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New Jersey is having its election for governor on Tuesday, and right now it looks like incumbent Chris Christie is going to win in a landslide.  This despite the face that the state's economy has remained in the doldrums, that Christie has slashed money to schools, has let political cronies run halfway houses that abuse inmates and let them escape, canceled needed public works projects while giving state funding for a giant shopping mall, cut money for police in cities that need cops on the streets, and generally behaved like a bullying jackass.

Of all of Christie's many corrupt dealings and lies, none may be more egregious than his exploitation of Hurricane Sandy.  This summer, when the state needed to run ads to promote tourism to the Jersey Shore after Sandy's devastation, it chose a company whose ads prominently featured Christie and his family (not ordinary New Jerseyans) with the slogan "stronger than the storm."  Coming in an election year, it seemed awful fishy to me, and I was right.  According to the Asbury Park Press, the "Stronger Than the Storm" ad agency charged $2 million more than a competing firm whose ads were not going to feature Christie.  That's right, the state used taxpayer dollars to give the Christie campaign some free propaganda. The head of the selection committee and a Christie appointee had also once received a $49,000 loan from the governor.  I tell you, it stinks worse than a two-day old fish wrapped in a three day old newspaper.

And yet the man seems to be made of teflon.  Like the popular bully at school, people feel like they have to support him for their own standing, or are afraid of what could happen to them if they oppose him.  Considering that, I am not sure if the little revelation I have to offer here will matter much.

The weather was beautiful when I got home from work today, and so I decided to take the dog on an extra-long walk down to Independence Park.  On my way home, I noticed some Christie stickers on the light poles.  I looked closer, and saw that the slogan "Stronger Than The Storm" appeared below his name.  The governor had always said that the ads this summer were there to promote New Jersey, and not him, but evidently his campaign is now explicitly tying the governor to the summer ad campaign.  Not only is this ridiculous in light of Christie's failures to enact proper storm recovery, it pretty much exposes those ads for what they were the whole time: state-sponsored and tax-payer funded propaganda for the governor.  I am not sure if it's illegal, but it stinks.

By all accounts, this last week has been a bad one for the Obama administration, mostly because the GOP has finally found the "scandals" they have been looking for to discredit and obstruct the president.  (Never mind that they are collaborating with the biggest real scandal, our nation's use of drones to carry out targeted assassinations.)  I will leave the parsing of the AP email seizures, Benghazi memos, and IRS to others.  I would prefer to take a step back from all of the accusations and minutae, and place all of this in broader historical and political context.

To paraphrase one of Marx's most well-known adages, history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.  The tactic of ginning up "scandals" of dubious importance was used time and again in the Clinton administration, when Republicans flogged the Whitewater kerfuffle to death and tried to impeach the president over a blow job.  Not only are the tactics today the same, so is the motivation.  Today's conservatives view themselves as the only real and true Americans, and liberals as an enemy within.  Any progressive president, even ones as moderate as Obama and Clinton, are imposters and usurpers who must be destroyed.  The racial and cultural dynamics at play with Barack Obama have only intensified this derangement.

However, I see another cause at play, one that has been less discussed but is no more potent: conservatives can't win through legitimate means.  This may sound counterintuitive, but take a look at the six presidential elections since 1992.  In only one of those elections has the Republican candidate received the most votes; Bush's win in 2000 was tainted at best.  Furthermore, the one election where the Republican did get the most votes, 2004, he had major advantages due to incumbency and being in the midst of a war.  Furthermore, Republican power in Congress is derived through manipulating the system, rather than via the voice of the ballot box.  As has been well-documented, Republicans have maintained a majority in House mostly through gerrymandering, which they have been aggressively pushing since 2000.  In the Senate they use filibusters and and other means of obstruction to prevent the majority from moving legislation forward.

While committed conservatives are a minority in this country, they are fully mobilized.  A vast Right-wing noise machine serves up conspiracies and outrage on a platter, and their mobs of listeners eat it right up.  Polls show that most Americans have faint interest in the current raft of "scandals," but that doesn't matter when a committed faction and their allies in Congress light their hair on fire and scream out for impeachment.

Essentially, last week's events are only a small battle in a much larger political war, one that has been waged for at least twenty years now by conservatives.  Anyone rememberPat Buchanan's infamous "Culture War" speech at the 1992 RNC?  Although Buchanan's star has fallen, and the social conservative message of that speech is much less emphasized by the GOP today, it expressed the conservative vision of the nation as it still stands.  Conservatives believe they are paladins, protectors of a "real America" under threat by liberals and growing numbers of "takers" who are undermining American values.  When they lose an election, as in 2012, they blame the supposed government-dependency and high melanin count of voters who don't count as "real Americans."  The results don't count, because "real America" did not give the usurper Obama a majority.  Hence any means necessary may be used to stop him from destroying "real America" so that conservatives can "take our country back."

As long as one major political party in this country is held in thrall by such divisive extremism, our politics will continue to be dysfunctional, and all kinds of "scandals" will be brought before the country.


One of the strangest tendencies of conservatives in recent years has been to invoke names from the distant past of American history in order to justify retrograde policies in the present.  Often, as is the case with hacks like David Barton, these amateur historians engage in gross distortions of the historical record.  (Although progressives have a proud political past in this country, they seem less historically inclined.)  Just today I read that Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said that a Romney administration might be like that of James K. Polk, as if that was a good thing.   

For those of you who don't know, Polk served for only one term, from 1845 to 1849.  He did not run for a second, and died soon after leaving office.  In his one term he accomplished his primary goal, which was the expansion of American territory.  His presidency gave us the treaties with Great Britain giving the United States control over Oregon Territory, the annexation of Texas, and consequently war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848 that added California and the Southwest to the United States.  Rhoades compared the boldness of Polk's expansionism to the boldness of the Romney-Ryan plan to gut ("reform") the social safety net.

I tend to think that people in this country either view American history from a nationalist or a humanist perspective.  From a nationalist point of view, Polk might look pretty admirable.  He drastically expanded American territory, including some of the most economically important regions of the country today.  However, from a humanist standpoint, Polk looks more like an unscrupulous, blood-thirsty extremist whose rash actions did horrific damage.

First, let's take the annexation of Texas.  Contrary to Texan mythology, once the Republic of Texas broke away from Mexico in 1835, it did not really want independence, but to join the United States.  This was opposed by many in Congress, because Texas was a slave-holding state, and bringing in Texas would greatly expand territory where slavery held sway.  (Mexico had banned slavery after its independence, and one important reason for the Texan independence movement was to preserve slavery, something many Texans are loathe to admit today.)  There was also the question of whether annexing Texas would bring about war with Mexico, which claimed the land between the Rio Grande and the Nueces, also claimed by the Texans.  Polk pushed the addition of Texas to the union, accomplished in 1845.

He sent representatives to the Mexican government to purchase California and New Mexico, but could not get an agreement.  Instead of respecting Mexican sovereignty, he sent a military force under Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande, in what Mexico considered its territory.  He did this in order to provoke a war, and this strategy proved successful.  The anticipated short war did not pan out, and it lasted a bloody two years because the Mexican people put up a stout resistance.  Although the number of American war dead was pretty small by the standard of later wars, this war did have the highest percentage loss of life among the troops of any military conflict in American history.  In the end Mexico had to surrender and agree to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which signed over the desired land for a much lower price than Polk had offered in peacetime.  There had been talk of taking all of Mexico, but racists like John C Calhoun warned against polluting the United States with brown-skinned Catholics.  His contemptuous attitude towards the Mexican people reflected larger feelings and had some pretty negative consequences.  In the aftermath of the war, the Hispanic inhabitants of this newly Americanized territory had their lands confiscated and found themselves turned into second-class citizens.

The war with Mexico was not a necessary conflict, but a war of aggression and naked conquest on the part of the United States.  This begs the question of why Polk was so keen to expand American territory.  There were the usual nationalistic reasons, of course, but Polk was especially concerned with creating new territory for slavery.  The Missouri Compromise had limited the land available for slave states, something Southerners feared would eventually leave them outnumbered in their desire to preserve the "peculiar institution."  For that reason, he had attempted to negotiate with Spain over the sale of Cuba before talks fell through.

Many great American at the time were fully aware that Polk had intended to expand slavery, and had instigated a war to do so and then tried to cover up his machinations with lies.  Serving his only term in Congress, a young Abraham Lincoln denounced the war's illegality and assailed Polk for intentionally misleading the American public.  Henry David Thoureau went to jail after refusing to pay his taxes in support of a war for slavery.  After years of acquiescing to the "gag rule" in Congress that immediately tabled any petitions related to slavery, Northern politicians like David Wilmot put the issue on the table by demanding that slavery not be expanded into the newly acquired territory.  The fierce dispute over the expansion of slavery is what eventually brought about the Civil War.  No matter what Matt Rhoades and other conservatives might believe, I don't think that the glories of Manifest Destiny can wash the blood off of Polk's hands.

The Romney campaign's emulation of Polk reveals a lot.  He and his crew don't seem to be a very reflective bunch, and so might not even be aware of the realities of Polk's policies.  Furthermore, Mitt is so power-hungry that he will say practically anything to get elected, and strikes me as the kind of person totally willing to lie to the American public to get what he wants, much like Polk.  Just as Polk pushed American expansion in the interests of the Slave Power, Romney cares most about his friends in the corporate world, who are showering him with millions of dollars.  Come to think of it, Mitt just might have found his perfect role model.


The recent Todd "legitimate rape" Akin debacle is just another episode in the continuing saga of the Tea Party getting its candidates nominations for important races, only to have them embarrass the Republican Party.  In 2010 there was Sharon "pay for health care with a chicken" Angle, Christine "I am not a witch" McDonnell, and Carl Paladino (who was so ridiculous that I can't use a singe phrase to define him.)  This year we have Akin and Ted "the UN wants your golf course" Cruz with Senate nominations, and Rick "man on dog" Santorum took second place in the presidential primaries.  Many of the Tea Party candidates who did win, like Florida governor Rick Scott and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, have alienated their constituencies with their radical conservative policies.

As much as this stuff hurts the Republican brand, there's no going back with their pact with the Tea Party.  The party establishment needs the support of enthusiastic foot soldiers, and in return must tolerate their extremity and nuttiness.  The Republicans might lose a couple of races they should have won due to the likes of Akin, but they will have die-hard conservatives in other positions that may have been held by moderate Republicans.  In a narrowly divided electorate such as ours, it is smart strategy to abandon appeals to the middle in favor of turning out one's base to the polls, especially if you can use the law to limit the turnout of your opponents.

Without the Tea Party, the Republicans would be in some seriously deep shit right now.  The Bush administration was such a complete catastrophe that even Republicans could not deny it.  After the election of 2008, the Democrats controlled the House and Senate by wide margins, and put the first real liberal since LBJ into the White House by a comfortable margin.  The old party leadership looked completely lost and rudderless.  Instead of accepting defeat and working with the victors, conservatives doubled down and obstructed every Democratic initiative that they could and whipped their masses into a frenzy.  Aided by a cruddy economy and a young president who had not yet learned how to fight fire with fire, they stormed back into power and managed to pass extreme measures at the state level that they could not have dreamed of accomplishing even in the Bush years.

So far the alliance with the Tea Party has not sunk the GOP because most independent voters still view it as a center-right party and legitimate alternative.  In 2010 many voters in the middle went to the polls and told themselves "the economy's still bad, let's see if the Republicans can do better."  The Tea Party-GOP pact might ultimately destroy the Republicans if voters no longer see the party as a center-right alternative, but a faction of crazed wingnut wackos who hate homosexuals, want to control women, impose evangelical Christianity, and rip the social safety net to shreds in the process of redistributing money upwards to the wealthy.  A look at the Republican Party platform would go a long way to confirm this view, and it would behoove Democrats to point that out.

Like all such strategic gambles, the GOP's embrace of the Tea Party will lead to either political glory or political disaster.  In the glorious scenario, the conservative base will come out to vote in droves and will squeak Romney into the White House while securing both houses of Congress and several state houses.  The House and Senate will be full of conservative ideologues willing to push the right-wing agenda forward at all costs.  On the flip side, the extremity of the Tea Party could mean a further hemhorraging of the votes of women, people of color, and independents to the point where the Republicans only hold power in what they call "Real America."  I can only hope that the latter scenario comes about.


Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 08:02 PM PDT

The Party of Bad Ideas

by Werner Herzogs Bear

Since Paul Ryan has entered the race as Mitt Romney's running mate, I've had to hear two long-standing tropes that just annoy the hell out of me.  The first casts Mr. Ryan as some kind of "thinker," "intellectual," and "ideas man."  The second posits that unlike the Democrats, the Republicans are the "party of ideas."  The first is pretty easy to refute: since when did espousing the half-baked economic theories of a third-rate hack novelist beloved by teenage boys make anyone an intellectual?

The oft-repeated line about the GOP being the party of ideas demands more in-depth consideration, mostly because it contains a great deal of truth.  Republican policies and initiatives are more likely to be idea-driven, it's just that those ideas are really, really bad.  Don't believe me?  For your consideration I present the following examples from the great minds at the Republican lab:

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Introduction: Mitt Romney is currently traveling abroad, and has so far managed to offend his British hosts with his comments on the London Olympics, and soon after arriving in Israel, insulted Palestinians for good measure, too.  Three other aspects of his trip are getting less press but are notable: he has been engaging in major fund raisers while traveling abroad, he has essentially said that if he were president he would subsume American foreign policy to Israeli wishes, and he has praised Israel's health care system as superior to that of the United States.  I think that the lack of broad comment on these things puzzling, since the president is being accused of being "anti-American" by his opponents, but here you have his adversary dissing the United States while in a foreign location, and openly begging for money from people who do not live in the United States.  I get the feeling that there would be a quite a firestorm if Barack Obama did these same things.  Since counterfactuals are always fun, I've envisioned here what the reaction would be like.


Hannity: Welcome back to Hannity, ladies and gentlemen.  As you may have heard, Barack Obama's hatred for America reared its head yet again this week during his foreign trip.  While visiting Europe, he held multiple fundraisers with people who are technically American citizens, but who have not been living in this country for years.  As if that's not enough, while he was in France, Obama praised its socialized healthcare system during one of these fundraisers.  To talk about this, we have Jerome Corsi, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly here with us tonight.  Hello gentlemen.

Corsi, Limbaugh, and O'Reilly: Hello Sean

Hannity: What do you make of these actions by the president?

Limbaugh: For years the liberals have been whining, as they always do, that when we call Obama "anti-American" that's racism, since you know to liberals you can never criticize a black person without being a racist.  Well now it's obvious that this man hates America, something he learned from his Kenyan father.  We have the best healthcare system in the world, and yet he goes to France and tells them they're better than us.  This just goes to show that we are a nation under occupation by a foreign power.  He's also taking money from foreign sources.  I don't care if the contributors are American, I'm sure that's just a front so all of his socialist buddies in Europe can funnel money to him.

Hannity: Yes, I wonder where the FEC is in all of this.

O'Reilly: The Romney campaign has been sounding the alarm on Obama's anti-Americanism, I think they've been vindicated.  By going to a foreign nation and running down the United States, Obama is giving aid and comfort to our terrorist enemies.  Congress should draft articles of impeachment, and anyone who doesn't think so is willing to let a man who loves his foreign friends more than his own people.  I will apologize for being an idiot if he is not impeached.

Hannity: I can't think of another American political figure who has betrayed the nation like this, yet his allies on the left will just sit by and watch it happen.

Corsi: If I may cut in, I think Obama's actions reflect a foreign attitude and the inability to understand what it means to be an American.  It's high time we took another look at his birth certificate, since this seems to be the work of a foreign agent, not the president of the United States.  He is trying so hard to cover up his secret identity, but I think in his comments in France, which he thought would be private, Obama has let the mask drop a little bit.

Limbaugh: And if you can believe it, Obama's biggest contributor is aman who made his money from casinos in China.  I think we could be seeing a backdoor way for Red China to control the United States and turn it into something else.

Hannity: Well it looks like the president will be in a lot of hot water for so flagrantly disrespecting the country he is supposed to lead.  Next up on Hannity, we'll take a look at the president's gambling kingpin moneyman, and talk to Mike Huckabee about the connection between Obama's lack of values and support by those who profit from immoral activity like gambling.


There's a pretty good online quiz at a site called "I Side With" that determines how much one's political beliefs match those of the various candidates for president.  I've always liked these quizzes, since they often reveal things that the people who take them never realized about themselves.  For instance, I know someone who considered herself to be a moderate rather than liberal, but when she took one of these quizzes in 2008, the candidate she most resembled was Dennis Kucinich.  (For the record, when I took the quiz, the Green candidate Jill Stein barely edged out president Obama in terms of their resemblance to me on the issues.)

One thing I really like about the I Side With site is that you can see how each individual state's aggregate of responses matched the candidates.  One thing that really struck me was that reliably "blue" states very easily fit with president Obama's stances, but the "red" states of the South and West consistently did not have Mitt Romney as their best match, but Gary Johnson, the candidate for the Libertarian Party.  In many cases Romney is in third place, after Johnson and Ron Paul.

To me, it looks like we are seeing evidence that the GOP's uneasy combination of libertarians, neo-con foreign policy hawks, and religious conservatives might be too volatile to hold together.  Ever since 1980, when Jerry Falwell and others mobilized the evangelical vote for Ronald Reagan, the Christian Right has played a huge role in the Republican Party's success.  However, the times are changing.  Fewer and fewer people are against gay marriage, weekly church-goers, or supportive of the war on drugs.  The youth are significantly more liberal on social issues than their elders, and a Republican party that supports positions that look increasingly out of touch and regressive will need to either adapt or suffer the consequences.

Furthermore, with the isolationist sentiments long powerful in American history seeing a revival after the failure of the Bush administration's adventures abroad, the hawkishness of Mitt and the Republican establishment actually isn't representative of the direction the voters are headed.  Before the Cold War, conservatives tended to isolationist, and they started moving in that direction again in the 1990s once the USSR fell.  Lest we forget, before he made a name for himself through invasions of tenuous legality, George W. Bush campaigned with a promise not to engage in "nation building" abroad.

Of course, this data is all very unscientific and self-selecting, and probably skews young.  However, it does point to a Republican party that looks like a circus performer balancing spinning plates hoping to keep them from crashing to the ground.  The party has become so doctrinaire that it won't nominate a candidate for president that does not simultaneously support laissez-faire capitalism, sustained American commitment abroad, and conforms to the religious Right on issues like homosexuality and abortion.  This is why the president's people are wise to start waging the culture wars from the liberal side, since it will peel away economic conservatives who do not agree with the dominionist theology of many in the GOP.  In the near future the Republicans must decide whether they will benefit more by keeping religious conservatives happy and simultaneously alienate libertarians, or jettison "values voters" for economic conservatives in the political middle.


In case you haven't noticed, several states controlled by Republicans have been aggressively paring the voter rolls and passing laws making it much more difficult for groups that tend to support the Democrats to vote.  One official in Pennsylvaniamade the mistake of actually saying the real reason for these moves out loud in front of an open mic.  Those who support these laws claim they are needed to prevent "voter fraud," a crime that's about as common as shark attacks and spontaneous combustion.

Since there are so few cases out there of voters pretending to be someone they aren't, supporters of voter suppression reach back into the historical record for precedent.  One example they keep going back to is the 1960 presidential election, when JFK narrowly defeated Nixon.  It has been an article of faith in conservative circles for years that mayor Richard J. Daley's political machine stuffed the ballot boxes with the names of the dead in order to secure the state of Illinois for Kennedy, which put him over the top in the electoral college.

Leaving aside the fact that this accusation has never been proven true, it misses the real electoral manipulation in that election.  In 1960, African Americans supported Kennedy by a wide margin, but throughout the South, due to discriminatory laws and intimidation, the vast majority of African Americans did not get to vote.  Imagine such a situation today, if say in the Egyptian elections Coptic Christians were kept from voting by the Egyptian government.  International observers from the UN and elsewhere would have attacked the election as invalid for purposefully targeting a minority group for exclusion from the polls.  The American election of 1960, if held today, would not be considered legitimate in the eyes of the international community because of its overt racism.

Of course, after five years of tireless protest and sacrifice by the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act would be passed in 1965, effectively destroying the old methods of official voter suppression in the South.  Those practices had a long history.  Before the Civil War, most states -North as well as South- had laws banning blacks from voting.  Afterwards, in the midst of Reconstruction, the Fifteenth Amendment forbid the denial of the vote on the basis of race, color, or "prior servitude."  When the so-called "Redeemers" came to power in the South on a wave of racist vigilante violence and overturned Reconstruction, they found ways around the Constitution.  Poll taxes, violent intimidation, literacy tests, whites-only Democratic primaries, and the infamous "grandfather clause" all contributed to the suppression of the black vote.

What many people don't know is that not all of these tactics survived until 1965, and that the system of voter suppression proved itself very skilled at adapting itself to having some of its favorite mechanisms declared unconstitutional.  Way back in 1915, in a case brought through the courts by the fledgling NAACP, the Supreme Court struck down the grandfather clause, and in 1962 the Twenty-Fourth Amendment invalidated the poll tax.  Despite these changes, in 1964 only 6.7% of African Americans in Mississippi were registered to vote.  Not until the Voting Rights Act, which the federal, rather than state government enforced, would real change occur.

While a lot has changed since 1965, voter suppression has not gone away.  In some cases this is the result of legislation making voting contingent on forms of ID that many Americans do not have.  In other cases, the racism of the justice system leads to voter suppression.  As Michelle Alexander has demonstrated in The New Jim Crow, the imbalanced waging of the war on drug has led to a disproportionate number of African Americans being convicted of drug felonies and then losing the right to vote.  Many states that prevent convicted felons from voting not only replicate the racism of a criminal justice system that targets blacks more than whites,but have also prevented citizens from voting who share the same name as a felon.

Beyond the legal system, there have been well-documented cases of deliberate misinformation about voting spread with the intent of suppressing the vote, often in predominately African American neighborhoods.  During the Wisconsin recall election of Scott Walker, people who signed the petition to get him out of office received robocalls telling them they didn't need to vote.   A similar thing happened in 2010 in Maryland.  In Massachusetts two GOP operatives put up signs in a polling place demanding photo ID to vote, even though that was not a requirement for voting in the Bay State.  It's become de rigeur for Republicans to hand out flyers intentionally misleading voters about what day the election will take place.

As you can see, this nation has a long history of suppressing the vote -especially the votes of African Americans- which continues to this day.  Despite this obvious fact, somehow our politicians are allowed to continue this suppression in the most aggressive fashion since Jim Crow while justifying their actions as a response to chimerical "voter fraud."  It's time to change the public discourse, and part of that is using history to show that voter suppression has always been a much more significant problem in this nation's life than voter fraud.


One of my favorite political quips of all time is "anti-Semitism is the socialism of idiots," spoken by August Bebel, the leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party in the late 1800s. What he meant was that anti-Semites were blaming economic inequality on Jews rather than on the real culprit, laissez-faire capitalism.  The bigots of that time understood that they were getting shafted by the system, but their hate-filled response only made matters worse.

I think a similar phenomenon is afoot today. The financial collapse of 2008 revealed the failure of trickle-down capitalism, but in its aftermath both politicians and the masses have spent more time attacking immigrants, teachers, the poor, and public employees unions than Wall Street and its political puppets.  Unfinanced wars and tax cuts for the rich have pushed out current deficit spending to worrisome levels, but it is those battered by the recession living on food stamps who are targeted and castigated.  Instead of calling the banksters to account, teachers and other public employees have found themselves savagely assaulted in the public sphere.  

The economic elites who shorted the market and still retain their Bush era tax cuts are experiencing record profits and could not be more pleased.  Four years after the collapse, they are still bulletproof, even when engaging in the same reckless behavior that got us here in the first place.  Case in point: Jamie Dimon's JP Morgan chase lost billions of dollars in irresponsible trading, but he was still able to go to Capitol Hill and get elected officials to kiss his ring and ass in equal measure.  That such a thing could happen no longer ceases to surprise me.  After all, it's just been revealed that London banks fixed interest rates in the biggest case of financial fraud in history, but that fact barely entered the political conversation.  

We need to get the finger pointed in the right direction before the current crisis can be resolved.  Until then, many people who are already suffering from the immoral behavior of our economic ruling class will only be made to suffer more.


I have often accused the Democratic Party of consistently bringing a knife to a gun fight.  Their performance in 2010, when the Republicans unleashed the Tea Party and the Democrats were always playing defense, is but the most recent example.  However, with the release of the new "Firms" ad by the Obama campaign, which explicitly lays down the gauntlet of criticizing Romney's record at Bain just a day after he demanded an apology for such attacks, it looks like the Democrats have finally learned how to incorporate the tactics Republicans have used successfully for years.

In many ways, this presidential election is a bizarro version of the 2004 contest, when a sitting president of tenuous popularity during an uncertain time faced off against a wealthy charisma-challenged Massachusetts politician.  Despite the fact that the war in Iraq had not gone as planned, despite president Bush's atrocious performance in the first debate, and despite the fact that he had not won a majority of the popular vote the first time around, Dubya managed to win reelection.

He managed to do it for a variety of reasons, not least his campaign's successful efforts to define their opponent early in the race.  Disregarding the fact that Shrub had come from as elite a background as they get, his campaign very deftly painted Kerry as a privileged, out of touch career politician with a penchant for flip flopping.  Kerry spent the whole campaign dealing with "issues" like his windsurfing hobby and ability to speak French, preventing him from launching effective attacks of his own.

More sinisterly, ads paid for by The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth took Kerry's biggest selling point and destroyed it.  The War in Iraq dominated the 2004 election, just as the economy takes up most of the attention now.  Kerry had first achieved fame through his protests against the Vietnam War after returning from combat.  In the fevered nationalistic days of paranoia after 9/11 his courageous stand against an immoral war would interpreted as "anti-American" or undermining the United States, something that would be political poison at the height of war abroad.  Kerry decided to avoid this kryptonite by playing up his sterling record as a war hero.  He effectively dodged his political past by playing up an aspect of his personal past, or so he thought.  The Swift Boat attacks were a bunch of low-down lies, but some of those lies hit their mark, and with Kerry's main claim to being a wartime president sullied, his chances of winning were severely handicapped.

Much the same is happening to Mitt Romney right now, and he is at an even greater disadvantage because, unlike the Swift Boat ads, the accusations that Romney profited from outsourcing and has money stashed in offshore bank accounts happen to be true.  Like Kerry, Romney finds himself in a luckless position because he has to run away from his inconvenient political past.   As of yet he has not staked his appeal to voters on his record as the governor of Massachusetts because he passed a health care law there almost identical to the "Obamacare" so detested by his political base.  This has forced Romney to put all his eggs in one basket and run on his record at Bain Capital, and to make vague statements that his time as a businessman gives him the right understanding of how to run the economy.  (Much the same as how John Kerry tried to use his military experience to show that this would make him a more ideal wartime president.)  Now the Obama campaign is very successfully going after Romney's record at Bain and his predilection for Swiss bank accounts and offshore tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, taking Romney's purported strength as an experienced businessman and turning it into a major liability.  In order to survive the accusations in the "Firms" ad, Romney will have to give a fuller accounting of his business and financial record, and the revelations contained behind his curtain of secrecy may very well end up being more damning than what we already know.

However, before we celebrate the apparent recent success of the Obama campaign too much, we have to remember that every attack brings about a counter-attack.  As the aforementioned Swift Boat attacks and infamous Willie Horton ad illustrate, the conservatives have all kinds of unprincipled allies with lots of cash to spread the most scurrilous lies.  They have been more than willing to appeal to the ugliest impulses in this country, from white racial resentment to homophobia, if it means that they can win an election.  Hunker down folks, because the response to "Firms" and related attacks on Romney's record at Bain will be a doozy.


Like Mike Myers from the Halloween movies, the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy -largely responsible for our current deficit- still live to strike again despite the attempts to kill them.  Yet again, we hear from the GOP that our nation dare not raise taxes on the "job creators," which is their term for the super-rich.

This phrase is one of the perfidious Orwellian slogans preferred by the Right, almost as nefarious as "right to work."  In case you haven't heard, the wealthiest one percent of American society has seen its after-tax income increase by almost three hundred percent.  Despite the economic pain being felt by most of the population, corporate profits are soaring.  It seems that the "job creators" are doing better than ever, but they still haven't waved their magic wands and created more jobs.

The reason is simple: they make money by NOT creating jobs.  Without a strong labor movement corporations are free to make workers toil harder for less money.  They ship the jobs overseas to make more loot and pocket the difference as profit.  Giving them even more money and expecting jobs to magically appear is just about as feasible as turning lead into gold.  You would think that the experience of the last thirty years in this country would have taught our politicians this, but there's no use reasoning with ideological fanatics.  In their minds taxes on the wealthy are evil, and their plutocratic benefactors bribe them with millions in campaign donations to keep it that way.

There are real job creators in this nation, and they are regular folks like you and me.  If the average member of the middle class is doing well, they can spend money on goods and services, reducing supply and driving up demand.  The corporate overlords hoarding their dough have an incentive to hire more workers if it looks like they can move more product.  

When a middle class person can afford to buy a new car, they are a job creator.  When they purchase a new home, they are a job creator.  When they can go shopping more often and spend a little more money, they are a job creator.  When they can afford to take a vacation, they are a job creator.

And not only that, government can actually create jobs more efficiently than corporations.  One thing dragging down the economy is the spate of layoffs of teachers, cops, and firefighters around the nation as state and local governments cut jobs.  The scrapping of public works projects has cuts of thousands of the "private sector" jobs that conservatives are so obsessed with "creating."  To take the money that could be used to keep these jobs or even expand them, and instead hand it over to barons of capital to throw onto their growing piles of idle lucre isn't just immoral, it's downright moronic.  

On this Bastille Day, let us remember the motto of the French Revolution: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."  For too long we have neglected equality, and no true democracy that does so can long survive.


A note to my progressive brethren: I know you are happy about last week's SCOTUS decision, but this is no time for gloating or complacency.  Remember back in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected?  You guys showed up in unprecedented numbers to his inauguration, declared an end to thirty years of Reaganomics, and generally behaved as if the other side would somehow concede defeat and acknowledge the popular mandate behind the new president.

If you remember, conservatives responded by letting loose the dogs of political war.  Glenn Beck was on television every day comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, Republicans in Congress began filibustering and obstructing just about every progressive initiative, and the moneymen on the right astroturfed a pitchfork-wielding army of angry resentful White people, otherwise known as the Tea Party.  The complacency and lack of fight in the progressive ranks gave us the current wingnut House and governors like Scott Walker who are hell-bent on destroying collective bargaining rights.  The ass whupping the Democrats received in 2010 happened largely because the other side dropped any pretensions of civility or centrism and got their hordes to the polls in big numbers while many Obama voters stayed home.

Progressives seem to forget that the opposing political party is not a rational institution, but that it has become a batshit-crazy vehicle for an extremist Christo-libertarian ideology.  You don't have to go far to find evidence of this.  In the aftermath of the SCOTUS ruling, the former spokesman for the Michigan GOP called for armed rebellion against the provisions of the healthcare law.  Indiana Republican Mike Pence compared the ruling to 9/11.  You cannot let your guard down around these types of people for even a second.

The other side will gnash their teeth and wail about the Supreme Court decision, but they have plenty of loaded guns waiting to be fired.  They censured the attorney general in an unprecedented move that now appears to be based on utter falsehoods.  They are currently doing their best to restrict voting under the guise of limiting "voter fraud" in ways that are both racist and nakedly intended to win the election in swing states.  Speaking of disenfranchisement and racism, the Republican Party of Texas in its official platform has called for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the piece of legislation that has made the 15th Amendment a reality.  (I would even hazard a conspiratorial guess that the attacks on Holder are intended to stop the Justice Department from interfering in the disenfranchisement campaign.)  The conservative movement has marshaled unprecedented financial power, and is manipulating the law to set up massive piles of untraceable cash to be used in all kinds of negative propaganda against the president.

President Obama will be outspent by his opposition in this campaign, thousands of people who will want to vote for him will be turned away from the polls, and the nation's most popular cable news network acts effectively as the propaganda arm of his opponents.  So please, fellow progressives, stop gloating on Facebook about the decision.  Now is the time to help explain the benefits of the health care law to those who are still fuzzy about it (and with good reason.)  Now is the time to get out the vote and to fight to make sure all of the votes get counted.  Don't make the same mistake you made in 2009-2010, because the people who are against you will stop at nothing, including fanning the flames of white racial resentment, misogyny, and homophobia, disenfranchising voters, and spreading scurrilous lies to put their extremist ideas into practice.  This is not a time to celebrate, but a time to organize, mobilize, and to fight.

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