicans are so nuts, let’s look at the fact that nearly half (46 percent) of the Republican congressional delegation follows Michelle Malkin.

If you’re following Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin because you think they are worthwhile voices or useful sources of information, you’re a terribly misinformed far-right kook. If you’re following them because you have to keep on top of whatever Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin are screeching about today, because you know that your constituents consider them worthwhile voices or useful sources of information, that’s just as bad. Because whether the Republican Party is full of true-believing kooks or merely people forced to act like true believing kooks in order to keep their seats, the result is the same: a party that can’t be negotiated with because it exists in an alternate media universe with its own history and set of facts.

Hayes and Maddow, to take the two left-most voices on the Democratic list, are both quite genuinely left-wing, especially for the mainstream national political press, but they are also both reasonable people who are generous — sometimes excessively generous! — to opposing points of views. Hannity invited a notorious anti-Semite on his show as part of his years-long campaign to push the most absurd Obama conspiracies imaginable and Malkin wrote a book defending Japanese internment during World War II. These two both regularly fear-monger over the imagined specter of widespread black mob violence. It’s not just that these two have toxic beliefs and live in feverish fantasy lands, though they do, it’s that taking these two seriously is a dumb thing to do in a country that just elected Obama twice, while also voting for Democrats for Congress in greater numbers than for Republicans. They’re … not quite in touch with the actual mood of the country now, to say nothing of where it’s heading. That may be hard to grasp in the right-wing media bubble, especially for people representing districts made up primarily of angry white people, but it’s true.

As ridiculous as the right-wing pundits are, though, it’s the 70 percent of Republicans following Heritage that is actually more worrying. Heritage has joined the rest of the conservative movement in shifting from pursuing politically achievable conservative policy goals to always advocating for the most conservative course of action even when that course involves apocalyptic consequences and is also impossible. So if you want to know how exactly House Republicans managed to convince themselves that they’ll be able to repeal Obamacare if they just want to bad enough, well, it jibes with everything they hear in their wonderful little self-contained world.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, September 4, 2013

September 5, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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