Charles Johnson’s Reasons For Leaving the Right

Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has been rejecting the excesses of the right wing movement for several months. Today he issued a list with the following reasons why he has parted ways with the right:

1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)

2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)

3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)

4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)

5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)

6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)

7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)

8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)

9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)

10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

The reasons are similar to those I have frequently written about here. There is some hyperbole here. For example, while I have had a few posts disagreeing with Robert Stacy McCain I have never thought of him as a fascist.  McCain responds to Johnson here). Even in the case of Pat Buchanan, while he has certainly shown sympathy for the Nazis, I’m not certain that he outright supports fascism.

One irony here is that much of what he writes here could have applied to his own blog in the past, but he still deserves credit for rejecting that mind set.

To be fair, some of what he says could apply to some on the extreme left. I’ve noted some of the anti-scientific views of people such as Bill Maher on medicine and vaccines, but this is far less prevalent than the belief in creationism and denialism of climate change on the right. I’ve also criticized some on the left for conspiracy theories of their own,  but again this is far less prevalent than on the right.

The significant difference between the right and the left with regards to extremism is the degree to which the extremists dominate on the right. The extremists on the right have driven out virtually everyone else. They dominate the major organs of the right from the right wing media to the Republican Party. The left has a handful who, in their own ways, are as nutty as the extremists of the right but they are marginalized rather than the dominant players.

Right Wing Craziness: Something Old or Something New?

There has been a lot of talk lately from some Republicans about the manner in which the crazies have taken over the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Most recently I’ve noted this in citing David Frum. Glenn Greenwald and The Daily Howler make similar arguments that the current craziness is not anything new but has been characteristic of the conservative movement for a long time.

Greenwald argues that “here is nothing new about the character of the American Right or their concerted efforts to destroy the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency.” He begins by citing events during the Clinton years and then writes:

This is why I have very mixed feelings about the protests of conservatives such as David Frum or Andrew Sullivan that the conservative movement has been supposedly “hijacked” by extremists and crazies.  On the one hand, this is true.  But when was it different?  Rush Limbaugh didn’t just magically appear in the last twelve months.  He — along with people like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Bill Kristol and Jesse Helms — have been leaders of that party for decades.  Republicans spent the 1990s wallowing in Ken Starr’s sex report, “Angry White Male” militias, black U.N. helicopters, Vince Foster’s murder, Clinton’s Mena drug runway, Monica’s semen-stained dress, Hillary’s lesbianism, “wag the dog” theories, and all sorts of efforts to personally humiliate Clinton and destroy the legitimacy of his presidency using the most paranoid, reality-detached, and scurrilous attacks.  And the crazed conspiracy-mongers in that movement became even more prominent during the Bush years.  Frum himself — now parading around as the Serious Adult conservative — wrote, along with uber-extremist Richard Perle, one of the most deranged and reality-detached books of the last two decades, and before that, celebrated George W. Bush, his former boss, as “The Right Man.”

It’s also why I am extremely unpersuaded by the prevailing media narrative that the Right is suddenly enthralled to its rambunctions and extremist elements and is treating Obama in some sort of unique or unprecedented way.  Other than the fact that Obama’s race intensifies the hatred in some precincts, nothing that the Right is doing now is new.  This is who they are and what they do — and that’s been true for many years, for decades.  Even the allegedly “unprecedented”  behavior at Obama’s speech isn’t really unprecedented; although nobody yelled “you lie,” Republicans routinely booed and heckled Clinton when he spoke to Congress because they didn’t think he was legitimately the President (only for Ted Koppel to claim that it was something “no one at this table has ever heard before” when Democrats, in 2005, booed Bush’s Social Security privatization proposal during a speech to Congress).

If this argument is whether the conservative movement suddenly became crazy in the last several months then there is no doubt that Greenwald is right. The conservative movement turned into its present form during the Clinton and Bush administrations and their current craziness is a continuation of those trends.

I find the more interesting question to be whether the conservative movement and Republican Party have been crazier since the Clinton years as opposed the the preceding decades. The answer is not a simple yes or no. There is a long history of right wing extremism. A major difference is that in the past this was often separated from the right wing establishment. The problem today is that the extremists who would have been in the John Birch Society and the KKK are now the ones dominating the Republican Party and conservative movement.

There have been moments when the extremists dominated the Republican Party in the past, such as the McCarthy era. Even then the Republican President was the moderate Dwight Eisenhower. A major difference between the Republican Party of the past and the party of today is that there was a strong moderate wing and even a liberal wing. In recent years most of the liberals and moderates have been driven out, pushing the Republican Party further to the right. In addition, the dominance of the religious right has greatly changed the character of the GOP and the conservative movement. For years the Republicans would give rhetorical support to the religious right to get their votes but once in office they would ignore what even the mainstream Republicans realized were the nut groups of the right.

As the religious right increased their influence of the conservative movement, more rational voices were often driven away. Even Barry Goldwater considered himself a liberal in his later years in opposition to the growing influence of the religious right. With the Republican Party increasingly dominated by the wing nuts by the Clinton years, the election of George Bush in 2000 was the final straw in turning the GOP into a reactionary, theological party. Neither Barry Goldwater or even Ronald Reagan would recognize the modern Republican Party.

The conservative movement had essentially taken on its present form by the time of Obama’s election, but the election of Obama has exacerbated such tendencies. Both racism and xenophobia have always been common, although by no means universal, tendencies in the conservative movement. The election of a president who not only is black but is also claimed to be a foreigner by the far right has greater excited the conservative base. Economic worries also exacerbate extremism.

To a certain degree the craziness of the right is amplified by changes in the media. The right wing media has always been a tremendous source of  misinformation. I read National Review and  Human Events in the late 1960’s and 1970’s and found them to be spreading misinformation which is comparable to that spread by Fox. The difference is that while these publications were primarily read by conservative true believers, the right wing noise machine now spreads their misinformation to the general public. Fox, which was not even around in the 1970’s, is now even  larger than it was during the Clinton years. Elimination of the Fairness Doctrine under Reagan also enabled the development of conservative talk radio.

Conservatives have greatly outweighed liberals when new people were brought into CNN since it was sold by Ted Turner, and conservative influence has also increased over many other portions of the media. While the far right denounces the conservative-leaning mainstream media because it does not promote their entire fantasy world, the mainstream media still acts to reinforce the messages from the far right. The mainstream media helps the far right when it provides their misinformation with equal coverage along with truthful information from other sources due to a false idea of fairness. Sometimes, in reporting what is being said by the far right, the media should also note that those saying this are crazy–or at least clearly provide the facts.

Besides changes in the mass media, the internet provides echo chambers which make insane ideas and misinformation appear to be true. Some believe that if they can pull something up on the internet to defend their views it must be true, even if the facts cited are actually fiction. The echo chambers of the right also increase ideological purity and extremism on the right. This is also true among some portions of the left, but they are on the outside of the Democratic Party as opposed to the extremists who now dominate the GOP. The internet, along with having extremist kooks like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck in positions where they can speak to large audiences, makes it easier for the far right to mobilize and create news as they did yesterday.

Update: Barack Obama touches on this topic in his interview on Sixty Minutes which is to air tonight:

President Barack Obama said in an interview to be aired Sunday night on “60 Minutes” that he sees “a coarsening of our political dialogue.”

“The truth of the matter is that there has been, I think, a coarsening of our political dialogue,” Obama told Steve Kroft in an interview taped at the White House on Friday evening.

“I will also say that in the era of 24-hour cable news cycles, that the loudest, shrillest voices get the most attention. And so one of the things that I’m trying to figure out is: How can we make sure that civility is interesting?”

Teaching Both Sides of the Evolution Debate


Christopher Hitchens, in response to the Texas case, has come out in favor of teaching both sides of the debate in an article in Newsweek. Opponents of evolution are not likely to see him as an ally here:

…last week Texas and schoolbooks meant something else altogether when the state Board of Education, in a muddled decision, rejected a state science curriculum that required teachers to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. Instead, the board allowed “all sides” of scientific theories to be taught. The vote was watched as something more than a local or bookish curiosity. Just as the Christian Book Expo is one of the largest events on the nation’s publishing calendar, so the Lone Star State commands such a big share of the American textbook market that many publishers adapt to the standards that it sets, and sell the resulting books to non-Texans as well…

…McLeroy and his allies now say that they ask for evolution to be taught only with all its “strengths and weaknesses.” But in this, they are surely being somewhat disingenuous. When their faction was strong enough to demand an outright ban on the teaching of what they call “Darwinism,” they had such a ban written into law in several states. Since the defeat and discredit of that policy, they have passed through several stages of what I am going to have to call evolution. First, they tried to get “secular humanism” classified as a “religion,” so that it would meet the First Amendment’s disqualification for being taught with taxpayers’ money. (That bright idea was Pat Robertson’s.) Then they came up with the formulation of “creation science,” picking up on anomalies and gaps in evolution and on differences between scientific Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould. Next came the ingratiating plea for “equal time”—what could be more American than that?and now we have the rebranded new coinage of “intelligent design” and the fresh complaint that its brave advocates are, so goes the title of a recent self-pitying documentary, simply “expelled” from the discourse.

It’s not just that the overwhelming majority of scientists are now convinced that evolution is inscribed in the fossil record and in the lineaments of molecular biology. It is more that evolutionists will say in advance which evidence, if found, would refute them and force them to reconsider. (“Rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian layer” was, I seem to remember, the response of Prof. J.B.S. Haldane.) Try asking an “intelligent design” advocate to stipulate upfront what would constitute refutation of his world view and you will easily see the difference between the scientific method and the pseudoscientific one.

But that is just my opinion. And I certainly do not want it said that my side denies a hearing to the opposing one. In the spirit of compromise, then, I propose the following. First, let the school debating societies restage the wonderful set-piece real-life dramas of Oxford and Dayton, Tenn. Let time also be set aside, in our increasingly multiethnic and multicultural school system, for children to be taught the huge variety of creation stories, from the Hindu to the Muslim to the Australian Aboriginal. This is always interesting (and it can’t be, can it, that the Texas board holdouts think that only Genesis ought to be so honored?). Second, we can surely demand that the principle of “strengths and weaknesses” will be applied evenly. If any church in Texas receives a tax exemption, or if any religious institution is the beneficiary of any subvention from the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, we must be assured that it will devote a portion of its time to laying bare the “strengths and weaknesses” of the religious world view, and also to teaching the works of Voltaire, David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. This is America. Let a hundred flowers bloom, and a thousand schools of thought contend. We may one day have cause to be grateful to the Texas Board of Education for lighting a candle that cannot be put out.

Quote of the Day: Pat Robertson Notes Rush Limbaugh Not Thinking Rationally

I’m always on the look out for signs of sanity from the right. I don’t agree with Pat Robertson very often, but he is right on this answer in an interview with U.S. News & World Report:

Q: So you don’t subscribe to Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails” school of thought?

ROBERTSON: That was a terrible thing to say. I mean, he’s the president of all the country. If he succeeds, the country succeeds. And if he doesn’t, it hurts us all. Anybody who would pull against our president is not exactly thinking rationally.

Maybe its the OxyContin.

What Gonzales Did Which Was Fundamentally Wrong

If the members of the Bush administration which acted immorally while in office had any understanding of the difference between right and wrong they hopefully would not have conducted themselves as they did in office. Therefore it comes as no surprise that some of them fail to understand why their actions are receiving criticism. The Wall Street Journal quotes Alberto Gonzales as asking during an interview, “”What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?” At least he didn’t claim he was just following orders.

Think Progress summarizes some of the major things which Gonzales did which were wrong:

Politicized the DOJ: – Gonzales approved the firing and hiring of federal prosecutors for political reasons and lied to Congress about the scandal.

Approved torture: In 2002, Gonzales “raised no objections and, without consulting military and State Department experts in the laws of torture and war,” approved an infamous August 2002 memo giving CIA interrogators “legal blessings.” Gonzales witnessed an interrogation at Gitmo in 2002 and approved of “whatever needs to be done” to detainees.

Lied about warrantless wiretapping: Gonzaled lied to Congress multiple times about the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping program, saying there wasn’t “any serious disagreement” about the program (there was).

Distorted pre-war intelligence: Last month, the House Oversight Committee revealed evidence showing that Gonzales lied to Congress in 2004 by claiming that the CIA “orally” approved Bush’s claim that Iraq sought uranium from Africa.

Steve Benen points out this review of Gonzales’ actions as Attorney General written for The Washington Post  by Andrew Cohen, the editor and chief legal analyst for CBS News:

When historians look back upon the disastrous tenure of Alberto R. Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States they will ask not only why he merited the job in the first place but why he lasted in it as long as he did. By any reasonable standard, the Gonzales Era at the Justice Department is void of almost all redemptive qualities. He brought shame and disgrace to the Department because of his lack of independent judgment on some of the most vital legal issues of our time. And he brought chaos and confusion to the department because of his lack of respectable leadership over a cabinet-level department among the most important in the nation.

He neither served the longstanding role as “the people’s attorney” nor fully met and tamed his duties and responsibilities to the Constitution. He was a man who got the job not because he was supremely qualified or notably well-respected among the leading legal lights of our time, but because he had faithfully and with blind obedience served President George W. Bush for years in Texas (where he botched clemency memos in death penalty cases) and then as White House counsel (where he botched the nation’s legal policy on torture).

For an administration known for its cronyism, and alas for an alarmingly incompetent group of cronies, Gonzales was the granddaddy of them all. He lacked the integrity, the intellect and the independence to perform his duties in a manner befitting the job for which he was chosen. And when he and his colleagues got caught in the act, his rationales and explanations for the purge of the U.S. Attorneys were so empty and shallow and incoherent that even the staunchest Republicans could not turn them into steeled spin. Devoid of any credibility, Gonzales in the end was a sad joke when he came to Capitol Hill.

Even before the Justice Department was exposed under his reign as a politicized den of ideology, Gonzales’ work as Attorney General was unacceptable and unworthy of high office. He defended the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program even though many conservative and liberal legal scholars alike considered it to be a violation of the law. He endorsed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which did away with important rights not just for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay but for legal aliens within the borders of the United States. Thus did Gonzales fail to exercise any sort of independent check and balance upon the White House’s most controversial legal policies.

Meanwhile, according to the National Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, big-city murder rates have risen by 10 percent over the past two years — a period that coincides precisely with Gonzales’ time as attorney general. The Federal Bureau of Investigation puts the violent crime increase at 3.7% for January-June 2006 and drug use (and production and sales) apparently are on the rise in the nation’s heartland. And the Justice Department’s record of terror-related prosecutions is a mixed one at best. Thus did Gonzales fail to succeed at the most fundamental task of chief law enforcement official — to make crime less not more prevalent.

And all the while, Gonzales’ Justice Department was crumbling from within, devastated by a cynical strategy of minimizing the role of career nonpartisan professionals within the Department in favor of young ideologues, mediocre attorneys and just plain party hacks. The U.S. Attorney scandal is just the most publicized example of this daring effort to make the Justice Department a house organ for the Bush administration. Less visible career attorneys were pushed out at the expense of rank partisans willing to toe the company line. Even the internship programs for law students were schooled to favor “right” thinking attorneys at the expense of others. One law school, founded by Pat Robertson and rated among the worst in the nation, became a feeder school for the Department. And it was all part of a plan.

One Rival Too Many For Inauguration Day

Rick Warren is certainly not the person I would have liked to see picked to give the inaugural invocation, as reported by CNN. The Salon War Room reports that the decision was made by The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies but it is hard to believe that Obama, along with Congressional Democrats, did not have a say. Right WIng Watch gives a recap of the reasons Warren should not have been chosen:

…in 2004 Warren declared that marriage, reproductive choice, and stem cell research were “non-negotiable” issues for Christian voters and has admitted that the main difference between himself and James Dobson is a matter of tone.  He criticized Obama’s answers at the Faith Forum he hosted before the election and vowed to continue to pressure him to change his views on the issue of reproductive choice.  He came out strongly in support of Prop 8, saying “there is no need to change the universal, historical defintion of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population … This is not a political issue — it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about.” He’s declared that those who do not believe in God should not be allowed to hold public office.

People For The American Way issued this statement:

It is a grave disappointment to learn that pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church’s engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right’s big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.

I’m sure that Warren’s supporters will portray his selection as an appeal to unity by a president who is committed to reaching across traditional divides. Others may explain it as a response to Warren inviting then-Senator Obama to speak on AIDS and candidate Obama to appear at a forum, both at his church. But the sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans.

Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn’t need or deserve this position of honor. There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good.

Perhaps this decision was made as part of an “appeal to unity.” Damon Linker argues that  this was politically expedient decision in his response to the objections expressed by Andrew Sullivan. Linker writes:

…Obama’s a politician, and the Warren pick is just the latest sign that he’s an exceedingly shrewd one (as Andrew concedes). Warren is beloved by mainstream evangelicals, who have helped him to sell millions of books extolling a fairly anodyne form of American Protestantism. (Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell he is not.) It is in Obama’s interest (and the Democrats’) to peel as many moderate evangelicals away from the GOP as he can. Giving Warren such a prominent (but purely symbolic) place in the inauguration is a politically cost-free way of furthering this partisan agenda. (As for whether having Warren deliver the invocation is an example of “Christianism,” I’d only note that Obama didn’t start the tradition of including prayers in these civic occasions. And his own speech is guaranteed to be more restrained in this regard than others have been.)

Now, Andrew might be right that Obama will not prove to be a champion of gay civil rights (at least when it comes to the issue of marriage). But we can be absolutely sure that no presidential candidate of the current Republican Party would be anything other than a rabid opponent of these rights. And that means: What benefits Obama and the Democrats — and what harms the Republicans — contributes (if perhaps only negatively) to Andrew’s cause. And that should be what counts.

If reaching out to Warren would result in a division of the religious right with many moderate evangelicals suddenly deciding to support Obama and social liberalism this gesture would certainly be worth it. I just do not believe that is going to happen. There is a time for trying to get along with those you disagree with, but there are also times when it is best to marginalize those with extremist beliefs rather than to help provide them credibility.

Those who agree with Warren’s beliefs as summarized above are never going to support the agenda of those of us who supported Obama and desired an end to the rule of the authoritarian right. There is nothing moderate in Warren’s views, even if there are others who are even more extreme. To promote Warren’s views as moderate only allows extremism to continue to be promoted under the guise of mainstream thought.

If there are really true moderates who respect Warren it would still be best to seek their support by means other than associating with someone like Rick Warren. The right wing thrives by demonizing and distorting the views of their opponents with preposterous claims. Their propaganda claims that liberals seek to take away people bibles as well as guns, along with redistributing the wealth, appeasing foreign enemies, and having the government take over health care. Obama has a small opportunity to demonstrate the absurdity of the right wing claims that liberals are hostile to religion by featuring a liberal theologian who respects our heritage of separation of church and state in this role as opposed to a reactionary who opposes everything Obama stands for.

Update: More information on the inaugural plans at The New York Times. Obama’s talking points reported by Sam Stein.

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, 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.

The Republican Responsibility For The Attempted Putsch

Tim Rutten, in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times, describes the efforts at politicalization of the Justice Department, along with other parts of government, as The putsch that imperiled America. He describes the problem:

Under then-Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, a thirtysomething lawyer named Monica M. Goodling — a graduate of a law school founded by Pat Robertson — had virtual veto power over the appointment of U.S. attorneys, other prosecutors and immigration judges. Goodling, as the Washington Post reported, demanded that candidates “espouse conservative priorities and Christian lifestyle choices,” especially on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. The goal, according to the report, was to create a Republican “farm system” inside the Justice Department.

While Goodling was pursuing that mission, something not dissimilar was going on at the White House. According to an article by New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer in the latest New York Review of Books, “President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and a small handful of trusted advisors sought and obtained dubious legal opinions [on national security] enabling them to circumvent American laws and traditions.” She details how they used these legal opinions to dramatically expand executive power.

Rutten argues that this these actions were “essentially ideological rather than partisan.” He acknowledges that these unethical actions were committed by Republicans but also points out that “many Republicans working inside the administration — some of them deeply conservative — gave up their jobs rather than go along with the putsch.” He concludes:

At some point, the American people will demand a precise accounting of how and why their government and its officials behaved in this reckless, appalling fashion. That will require following the chain of command into the White House. When it happens, you can bet that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington et al will demand every protection of the law and insist on every comma of the due process they’ve derided as mere inconvenience.

When there is such an accounting, the Republicans will still have a lot to explain. There may have been some good Republicans, but those who supported the crimes of the Bush administration still dominate the party. Congressional Republicans, rather than exercising the Constitutional duty to provide oversight of the Executive Branch, allowed Bush to do whatever he wanted while they were committing comparable offenses with the K Street Project. Despite having a president who was unfit to lead, there were no good Republican who were capable of mounting a challenge to renominating Bush in 2004.

While the Congressional Republicans have plenty to answer for, it was Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi who decided that impeachment should be taken off the table. Still, while the Democrats are far from pure, it was Republicans and not Democrats who were responsible for the actual offenses. When faced with a front runner who was every bit as unethical and dishonest as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, et al, Democrats did ultimately stand up and prevent the nomination of Hillary Clinton. To be fair, many Republicans might have thought they were ending the extremism and dishonesty of the Bush years in nomination John McCain, but it didn’t take long for McCain to adopt dishonest Rove/Clinton style tactics. We cannot trust that someone who resorts to this degree of dishonesty in campaigning will not do the same to preserve power if elected.

Why Some Conservatives and Libertarians are Backing Obama

Over the weekend I had a post on a poll which showed that more libertarians support Obama than McCain. Support from libertarians and conservatives for Obama has also been receiving quite a bit of attention from the news media. The latest example comes from the San Francisco Chronicle. Following is a portion of their article from this morning (which got delayed in posting due to intermittent internet access while traveling):

“I do know libertarians who think Obama is the Antichrist, that he’s farther left than John Kerry, much farther left than Bill Clinton, and you’d clearly have to be insane to vote for this guy,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “But there are libertarians who say, ‘Oh yeah? Do you think Obama will increase spending by $1 trillion, because that’s what Republicans did over the past two presidential terms. So really, how much worse can he be?’ And there are certainly libertarians who think Obama will be better on the war and on foreign policy, on executive power and on surveillance than McCain.”

Libertarians are tired of Christian evangelicals, who they believe captured the GOP under President Bush. Evangelicals, for their part, are skeptical of McCain, who in 2000 called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance.” McCain has tried to make amends, promising to stand firm on abortion and same-sex marriage, and appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, but mistrust runs deep.

Douglas Kmiec is former chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, and now a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine University and a devout Catholic. Kmiec endorsed Obama earlier this year, despite his conviction that Obama “believes in a pretty progressive agenda.”

Kmiec said his support deepened after meeting with Obama and other faith leaders last month, during which the busy candidate spent 2 1/2 in a freewheeling discussion with people who differed with him.

“I think he’s the right person at the right time to re-establish principles of constitutional governance that have been ill treated by the current administration, and to free us from the tar paper that we know is Iraq,” Kmiec said, adding that many Republicans privately agree. “I think he’s a man in the market for every good idea he can find, and he doesn’t care what label it comes with.”

David Friedman, the son of late conservative icon and Nobel economist Milton Friedman, has also endorsed Obama. Calling McCain a “nationalist,” Friedman, an economist at Santa Clara University, thinks Obama could turn out like the liberals who deregulated New Zealand’s economy.

“Of the two, Obama is less bad and at least has a chance in some ways of being good,” said Friedman. Friedman likes Obama’s University of Chicago advisers such as Austan Goolsbee and Cass Sunstein, who he believes are trying to forge a new leftism that incorporates free-market views. “I don’t expect to agree in general with them,” Friedman said, “but I certainly would be happy if the left became more libertarian, since the right seems to be less libertarian than it used to be.”

Many see the Iraq war as hostile to conservative values and as a “friend of the state” – something that inherently expands the reach of the government, as Milton Friedman once described war.

“People don’t understand that there has always been a small but very significant element of conservatives who have been against the war from day one and who, like me, also hate George Bush and think he’s the most incompetent president in American history,” said Bruce Bartlett, a supply-side economist who coined the term Obamacons. “The few people who are slavishly pro-Republican, live or die, slavishly pro-Bush like the Weekly Standard crowd, have gotten lot more publicity than they deserve.”

Not surprisingly, not all libertarians go along with supporting Obama:

Many conservatives are looking for a Clintonesque “Sister Soulja” or “end welfare as we know it” moment from Obama, a concrete demonstration of a willingness to abandon Democratic dogma.

“The Republicans have left the libertarian baby on the doorstep, but Democrats won’t open the door,” said Boaz. “There are people saying Obama’s a University of Chicago Democrat, and you can’t spend 10 years at the University of Chicago without having some appreciation for markets. I’d like to believe that. I just don’t see the rubber meeting the road.”

Matt Welch, editor in chief of the libertarian Reason Magazine and author of “McCain, the Myth of a Maverick,” thinks Obama’s conservative support “comes as much anything else from people being exhausted with the Republican coalition, who are mad at one wing or another, and they just think it’s time for them to lose. It’s just, ‘Look, we’re out of ideas, we’re exhausted, it’s not working, we don’t know what our principles are anymore, let’s take one for the team and have a black guy be the president for a while.’ “

Some additional related posts:

The Libertarianism of Barack Obama
Barack Obama’s Libertarian Support

David Friedman on Barack Obama

Libertarians and Conservatives for Obama

The Differences Between Obama and Clinton

McCain Adviser Calls Christian Right a Serious Problem

John McCain has had mixed relations with the religious right. He’s forced to pander them for votes, but deep down he probably does not like them any more than he did in 2000 when he said “Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”

We saw another example of the conflict between the McCain campaign and the religious right when McCain adviser Lawrence Eagleburgerg said the following before the United Jewish Communities (video here):

“On the Christian hard right, I live in Charlottesville now and I can’t tell you I’m surrounded by it,” Eagleburger said. “I must tell you we fought it there, fought hard against it. There’s no question that in the Republican Party it is a serious problem…Among the hard-right conservatives in the Republican Party John McCain was, shall we say, less than enthusiastically received…What you see is what you get. You are not going to see him moving to assuage the concerns of these conservatives.

“The issues that have concerned the far right I don’t see and I don’t expect to see any changes. I know there will be some people in his entourage who will want to advocate for those changes, and again, I don’t believe he will shift on those fundamental issues. For example, on abortion, he’s clear, he’s opposed. On one of the issues that upsets the far right, stem cell research, he is prepared to accept some of that, and that’s something that upsets the far right. I could go on with these issues.”

Of course it is not difficult for a Republican to bash the religious right when speaking before the United Jewish Communities. I do wish that he had provided more issues where McCain disagrees considering that McCain does agree with them on abortion. The reception also might have been different if McCain, or a surrogate, had repeated McCain’s belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.