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“Clearly Freakazoid Behavior”: Where Does The Tea Party Find These People?

I was on Hardball last night talking about the escapades of this Milton Wolf character, the tea party guy who’s challenging GOP incumbent Senator Pat Roberts this year. Wolf became freshly newsworthy this past weekend when the Topeka Capital-Journal revealed that in 2010, Wolf, a radiologist, posted photos of disfigured corpses on Facebook (of people who’d been shot, etc.) and joined other commenters in poking fun at the them.

One image he posted showed a human skull all but blasted apart, about which Wolf wrote: “One of my all-time favorites,” Wolf posted to the Facebook picture. “From my residency days there was a pretty active ‘knife and gun club’ at Truman Medical Center. What kind of gun blows somebody’s head completely off? I’ve got to get one of those.”

The Kansas City Star headlines an AP story by asserting that Wolf has “apologized,” but I read the piece and I’ll be jiggered if I see any apology in there. What Wolf does is try to explain his actions, although not really, and then accuse Roberts of leaking the material (which, if he did, so what; any opposing campaign would). A release by Wolf’s campaign even called the alleged leak (and it’s only alleged) “the most desperate move of any campaign in recent history,” another clueless and self-pitying statement.

So, this is clearly freakazoid behavior, and is obviously a grotesquely inappropriate thing for a medical professional to do. And it raises the broader question: Where does the tea party find these people?

I think this is an interesting question, because the answer describes one of the movement’s major impacts on our politics, which is the elevation of ideology above every other human consideration—of things like experience and temperament and character—in selecting people for high office; indeed, the creation of a posture in which those other considerations are scorned.

Here’s what I mean. Pre-tea party, if you wanted to be involved in Republican politics, you started the way nearly everybody starts in politics, in both parties. You run for city council, or county commissioner; then state legislature; then maybe, if you’ve demonstrated some skill or charisma or something, you’ll get to Congress or maybe become governor.

Each of these campaigns vets you, so that the crazy things you did and said when you were young are placed before the voters, who decide whether those things matter or not. And each of these experiences, as a county commissioner or state legislature, leavens you a bit, teaches you what the process of government is like, gives you a little sobriety. You might still be very conservative (or very liberal on the other side), but experience has, at least in theory and I think in most cases, made you a little more mature and better equipped to hold higher office.

But then comes the tea party in 2010, and boom, none of this matters anymore. So people who would normally have had to run for lower office first are suddenly running for United States Senate! Christine O’Donnell, no apparent relevant experience in anything except being on TV. Sharron Angle, who did admittedly serve in the Nevada state assembly for eight years but who was there to throw bombs; she voted no in the 42-member body so often that statehouse reporters joked about votes being “41 to Angle.” And lots of people with histories of out-there statements.

None of that earns any demerits in tea party “vetting.” For the tea party, all you need to do is pass ideological muster: hate Obama; hate government; embrace their idea of “freedom.” You sure don’t need to have shown a sober temperament. In fact, quite the opposite. Being known as 41 to Angle is a great calling card for tea party voters, because it shows them that you’re not a sell-out and the system hasn’t ruined you.

So it’ll be especially interesting to see if this harms Wolf. The reaction will tell us whether tea party people and Republicans generally in Kansas regard what he did as just another sort of manly joke that offends prissy liberal sensibilities (and thus requires that they rise to his defense)—that is, whether they have a knee-jerk ideological reaction—or as something that’s really just kind of beyond the pale for a human being, let alone a doctor, to do—that is, whether they have a more human reaction. Because I think 99 percent of normal human beings would react to what Wolf did with varying degrees of disgust. But once it becomes a political act, and he gets taken apart on MSNBC, a certain percentage will defend him. How high that percentage ends up being will be a fascinating thing to see.

As I was leaving the set, a producer said into Chris Matthews’s earpiece, and he announced, that a recent poll had it Roberts 49, Wolf 23. So Wolf is behind, but he’s not out of it. The primary isn’t until August. He has plenty of time to make a run. There’s also plenty of time to learn more weird stuff about him. That comes with the tea-party territory, and it’s creating a class of pols who should be back-bench state legislators but have the chance of becoming U.S. senators. It’s just a good thing most of them don’t win.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 25, 2014

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tea Bags, Wind Bags, and Moneybags

Born Again Baggers?: Joe Wilson, Jim DeMint, Rick Scott, Sharon Angle (clockwise from top left)

So let’s say you’re a Republican politician who’s been working the far right side of the political highway for years, getting little national attention other than the occasional shout-out in Human Events. Or let’s say you’re a sketchy business buccaneer with a few million smackers burning a hole in your pocket, and you’ve decided that you’d like to live in the governor’s mansion for a while, but you can’t get the local GOP to see you as anything more than a walking checkbook who funds other people’s dreams.

What do you do? That’s easy: Get yourself in front of the loudest parade in town by becoming a Tea Party Activist!

There has been incessant discussion over the last year about the size, character, and intentions of the Tea Party rank-and-file. But, by and large, the political discussion has passed over another defining phenomenon: The beatific capacity of Tea Party membership, which enables virtually anyone with ambition to whitewash his hackishness—and transform from a has-been or huckster into an idealist on a crusade.

After all, to become a “Tea Party favorite” or a “Tea Party loyalist,” all a politician has to do is say that he or she is one—and maybe grab an endorsement from one of many hundreds of local groups around the country. It’s even possible to become indentified as the “Tea Party” candidate simply by entering a primary against a Republican who voted for TARP, the Medicare Prescription Drug bill, or No Child Left Behind. It’s not like there’s much upside to distancing oneself from the movement. Most Republican pols are as friendly as can be to the Tea Party; and it’s a rare, self-destructive elephant who would emulate Lindsey Graham’s dismissal of it all as a passing fad (in public at least).

Here, we’ll take a look at two specific types of politicians who have been especially eager to embrace the Tea Party movement: the fringier of conservative ideologues, for one, and also the self-funded ego freaks who can easily pose as “outsiders,” because no “insiders” would take them seriously. Let’s call these, respectively, the windbags and the moneybags.

By “fringier” conservative ideologues, I mean those who have argued, year in and year out, sometimes for decades, that even the conservative Republican Party simply is not conservative enough. Many of these politicians would be considered washed-up and isolated, or at least eccentric, in an era when “Party Wrecking” was still treated as a cardinal GOP sin. But now it’s as if they’ve been granted a license to kill. One classic example of this type is South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who was considered such a crank in the Senate that he was often stuck eating lunch alone as recently as 2008. His views, for example that Social Security and public schools are symbols of the seduction of Americans by socialism, were not long ago considered far outside the GOP mainstream. Now, in no small part because of his identification with the Tea Party Movement, DeMint has become an avenging angel roaming across the country to smite RINOs in Republican primaries, his imprimatur sought by candidates far from the Palmetto State.

Then there’s the new House Tea Party Caucus, chaired by Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, best known for suggesting that House Democrats be investigated for treason. Its members include a rich assortment of long-time conservative cranks, including Steve (“Racial profiling is an important part of law enforcement”) King, Joe (“You lie!”) Wilson, Paul (“We’ve elected a Marxist to be President of the United States) Broun, Dan (Vince Foster Was Murdered!) Burton, and Phil (National Journal’s Most Conservative House Member in 2007) Gingrey. The key here is that these are not freshly minted “outsiders”: Burton has been in Congress for 28 years, Wilson for ten, King and Gingrey for eight. The oldest member of the House, Ralph Hall of Texas, who has been around for 30 years, is also a member of the caucus.

Even some of the younger Tea Party firebrands didn’t exactly emerge from their living rooms on April 15, 2009, to battle the stimulus legislation and Obamacare. Marco Rubio of Florida, after all, was first elected to the state legislature ten years ago and served as House Speaker under the protective wing of his political godfather, Jeb Bush. Sharron Angle first ran for office 20 years ago, and was elected to the Nevada legislature twelve years back. And of course the Pauls, father and son, are hardly political neophytes—they have just begun to look relevant again because the Tea Party movement has shifted the GOP in their direction

And, in addition to the hard-right pols who’ve emerged into the sunshine of GOP respectability, the “outsider” meme surrounding the Tea Party movement has also created running room for well-funded opportunists—the “moneybags.”

These are epitomized by Rick Scott of Florida, who probably would not have passed the most rudimentary smell test in a “normal” election year. While there are always self-funding egomaniacs running for office—California’s Meg Whitman comes to mind along with Connecticut’s Linda McMahon—the former hospital executive presents a unique test case for the whitewashing power of Tea Party identification. He has managed to overcome a deeply embarrassing embroilment in the largest Medicare fraud case in history by taking his golden parachute from Columbia-HCA and becoming a right-wing crusader against health care reform, helping to make that a central cause for the Tea Party movement. (Scott was forced out of his position as head of the for-profit hospital chain, which he tried to build into the “McDonald’s of health care,” and the organization was fined $1.7 billion for overcharging the federal government.)

Pushed out of his job after the fraud decision, Scott decided to found the Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR) group that exploded onto the national scene early in 2009 with a series of inflammatory TV ads attacking health reform, employing the same firm that crafted the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth spots against John Kerry in 2004. CPR also played a major role in organizing the town hall meeting protests in the summer of 2009, which marked the Tea Party movement’s transition from a focus on TARP and the economic stimulus bill to a broader conservative agenda.

So when Scott (a Missouri native who moved to Florida in 2003) suddenly jumped into the Florda governor’s race early in 2010, the cleansing power of tea had already transformed his image among conservatives, making his improbable campaign possible.

On the wrong side of this dynamic was Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a former congressman and sturdy, if conventional, conservative who had paid his dues by twice running unsuccessfully for the Senate. McCollum had apparently all but locked up the nomination when Scott, in mid-April, leapt into the ring with ads calling himself a “conservative outsider” who would “run our state like a business,” while tarring McCollum as the candidate of “Tallahassee insiders” responsible for “the failed policies of the past.” Then came a torrent of advertising from Scott ($22 million by mid-July, more than anyone’s ever spent in Florida in an entire primary/general-election cycle) blasting McCollum for alleged corruption, for insufficient hostility toward illegal immigration, for being soft on abortion providers. The assault voided a lifetime of McCollum’s toil in the party vineyards, vaulting the previously unknown Scott into the lead in polls by early June. Worse yet, from a Republican point of view, Scott drove up McCollum’s negatives, and increasingly his own, to toxic levels, handing Democrat Alex Sink the lead in a July general election poll. And now McCollum, fighting for his life, is striking back, drawing as much publicity as he can to Scott’s questionable past, especially the Medicare fraud case against Columbia-HCA.

So the question is: Would Rick Scott have been in a position to carry out what is beginning to look like a murder-suicide pact on the GOP’s gubernatorial prospects if he hadn’t been able to identify himself as an “outsider conservative” with close ties to the Tea Party? That’s not likely, but it’s no less likely than the remarkable epiphanies that have made career pols of marginal relevance such as Jim DeMint and Sharron Angle into apostles of an exciting new citizens’ movement. So the next time you hear a candidate posturing on behalf of the Tea Party, squint and try to imagine what they were like in their former lives. Many of them have only found respectability through the healing power of tea.

By: Ed Kilgore-The New Republic, Aug 5, 2010

August 7, 2010 Posted by | Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Punishing the Jobless

 

Paul Krugman-Nobel Prize Winner in Economics

There was a time when everyone took it for granted that unemployment insurance, which normally terminates after 26 weeks, would be extended in times of persistent joblessness. It was, most people agreed, the decent thing to do.

But that was then. Today, American workers face the worst job market since the Great Depression, with five job seekers for every job opening, with the average spell of unemployment now at 35 weeks. Yet the Senate went home for the holiday weekend without extending benefits. How was that possible?

The answer is that we’re facing a coalition of the heartless, the clueless and the confused. Nothing can be done about the first group, and probably not much about the second. But maybe it’s possible to clear up some of the confusion.

By the heartless, I mean Republicans who have made the cynical calculation that blocking anything President Obama tries to do — including, or perhaps especially, anything that might alleviate the nation’s economic pain — improves their chances in the midterm elections. Don’t pretend to be shocked: you know they’re out there, and make up a large share of the G.O.P. caucus.

By the clueless I mean people like Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for senator from Nevada, who has repeatedly insisted that the unemployed are deliberately choosing to stay jobless, so that they can keep collecting benefits. A sample remark: “You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job but it doesn’t pay as much. We’ve put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry.”

Now, I don’t have the impression that unemployed Americans are spoiled; desperate seems more like it. One doubts, however, that any amount of evidence could change Ms. Angle’s view of the world — and there are, unfortunately, a lot of people in our political class just like her.

But there are also, one hopes, at least a few political players who are honestly misinformed about what unemployment benefits do — who believe, for example, that Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, was making sense when he declared that extending benefits would make unemployment worse, because “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.” So let’s talk about why that belief is dead wrong.

Do unemployment benefits reduce the incentive to seek work? Yes: workers receiving unemployment benefits aren’t quite as desperate as workers without benefits, and are likely to be slightly more choosy about accepting new jobs. The operative word here is “slightly”: recent economic research suggests that the effect of unemployment benefits on worker behavior is much weaker than was previously believed. Still, it’s a real effect when the economy is doing well.

But it’s an effect that is completely irrelevant to our current situation. When the economy is booming, and lack of sufficient willing workers is limiting growth, generous unemployment benefits may keep employment lower than it would have been otherwise. But as you may have noticed, right now the economy isn’t booming — again, there are five unemployed workers for every job opening. Cutting off benefits to the unemployed will make them even more desperate for work — but they can’t take jobs that aren’t there.

Wait: there’s more. One main reason there aren’t enough jobs right now is weak consumer demand. Helping the unemployed, by putting money in the pockets of people who badly need it, helps support consumer spending. That’s why the Congressional Budget Office rates aid to the unemployed as a highly cost-effective form of economic stimulus. And unlike, say, large infrastructure projects, aid to the unemployed creates jobs quickly — while allowing that aid to lapse, which is what is happening right now, is a recipe for even weaker job growth, not in the distant future but over the next few months.

But won’t extending unemployment benefits worsen the budget deficit? Yes, slightly — but as I and others have been arguing at length, penny-pinching in the midst of a severely depressed economy is no way to deal with our long-run budget problems. And penny-pinching at the expense of the unemployed is cruel as well as misguided.

So, is there any chance that these arguments will get through? Not, I fear, to Republicans: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, in this case, his hope of retaking Congress — “depends upon his not understanding it.” But there are also centrist Democrats who have bought into the arguments against helping the unemployed. It’s up to them to step back, realize that they have been misled — and do the right thing by passing extended benefits.

By PAUL KRUGMAN-Published: July 4, 2010 NYT Op-ED
Photo:Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

July 5, 2010 Posted by | Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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