Man In the Mirror

Frank Rich lit up the Opinion section of today’s New York Times in the view of an admittedly avid fan. This tour de force—“The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party” is its straightforward title—mercilessly laid waste to the troglodytic creeps and their benefactors who fouled our nation’s capital yesterday. Whatever one’s opinion of that feckless lawprof called Barack Obama, it certainly doesn’t permit Glenn Beck’s monumental stupidity and treachery. In the contest for all-time ignominious affronts to the Lincoln Memorial, the appearance of Glenn Beck’s fat, casually-dressed person beat a clinically depressed Richard Nixon’s late-night rap session going away.

Vive la révolution!

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a progressive Democrat who for a long spell had nice things to relay about the Tea Party movement. This may be a bit difficult for some to understand but for a time the Tea Party movement was a “spontaneous, leaderless” development. Despite the movement’s libertarian underpinnings, opposition to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, ObamaCare, and corporatist policies of this sort presented the beautiful potential for coalescence of contrarian liberals and populist conservatives. While we were always destined to depart from each other on proper solutions for combating the badass recession, its resultant unemployment crisis, rising health care costs, and so forth, we were joined in contempt for this rotten bipartisan ruling class.

I considered myself a bohemian Tea Party person, attended rallies, and was treated graciously. (At this year’s Tax Day protest, however, one reactionary dragon on stage did refer to the president as a Muslim in no uncertain terms.) Unfortunately the movement has been devoured by Dick Armey, et al—as mercilessly as one can envision the fat Mormon annihilating ham hocks, turkey broth and sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving. This is tantamount to some hideous left-wing oligarch wrapping his tentacles around the progressive… Oh, nevermind.

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How Do You Teach The Unteachable? How Can We Prevent Violence?

Fringe groups have a habit of not going away. They only get louder, angrier, and more violent. We cannot ignore them, but we can't muzzle them either. The point of this post is to generate comments and look for ideas: What can we as a nation do when our hysterical fringe gets out of control? What can we do to prevent 1968-style violence?

The fringe does not go away just because they lose their legislative battles. I'll use the Episcopal Church (TEC) as a brief example before turning to Glenn Beck and Co. In the 1970s, we revised the Book of Common Prayer and allowed for female clergy (including, eventually, bishops). In 2003, the question became gay bishops when New Hampshire elected Father Gene Robinson their bishop (you can read my 2008 interview with him, if you're interested). Our church also has a heavy focus on social justice rather than evangelism. So where are we today? After all this, many conservatives feel that their voices are not being heard. TEC may not be facing schism, but we have had half a dozen dioceses try to break away, and one former bishop claims he has established the true Anglican province in North America. The point is, instead of continuing to try and remake the church in their own image or make up false accusations about liberal Christians, the conservatives acted. They pulled away to create their own church, abandoning the institutions to which they had vowed loyalty.

When this happens on a political or social rather than denominational level, blood is shed. You can leave a church without leaving your home; you can't do the same with a country. In 1860, southern legislators and their libertarian base found themselves in the same place conservative Episcopalians find themselves in today: losing squabble after squabble before finally coming to the straw that broke the camels back. Racism was the national consensus, but slavery was not; pushed to a narrow-minded, ignorant, extremist cliff by the ban on the slave trade, the Missouri Compromise, Abraham Lincoln's election, and more, the fringe erupted.

The fringe doesn't go away. When people are scared for their lives, their quality of health care, or their home's security, they won't quietly retreat when the legislation they fear passes. Put yourself in their shoes - everything you love and hold dear is under attack! Violent minorities are running amok in your nation's once-proud cities; a tyrant is dismantling its military; health care is being taken away from the middle class to make sure the elderly die and babies are not born. Obviously this is all bunk, but some people believe it - and if you were one of them, would you just sit on your bed and cry? Or would you act?

This is not the mindset of most Republicans. It is not the mindset of the sizable chunk of this country that voted for John McCain. Remember, McCain wasn't invited to speak at the 9/12 Rally, nor were George W. Bush, Michael Steele, or Mitt Romney. It is, however, the mindset of a few million not on the far-right, but on the extremely-far-away-right. Today's fringe is not the many people who tell pollsters they disagree with President Obama, but the few people who bring Hitler caricatures and even guns to their rallies. Still, five men out of 300 can open fire on a crowd, and five million out of 300 million can do the same.

We must not confuse the crazy of the Glenn Beck crowd for the crazy of the Values Voters Conference. To do so would distort the problem, and thus its solutions. Robert Taft was not George Coughlin; Richard Nixon (as bad as he was) was not George Wallace, and Mitch McConnell is not Glenn Beck. This is a different crowd, and it deserves a different focus. As Frank Rich wrote in yesterday's New York Times, "Beck is not, as many liberals assume, merely the latest incarnation of Rush Limbaugh. He is something different. That's why he is gaining on his antecedents -- and gaining traction in the country's angrier precincts."

Some of these people are racist, some are not. Most, however, are scared. Most are paranoid. Most are uninformed and irrational, but believe themselves to be the most competent of all. Many are armed. And none will go away. When fear and anger are pushed to an extreme, as happens every time a fringe movement repeatedly loses time and time again, it comes to a head. The fringe has revolted before - Fort Sumter, the assassinations of the 1960s, and so on and so forth - and they will act again. Their actions will go beyond hysterical TV shows and fear-mongering protest signs. Something violent will happen. My point is this: We can't stick to just-business and pass health care reform, knowing we have both the moral high ground the support of the majority. We can't stick to just-business and look for the best economic path forward, knowing that the fringe can't stop us. We cannot ignore this movement - but nor can we muzzle them. That truly would be tyrannical.

I'm hoping for a lively comment section. What can we do about the Beck fringe? How should society as a whole react when its extremes get too full of themselves? What did we fail to do or say in 1967 that we can do or say now? Frank Rich says Obama "could help stanch the economic piece of this by demonstrating how a reformed government can at times actually make Americans' lives better." I'm not so sure - if one can ignore facts now, one can ignore facts in a better economy, too. So if Frank Rich doesn't have the answer, who does?

I've put two videos from the 9/12 Rally below the fold to demonstrate this specific type of crazy.

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When Ignoring The Race Card Is Worse Than Playing It

An alternative title to this entry might be, "Are Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh Racists?"

From Twitter to Fox News, conservatives are mocking those who, like Jimmy Carter and Maureen Dowd, have called Rep. Joe Wilson and the rest of the Glenn Beck fringe "racist." To some extent, they have a point. To suggest that racism is the only or even main reason people criticize the President is absurd. Obama has his honest critics just as Bush, Clinton, and every President all the way back to Adams and Washington had theirs. These critics base their opposition on legitimate policy disagreements - after all, they are conservatives and he is liberal. Republican MSNBC host Joe Scarborough reminded us just how absurd this whole debate can get when he Tweeted, "Great moments in race baiting: Jimmy Carter accused of being racist by Kennedy supporters in 1980 primary."

One of Joe Biden's cardinal rules of politics is to never question another person's motives - eventually you'll make a mistake, tear down a good man, and wind up with egg on your face. Biden's right, so while I will criticize Joe Wilson's actions, I will not second-guess his motives. Maybe he really is just a part of the 55% of America that wrongly believes Obama will cover illegal immigrants, and I'm not about to accuse 55% of Americans of being racist.

But while it is arrogant and dangerous to accuse the entire conservative movement or Republican Party of racism, it is equally dangerous to stick one's head in the sand and claim it isn't a factor. There is racism afoot in the modern conservative movement, we can prove it, and even if it is only relegated to the movement's fringe, it only takes one nut to inspire another to commit what he sees as a necessary murder for the good of his country. It is wrong to accuse 46% of voters or 5 million Fox News viewers of racism, but it is equally wrong to look the other way when even just a few hundred racists speak up. I went to high school in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where the presence of a few bad apples (the Aryan Nations compound) taught a good community a hard lesson: silence is acceptance.

Frank Rich has by far and away the best column I've yet seen on this subject:

Most important, [Palin] stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind... When Palin referred to Alaska as "a microcosm of America" during the 2008 campaign, it was in defiance of the statistical reality that her state's tiny black and Hispanic populations are unrepresentative of her nation. She stood for the "real America," she insisted, and the identity of the unreal America didn't have to be stated explicitly for audiences to catch her drift.

I won't call Joe Wilson or Glenn Beck's viewers racist, but I will say that we must be vary wary of the Joe McCarthies and the Father Coughlins of this world, and we must name them when we see them. Two of the more obvious names are Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. On his radio program this week, Limbaugh called for a return to segregation and implied that Obama is the real racist, telling his listeners, "Kid shouldn't have been on the bus anyway. We need segregated buses... In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids now cheering [in an impression of what blacks must sound like] `Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on!'"

Yet while Rush goes on to complain that liberals claim all opposition to health care reform is based in racism, Beck takes a different approach and argues that all support for health care reform is based in racism - because black people are incapable of caring about anything other than their own skin color. That quote, more on Beck, and my conclusions below the jump.

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Preeminence vs Partisanship - Utah Gov. Huntsman: Equal rights are important. NOM? Not so much.

Worth a look:

General impression:  NOM is in serious trouble - derision hurts, but irrelevance is fatal.

Random notes:

Interesting framing from Richard Piatt of LDS-owned KSL:  "Given the past power of the ultra-right on this issue ..."

Huntsman:  "If it equates to equal rights for all of our citizens, it's a conversation we need to have."

Lisa Riley Roche (Deseret News):  "Do you support that [NOM] campaign that seems to be suggesting there's an increasing threat to the American way of life by people seeking equal rights?"

Huntsman:  "I haven't given that [campaign] a second's thought."



But then Huntsman pivots with a nod to (what he seems to agree/suggest are) supposedly more pressing concerns (food, shelter, clothing and the like).  A false choice?  Sure.  Am I bothered?  Not so much.  If/when Huntsman decides to run, Steve Schmidt will be on staff.  This Steve.  

Moving on ...

Huntsman:  "The Republican Party needs to let a thousand flowers bloom ... [allow] preeminence [to] stand taller than partisanship ... and see where that takes us ..."

Amen to that, Guv.  Amen.

P.S. Speaking of Steve Schmidt, this recent NOM press release exemplifies, for me, all that's wrong with Maggie's and Brian's and the ultra-right's approach:

PRINCETON, NJ, April 17 Christian Newswire -- Today, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) responded to Steve Schmidt on CNN:

"Steve Schmidt's first national TV address this week is part of a coordinated campaign to manufacture a message point: Americans are ready to give up on the marriage issue. I'm not worried about this press spin, because the people who believe it are going to wake up to find the political landscape is very different than they imagine," said Brian Brown, executive director of NOM.  "People are responding very powerfully to our ads and other messaging because they don't want politicians imposing gay marriage on them or their children or their grandchildren."

"Steven Schmidt?  Isn't this the guy who ran a failed presidential campaign, who advised a failed governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who insiders say was recently fired by Meg Whitman?" Brown continued, "Sure, we can understand why Steve would be looking for a way to make some new friends -- but why would anyone take his advice on how to win elections at this point?"

"Imagine what America -- or the GOP -- will be like when anyone who believes marriage is the union of husband and wife can be excluded from high office, or public influence, in the way we now exclude bigots and racists. What does that do to the electoral map?" Brown asked.

"There is no conservative case for gay marriage.  Gay marriage represents the overthrow of the core idea of marriage in our tradition and every faith tradition. And it will put government on the side of excluding traditional faith communities from the public square," said Maggie Gallagher, President of NOM.

To schedule an interview with Maggie Gallagher, President, or Brian Brown, Executive Director of NOM, contact Elizabeth Ray (x 130, or Mary Beth Hutchins (x.105, by calling 703-683-5004.

So, if you happen to work for a media outlet that might benefit from an in-person display of NOM's increasingly ugly and shrill appeals to fear, I guess you now know the numbers to call and the folks to email.  Enjoy.  But, your professional predicament aside, on a personal level, just talking among ourselves, before you decide to make that call or send that email to Liz or Mary at CRC, please know that I would enjoy reading your admission (even if merely posted anonymously in comments here) that you, too, also realize just how sad and pathetic NOM's schtick has become.  I mean, at this point, who among us still believes that NOM have any useful advice left to give regarding how to win elections?  I mean, at this point, even our colleagues in the Utah press have gathered that they don't.  

Why?  Because since their Pyrrhic victory in California, NOM have done nothing but lose.

Why?  Because, at this point, NOM have become ringleaders of the sort of media circus that any right-minded conservative abhors and any serious Republican recognizes as the central challenge facing the party:  how to best usher their clowns offstage to the benefit of both the GOP and the country.

Final thought:  Last time I checked, Steve was not a member of the press, Brian.  But you insinuate otherwise.  

Why?  Because you're a clown, Mr. Brown.

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NYT's Rich: Economic Morality; the Whoring of Summers

It's all right here, from Sunday's NY Times: "Awake and Sing!"

I know there are many reading this that are buying into the latest, so called, positive commentary about our economy.  IMHO, I would beg to differ with most attempting to put any lipstick on this ugliest of pigs. The truth is, more likely than not, the worst is yet to come. And, rather than go into a lengthy diary resplendent with academic reference, tonight I think a picture's worth a thousand words. My statement at the beginning of this paragraph is quite succinctly supported by history, and it's right here (and I'd love to re-post it, but it just doesn't seem proper from a copyright standpoint), so you'll have to click on: my pick for the most compelling graphic about our economy that I've seen in a long, long time.

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