Tag Archives: GOP

Beyond Faux News

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution has an informative–and deeply disturbing–post on the influence of right-wing media on the GOP. As he notes, that media and that influence go well beyond the “usual suspects” like Fox News or Rush Limbaugh.

Mann cites a recent paper by Jackie Calmes, a national correspondent for The New York Times who was Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School this past spring.

Its title, “They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing,” is a direct quote from one of her Republican sources. The subtitle, “Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party,” describes the focus of her impressive research, reporting, and analysis.

Calmes goes well beyond the familiar Fox News and talk-radio celebrities Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham to chart an expanding world of web-based “news” sites and social media outlets closely aligned with far-right groups such as Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. What began as a conservative insurgency nurtured and welcomed by the Republican establishment as a route to majority control of Congress has become a dominant force setting the party’s agenda and forcing repeated brinksmanship. This in turn impedes the Republicans’ ability to govern effectively and to win presidential elections…..

Her paper contains fascinating narrative on lesser-known personalities who have put themselves at the center of linkages between Republican activists and officeholders as well as case studies of why the Republican majority in Congress after the 2014 election has fallen well short of its stated objectives of restoring regular order and governing effectively.

A quote from a long-time, high-level Republican sums up the situation:

“It’s not just talk radio, but the blogosphere, the Internet – they’re all intertwined now. You’ve got this constant chorus of skepticism about anything the quote-unquote establishment does,” said a longtime former top aide to House Republican leaders, Dave Schnittger. And, he said, the chorus is loudest in opposition to those actions that are fundamental to governing: meeting basic fiscal deadlines for funding the government and allowing it to borrow. “Those are the things that leaders have to get done as part of governing,” the Republican said, “as much as conservative media may hate it.”

One of the unsettling realities of the Internet age is the ability to inhabit our preferred realities. Leaving aside the undeniably important question of who is really living in the “reality-based” community, at some point, we need to figure out how to live in a polis that is defined–and divided– by our expanded ability to reside within information bubbles of our own choosing.

And the reasonable Republicans–of whom there are still many–need to figure out how to get their party back.

About Those Angry Old White Guys….

David Akins at Political Animarecently posted a far more eloquent version of an argument I have been making for the past several years.

As I said two weeks ago, base Republican voters are not choosing a president. They’re choosing an rebel leader who will lead an insurgent war against what they view as an increasingly dominant liberal consensus aided and abetted by establishment Republicans.

Now, that seems like crazy talk to progressives who are pulling their hair out over government inaction in the face of existential crises like record wealth inequality, climate change and the reality of technological unemployment. But to the Republican base, the world seems to be spinning ever more off kilter: a black man was elected and re-elected to the Oval Office, a hated woman seems likely to follow him, gays can marry in the Deep South even as Confederate flags are coming down, the Middle East continues to be a problem no matter how many bombs we drop on it, the urbanization and secularization of America continues apace, and the country is only getting browner and more liberal with each and every passing day. And just like progressives, conservative blue-collar voters are keenly aware of the shrinking of the middle class—they just choose to scapegoat immigrants and “regulations,” rather than question their just-world-fallacy value system by actually looking at where all the money went.

For Republicans, this is an existential identity crisis and threat to their entire way of life. And they’re reacting in kind, by supporting the loudest, angriest, most belligerent voice in the room. Right now, that’s Donald Trump.

The Republican base isn’t looking for specific policy fixes. They’re looking for a cultural warrior and savior who will put the last 60 years of progress back in a bottle and give them their country back.

Exactly.

They want their country back from the rest of us–pushy women, uppity black and brown folks, out-of-closet gays, and smart-ass kids who don’t know our proper place. They want their country back from a bewildering and unfamiliar 21st Century.

The Ugly American

A friend just asked me an interesting question: why do you suppose no one has interviewed Dick Lugar about the merits/demerits of the agreement with Iran?

A good question, to which I have no good response. But it does raise another question: when and how did the party of Dick Lugar, Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller–among many, many others–become the party of Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump?

I have resisted writing about Trump, because really…why waste the digital ink? But it occurs to me that the reason I find him so repulsive is because he embodies everything that is wrong with my country; he’s like the “ugly American” tourists who used to roam Europe routinely embarrassing the rest of us.

  • Start with the narcissism: the belief that he is “exceptional.” The insistence that he is always right, and any critic is wrong, jealous, unable to appreciate his superiority.
  • The glorification of money and the delusion that he is self-made: I’m rich so I’m better, and it’s all due to my brilliance; I don’t owe my (exaggerated) fortune to my inherited wealth, or my ability to avoid the consequences of bad business decisions through multiple bankruptcies, or the “old boys” network available to the sons of well-to-do white Christian males.
  • The substitution of witless name-calling for discourse: if I disagree with you, you’re a dummy or a clown. I don’t have to explain why you’re wrong, or what I would do instead, or why my idea is better. Just playground-level epithets.
  • The full-throated bigotry and racism: Obama is black, so he couldn’t possibly have been born in the U.S.; brown people are all illegal immigrants who are murderers and rapists.
  • The chutzpah. Denigrating John McCain’s service while Trump was taking advantage of deferments available to the pampered and privileged.
  • The confusion of tasteless and tacky with quality.

There is more, but what I don’t understand is how a significant part of the Republican base can take this delusional buffoon seriously. He is an embarrassment to the party and the country. Granted, the rest of the field ranges from undistinguished (to put it mildly) to terrifying, but Trump’s antics are so outsized as to make even Rick Perry (“oops!”) look sentient by comparison.

We live in a world that is complicated and increasingly interdependent. We need leadership that understands those complexities and can analyze and debate the available options for dealing with them–not purveyors of bumper-sticker slogans, faux machismo and belligerent bullshit.

The party of Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut is long gone.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of Abortion..

Yesterday’s blog ended with a question about the motives of the anti-abortion culture warriors. Although there are obviously many sincere people who have moral or religious objections to reproductive choice, the punitive measures advanced by many others (together with their utter lack of concern about what happens to the babies so “saved” once they are born) raises legitimate questions about their real agenda.

I’m not much for conspiracy theories; I tend to agree with a colleague from my days in city government who often remarked that incompetence explains so much more than conspiracies. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a fair number of the men who have staked out anti-abortion positions (and yes, they’re disproportionately male) aren’t as opposed to abortion as they are to women’s full equality. (Keep ’em barefoot and pregnant, like God intended…).

After all, if you are truly anti-abortion, you’d support programs that reduce the need for and incidence of abortion.

The New York Times recently reported on the GOP’s war on contraception and Planned Parenthood:

One would imagine that congressional Republicans, almost all of whom are on record as adamantly opposing abortion, would be eager to fund programs that help reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

That would be the common sense approach, anyway.

And yet since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have been trying to obliterate the highly effective federal family-planning program known as Title X, which gives millions of lower-income and rural women access to contraception, counseling, lifesaving cancer screenings, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

A House subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services has proposed to eliminate all Title X funding — about $300 million — from a 2016 spending bill.

The bill would also slash funding by up to 90 percent for sex education, specifically President Obama’s teen-pregnancy prevention initiative. The only winner was abstinence-only education, whose funding the subcommittee voted to double, despite the fact that it has basically no effect on abstinence and has been associated with higher rates of teen pregnancy.

Federal law prohibits the use of any federal dollars for abortion or abortion-related services, and has for many years. That inconvenient fact hasn’t prevented the “pro-life” posers from insisting that their efforts to eviscerate reproductive health programs serving poor women–programs that save the lives of many of those women–are “pro life.” Of course, they aren’t “pro” anything. They are anti-woman–and fiscally irresponsible.

What Title X grants actually do is help prevent unwanted pregnancies — more than one million in 2012, which translates to about 363,000 abortions avoided. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization, every public dollar spent on family planning services saved about $7 in costs related to pregnancy, birth and infant care, as well as sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer. So the proposal to slash the program’s funding is not just inhumane, it’s also fiscally dumb.

A genuine opposition to abortion would require support for family planning programs that reduce abortions. A genuine concern for “life” would include concern for the lives of poor women. A genuine commitment to fiscal conservatism would mandate support for programs that demonstrably save tax dollars.

The operative word is “genuine.”

 

A Consensus that Doesn’t Seem to Matter

I don’t recall which American humorist first delivered the line, “I’m not a member of an organized political party; I’m a Democrat” but for many years, “disorganized” was one of the kinder descriptions of the Democratic party.

Contemporary Democrats remain ideologically diverse, but these days, the divisions are far deeper in the Republican party, where extremists elected to Congress from some 80 deep-red (often gerrymandered) districts are far, far to the Right of most Republican voters.

Just how much does this fringe depart from the policy preferences of the Republican rank-and-file?  If we are talking about issues of campaign finance reform, a recent poll strongly suggests the answer is “pretty far.

Americans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

The findings reveal deep support among Republicans and Democrats alike for new measures to restrict the influence of wealthy givers, including limiting the amount of money that can be spent by “super PACs” and forcing more public disclosure on organizations now permitted to intervene in elections without disclosing the names of their donors.

And by a significant margin, they reject the argument that underpins close to four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on campaign finance: that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Even self-identified Republicans are evenly split on the question.

The poll confirms that most Americans–Republican and Democrat alike–reject the Court’s sunny conclusion that money does not corrupt the process or allow the wealthy to “buy” policies favorable to their interests.

The broader public appears to see things differently: More than four in five Americans say money plays too great a role in political campaigns, the poll found, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more of a chance to influence the elections process than other Americans.

Those concerns — and the divide between Washington elites and the rest of the country — extend to Republicans.

Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans support requiring more disclosure by outside spending organizations, for example, but Republican leaders in Congress have blocked legislation to require more disclosure by political nonprofit groups, which do not reveal the names of their donors.

Republicans in the poll were almost as likely as Democrats to favor further restrictions on campaign donations, even as some prominent Republicans call for legislation to eliminate existing caps on contributions.

Perhaps if the more extreme partisans sent to Washington from safe, deep-red districts had to answer to more moderate–and more representative–Republican voters, their legislative behavior would be different.

Perhaps if a couple of the eminent scholars on the Court had ever run for or held political office, their lofty abstractions might be tempered with, and informed by, real-world experience.

And perhaps, if pigs could fly…..