The Tea Party Is Not Winning As Americans Reject Both Extremes

A reader of The New York Times and Washington Post might become quite confused as to who is winning. Today E. J. Dionne tells us the Tea Party is winning. However, yesterday Frank Rich pointed out that things are not going well for the far right:

Glenn Beck’s ratings at Fox News continued their steady decline, falling to an all-time low last month. He has lost 39 percent of his viewers in a year and 48 percent of the prime 25-to-54 age demographic. His strenuous recent efforts to portray the Egyptian revolution as an apocalyptic leftist-jihadist conspiracy have inspired more laughs than adherents.

Sarah Palin’s tailspin is also pronounced. It can be seen in polls, certainly: the ABC News-Washington Post survey found that 30 percent of Americans approved of her response to the Tucson massacre and 46 percent did not. (Obama’s numbers in the same poll were 78 percent favorable, 12 percent negative.) But equally telling was the fate of a Palin speech scheduled for May at a so-called Patriots & Warriors Gala in Glendale, Colo.

Tickets to see Palin, announced at $185 on Jan. 16, eight days after Tucson, were slashed to half-price in early February. Then the speech was canceled altogether, with the organizers blaming “safety concerns resulting from an onslaught of negative feedback.” But when The Denver Post sought out the Glendale police chief, he reported there had been no threats or other causes for alarm. The real “negative feedback” may have been anemic ticket sales, particularly if they were to cover Palin’s standard $100,000 fee.

The news section of The New York Times also points out problems faced by the Republicans:

…in the view of officials from both major political parties, Republicans may be risking the same kind of electoral backlash Democrats suffered after they were perceived as overreaching.

Public surveys suggest that most voters do not share the Republicans’ fervor for the deep cuts adopted by the House, or for drastically slashing the power of public-sector unions. And independent voters have historically been averse to displays of political partisanship that have been played out over the last week.

“If Republicans push too far and overreach their mandate, they will be punished by independent voters, just as they were in 1996,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush. “Voters said they wanted bold action. They are getting bold action. But Republicans need to be constantly reminded that the last election was a referendum for change, not a referendum for the G.O.P.

Mr. McKinnon said that although Mr. Obama had claimed a mandate after his election, it turned out to be exaggerated, The president had paid a price for it, he said, and was adjusting.

Russ Feingold, the Democratic senator from Wisconsin who was turned out of office in the Republican sweep last year, said the new crop of Republicans was drawing false conclusions from the party’s victory.

“They are taking some kind of public expression of deep concern about the economy and turning it into something entirely different,” Mr. Feingold said. “They are making a mistake. They say: ‘Well, we won the election. Elections have consequences.’ And I say, yes, and we are going to have another election next year.”

What we are really seeing here is a failure for both extremes.

When the Democrats took control of the White House and Congress I recall writing a post warning that the Democrats would again become a minority party if they were to overreach. Looking back at the 2010 election, this should be updated to add the Democrats were also at risk of losing if the Republicans could create a false perception of Democratic overreach. I am glad to see that the article describes the problem of  as “Democrats suffered after they were perceived as overreaching” as opposed to actual overreaching.

The Democrats took a centrist course but failed miserably in explaining their actions, once again allowing the Republicans to define them and create a false perception of a move to the far left and overreaching. In addition, Obama did make one serious mistake in reversing his campaign position against the individual mandate. This allowed Republicans (who initially supported the mandate) to oppose health care reform as something being imposed upon Americans by big government as opposed to a case of government stepping in to provide help to those who need it when the market has failed.

Frank Rich is right that those on the far right are losing because, fortunately, many conservatives out in the real world don’t support the extremism and know-nothing philosophy of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party. Many on the left are also making a mistake when they see any support by Barack Obama or other Democrats for fiscal responsibility as giving in to right wing frames and a victory for the Tea Party.

Cutting the deficit is important in the long run. Republicans were wrong during the Bush years when they argued that deficits don’t matter, and exploded the deficit by fighting two wars off the books while cutting taxes primarily for the ultra-wealthy. It is far better to point out how Republican policies are responsible for the deficit than to shy away from any discussion of cutting the deficit. Rather than avoid the discussion, Democrats must point out that some deficit spending is beneficial, such as Obama’s stimulus which kept us out of a depression. Democrats must also continue to point out how cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy and spending on Bush’s wars has done far more to increase the deficit than Democratic spending.

Some on the left want to avoid any use of “conservative frames,” but in doing so they actually hurt the left. When they refuse to mention anything discussed by conservatives, they allow conservatives to take credit for positions they do not actually promote. As a result we have conservatives claiming to be champions of freedom and capitalism, despite the reality that they really support more government intrusion in the lives of individuals and confuse plutocracy for capitalism.

This mistaken view that the left must avoid any conservative frames  leads to many of the attacks on Barack Obama from the left. Obama, while certainly not always perfect, at least understands that the way to win a majority is to demonstrate to rational conservatives that the economic policies they desire can better be delivered by his administration than by the extreme right. Those who oppose Obama’s attempts to appeal to conservatives argue that this has not led to any support from Congressional Republicans. This is correct but misses the point. The real target is not Congressional Republicans, who care more about denying Democrats any victories for political reasons than they care about any specific issues, or the good of the country. The target is the more rational voters who might have voted Republican in many of the recent elections but who are not totally brainwashed by the right wing noise machine. Attracting these voters, along with independents,  explains why Obama’s popularity has consistently been higher than that of Congress, and is now moving upward. It might also explain why some are turning off Glenn Beck.

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The Tea Party Is Typical Right Wing Extremism, Not Anything New

Frank Rich has a column today on the rage from the right, tracing it largely, but not entirely, to the economic collapse:

That wave of anger began with the parallel 2008 cataclysms of the economy’s collapse and Barack Obama’s ascension. The mood has not subsided since. But in the final stretch of 2010, the radical right’s anger is becoming less focused, more free-floating — more likely to be aimed at “government” in general, whatever the location or officials in charge. The anger is also more likely to claim minorities like gays, Latinos and Muslims as collateral damage. This is a significant and understandable shift, if hardly a salutary one. The mad-as-hell crowd in America, still not seeing any solid economic recovery on the horizon, will lash out at any convenient scapegoat.

The rage was easier to parse at the Tea Party’s birth, when, a month after Obama’s inauguration, its founding father, CNBC’s Rick Santelli, directed his rant at the ordinary American “losers” (as he called them) defaulting on their mortgages, and at those in Washington who proposed bailing the losers out. (Funny how the Bush-initiated bank bailouts went unmentioned.) Soon enough, the anger tilted toward Washington in general and the new president in particular. And it kept getting hotter. In June 2009, still just six months into the Obama presidency, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith broke with his own network’s party line to lament a rise in “amped up” Americans “taking the extra step and getting the gun out.” He viewed the killing of a guard by a neo-Nazi Obama hater at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington as the apotheosis of the “more and more frightening” post-election e-mail surging into Fox.

He argues that the rage from the Tea Party will continue regardless of the results of the election:

Don’t expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day — no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they’ll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow. The only development that can change this equation is a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis. Not for the first time in history — and not just American history — fear itself is at the root of a rabid outbreak of populist rage against government, minorities and conspiratorial “elites.”

While a  bad economy, along with a black president, does contribute to this rage, Blue Texan makes a point which I’ve also made many times in the past: The Tea Party is just the most recent expression of the same right wing rage which we’ve had for decades and which becomes nosier whenever there is a Democrat in the White House. Multiple polls have shown that demographically the Tea Party is primarily made up of affluent older white male Republicans. They are just recycling many of the old beliefs spread by the John Birch Society and every other right wing movement of the past several decades. Blue Texan wrote:

Anyone who thinks the Teabaggers’ unhinged “anger and bitterness” will subside in the face of an improving economy really needs to take a closer look at objective polling on the Teabaggers and review the 1990s.

The ’90s was a time of economic prosperity, but because there was a Democrat in the White House, the far-right was in full freakout mode. Back then, Clinton/Gore’s black helicopters were coming for their guns and right-wing “patriots” like Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph roamed the countryside.

But they weren’t called the “Tea Party.” They were the Angry White Men.

“These angry white men are one legion in a grassroots movement that has rewritten the political equation of the 1990s, and in the process helped to transform the Republican Party … An army of conservative grassroots groups has mobilised middle-class discontent with government into a militant political force, reaching for an idealised past with the tools of the onrushing future: fax machines, computer bulletin boards, and the shrill buzz of talk radio. They have forged alliances with the Gingrich generation of conservatives and strengthened their hand as the dominant voice within the GOP family.”

Sounds familiar, yes? It’s the same crowd.

Polls have shown that Teabaggers are lilly white and well off. They’re not the people getting kicked out of their houses by the banksters. They’re not unemployed. They’re not bearing the brunt of the Great Recession. They’re just doing what they do when Democrats are in charge. Obama’s death panels and FEMA camps have replaced Clinton’s black helicopters.

And of course, the fact that this president’s middle name is Hussein and he’s Muslim and black, well, that’s just a few extra scoops of nuts on the wingnut sundae.

These are John Birch Society types, and the crashing of the global economy — a direct result of the plutocratic “free market” [sic] orgy they helped usher in — is just a convenient excuse to act out.

That’s all it is.

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Right Wing Rage

Frank Rich has the quote of the day for his comment on the irony of those in the tea party movement who compare Obama to Hitler:

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

Rich notes that this rage came in response to a fairly moderate health care bill, although the tea baggers are inflamed more by the Republican rhetoric than anything actually in the bill. Rich notes that, while there was spirited opposition to earlier programs such as Medicare, it was never seen to the degree we are seeing it now:

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964…

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

Rich also compared the response to the health care legislation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although that legislation had a far greater effect on society than the health care legislation, conservatives acted more responsibly after it was passed:

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, some responsible leaders in both parties spoke out to try to put a lid on the resistance and violence. The arch-segregationist Russell of Georgia, concerned about what might happen in his own backyard, declared flatly that the law is “now on the books.” Yet no Republican or conservative leader of stature has taken on Palin, Perry, Boehner or any of the others who have been stoking these fires for a good 17 months now. Last week McCain even endorsed Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

Rich is right that the rage extends far beyond health care. Some in the tea party movement are essentially Klansmen without the sheets, but the rage also extends beyond race. There is a long history of extremism based upon ignorance dominating the right wing in this country. One factor which makes this worse today, explaining the differences described by Rich, is the influence of the right wing noise machine.

The constant noise coming from Fox, talk radio, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal, and conservative blogs creates an alternative reality which these people actually believe is real. Their influence has even pulled the mainstream media sharply to the right, despite claims of a “liberal media” from the far right. As a result we have angry, uninformed people taking to the streets to support those who are undermining our freedom and the free market system while being deluded into thinking this is what they are defending.

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Obama’s First Year Problems

We have a president who has had many significant accomplishments during his first year in office, with the economy now in much better condition than we could have dreamed of in January 2009, but there is a feeling held by many that Obama is failing. Frank Rich’s column discusses a “leadership shortfall” on the part of the Obama administration and attempts to determine where the problems are:

Those who are unsympathetic or outright hostile to Obama frame his failures as an attempt to impose “socialism” on a conservative nation. The truth is that the Fox News right would believe this about any Democratic president no matter who he was and what his policies were. Obama, who has expanded the war in Afghanistan and proved reluctant to reverse extra-constitutional Bush-Cheney jurisprudence, is a radical mainly to those who believe a conservative Republican senator like Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is a closet commie.

The more serious debate about Obama is being conducted by neutral or sympathetic observers. There are many hypotheses. In Newsweek, Jon Meacham has writtenabout an “inspiration gap.” He sees the professorial president as “sometimes seeming to be running the Brookings Institution, not the country.” In The New Yorker, Ken Auletta has raised the perilsof Obama’s overexposure in our fractionalized media. (As if to prove the point, the president was scheduled to appear on Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted” to celebrate its 1,000th episode this weekend.) In the Beltway, the hottest conversations center on the competence of Obama’s team. Washington Post columnists are now duelingover whether Rahm Emanuel is an underutilized genius whose political savvy the president has foolishly ignored — or a bull in the capital china shop who should be replaced before he brings Obama down.

But the buck stops with the president, not his chief of staff. And if there’s one note that runs through many of the theories as to why Obama has disappointed in Year One, it cuts to the heart of what had been his major strength: his ability to communicate a compelling narrative. In the campaign, that narrative, of change and hope, was powerful — both about his own youth, biography and talent, and about a country that had gone wildly off track during the failed presidency of his predecessor. In governing, Obama has yet to find a theme that is remotely as arresting to the majority of Americans who still like him and are desperate for him to succeed.

The problem is not necessarily that Obama is trying to do too much, but that there is no consistent, clear message to unite all that he is trying to do. He has variously argued that health care reform is a moral imperative to protect the uninsured, a long-term fiscal fix for the American economy and an attempt to curb insurers’ abuses. It may be all of these, but between the multitude of motives and the blurriness (until now) of Obama’s own specific must-have provisions, the bill became a mash-up that baffled or defeated those Americans on his side and was easily caricatured as a big-government catastrophe by his adversaries.

Obama prides himself on not being ideological or partisan — of following, as he put it in his first prime-time presidential press conference, a “pragmatic agenda.” But pragmatism is about process, not principle. Pragmatism is hardly a rallying cry for a nation in this much distress, and it’s not a credible or attainable goal in a Washington as dysfunctional as the one Americans watch in real time on cable. Yes, the Bush administration was incompetent, but we need more than a brilliant mediator, manager or technocrat to move us beyond the wreckage it left behind. To galvanize the nation, Obama needs to articulate a substantive belief system that’s built from his bedrock convictions. His presidency cannot be about the cool equanimity and intellectual command of his management style.

That he hasn’t done so can be attributed to his ingrained distrust of appearing partisan or, worse, a knee-jerk “liberal.” That is admirable in intellectual theory, but without a powerful vision to knit together his vision of America’s future, he comes off as a doctrinaire Democrat anyway. His domestic policies, whether on climate change or health care or regulatory reform, are reduced to items on a standard liberal wish list. If F.D.R. or Reagan could distill, coin and convey a credo “nonideological” enough to serve as an umbrella for all their goals and to attract lasting majority coalitions of disparate American constituencies, so can this gifted president.

Rich is correct that one problem is a failure to adequately utilize Obama’s strengths as a communicator. This may partially be due to a learning curve in taking over a position as difficult as the presidency, but we are still seeing a dramatic difference between the Obama campaign and the Obama administration.

This is partially because, despite all the false claims during the campaign that Obama is all talk, he has spent his first year primarily concerned with the difficult nuts and bolts of actually governing. This has resulted in many positive results but has also resulted in Obama not receiving as much credit as he deserves for his accomplishments. On the other hand, I bet that if Obama had spent more time giving speeches he would have been attacked for being all talk.

It is also easier to attack without regard for the facts, as is common the right, as opposed to presenting a fact-based defense of policy. For example, the right attacked the stimulus plan from the start despite the lack of any evidence either way. Personally I declared myself an agnostic on the issue, waiting to see the outcome. After one year we did receive the evidence that the stimulus was a success at preventing a possible depression and increasing private sector jobs. Unfortunately by this time many were already influenced by the false claims of the right. The right wing noise machine has also been successful in convincing many that Obama is to blame for the deficits created by Republicans.

The false claims coming from the right wing noise machine are responsible for many of Barack Obama’s public relations problems. As Rich pointed out, the right would portray any Democrat as a Socialist regardless of how absurd this argument is. However this should not come as a surprise. Obama should have been prepared for such attacks, and this is yet another reason why he needed to utilize his skills as a communicator better during his first year in office.

Presenting more of a unified philosophy would have been of value as Frank suggested, but this is not as simple as it sounds. What is now classified as “the left” actually consists of a variety of views. We agree on opposing the policies of the far right but do not necessarily agree on what should be done instead.  Still there are many common views held by a large percentage of Obama supporters which he could do a better job of vocalizing. The less he describes his own economic and political philosophy, the easier it is for the right to define him, falsely claiming he is a socialist and that he holds far-left views. This is also a problem which is common among Democrats and not limited to Obama.

Obama’s centrist views are far more consistent with the values upon which this nation was founded, and more consistent with the views of most Americans, than those of the extreme right wing which now dominate the Republican Party. It is necessary for Obama to do a better job of communicating this. He must do a better job of arguing how our liberal values of individual liberty, a market economy with adequate regulations to ensure it works fairly for those who participate rather than for the benefit of a few, and a sound foreign policy based upon international cooperation rather than preemptive warfare, differ from the opposing views promoted by the authoritarian right.

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The Tea Party Scam

The tea party movement is a scam both intellectually and financially. They promote a disgraceful distortion of our national heritage to spread the know-nothing ignorance of reactionaries such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. They offer a false choice to those who do not understand the issues and an opportunity for those who want to take advantage of them to make big bucks.

Frank Rich, after noting how Michael Steele is profiting from his position, turns to the tea party:

Both Steele and Palin claim to be devotees of the tea party movement. “I’m a tea partier, I’m a town-haller, I’m a grass-roots-er” is how Steele put it in a recent radio interview, wet-kissing a market he hopes will buy his book. Palin has far more grandiose ambitions. She recently signed on as a speaker for the first Tea Party Convention, scheduled next month in Nashville — even though she had turned down a speaking invitation from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the traditional meet-and-greet for the right. The conservative conference doesn’t pay. The Tea Party Convention does. A blogger at Nashville Scene reported that Palin’s price for the event was $120,000.

The entire Tea Party Convention is a profit-seeking affair charging $560 a ticket — plus the cost of a room at the Opryland Hotel. Among the convention’s eight listed sponsors is Tea Party Emporium, which gives as its contact address 444 Madison Avenue in New York, also home to the high-fashion brand Burberry. This emporium’s Web site offers a bejeweled tea bag at $89.99 for those furious at “a government hell bent on the largest redistribution of wealth in history.” This is almost as shameless as Glenn Beck, whose own tea party profiteering has included hawking gold coins merchandised by a sponsor of his radio show.

Last week a prominent right-wing blogger, Erick Erickson of RedState.com, finally figured out that the Tea Party Convention “smells scammy,” likening it to one of those Nigerian e-mails promising untold millions. Such rumbling about the movement’s being co-opted by hucksters may explain why Palin used her first paid appearance at Fox last Tuesday to tell Bill O’Reilly that she would recycle her own tea party profits in political contributions. But Erickson had it right: the tea party movement is being exploited — and not just by marketers, lobbyists, political consultants and corporate interests but by the Republican Party, as exemplified by Palin and Steele, its most prominent leaders.

Tea partiers hate the G.O.P. establishment and its Wall Street allies, starting with the Bushies who created TARP, almost as much as they do Obama and his Wall Street pals. When Steele and Palin pay lip service to the movement, they are happy to glom on to its anti-tax, anti-Obama, anti-government, anti-big-bank vitriol. But they don’t call for any actual action against the bailed-out perpetrators of the financial crisis. They’d never ask for investments to put ordinary Americans back to work. They have no policies to forestall foreclosures or protect health insurance for the tea partiers who’ve been shafted by hard times. Their only economic principle beside tax cuts is vilification of the stimulus that did save countless jobs for firefighters, police officers and teachers at the state and local level.

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The Continuum of Right Wing Extremism

The uncomfortably close relations between the Republican Party establishment and those in the right wing media who have increasingly been feeding the hatred of the far right extremists who have been committing violence has been receiving increased attention. This has been discussed recently by Judith Warner, Paul Krugman, and Frank Rich. Krugman recently wrote, “Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.” Frank Rich discussed this topic at length in today’s column:

Conservatives have legitimate ideological beefs with Obama, rightly expressed in sharp language. But the invective in some quarters has unmistakably amped up. The writer Camille Paglia, a political independent and confessed talk-radio fan, detected a shift toward paranoia in the air waves by mid-May. When “the tone darkens toward a rhetoric of purgation and annihilation,” she observed in Salon, “there is reason for alarm.” She cited a “joke” repeated by a Rush Limbaugh fill-in host, a talk-radio jock from Dallas of all places, about how “any U.S. soldier” who found himself with only two bullets in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden would use both shots to assassinate Pelosi and then strangle Reid and bin Laden.

This homicide-saturated vituperation is endemic among mini-Limbaughs. Glenn Beck has dipped into O’Reilly’s Holocaust analogies to liken Obama’s policy on stem-cell research to the eugenics that led to “the final solution” and the quest for “a master race.” After James von Brunn’s rampage at the Holocaust museum, Beck rushed onto Fox News to describe the Obama-hating killer as a “lone gunman nutjob.” Yet in the same show Beck also said von Brunn was a symptom that “the pot in America is boiling,” as if Beck himself were not the boiling pot cheering the kettle on.

But hyperbole from the usual suspects in the entertainment arena of TV and radio is not the whole story. What’s startling is the spillover of this poison into the conservative political establishment. Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan G.O.P. chairman who ran for the party’s national chairmanship this year, seriously suggested in April that Republicans should stop calling Obama a socialist because “it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.” Anuzis pushed “fascism” instead, because “everybody still thinks that’s a bad thing.” He didn’t seem to grasp that “fascism” is nonsensical as a description of the Obama administration or that there might be a risk in slurring a president with a word that most find “bad” because it evokes a mass-murderer like Hitler.

The Anuzis “fascism” solution to the Obama problem has caught fire. The president’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and his speech in Cairo have only exacerbated the ugliness. The venomous personal attacks on Sotomayor have little to do with the 3,000-plus cases she’s adjudicated in nearly 17 years on the bench or her thoughts about the judgment of “a wise Latina woman.” She has been tarred as a member of “the Latino KKK” (by the former Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo), as well as a racist and a David Duke (by Limbaugh), and portrayed, in a bizarre two-for-one ethnic caricature, as a slant-eyed Asian on the cover of National Review. Uniting all these insults is an aggrieved note of white victimization only a shade less explicit than that in von Brunn’s white supremacist screeds.

Obama’s Cairo address, meanwhile, prompted over-the-top accusations reminiscent of those campaign rally cries of “Treason!” It was a prominent former Reagan defense official, Frank Gaffney, not some fringe crackpot, who accused Obama in The Washington Times of engaging “in the most consequential bait-and-switch since Adolf Hitler duped Neville Chamberlain.” He claimed that the president — a lifelong Christian — “may still be” a Muslim and is aligned with “the dangerous global movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood.” Gaffney linked Obama by innuendo with Islamic “charities” that “have been convicted of providing material support for terrorism.”

If this isn’t a handy rationalization for another lone nutjob to take the law into his own hands against a supposed terrorism supporter, what is? Any such nutjob can easily grab a weapon. Gun enthusiasts have been on a shopping spree since the election, with some areas of our country reporting percentage sales increases in the mid-to-high double digits, recession be damned.

Violence committed by right wing extremists is the more serious problem but a similar, even if less violent, mind set can be seen in the recent conservative fatwa against David Letterman. Despite agreement from Letterman that he should not have told a joke which was clearly about Bristol Palin, and despite the fact that Bristol Palin has been the target of jokes from multiple comedians largely because of the manner in which Sarah Palin has intentionally placed her children in the public spotlight for political gain, conservatives continue to attack with outright lies as to what Letterman actually said.

There was no point in attacks on David Letterman once he conceded that he should not have told the joke, with conservatives proceeding to over play their hand and ultimately discrediting themselves. The controversy is about the desire of the authoritarian right to prevent any criticism of their extremist agenda and has little to do with any real concern about sexist jokes. Conservatives wage their war on the modern world without regard for fact, with such distortions being common place. This has included a similar distortion of a joke told by John Kerry in 2006, the fabrications of the Swift Boat Liars, all the lies about Obama which were spread during the presidential campaign, and the recent lies about Sotomayor such as that sixty percent of her decisions have been overturned. While less extreme and violent than those who have been committing violence, the conservative movement has increasingly become dominated by hostility towards reason, freedom of expression, and much of the modern world.

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The Significance of Obama’s Lead

Clintonistas and right wingers (there I go being redundant again) have been trying to minimize Obama’s political accomplishments by claiming he isn’t leading McCain by as many points as he should. Frank Rich puts Obama’s lead in perspective:

It seems almost churlish to look at some actual facts. No presidential candidate was breaking the 50 percent mark in mid-August polls in 2004 or 2000. Obama’s average lead of three to four points is marginally larger than both John Kerry’s and Al Gore’s leads then (each was winning by one point in Gallup surveys). Obama is also ahead of Ronald Reagan in mid-August 1980 (40 percent to Jimmy Carter’s 46). At Pollster.com, which aggregates polls and gauges the electoral count, Obama as of Friday stood at 284 electoral votes, McCain at 169. That means McCain could win all 85 electoral votes in current toss-up states and still lose the election.

Yet surely, we keep hearing, Obama should be running away with the thing. Even Michael Dukakis was beating the first George Bush by 17 percentage points in the summer of 1988. Of course, were Obama ahead by 17 points today, the same prognosticators now fussing over his narrow lead would be predicting that the arrogant and presumptuous Obama was destined to squander that landslide on vacation and tank just like his hapless predecessor.

The truth is we have no idea what will happen in November. But for the sake of argument, let’s posit that one thread of the Obama-is-doomed scenario is right: His lead should be huge in a year when the G.O.P. is in such disrepute that at least eight of the party’s own senatorial incumbents are skipping their own convention, the fail-safe way to avoid being caught near the Larry Craig Memorial Men’s Room at the Twin Cities airport.

So why isn’t Obama romping? The obvious answer — and both the excessively genteel Obama campaign and a too-compliant press bear responsibility for it — is that the public doesn’t know who on earth John McCain is. The most revealing poll this month by far is the Pew Research Center survey finding that 48 percent of Americans feel they’re “hearing too much” about Obama. Pew found that only 26 percent feel that way about McCain, and that nearly 4 in 10 Americans feel they hear too little about him. It’s past time for that pressing educational need to be met.

What is widely known is the skin-deep, out-of-date McCain image. As this fairy tale has it, the hero who survived the Hanoi Hilton has stood up as rebelliously in Washington as he did to his Vietnamese captors. He strenuously opposed the execution of the Iraq war; he slammed the president’s response to Katrina; he fought the “agents of intolerance” of the religious right; he crusaded against the G.O.P. House leader Tom DeLay, the criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their coterie of influence-peddlers.

With the exception of McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of this profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.

McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didn’t start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after “Mission Accomplished.” By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didn’t get to New Orleans for another six months and didn’t sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.

McCain long ago embraced the right’s agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet. (Once the McCain campaign discovered YouTube, it ditched Hagee.) On Monday McCain is scheduled to appear at an Atlanta fund-raiser being promoted by Ralph Reed, who is not only the former aide de camp to one of the agents of intolerance McCain once vilified (Pat Robertson) but is also the former Abramoff acolyte showcased in McCain’s own Senate investigation of Indian casino lobbying.

Though the McCain campaign announced a new no-lobbyists policy three months after The Washington Post’s February report that lobbyists were “essentially running” the whole operation, the fact remains that McCain’s top officials and fund-raisers have past financial ties to nearly every domestic and foreign flashpoint, from Fannie Mae to Blackwater to Ahmad Chalabi to the government of Georgia. No sooner does McCain flip-flop on oil drilling than a bevy of Hess Oil family members and executives, not to mention a lowly Hess office manager and his wife, each give a maximum $28,500 to the Republican Party.

While reporters at The Post and The New York Times have been vetting McCain, many others give him a free pass. Their default cliché is to present him as the Old Faithful everyone already knows. They routinely salute his “independence,” his “maverick image” and his “renegade reputation” — as the hackneyed script was reiterated by Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column last week. At Talking Points Memo, the essential blog vigilantly pursuing the McCain revelations often ignored elsewhere, Josh Marshall accurately observes that the Republican candidate is “graded on a curve.”

Most Americans still don’t know, as Marshall writes, that on the campaign trail “McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries’ names wrong, forgets things he’s said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused.” Most Americans still don’t know it is precisely for this reason that the McCain campaign has now shut down the press’s previously unfettered access to the candidate on the Straight Talk Express.

Rich has even more to say but I think this makes the point. Obama already has a lead, and McCain risks falling further as voters get a closer look at him. There is no need for Obama to fire all his ammunition at McCain yet. With any luck he will self-destruct on his own, and possibly look even worse in the debates against Obama than Bush looked against Kerry, if that is even possible. Obama can afford to take the high road now and maintain a small but significant lead. He can always finish McCain off in October, when it really matters, if McCain is even still in contention at that point.

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Clinton Campaign Unable To Respond Effectively To Obama’s Momentum

The Clinton advisers might be in a state of panic after their poor showing yesterday, and they certainly don’t appear to know what to do. This problem began even before Super Tuesday. Frank Rich mocks the televised town hall Clinton held prior to Super Tuesday as a “Bush-style pseudo-event.”

Like the scripted “Ask President Bush” sessions during the 2004 campaign, this town hall seemed to unfold in Stepford. The anodyne questions (“What else would you do to help take care of our veterans?”) merely cued up laundry lists of talking points. Some in attendance appeared to trance out.

Rich also reminds readers of how Clinton played the race card after the Iowa caucus when they found that the campaign was in trouble:

Scattered black faces could be seen in the audience. But in the entire televised hour, there was not a single African-American questioner, whether to toss a softball or ask about the Clintons’ own recent misadventures in racial politics.

The Clinton camp does not leave such matters to chance. This decision was a cold, political cost-benefit calculus. In October, seven months after the two candidates’ dueling church perorations in Selma, USA Today found Hillary Clinton leading Mr. Obama among African-American Democrats by a margin of 62 percent to 34 percent. But once black voters met Mr. Obama and started to gravitate toward him, Bill Clinton and the campaign’s other surrogates stopped caring about what African-Americans thought. In an effort to scare off white voters, Mr. Obama was ghettoized as a cocaine user (by the chief Clinton strategist, Mark Penn, among others), “the black candidate” (as Clinton strategists told the Associated Press) and Jesse Jackson redux (by Mr. Clinton himself).

The result? Black America has largely deserted the Clintons. In her California primary victory, Mrs. Clinton drew only 19 percent of the black vote. The campaign saw this coming and so saw no percentage in bestowing precious minutes of prime-time television on African-American queries.

There are more signs today of how the Clinton race baiting has hurt. Douglas Wilder remains upset about some of Bill Clinton’s remarks:

The nation’s first elected black governor said Saturday he is not ready to excuse comments former President Bill Clinton made about Barack Obama.In campaigning for his wife last month on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Clinton called Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war “a fairy tale.” Clinton suggested Obama had toned down his early anti-war fervor during his 2004 Senate campaign.

“Barack Obama is not a fairy tale. He is real,” former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder told reporters at a Democratic fundraiser as the former president spent the day campaigning for Hillary Rodham Clinton in Richmond and three other Virginia cities.

The grandson of slaves, who was elected in 1989 in what was once the Confederate capital, endorsed Obama last month. Now Richmond’s mayor, Wilder’s comments still get the attention of the state’s black voters, though his influence has waned since he left office 15 years ago.

Clinton also implied that an Obama victory in South Carolina would amount to a reward based on race, like the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 20 years earlier.

Wilder said the former president’s comments stung him and other black voters and diminished their respect for Clinton.

“It’s not just me (who) feels that; any number of people feel that,” Wilder said. “A time comes and a time goes. The president has had his time.”

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Clinton Foreign Policy Advisors and Obama

Barack Obama made a minor gaffe last week when he overestimated the number of Clinton foreign policy advisers supporting him as opposed to Hillary. He believed more supported him because of reading an article in The New York Times Magazine which I had also noted previously. The article said:

In mainstream foreign-policy circles, Barack Obama is seen as the true bearer of this vision. “There are maybe 200 people on the Democratic side who think about foreign policy for a living,” as one such figure, himself unaffiliated with a campaign, estimates. “The vast majority have thrown in their lot with Obama.” Hillary Clinton’s inner circle consists of the senior-most figures from her husband’s second term in office — the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the former national security adviser Sandy Berger and the former United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke. But drill down into one of Washington’s foreign-policy hives, whether the Carnegie Endowment or the Brookings Institution or Georgetown University, and you’re bound to hit Obama supporters. Most of them served in the Clinton administration, too, and thus might be expected to support Hillary Clinton. But many of these younger and generally more liberal figures have decamped to Obama. And they are ardent. As Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton who now heads up a team advising Obama on nonproliferation issues, puts it, “There’s a feeling that this is a guy who’s going to help us transform the way America deals with the world.” Ex-Clintonites in Obama’s inner circle also include the president’s former lawyer, Greg Craig, and Richard Danzig, his Navy secretary.

In reality there are still more old Clintonites backing Hillary Clinton than Obama. What is more important is the views of the two groups. Frank Rich reviewed some of them in today’s column:

Mr. Obama, like Mrs. Clinton, has indeed turned to former Clintonites for foreign-policy advice. But the Clinton players were not homogeneous, and who ended up with which ’08 candidate is instructive.

The principal foreign-policy Clinton alumni in Mr. Obama’s campaign include Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state, and Tony Lake, the former national security adviser and a prewar skeptic who said publicly in February 2003 that the Bush administration had not made the case that Saddam was an “imminent threat.” Ms. Rice, in an eloquent speech in November 2002, said that the Bush administration was “trying to change the subject to Iraq” from the war against Al Qaeda and warned that if it tried to fight both wars at once, “one, if not both, will suffer.” Her text now reads as a bookend to Mr. Obama’s senatorial campaign speech challenging the wisdom of the war only weeks earlier that same fall.

Mrs. Clinton’s current team was less prescient. Though it includes one of the earlier military critics of Bush policy, Gen. Wesley Clark, he is balanced by Gen. Jack Keane, an author of the Bush “surge.” The Clinton campaign’s foreign policy and national security director is a former Madeleine Albright aide, Lee Feinstein, who in November 2002 was gullible enough to say on CNBC that “we should take the president at his word, which is that he sees war as a last resort” — an argument anticipating the one Mrs. Clinton still uses to defend her vote on the Iraq war authorization.

In late April 2003, a week before “Mission Accomplished,” Mr. Feinstein could be found on CNN saying that he was “fairly confident” that W.M.D. would turn up in Iraq. Asked if the war would be a failure if no weapons were found, he said, “I don’t think that that’s a situation we’ll confront.” Forced to confront exactly that situation over the next year, he dug in deeper, co-writing an essay for Foreign Affairs (available on its Web site) arguing that “the biggest problem with the Bush pre-emption strategy may be that it does not go far enough.”

I’d rather have a smaller number of Clinton advisers as opposed to a longer list of foreign policy experts, who were hardly the best and the brightest, who thought that going into Iraq was a good idea.

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Frank Rich on The “Good Germans” Among Us

Frank Rich has an excellent op-ed regarding public opinion over the Iraq war entitled The “Good Germans” Among Us. He begins:

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled “politics.” We turn the page.

While the entire column is well worth reading, the heart of the column comes a little later:

I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.

As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.

In April 2004, Stars and Stripes first reported that our troops were using makeshift vehicle armor fashioned out of sandbags, yet when a soldier complained to Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting in Kuwait eight months later, he was successfully pilloried by the right. Proper armor procurement lagged for months more to come. Not until early this year, four years after the war’s first casualties, did a Washington Post investigation finally focus the country’s attention on the shoddy treatment of veterans, many of them victims of inadequate armor, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.

We first learned of the use of contractors as mercenaries when four Blackwater employees were strung up in Falluja in March 2004, just weeks before the first torture photos emerged from Abu Ghraib. We asked few questions. When reports surfaced early this summer that our contractors in Iraq (180,000, of whom some 48,000 are believed to be security personnel) now outnumber our postsurge troop strength, we yawned. Contractor casualties and contractor-inflicted casualties are kept off the books.

It was always the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war. Part of this was achieved with the usual Bush-Cheney secretiveness, from the torture memos to the prohibition of photos of military coffins. But the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.

After further discussion, again all of which is worth reading, he concludes:

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

There is some protest in this country, which the right unsuccessfully tries to write off as protests of a radical left fringe. There is no doubt that the Democrats have been failures as an opposition party, too frequently toning down protests out of fear of being labeled unpatriotic or soft on terrorism. It remains the Republicans who are most directly complicit in these acts which makes it impossible to see them as being fit to continue to govern regardless of the faults of the Democrats.

The Nazi reference has resulted in protest from the conservative blogosphere. Most of the criticism of this column is easily disregarded as conservatives ignore, the ethics of the situation, the lack of efficacy of torture, and how these acts ultimately harm the United States. The Van Der Galiën Gazette has a more balanced comment as he does acknowledge that “the treatment of prisoners is truly embarassing to the US. Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, etc. have done great damage to America’s image.” Unfortunately he also writes, “With regards to the treatment of prisoners Rich compares the US to… Nazi Germany (as liberals are so fond of doing these days with anyone and everyone they disagree with).”

This is certainly true of some liberals, and Michael might have been overly-influenced by a recent attack on him from one of the more off the wall liberal blogs in a dispute which did involve the over-use of Nazi comparisons. I do have three objections to this, the first being that, while sometimes true, this is hardly characteristic of the majority of liberals. Secondly, Rich was quoting conservative writer Andrew Sullivan, not a liberal, in making the Nazi comparisons. Thirdly, there are some situations in which Nazi comparisons are valid. In this case Rich does draw a valid parallel.

It is important in making any comparisons to Nazi Germany that we are looking at a considerable difference in degree. That doesn’t rule out utilizing such analogies. American treatment of prisoners is not any where near as bad as the atrocities committed by the Nazis, but not being as bad as the Nazis is hardly a meaningful defense. This is especially important as, in dealing with those who might turn to terrorism, this is largely a battle of hearts and minds. If we are seen as the moral equivalent of the Nazis, regardless of whether those thinking this understand that the Nazis were far worse, we have no chance to win this battle.

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