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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


There is a disturbing new trend in Republican and conservative rhetoric– describing opposition that is entirely legal, legitimate and democratic as “bullying” “intimidation” “totalitarianism” “thuggery” and “attacks on democracy.”

When a political party that was previously committed to the norms and rules of a democratic society begins to descend into dangerous political extremism, there are a number of key warning signs.
As previous TDS Strategy Memos have noted, among the first is the widespread adoption of the philosophy of “politics as warfare.” TDS has documented this change in the thinking of the Republican Party and along with it the rise of other disturbing trends such as the acceptance of measures to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters and the idea that it is legitimate to paralyze the operations of government in order to achieve partisan political objectives.
Another very significant and dangerous warning sign of growing political extremism, however, becomes evident when a political party embraces the idea that any expression of opposition to its extremist political agenda – even if expressed through entirely legitimate democratic channels — is actually quasi-fascist in character and presents a threat to democracy rather than being an example of democracy in action.
As Republicans have encountered powerful and widespread public opposition to their 2010 agenda, they have increasingly begun to express this view. In recent weeks the following quite disturbing notions have been circulated in the Republican and conservative world.

• That recall elections are not exercises in democracy but rather attacks on democracy.
• That when members, financial contributors and observers of a non-profit organization protest actions with which they disagree, they are behaving as “gangsters”, “bullies” and “totalitarians.”
• That when the actions of powerful individuals are “exposed to the public view,” this represents “releasing the liberal thugs on them”, “intimidation” and “corrodes democracy.”
• That when Democrats decide to use the same fundraising techniques as Republicans, noting as justification the role of wealthy funders like the Koch Brothers on the conservative side, this represents “an attack on [those individuals] first amendment rights” and an attempt to “intimidate and silence” them

As Democrats will quickly note, in each of these cases there are comparable or even more extreme examples of precisely the same behavior on the Republican and conservative side that long pre-date the current examples (e.g. the demonizing of George Soros or the organizing of boycotts against companies with gay-friendly or pro-choice policies).
But the existence of a double standard is a secondary issue. Far more important is the fact that these current Republican/conservative criticisms are not directed at the substance of the particular debates in question but rather at challenging the basic legitimacy of exercising democratic rights themselves.
This point must be strongly emphasized and underlined. Actions such as (1) supporting recall election campaigns, (2) deciding to criticize or withdraw financial or other support from an organization with which a person disagrees, or (3) criticizing or publicizing the actions of individuals whose actions materially affect American political life are all actions that are utterly, absolutely and entirely legal and democratic in character – regardless of whether it is progressives or conservatives who engage in them. The deeply troubling underlying implication behind the recent conservative criticisms of these actions is the view that when such challenges are directed against Republicans or conservatives they are inherently illegitimate, thuggish and undemocratic.

Watching Tom Friedman argue with himself about the “false equivalency” between Dems and the GOP and the need for a third party is like watching Gollum and Smegal arguing in “Lord of the Rings.” I’m not kidding, just listen to him. It’s spooky.

Just 8 days ago TDS happily applauded what appeared to be Tom Friedman’s decisive break with the “false equivalency” notion that he had previously been peddling – the idea that Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault for political paralysis and that a centrist third party is therefore needed.
Now, however, just barely a week later, in his latest NYT column Friedman has completely reversed himself once again and now repeats exactly the same fallacies he so energetically rejected the week before.
If you lay the two columns side by side the effect is more than a little creepy. It’s like watching Gollum/Smegal, the tormented creature with the dual personality in Lord of the Rings, as it huddles down all alone and shifts from one voice to another as first one and then the other personality takes control of its body.
Start by listening to the first of Friedman’s two voices — let’s call it Freidman/Gollum – as it argues that the two parties are both equidistant extremes of left and right:
“If [the Republican] candidate is Rick Santorum, I think there is a good chance a Third Party will try to fill the space between the really “severely conservative” Santorum (or even Mitt Romney) and the left-of-center Barack Obama. “

But then here’s Friedman’s other self Friedman/Smegal – replying to him that the fundamental problem is the extremism of the Republicans and not both parties equally.
“When I look at America’s three greatest challenges today, I don’t see the Republican candidates offering realistic answers to any of them…when all the Republican candidates last year said they would not accept a deal with Democrats that involved even $1 in tax increases in return for $10 in spending cuts, the G.O.P. cut itself off from reality. It became a radical party, not a conservative one
We need to hear conservative fiscal policies, energy policies, immigration policies and public-private partnership concepts – not radical ones. Would somebody please restore our second party? The country is starved for a grown-up debate.”

But then Friedman/Gollum replies by completely ignoring Friedman/Smegal’s point and criticizes the Dems as if they had made no attempts at compromise and should have been able to achieve a “centrist” compromise without any Republican cooperation:

The Democrats…”are still in denial about the need to renegotiate our social insurance contract… [Obama] is not talking about the fundamental reforms in Medicare and Medicaid that we need, and he is not ready to touch Social Security…[he] talks about tax reform, but it is not comprehensive

Friedman/Smegal then responds to Friedman/Gollum by insisting again that the real problem are the Republicans, that they are simply not willing to seriously negotiate, making even the massive concessions Obama offered last spring useless because the Republicans simply move the goal posts rather than negotiate:
“What we definitely and urgently need is a second party – a coherent Republican opposition that is offering constructive conservative proposals on the key issues and is ready for strategic compromises to advance its interests and those of the country. Without that, the best of the Democrats – who have been willing to compromise – have no partners and the worst have a free pass for their own magical thinking.”

Friedman-Gollum ignores his alter-ego and simply repeats the “false equivalency” mantra:
“After months of nutty, gravity-free Republican primary debates, how great would it be to have presidential debates in which a smart independent…was in the middle to challenge both sides and offer sensible solutions”?

Friedman/Smegal rejects this:
“Since a transformed Republican Party is highly unlikely, maybe the best thing would be for it to get crushed in this election and forced into a fundamental rethink – something the Democrats had to go through when they lost three in a row between 1980 and 1988. We need a “Different Kind of Republican” the way Bill Clinton gave us a “Different Kind of Democrat.”

Let’s face it; eavesdropping on this bizarre internal dialog really is spooky. We hear two utterly different voices coming out of the same body. It’s just like watching the dramatic climaxes in all the great multiple personality movies – “Sybil”, “The Three Faces of Eve”, “Marnie” and “Psycho.”
But what could cause a man like Friedman to develop a case of political multiple personality disorder that is so strikingly reminiscent of cinema clichés?
If we look to those same movies for guidance, the apparent answer is that it is always a traumatic event that precipitates the psychic dissociation. Under the shock of a trauma the protagonist cannot face, his or her mind fragments into separate personalities.
In Friedman’s case (as with other third-party centrists) the trauma they seem unable to face is the fact that the Republican Party is very clearly and rapidly evolving toward becoming an American version of the post-war French national Front, back in the decades when it was headed by Jean Marie Le Pen. For commentators and others who are deeply nostalgic for the stability and judicious elite conservatism of the post World War II American “establishment” (an establishment that included distinguished “wise men” from both political parties), the implications of the Republican Party’s undeniable extremism are so disturbing that today’s third party centrists are unwilling to fully accept it. One can almost hear them saying “No, no, it can’t really be that bad. Any minute now the GOP will come back to its senses. There must still be “adults” in the Republican Party who will get back in charge and stop all this nonsense. Meanwhile we should all just carry on as if nothing is wrong and that we still have two traditional political parties.”
Well O.K. I suppose one can sympathize just a little bit. It’s always hard to let go of the past. But let’s face it, life isn’t always easy and the bottom line is this: Sybil simply couldn’t face the fact that her mother was completely nuts. Anthony Perkins couldn’t accept the fact that his mother was dead.
And Tom Friedman simply can’t accept the reality that the “old” GOP is as moribund as Anthony Perkins long-dead mother, her bones clattering up and down in her rocking chair, and that the “new” GOP is rapidly becoming every bit as batty as Sybil’s completely psychotic, wacko mom. That’s why he’s wandering around in circles talking to himself like his own personal performance of Gollum and Smegal in “Lord of the Rings.”

Rick Santorum is an MBA, fancy lawyer, politician and slimy lobbyist. His parents were a clinical psychologist and administrative nurse. He is no more authentically “blue collar” than he is Chinese. Why does the press repeat this stupid, nonsensical claim

Well, the simple answer is this: an appalling number of “journalists” are pathetically gullible and lazy hacks and will swallow any nonsense a candidates’ flack feeds them just so long as it gives them an easy adjective to use to characterize a politician.
The slightly less simple answer is that Santorum’s flacks – a group which by the way includes David Brooks and other conservative cheerleaders along with the guys directly on Santorum’s payroll — have run a shell game on the press that the asleep at the wheel reporters don’t bother to question.
Just watch how David Brooks plays this incredibly transparent street-corner three-card-Monte trick on his readers and the rest of the press:
Step one: ignore the man’s actual personal history (MBA, Lawyer in silk-stocking firm, Politician, Lobbyist) and his parent’s actual occupations (Clinical Psychologist, Administrative Nurse) and use essentially irrelevant facts to imply he comes from a hard-scrabble blue collar life and background.

Brooks in Paragraph 7 — “Santorum is the grandson of a coal miner and the son of an Italian immigrant. For years, he represented the steel towns of western Pennsylvania.”

Step two: suggest his political views make him an authentic representative of working class America.

Brooks in Paragraph 11 — “I do believe that he represents sensibility and a viewpoint that is being suppressed by the political system”

Step three: take steps one and two, add some paragraphs in between them to distract the reader and then flat-out boldly identify Santorum as “working class” and hope nobody notices the quick sleight of hand:

Brooks in Paragraph 12 — “If you took a working-class candidate from the right, like Santorum, and a working-class candidate from the left, like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and you found a few islands of common ground, you could win this election by a landslide. The country doesn’t want an election that is Harvard Law versus Harvard Law”

Absolutely unbelievable, isn’t it. Santorum grew up in a middle class home, never worked a single damn day in a factory or hammered a nail in his entire bloody life and all of a sudden he’s frickin’ Rocky.
Look at these utterly nonsensical headlines: “Santorum fits working class bill,” and “Santorum: The Blue-collar Candidate – The former senator touts his working-class roots”
And somebody actually pays the stupid clowns who write this crap as “journalists” who are supposedly reporting the news? Hell, any MSM reporter who repeats this “blue collar” baloney should be instantly fired and replaced with a stenographer who just writes down Santorum’s’ campaign spin word for word. Come to think of it, the media should just get a bike messenger to carry Santorum’s press releases directly to the printing press or news show teleprompter. It’ll be much cheaper and a whole lot more honest.

Obama’s recent State of the Union speech can provide a solution to progressives’ most difficult dilemma in the 2012 election – how to combine legitimate criticism of Obama with active, passionate opposition to Republican extremism.

As progressives face the 2012 elections, they find themselves struggling with a profoundly difficult dilemma.
On the one hand, progressives clearly recognize the extraordinary danger presented by Republican extremism. The possibility of additional conservatives being added to the supreme court is, by itself, more than sufficient reason to conclude that the GOP must not be allowed to win in 2012 but there are equally serious threats to the survival of the New Deal social safety net, to basic worker and citizen rights and, for millions of Americans, to the continued right to vote itself. Both opinion data and progressive commentary show that only a very small fraction of 2008 Democratic voters are willing to sit out the 2012 election or support a Nader-style third party.
At the same time, however, a significant number of progressives also feel that they simply cannot support Obama with anything like the enthusiasm they felt in 2008. Beyond the general sense of disappointment and frustration that many feel with his administration, progressives cite two practical reasons – (1) that they will lose their ability to convincingly advocate for broader progressive change if they appear to be giving unqualified endorsement to Obama and (2) that they will lose all leverage within the Administration itself if they energetically support and work for his re-election without first extracting substantial policy concessions in return.
The solution many progressives have settled upon is a kind of grudging, half-hearted support, laced with criticism. It is typically expressed in the following way: “Well, yeah, I guess I’ll vote for Obama. But I sure won’t contribute any money or volunteer.”
In a recent column E.J. Dionne accurately described the progressive ambivalence:

In traveling around Iowa and New Hampshire over the last few weeks, I have been struck by the number of Democrats and independents who still more or less want Obama to win and deeply fear the consequences of a government dominated by Republicans. But having made this clear, they then bring up the ways in which they cannot summon the emotions on Obama’s behalf this year that they felt the first time around.
Some point to disappointment over his failure to confront the Republicans early enough and hard enough. How, they ask, could Obama possibly have expected cooperation from conservatives? Others are frustrated that he couldn’t bring Washington together, as he said he would. Still others point to real Obama achievements, including the stimulus and especially the health-care law, and ask why he was unable to sell their merits to a majority of the electorate. And then there are those who wonder why the malefactors of finance have faced so little accountability.
Few of these voters would ever support a Republican, and most will turn out dutifully for Obama again. But a president who won election with 52.9 percent of the vote does not have a lot of margin. He needs to worry not just about issues but also about the spirit and morale of his supporters.

This halfhearted, unenthusiastic view could be clearly discerned in the progressive reaction to Obama’s recent State of the Union speech. Progressive commentary included a significant number of opinion pieces with titles such as “Why Did It Take Obama So long,” “Semi-Tough” and even “Faux-Populism.” While many progressives were pleased, a substantial group was negative, dismissive and disappointed.
Among progressives themselves there is an intense concern that this lack of enthusiasm represents a deeply unsatisfactory and dysfunctional dead-end. All progressives are fiercely and passionately opposed to the genuinely disturbing extremism that has taken control of the Republican Party and want to fight proudly and energetically against the bitter assault on Democrats and progressives that is now underway. But because of the deeply ambivalent way Obama and the 2012 election are framed in much of the progressive discussion, however, they find themselves unable to unite around an aggressive and positive approach.
But what is the alternative? How can progressives actively and passionately participate in the 2012 elections despite their various criticisms and disagreements with Obama?
The history of progressive social movements of the past suggests the answer: progressives themselves should aggressively re-frame what their participation in the 2012 election is actually about. Rather than accepting the definition of progressive participation in the 2012 election as representing unqualified support for Obama as a human symbol and embodiment of all progressive hopes, dreams and values, progressives should re-frame their participation as representing instead their support for something quite different — for a broad “progressive agenda for change.”
This is not a new departure for progressives but rather a return to the traditional progressive approach. It is, in fact, a rather unique historical accident that in the 2008 election progressives united behind a particular presidential candidate before they had united around a clear progressive agenda. This made Obama as an individual rather than a shared progressive agenda the center of the progressive message and organizing in that election campaign.
In previous eras of social change, in contrast, the progressive agenda and the movement to achieve it clearly and unambiguously came before any progressive commitment to any particular political campaign. The rise of the trade union movement preceded Franklin Roosevelt’s first campaign, the civil rights movement preceded John Kennedy’s 1960 election and the anti-war movement preceded the political campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. In each case progressives had united around a progressive agenda well before they united around a candidate and in every case it was the agenda that embodied the most deeply held progressive ideals and perspective rather than support for any particular Democratic politician.
Obama’s recent State of the Union Speech now provides a way to recreate this more traditional — and profoundly more healthy — relationship between political candidates and the progressive agenda. Obama defined his State Of The Union speech as a “blueprint” for America but it is more accurately described as the “outline” or “framework” for a Democratic economic agenda. As such, it makes it possible for progressives to advocate and organize support for a broad progressive agenda in 2012 rather than simply for Obama as a symbol and icon.

Hey, Dems: here’s an encouraging sign. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman — leading MSM promoter of the “False equivalency” notion — has now stood up and clearly said that Republican extremism is the problem.

The New York Times’ Tom Friedman has for some time now been a leading promoter of the “false equivalency” nostrum – the idea that Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame for America’s current problems and that a new “middle of the road” third party is therefore necessary. Along with the Washington Post’s Matt Miller, Friedman has been the most visible poster boy for this infuriating notion, one which is as empirically false as it is morally and intellectually unfair to Obama and the Dems.
But now Friedman has finally come out loud and clear with a column that unequivocally says that Republican extremism is the fundamental problem:
Here is the gist of Friedman’s “heave-ho” as he finally throws the “false equivalency” nonsense out the window:

I’ve argued that maybe we need a third party to break open our political system. But that’s a long shot. What we definitely and urgently need is a second party — a coherent Republican opposition that is offering constructive conservative proposals on the key issues and is ready for strategic compromises to advance its interests and those of the country.
Without that, the best of the Democrats — who have been willing to compromise — have no partners and the worst have a free pass for their own magical thinking. Since such a transformed Republican Party is highly unlikely, maybe the best thing would be for it to get crushed in this election and forced into a fundamental rethink — something the Democrats had to go through when they lost three in a row between 1980 and 1988. We need a “Different Kind of Republican” the way Bill Clinton gave us a “Different Kind of Democrat.”
Because when I look at America’s three greatest challenges today, I don’t see the Republican candidates offering realistic answers to any of them…
…when all the Republican candidates last year said they would not accept a deal with Democrats that involved even $1 in tax increases in return for $10 in spending cuts, the G.O.P. cut itself off from reality. It became a radical party, not a conservative one. And for the candidates to wrap themselves in a cartoon version of Ronald Reagan — a real conservative who raised taxes, including the gasoline tax, when he discovered his own cuts had gone too far — is fraudulent…
…Until the G.O.P. stops being radical and returns to being conservative, it won’t provide what the country needs most now — competition — competition with Democrats on the issues that will determine whether we thrive in the 21st century. We need to hear conservative fiscal policies, energy policies, immigration policies and public-private partnership concepts — not radical ones. Would somebody please restore our second party? The country is starved for a grown-up debate.

Now if only Matt Miller over at the Post would man up like Friedman and come on back to reality, the “false equivalency” nonsense could be driven back into the corner of Fox News where it belongs – you know, the place where all the over-the-hill, has-been Democratic pollsters who can’t get a real job with the GOP go to sit in lawn chairs, play dominos and whine for the cameras about having been “betrayed” by the Democratic Party.

Is this the most patently false, biased and dishonest headline the Washington Post has ever run?

Look at this home page headline in today’s Washington Post:

Is Obama the most polarizing president ever?”

When you click to go to the column, the question is flatly answered in the affirmative:

Obama: The most polarizing president. Ever.

But now read what the text of the column actually says:

Out of the ten most partisan years in terms of presidential job approval in Gallup data, seven — yes, seven — have come since 2004. Bush had a run between 2004 and 2007 in which the partisan disparity of his job approval was at 70 points or higher.

As a chart that accompanies the article makes clear, Bush had the highest partisan gap in 4 of those 7 years. Moreover, in the three years where the partisan disparity was over 70 points, It was Bush and not Obama who was president.
As the article then notes:

“Obama’s ratings have been consistently among the most polarized for a president in the last 60 years,” concludes Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones in a memo summing up the results. “That may not be a reflection on Obama himself as much as on the current political environment in the United States, because Obama’s immediate predecessor, Bush, had similarly polarized ratings, particularly in the latter stages of his presidency after the rally in support from the 9/11 terror attacks faded.”

In addition, as the article also notes:

Democrats will point out that Republicans in Congress have played a significant part in the polarization; the congressional GOP has stood resolutely against almost all of Obama’s top priorities. And Obama’s still-high popularity among the Democratic base also exacerbates the gap.

In fact, the only way the article manages to slice the data to support the headline is by comparing presidential first year to first year, second year to second year and so on – a Bush vs. Obama comparison that just happens to include the huge national rally behind Bush after 9/11.
This is really outrageous. Some headline writer over there at the Post oughta get fired over this. It’s not only blatantly and dishonestly biased against Obama but it does not even pass the standards for a tenth grade high school journalism class.

There’s a big gap between American attitudes toward “income inequality” and “unfairness.” Americans don’t want the government to “redistribute income,” they want it to stop favoring the wealthy and powerful and to make them pay their fair share.

In a New York Times Op-ed piece oday Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut makes a critical distinction between American attitudes toward “income inequality” and “unfairness”

…while Americans are hearing more and more about class conflict, there is little indication that they are increasingly divided along these lines. People don’t necessarily want to take money from the wealthy; they just want a better chance to get rich themselves. They care about policies that give everyone a fair shot — a distinction that candidates in both parties should understand as they head into the 2012 campaigns.
…A Gallup poll last month found 54 percent believing that income inequality was an “acceptable part of our economic system” — a slight increase, in fact, over the 45 percent that held that view back in 1998….What’s different these days is that a despondent public, struggling with difficult times and an uncertain future, is upset over a perceived lack of fairness in public policy. For example, 61 percent of Americans now say the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy.

Although the strong support Occupy Wall Street received might, at first glance, seem to support the view that Americans want income redistribution, it really doesn’t. What Occupy was challenging that deeply resonated with many observers was the concentrated economic and political power of the 1% and their ability to use that power to “rig the game” in their favor and against the 99%.
As Kohut notes:

Pew’s surveys in recent years present a detailed picture of these frustrations. One major complaint is tax policy: Dissatisfaction with the tax system has grown over the past decade, but the focus is not on how much respondents themselves pay, but rather on the perception that the wealthy are simply not paying their fair share. Just 11 percent of Americans say they are bothered by the amount they pay, while 57 percent of respondents say they are bothered by what they believe are unfairly low amounts paid by the wealthy.
…The issue here is not about class envy. Rather, it’s a perception that government policies are skewed toward helping the already wealthy and powerful. While a December Gallup poll found few respondents wanting the government to attempt to reduce the income gap between rich and poor, 70 percent said it was important for the government to increase opportunities for people to get ahead. What the public wants is not a war on the rich but more policies that promote opportunity.

In a related NYT piece Stanley Fish echoes the same point:

The difference between equality and fairness can be illustrated by considering the issue of Mitt Romney’s taxes. In the eyes of most Americans, it is O.K. that Mitt Romney makes more money than they do; there’s no demand for the equalizing of income so that he can be brought down to their level. But it is not O.K. (or at least the Democrats will argue) for Mitt Romney to be paying a lower tax rate than his housecleaner. It’s unfair. So inequalities that arise from the unequal abilities of people and even from the unequal distribution of luck and birth are all right; but the kind of unfairness that occurs when someone plays by different rules than the rules you are held to isn’t…

This is a critical distinction for politics and vital for 2012. As Fish correctly notes:

President Obama can take the fairness mantra all the way to the bank — and to a second term.

Conservative claims of vote fraud have just become vastly more sinister. Activists have committed criminal vote fraud to “prove it’s possible.” The next logical step will be to commit fraud, blame Dems and use the fraud to try and overturn elections.

Last weeks’ story — reported in Huffpo and elsewhere — about a group of James O’Keefe’s confederates who attempted to vote in the New Hampshire primary using falsified ID’s “in order to prove voter fraud is possible” has not gotten the attention it deserves.
In principle, the perpetrators’ actions are no different than walking into a church and robbing the minister at gunpoint (while covertly filming the crime) in order to “prove” the need for metal detectors in church doorways.
As it happens, the perpetrators in O’Keefe’s criminal conspiracy didn’t even get away with it. A poll watcher recognized one of them as using a false ID and alerted the authorities. The debate is now whether O’Keefe’s criminal “perps” should be prosecuted for committing a serious crime that carries a jail sentence.
But the deeper issue that has not gotten any attention yet is the profound moral red line that the O’Keefe gang has now crossed. To understand it, one just has to look back at the past.
The history of political extremism in the 20th century offers a vast number of examples of actions by groups traditionally called “provocateurs” – extremists who pretended to be members of some opposite group and then committed crimes in their name in order to discredit them. In American history the most extensive use of this tactic was by anti-union forces in the 1930’s who infiltrated union demonstrations and then attacked police or bystanders in order to provoke a violent clash and police crackdown on the demonstrators. Another example were covert payments by segregationists to Black teenagers to throw rocks and bottles during some civil rights demonstrations.
The inescapable fact is that the moment that any group decides it has the moral right to commit covert illegal acts in order to “prove they are possible,” it then becomes morally reasonable and even obligatory to take the next step and commit illegal acts while pretending to be members of some other group because “our opponents are going to do it anyway; we’re just exposing the real truth about what they are going to do.”
Just consider how small a step it would have been for the O’Keefe gang to have used African-American or Latino fraudsters and then release the video as proof that actual voter fraud had occurred, rather than as proof that fraud is technically possible. Even if the video at some point identified the fraudsters as actually working for a conservative group, once the video began to circulate on the internet, the distinction between “staged” voter fraud and “actual” voter fraud would be completely lost.
In fact, this is already happening with the video filmed by the O’Keefe gang. On many conservative sites the video is being presented as documentation of actual voter fraud not “staged” voter fraud. Before long, tens of thousands of people will be passionately citing this video as “smoking-gun proof” that actual voter fraud is occuring.
(O’Keefe has deliberatied encouraged this kind of confusion about his videos and has also directly falsified them in the past. Images of the famous “pimp suit” he claimed to have worn during covert taped interviews with members of ACORN were actually edited into his videos after the fact, dramatically altering the viewers impression of what the people being interviewed were seeing. Any moral line between adding phony pimp suits to a video after the fact and hiring African-Americans or Latinos to act as fraudsters is quite literally impossible for normally honest people to distinguish).
Right-wing “provocateur” actions of even greater malevolence are already being committed in the Wisconsin recall campaign. Opponents of the campaign to recall Governor Scott Walker are openly boasting on conservative websites of misrepresenting themselves as petition gatherers for the recall and throwing out the signatures they collect or of providing misleading information to people who wish to sign. Other opponents brag that they have deliberately signed petitions with false names in order to invalidate the petitions and the recall process in general.
There is no reason to mince words: these are nothing less than right-wing extremist attacks on American democracy itself. The perpetrators can be called with perfect justice both “subversives” and “un-American.” Democrats should not only demand that they be punished to the maximum extent of the law but that conservatives and Republicans should publically denounce these acts and join in the demand for forceful prosecution. Anything less on their part will represent a shameful wink of tacit approval and repugnant evidence of moral complicity.

We said it first here – well OK, maybe not first, but pretty darn early

From a James Vega post in the August 1, 2009 Democratic Strategist:
The Conservative movement has created a Frankenstein called the Tea Party. It has broken out of the laboratory and now threatens the people who brought it to life.
…the creature the official conservative/Republican movement has nurtured all these years has broken out of the laboratory and is beginning to ravage the countryside…
…Hence the sudden desperation in official conservative and Republican circles to drive the creature they have created back into the lab where it can be restrained. The problem, however — as every horror movie since the classic 1931 version of Frankenstein depicts — is that the creature never actually does get recaptured. With the uncontrollable nature of the internet and the desperate struggle for ratings among conservative TV commentators, there are now simply too many independent forces providing support for “tin-foil-hat” extremist views for either the Republican Party or the official conservative commentators to regain control.
All one has to do is remember the movies. The lab-coated mad scientist who creates the creature always ends up getting thrown off the windmill, blown up in the laboratory explosion or gobbled up by the flesh-eating zombies he was in the process of creating as his personal army. Republican leaders are starting to feel an uncomfortable resemblance to those movie characters these days when they come face to face with their “tin-foil-hat” conservative base.
Hey, I wonder if George Romero is available to take a meeting…….

Here’s TAP Co-Editor Bob Kuttner’s diagnosis of Americans Elect: “a wrongheaded ideology, married to a misguided diagnosis of what ails America, yoked to a perverse politics. Just what you’d expect of hedge-fund billionaires meddling in electoral reform.”

In a recent Huffpo piece, Bob Kuttner delivered a sharp and well-deserved back of the hand to the latest and biggest fad in pseudo-populist “Don’t Vote for Obama” politics (dressed up, like most of these things are, as grass-roots citizen participation). As he said:

A well-funded, faux-reformist group known as Americans Elect is promoting a third party presidential candidacy and anticipates qualifying its candidate to be on the ballot in nearly all states. It is doing this by collecting millions of petition signatures, over 2.2 million so far, taking advantage of voter frustration with political blockage in Washington. The actual candidate will be decided later, by Internet Convention.
Despite the superficial populism, just about everything about this exercise is misguided…

Kuttner explains:

The quest for a centrist third party alternative misstates why Washington is blocked. The storyline is one of symmetrical extremism and refusal to compromise on the part of Republicans and Democrats alike. Says Americans Elect’s website, “you have the power to help break gridlock and change politics as usual. No special interest. No agendas. Country before party.”
But as anyone who hasn’t spent the last three decades on Jupiter must know, Democrats have spent the era since Jimmy Carter moving to the middle of the spectrum on a broad range of pocketbook and national security issues. Only on tolerance issues has the presidential party remained progressive.
So we already have a centrist party. It’s called the presidential Democratic Party….
…Republicans during this period have both moved further to the right ideologically, and have become more obstructionist tactically. They have refused to pass routine legislation such as extension of national debt authority. Ordinary bills are now subjected to Senate filibusters. If they don’t like a federal agency like the consumer financial protection bureau or the National Labor Relations Board, they won’t confirm its nominees. If they don’t like duly enacted legislation like the Affordable Care Act, they vow to destroy it. The Supreme Court has become a partisan organ.
This pattern of extremist obstruction by a major party is something unknown in American politics since the pre-Civil War battles over slavery…

O.K., so Americans Elect is clearly peddling the anti-Democratic “false equivalency” snake-oil. Kuttner then asks the obvious question: who’s behind it?

…The thing is funded mostly by hedge fund gazillionaires. In fact, the chief operating officer of Americans Elect, Elliot L. Ackerman, got a $30 million dollar gift from his father, Wall Streeter Peter Ackerman, to finance this exercise in Internet populism. Thanks, Dad.
Note that this hedge-fund-spawned third party is most likely to attract self-financing billionaires. This is one hell of an exercise in the people taking back their politics.

Now as everyone in the Washington beltway village knows, the effort is widely suspected to be a tool of Michael Blumberg’s and the likelihood that any other candidate who might harm the Republicans instead of Obama will get the nod is totally undermined by the fact that the hedge-fund insiders running this scam have given themselves the explicit right to override the votes of the masses of “citizen-voters” who participate if the voting doesn’t go the way they want and to anoint someone else they consider a more “acceptable” centrist.
As Richard Hassen noted in a recent Politico investigative report:

the [nomination] process can, in fact, be overruled by the small board of directors who organized the group. This board is to have unfettered discretion in picking a committee that can boot the presidential ticket chosen by voters if it is not sufficiently “centrist” and even dump the committee if it doesn’t like the direction it’s heading.

Hassen provides the details:

Under the group’s bylaws, the committee, along with the three other standing committees, serves at the pleasure of the board — and committee members can be removed without cause by the board. The board members were not elected by delegates; they chose themselves in the organization’s articles of incorporation.
The bottom line: If Americans Elect is successful, millions of people will have united to provide ballot access not for a candidate they necessarily believe in – like a Ross Perot or Ralph Nader — but for a candidate whose choice could be shaped largely by a handful of self-appointed leaders.
Despite the veneer of democracy created by having “delegates” choose a presidential candidate through a series of Internet votes, the unelected, unaccountable board of Americans Elect, funded by secret money, will control the process for choosing a presidential and vice presidential candidate — who could well appear on the ballot in all 50 states.

Kuttner nicely sums up the whole noxious package as follows:

So we have wrongheaded ideology, married to a misguided diagnosis of what ails America, yoked to a perverse politics. Just about what you’d expect of hedge-fund billionaires meddling in electoral reform.

That pretty much says it all. But, just for the heck of it let’s make absolutely sure we have all the details completely straight in our minds. An unelected cabal of plutocrats has invested millions of dollars (collected from a handful of carefully concealed secret donors) into a completely unaudited private balloting process whose results they have explicitly given themselves the right to casually throw in the garbage if they don’t like them in order to handpick the candidate they prefer.
Wow. Where did these electoral Einsteins ever manage to find the inspiration for this absolutely awesome and breathtaking innovation in “grass roots democracy”? Albania, maybe? A Central American Banana Republic in the 1930’s? An unpublished novel of George Orwell?
Damned if I know. But just for fun TDS readers can go ahead vote for their choice between these three alternatives. But just remember, if I don’t like your choice, I can always just crumple it up and throw it in the trash. That’ll give you a head start in understanding how your vote can get treated by Americans Elect.