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Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. (US Department of Defense 11/24/2005) Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 87-95)
A New York Times editorial derides a recent effort by a conservative political action committee to label political opponents with slanderous epithets. According to the editorial, GOPAC, the GOP Political Action Committee chaired by Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA), has issued a glossary mailed to Republican state legislative candidates urging them to use the following words to characterize their Democratic opponents: “sick,” “traitors,” “bizarre,” “self-serving,” “shallow,” “corrupt,” “pathetic,” and “shame.” GOPAC later “regretted” including the word “traitors” in that list of characterizations, the editorial reports, but has continued to back the use of the other epithets. The glossary is part of a pamphlet entitled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” and features a letter from Gingrich advising the candidates to step up the personal invective against their opponents because, he writes, vilification works. The Times writes: “Mr. Gingrich’s injunction represents the worst of American political discourse, which reached a low during the dispiriting presidential campaign of 1988 (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Then, more than ever before, negative argument displaced reasoned discussion about how a nation might best be governed. The sound bite reigned. Attack commercials flourished. The signs this year aren’t any better. Evidence that negative campaigning can come back to sink the sender has had little impact. The races for governor in California and Texas have already seen the same slash and burn. No doubt the proceedings will grow more rabid still as November nears. Negative discourse serves democracy poorly. The temptation to avoid serious debate is already great. It increases as the stakes soar and slander becomes a rewarding, easy option. The issues of the day go untended. The whole affair takes on the character of the gladiator’s art. The GOPAC glossary may herald a descent into even lower levels of discourse. It comes blessed by a politician of some influence—the Republican whip in the House—and it is intended for candidates on the state level, many of them presumably running for the first time. Even though Mr. Gingrich himself may not have seen the list before it was mailed, this is a disturbing document. The nakedness of the GOPAC offering also makes it useful. There must be limits to the negative politics that voters will bear; the bald appeal to invective will certainly probe those limits. For now, it should be said that some adjectives in the glossary aptly describe the glossary itself: shallow, sensationalist, and, yes, shame(ful).” (New York Times 9/20/1990; Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002; Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002) Later in the year, the pamphlet will win the Doublespeak Award from the National Conference of Teachers of English. (Propaganda Critic 9/29/2002) Gingrich and GOPAC will expand upon the original pamphlet in 1995, after Gingrich becomes speaker of the House (see 1995).
Faced with a lawsuit from 53 members of Congress demanding that he seek Congressional authorization before invading Iraq (see December 1990 and January 16, 1991 and After), President Bush asks Congress for such an authorization. His carefully worded request does not directly acknowledge the constitutional requirement that Congress authorize any military involvement by the US. After three days of what the New York Times calls “solemn, often eloquent debate,” both chambers of Congress approve the war resolution. (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996; Dean 2007, pp. 90-91) That authority is granted in part because of propaganda efforts mounted by Pentagon and Kuwaiti officials (see October 10, 1990). Even with such powerful persuasive tactics, the vote in the US Senate is 52-47 and 250-183 in the US House of Representatives, the closest such vote since the War of 1812. (NationMaster 12/23/2007)
House Reminds Bush that Congress Retains Power to Declare War - The House passes another resolution, 302-131, informing the White House that Congress has the exclusive authority under the Constitution to declare war. Of this second resolution, author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007, “The breakdown of the vote is telling: 260 Democrats and 41 Republicans along with one independent voted to support the wording and clear intention of Article I of the Constitution; 126 Republicans and 5 Democrats, all hard-right conservatives (including Tom DeLay, R-TX, and two would-be presidents of the United States, Newt Gingrich, R-GA and Duncan Hunter, R-CA) voted against the resolution.” (Dean 2007, pp. 90-91)
Gore Persuaded to Support War by Wilson - One of the few Democratic senators to vote for the war is Al Gore (D-TN). Gore takes time from the floor deliberations to speak with the ranking US diplomat in Iraq, Joseph Wilson, who once served as Gore’s aide (see September 5, 1988 and After). Gore grills Wilson for twenty minutes on the efficacy of US sanctions against Iraq (see August 6, 1990) and the necessity of US intervention to free Kuwait before returning to the Senate to vote for the authorization. Wilson later writes of his outrage that Gore’s fellow senator, Alan Simpson (R-WY), would accuse Gore during the 2000 election of being what Simpson will call “Prime Time Al” for the timing of his speech in favor of the war authorization. Wilson recalls Simpson as the senator who had been “practically on bended knee before Saddam in April 1990, reassuring the Iraqi dictator that he had a press problem and not a policy problem” (see April 12, 1990). Wilson will continue, “It was an outrage that a decade later he had the nerve to be critical of the one senator who had really taken the time to listen to an analysis from the field and factor that into his decision on what most senators agreed was one of the most momentous votes of their careers.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 163-164)
During the Republican National Convention, Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) challenges the Democratic Party’s claims to embrace the values of the family. In a speech to the party faithful, Gingrich derides the Democrats’ claim that “governments don’t raise children, people do,” and says: “If they had tried to use the words ‘families raise children’ in Madison Square Garden [which hosted the Democratic National Convention days before], half their party would have rebelled and they would have had a bloody fight. So they tried to finesse it, to sound conservative without being conservative.” Gingrich gives the following example of what he calls Democratic “family values”: “Woody Allen having non-incest with a non-daughter to whom he was a non-father because they were a non-family fits the Democratic platform perfectly.” (Media Research Center 3/12/1998; Tapper 3/9/2007) (Gingrich is referring to film director and comedian Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his former lover Mia Farrow. Previn was of the age of consent when she and Allen began their affair, though Allen had served as Previn’s putative stepfather and many perceive the relationship as incestuous; they will eventually marry.) (Toufexis, Sachs, and Willwerth 8/31/1992; CNN 12/24/1997) The Washington Post’s David Broder calls Gingrich’s charges “feeble,” and Newsday writes, “For spewing the weekend’s best non sequitur, Trash Watch nominates Newt for the Hall of Surly Surrogates.” Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton (D-AK) says that Gingrich’s remark is “off the wall and out of line,” and says Gingrich “has no shame.” (Media Research Center 3/12/1998)
Elizabeth “Betsy” McCaughey (R-NY), a lawyer and future lieutenant governor of New York, writes a scathing analysis of the Clinton administration’s health care reform plan. The article, “No Exit,” is published in the New Republic, and sparks not only a detailed rebuttal from the Clinton administration, but numerous editorials and responses praising the article and joining in the attack. Echoing McCaughey’s arguments, Newsweek writes, “The plan would reduce the quantity and quality of health care and medical technologies by vastly expanding government’s coercive role.” McCaughey and Newsweek question the proposed creation of a seven-member “National Health Board” which will, she claims, “guess the nation’s health care needs and decree how much the nation may spend meeting them.” According to Newsweek: “Everyone would be locked into one system of low-budget health plans picked by the government. Fifteen presidential appointees, the National Quality Management Council, not you and your doctor, would define the ‘medically necessary’ and ‘appropriate’ care a doctor could give you. Escaping government control to choose your doctor or buy other care would be virtually impossible. Doctors could be paid only by the government-approved plans, at rates set by the government. It would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem ‘necessary.’ Government would define a minimum level of care and herd people in particular regions into dependence on the lowest-cost organization able to deliver that level. Doctors would be driven into organizations in which they would be punished financially for giving more treatment than the organizations’ budget targets permit. The primary care physician assigned to you would be, McCaughey notes, a gatekeeper with an incentive to limit your access to specialists and high-tech medicine. The premise of the Clintons’ plan is not just that government knows best, but that government knows everything relevant, including how many specialists there should be no more than 45 percent of all doctors [sic]. McCaughey says many medical students will be told that the specialties they prefer are closed, or closed to them because they are not the right race or ethnicity. Yes, the plan subordinates medical values to ‘diversity.’” Prescription drug prices would be controlled through the Department of Health and Human Services, and, McCaughey and Newsweek claim, would “certainly suppress research” that might benefit patients of incurable diseases and disorders. (Newsweek 2/7/1994)
Refuting McCaughey - The Clinton administration details the “numerous factual inaccuracies and misleading statements” contained in McCaughey’s article. The administration’s response says that doctors and patients, not “government bureaucrats” or a board of governors, will decide what treatments are “necessary and appropriate.” The government will not decide what treatments are, and are not, provided: “If anything, the ‘necessary and appropriate’ care provision in the bill delegates authority to the medical profession—rather than imposing further government bureaucracy between the patient and the doctor.” The plan will not block Americans from opting into private health care plans just as they do now, nor will it block doctors and hospitals from accepting payments from “non-approved” health care plans. Nor does the plan require doctors and hospitals “to report your visit to a national data bank containing the medical histories of all Americans,” as McCaughey writes. And the so-called “National Health Board” will not “decide how much the nation can spend on health care beginning in 1996,” as McCaughey claims. The plan will not seek to reduce quality of care in the interest of saving money, and it does not contain price controls. (White House 1/31/1994) A year later, author and columnist James Fallows will call the article “a triumph of misinformation,” and refutes McCaughey’s (and others’) claims point by point. (Fallows 1/1995)
Instrumental in Derailing Reform - The article will later be cited by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as “the first decisive breaking point” in the plan’s initial support; the plan will never be implemented. The article itself will spark tremendous controversy, winning the National Magazine Award while being attacked for being fundamentally inaccurate. (In 2006, the new editor of the New Republic, Franklin Foer, will apologize for his magazine having run the article.) In 2009 McCaughey will be a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and will soon join the equally conservative Hudson Institute. Both are heavily funded by health care corporations. (Sarlin 5/15/2009)
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) links Democrats to Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who murdered her two children in 1991 and attempted to blame the killings on an unnamed black male. “I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things,” he says. “The only way you get change is to vote Republican.” Referring to the upcoming midterm elections, Gingrich says, “That’s the message for the last three days.” Asked if Republicans being voted into office would stop such crimes from being committed, Gingrich says: “Yes. In my judgment, there’s no question.” Investigators learned that Smith was repeatedly brutalized and raped by her stepfather, Beverly Russell, a South Carolina Republican leader and local organizer for the Christian Coalition; Russell was still abusing Smith just two months before she murdered her children. (Solomon 4/26/2000; Tapper 3/9/2007)
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) expands on his 1990 pamphlet advising Republican candidates for office to characterize their opponents as “sick” “traitors” (see September 20, 1990). His political action committee, GOPAC, in a package given to freshmen House and Senate Republicans, includes a video, “We Are a Majority,” and an accompanying memo written by Gingrich that avows the committee is working to fulfill the requests of candidates across the country, who, according to the memo, have flooded its offices with “plaintive plea[s]” of “I wish I could speak like Newt.” The memo responds: “That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.” The memo advises candidates to “[r]ead them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.” The list is divided into two parts: “Optimistic positive governing words and phrases to help describe your vision for the future of your community” and “Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic Party.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 2/1995; Information Clearinghouse 1996) Communications professor Margaret Zulick will later call the package “a rudimentary rhetorical handbook, providing inexperienced political speakers with a lexicon of terms that drive a wedge of distinctions between themselves and members of the opposing party. At the same time it educates them in a common language that will give evidence of their solidarity with the speaker of the House and his goals for the Republican majority.” (Zulick 2010)
"Optimistic Positive Governing Words - The memo states: “Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!” The words include: activist; building; candid(ly); care(ing); challenge; change; children; choice/choose; citizen; commitment; common sense; compete; confident; conflict; control; courage; crusade; debate; dream; duty; eliminate good time in prison; empower(ment); fair; family; freedom; hard work; help; humane; incentive; initiative; lead; learn; legacy; liberty; light; listen; mobilize; moral; movement; opportunity; passionate; peace; pioneer; precious; premise; preserve; principle(d); pristine; pro- (issue): flag, children, environment, reform; prosperity; protect; proud/pride; provide; reform; rights; share; strength; success; tough; truth; unique; vision; and we/us/our.
Contrasting Words - The memo states: “Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals, and their party.” The words include: abuse of power; anti- (issue); flag, family, child, jobs; betray; bizarre; bosses; bureaucracy; cheat; coercion; “compassion” is not enough; collapse(ing); consequences; corrupt; corruption; criminal rights; crisis; cynicism; decay; deeper; destroy; destructive; devour; disgrace; endanger; excuses; failure (fail); greed; hypocrisy; ideological; impose; incompetent; insecure; insensitive; intolerant; liberal; lie; limit(s); machine; mandate(s); obsolete; pathetic; patronage; permissive; attitude; pessimistic; punish; (poor…); radical; red tape; self-serving; selfish; sensationalists; shallow; shame; sick; spend(ing); stagnation; status quo; steal; taxes; they/them; threaten; traitors; unionized; urgent(cy); waste; welfare. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 2/1995; Information Clearinghouse 1996)
Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) mocks statements by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) about why women should not serve in combat. While teaching a history class at Reinhardt College in Georgia in early January, Gingrich explained why women are unfit for combat duty, saying: “If combat means being in a ditch, females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections, and they don’t have upper body strength.” Men, on the other hand, “are basically little piglets; you drop them in the ditch, they roll around in it.” Instead, Gingrich told his students, females might be well suited for manning the fire control computers on Navy ships. If being in combat, he said, “means being on an Aegis class cruiser managing the computer controls for 12 ships and their rockets, a female again may be dramatically better than a male who gets very, very frustrated sitting in a chair all the time because males are biologically driven to go out and hunt giraffes.” Schroeder, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, reads Gingrich’s statements aloud on the floor of the House and says she is “very, very troubled by the new factual data that seems to be coming out of our new leader.” Schroeder says she never knew that women get infections every 30 days. She says she has seen male relatives in ditches, “but they don’t roll around like little piggies.” If men have trouble sitting in chairs, she adds, it might be hard for Gingrich to be speaker, “because you got to sit in a chair a lot.” She says she has been “working in a male culture for a very long time, and I haven’t met the first one who wants to go out and hunt a giraffe.” (Seelye 1/18/1995)
According to FBI spokespersons, the bureau believes the Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) may involve more people than accused conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (see April 21, 1995 and 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995), and is searching locations in and around Kingman, Arizona, where McVeigh last lived (see May-September 1993, February - July 1994, September 13, 1994 and After, and December 16, 1994 and After). According to the New York Times, the FBI is “searching for evidence of a conspiracy hatched by several self-styled militiamen who oppose gun laws, income taxes, and other forms of government control.” The high desert outside of Kingman is an area known to be a training ground for at least one such group, the Arizona Patriots. It is not known whether McVeigh or Nichols have any connection with that group. The FBI is also investigating whether an explosion in Kingman two months ago had any connection to McVeigh (see February 1995). House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), after visiting Oklahoma City in the aftermath of the recent bombing, praises the FBI’s investigation thus far, and says the FBI should be given broad new powers to infiltrate political fringe groups. (Weiner 4/23/1995)
Ahmed Chalabi and Francis Brooke find allies in the US Senate’s Republican leadership. They provide the Republicans with details about the events surrounding the INC-CIA’s 1995 failed plot against Saddam Hussein (see March 1995) and Iraq’s subsequent incursion into Kurdish territory (see August 1996) which the Republican senators use against the Clinton White House and the CIA. “Clinton gave us a huge opportunity,” Brooke later recalls. “We took a Republican Congress and pitted it against a Democratic White House. We really hurt and embarrassed the president.” The Republican leadership in Congress, he acknowledges, “didn’t care that much about the ammunition. They just wanted to beat up the president.” Senior Republican senators, according to Brooke, are “very receptive, right away” to Chalabi and Brooke’s information, and Chalabi is soon on a first-name basis with 30 members of Congress, including senators Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, and Newt Gingrich. (Sirota, Harvey, and Legum 5/21/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004)
David Bossie, an investigator for Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), is fired from his position. Bossie recently leaked transcripts of prison conversations featuring former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell, who will be convicted of defrauding clients and sentenced to prison in 2004. Bossie fraudulently edited the transcripts to have Hubbell imply that First Lady Hillary Clinton broke the law while the two worked together in an Arkansas law firm. Bossie cut out portions of Hubbell’s conversations exonerating her from any wrongdoing, and sometimes rewrote Hubbell’s words entirely. In response to the controversy, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says of Burton and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “I’m embarrassed for you, I’m embarrassed for myself, and I’m embarrassed for the [House Republican] conference at the circus that went on at your committee.” (In late April, Burton had called President Clinton a “scumbag,” further embarrassing Gingrich and the Republican leadership.) Bossie came to Burton’s staff from Citizens United (CU), which he joined in 1994 and soon rose to become director of government relations and communications. In 1988, as a member of Floyd Brown’s Presidential Victory Committee (PVC), Bossie helped produce the infamous Willie Horton ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). In 1992, as executive director of the PVC, Bossie oversaw the release of a fundraising letter accusing then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton of having an affair with an Arkansas woman, for use in an ad that falsely suggested it was the product of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Then-President Bush accused the PVC of engaging in “filthy campaign tactics,” and his son and campaign aide George W. Bush sent a letter asking donors not to give to the organization. Bossie has encouraged Burton to open an investigation into the suicide of Clinton administration aide Vince Foster (alleging that Foster was murdered as part of some unspecified White House plot, or perhaps an Israeli intelligence “black op”). While an aide to Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), Bossie was found to have tried to intimidate a federal judge during a Whitewater-related investigation. Bossie has earned a reputation as a “Whitewater stalker,” combing Arkansas for “evidence” of crimes by the Clintons, and repeatedly making false and lurid allegations against the president and/or his wife. For a year, Bossie has promised that Burton’s committee would soon produce evidence of Chinese espionage and White House collusion, but any evidence of such a scandal has never been produced. A former lawyer for the Oversight Committee, John Rowley, has called Bossie’s actions “unrelenting self-promoti[on]” and challenged Bossie’s competence. Bossie says his transcripts were accurate (though the tapes of Hubbell’s conversations prove he is wrong), and blames committee Democrats for the controversy. (Bresnahan 5/7/1998; Corn 5/7/1998; Media Matters 5/11/2004) WorldNetDaily reporter David Bresnahan writes that according to his sources, Bossie “was either extremely incompetent or was intentionally trying to sabotage” Burton’s investigations into the Clinton administration. Bresnahan also says that Burton allowed Bossie to resign instead of firing him, as other media sources report. (Bresnahan 5/7/1998)
The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) publishes a letter addressed to Congressman Newt Gingrich and Senator Trent Lott. The letter argues that the Clinton administration has capitulated to Saddam Hussein and calls on the two legislators to lead Congress to “establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect [US] vital interests in the Gulf—and, if necessary, to help removed Saddam from power.” (Century 5/29/1998)
In 1998, President Clinton faces a growing scandal about his sexual relationship with aide Monica Lewinsky, and even faces the possibility of impeachment over the matter. He is publicly interrogated about the scandal on August 17, 1998. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that he worries Clinton might let the timing of the scandal get in the way of acting on new intelligence to hit Osama bin Laden with a missile strike in retaliation for the recent African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). But Clarke is reassured when Clinton tells his advisers, “Do you all recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 185-186) Defense Secretary William Cohen also warns Clinton that he will be criticized for changing the subject from the Lewinsky scandal. (Benjamin and Simon 2005, pp. 358)
Criticism from Politicians - Clinton gives the go-ahead for the missile strike on August 20th anyway (see August 20, 1998) and is immediately widely criticized for it. In late 1997, there was a popular movie called “Wag the Dog,” based on a fictional president who creates an artificial crisis in order to distract the public from a domestic scandal. Republicans are particularly critical and seize upon a comparison to the movie. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) initially supports the missile strike, but later criticizes it as mere “pinpricks.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 117) Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “The president was considering doing something presidential to try to focus attention away from his personal problems.” (Benjamin and Simon 2005, pp. 358-359) Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN) says, “I just hope and pray the decision that was made was made on the basis of sound judgment, and made for the right reasons, and not made because it was necessary to save the president’s job.” (Purdum 8/4/2004)
Media Criticism - The media is also very critical, despite a lack of any evidence that Clinton deliberately timed the missile strike as a distraction. Television networks repeatedly show clips of the “Wag the Dog” movie after the missile strike. New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh reports, “Some reporters questioned whether the president had used military force to distract the nation’s attention from the Lewinsky scandal.” (Benjamin and Simon 2005, pp. 358-359)
9/11 Commission Commentary - The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The failure of the strikes, the ‘wag the dog’ slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the [fact that one of the missile targets probably had no connection to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998)] likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against bin Laden.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 118)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) blames the recent high school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on the “liberal elite.” In a speech to a woman’s organization, Gingrich says, “I want to say to the elite in this country—the elite news media, the liberal academic elite, the liberal political elite—I accuse you in Littleton and I accuse you in Kosovo of being afraid to talk about the mess you have made, and being afraid for taking responsibility for the things you have done.” The Columbine shooting took place in part because Democrats have taken prayer and God out of the classroom, Gingrich says. (Crosswhite-Chigbue 5/12/1999)
The final report of the US Commission on National Security/21st Century, co-chaired by former Senators Gary Hart (D-CO) and Warren Rudman (R-NH), is issued. The bipartisan panel was put together in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Hart and Rudman personally brief National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell on their findings. The report has 50 recommendations on how to combat terrorism in the US, but all of them are ignored by the Bush administration.
Shelved by White House - According to Hart, Congress will begin to take the commission’s suggestions seriously in March and April, and legislation is introduced to implement some of the recommendations. Then, “Frankly, the White House shut it down.… The president said, ‘Please wait, we’re going to turn this over to the vice president‘… and so Congress moved on to other things, like tax cuts and the issue of the day.” The White House will announce in May that it will have Vice President Dick Cheney study the potential problem of domestic terrorism, despite the fact that this commission had just studied the issue for 2 1/2 years. Interestingly, both this commission and the Bush administration were already assuming a new cabinet level National Homeland Security Agency would be enacted eventually, even as the public remained unaware of the term and the concept. (Tapper 9/12/2001; Talbot 4/2/2004)
Cannot Get Meeting with Bush - At the meeting with Rice, Rudman says he wants to see President Bush, and is planning to deliver a “blunt and very direct” warning to him that he needs to deal early in his presidency with the question of domestic terror threats. Rice initially agrees to pass on Rudman’s request for a meeting with Bush, but nothing happens. Rudman will contact Rice’s office several times, but still no meeting is arranged. Rudman will later say he is “disappointed” by this, adding, “There’s no question in my mind that somebody at the White House dropped the ball on this.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 56-57)
Ignored by 9/11 Commission - Hart will be incredulous that neither he nor any of the other members of this commission are ever asked to testify before the 9/11 Commission. (Hart 4/6/2004) The 9/11 Commission will later make many of the same recommendations as this commission. However, it will barely mention the Hart/Rudman Commission in its final report, except to note that Congress appointed it and failed to follow through on implementing its recommendations. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 107, 479)
The Defense Policy Board (DPB) meets in secret in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon conference room on September 19 and 20 for 19 hours to discuss the option of taking military action against Iraq. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001) They also discuss how they might overcome some of the diplomatic and political pressures that would likely attempt to impede a policy of regime change in Iraq. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001) Among those attending the meeting are Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Princeton academic Bernard Lewis, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), Chalabi’s aide Francis Brooke, and the 18 members of the DPB. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 236; Mayer 6/7/2004) Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later call the DPB “a neocon[servative] sanctuary,” boasting such members as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former arms control adviser Ken Adelman, former Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle, and former Vice President Dan Quayle. (Lang 6/2004)
Powell, State Officials Not Informed of Meeting - Secretary of State Colin Powell and other State Department officials in charge of US policy toward Iraq are not invited and are not informed of the meeting. A source will later tell the New York Times that Powell was irritated about not being briefed on the meeting. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001)
Chalabi, Lewis Lead Discussion - During the seminar, two of Richard Perle’s invited guests, Chalabi and Lewis, lead the discussion. Lewis says that the US must encourage democratic reformers in the Middle East, “such as my friend here, Ahmed Chalabi.” Chalabi argues that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists and asserts that Saddam Hussein’s regime has weapons of mass destruction. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 232; Lang 6/2004) He also asserts “there’d be no resistance” to an attack by the US, “no guerrilla warfare from the Ba’athists, and [it would be] a quick matter of establishing a government.” (Mayer 6/7/2004)
Overthrow of Hussein Advocated - Attendees write a letter to President Bush calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. “[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack [of 9/11], any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism,” the letter reads. The letter is published in the Washington Times on September 20 (see September 20, 2001) in the name of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank that believes the US needs to shoulder the responsibility for maintaining “peace” and “security” in the world by strengthening its global hegemony. (Project for the New American Century 9/20/2001; Lobe 7/19/2003) Bush reportedly rejects the letter’s proposal, as both Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell agree that there is no evidence implicating Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks. (Sciolino and Tyler 10/12/2001)
Woolsey Sent to Find Evidence of Hussein's Involvement - As a result of the meeting, Wolfowitz sends Woolsey to London to find evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and the earlier 1993 attack on the World Trade Center (see Mid-September-October 2001). (Lang 6/2004)
Prominent neoconservative Newt Gingrich tells Newsweek, “When the US loses what may be more than 6,000 people [on 9/11], there has to be reaction so that the world clearly knows that things have changed.… [There is] a recognition that it will be very tough to get bin Laden in the rocky and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. There’s a feeling that we’ve got to do something that counts—and bombing some caves is not something that counts.” (Hirsh and Gutman 9/23/2001; Thomas 8/28/2007) Newsweek will comment on the quote in 2007: “Rather than [fight in Afghanistan], the US military wanted to fight on a grander stage, where it could show off its mobility and firepower. To the civilian bosses at the Pentagon and the eager-to-please top brass, Iraq was a much better target. By invading Iraq, the United States would give the Islamists—and the wider world—an unforgettable lesson in American power. ” (Thomas 8/28/2007)
Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes accompanied by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, visits the offices of US intelligence analysts working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia “approximately 10” times. He interrogates them on their intelligence work on Iraq. Some analysts later complain that Cheney’s visits made them feel pressured to provide the administration with conclusions that supported the case for war. Other analysts will say they did not feel pressured. (Pincus and Priest 6/5/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 6/5/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 336; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 242) Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, will later recall, “It was like they were hoping we’d find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer.” As a result of these visits, Sulick believes that agency analysts became “overly eager to please.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 4-5) According to Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, these visits were “unprecedented.” (McGovern 7/23/2003) In 2006, author Craig Unger will call the visits “a highly irregular occurrence.” Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will recall: “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on a stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.… When they go, it’s usually for some ceremonial reason, to hand out an award or to cut a ribbon. Then they get the hell out.” Former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will say: “Many, many of them [CIA analysts] have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways. Pressure takes a lot of forms.” A State Department official will note: “For the vice president to be meeting with analysts, that was a real red flag. It was so unusual. It was clear that people were being leaned on. Usually, if a high-ranking official wants information, it gets tasked out through appropriate channels. It was highly unusual to lock these people in a room and keep pressing. It crossed the line between… intellectual inquiry and not accepting the real answer.” Another intelligence source says: “[Cheney] wanted them to make a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He already got them to agree on nuclear weapons. But he wanted the al-Qaeda connection.” Retired CIA officer Richard Kerr, brought back to the agency to study intelligence failures, later describes “overwhelming consumer demand” on agency analysts, which Kerr will say results in flawed intelligence reports. The pressure brought on analysts, another source says, is “brutal.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 211; Unger 2007, pp. 262-263) Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also makes visits to CIA headquarters in Langley. (Borger 7/17/2003)
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, both staunch neoconservatives, rename the Northern Gulf Affairs Office on the Pentagon’s fourth floor (in the seventh corridor of D Ring) the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) and increase its four-person staff to sixteen. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) William Luti, a former navy officer and ex-aide to Vice President Cheney, is put in charge of the day-to-day operations (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) , apparently at the behest of Cheney. Luti was, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, a member of Cheney’s “shadow National Security Council.” (Lang 6/2004)
Transforming NESA - Luti worked for the Near East and South Asian Affairs desk (NESA) at the Pentagon since mid-2001. Lang later describes NESA as having been “a Pentagon backwater, responsible primarily for arranging bilateral meetings with military counterparts” from various nations. Before the Afghanistan war, NESA worked closely with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO) for the Near East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. During Luti’s first months at NESA, the DIO was Bruce Hardcastle. The Pentagon dismantled the entire DIO system, partly because of friction between Luti and Hardcastle (see Early 2002). Lang will write, “The roots of the friction between Hardcastle and Luti were straightforward: Hardcastle brought with him the combined wisdom of the professional military intelligence community. The community had serious doubts about the lethality of the threat from Saddam Hussein, the terrorism links and the status of the Iraqi WMD programs. Luti could not accept this. He knew what he wanted: to bring down Saddam Hussein. Hardcastle could not accept the very idea of allowing a desired outcome to shape the results of analysis.” Luti transforms NESA into what Lang will call “a ‘de facto’ arm of the vice president’s office,” and in the process shuts Hardcastle out of NESA (and later OSP) intelligence briefings. Luti does not report to either Feith or Donald Rumsfeld, as his chain of command delineates, but to Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. OSP staffer Karen Kwiatkowski later recalls being “shocked” to learn that Luti reports to Libby and not to his putative Pentagon superiors. She will say, “In one of the first staff meetings that I attended there, Bill Luti said, ‘Well, did you get that thing over to Scooter? Scooter wants this, and somebody’s got to get it over to him, and get that up to him right away.’ After the meeting, I asked one of my co-workers, who’d been there longer, ‘Who is this Scooter?’ I was told, ‘That’s Scooter Libby over at the OVP (Office of the Vice President). He’s the Vice President’s chief of staff.’ Later I came to understand that Cheney had put Luti there.” Under Luti, NESA becomes a virtual adjunct to the OSP. (Lobe 8/7/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Lang 6/2004)
Strong Neoconservative Influence - The Office of Special Plans is staffed with a tight group of like-minded neoconservative ideologues, who are known advocates of regime change in Iraq. Notably, the staffers have little background in intelligence or Iraqi history and culture. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Some of the people associated with this office were earlier involved with the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, also known as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). They hire “scores of temporary ‘consultants‘… including like-minded lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous right-wing think-tanks in the US capital.” Neoconservative ideologues, like Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Newt Gingrich, are afforded direct input into the Office of Special Plans. (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Unger 7/2006, pp. 150) Kwiatkowski later says she saw Ledeen going “in and out of there (OSP) all the time.” (Unger 7/2006, pp. 150)
Planning for Post-Saddam Iraq - The official business of Special Plans is to help plan for post-Saddam Iraq. The office’s staff members presumably “develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals.” (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Covert Source of 'Alternative' Intelligence - But according to numerous well-placed sources, the office becomes a source for many of the administration’s prewar allegations against Iraq. It is accused of exaggerating, politicizing, and misrepresenting intelligence, which is “stovepiped” to top administration officials who use the intelligence in their policy decisions on Iraq. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Coman 7/11/2004; CNN 7/11/2004)
'Top Secret' - There are very few news reports in the American mainstream media that report on the office. In fact, the office is reportedly Top Secret. (Bamford 2004, pp. 308) “We were instructed at a staff meeting that this office was not to be discussed or explained,” Kwiatkowski will later say, “and if people in the Joint Staff, among others, asked, we were to offer no comment.” (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003)
Part of a 'Separate Government,' Powell Feels - Colin Powell is said to have felt that Cheney and the neoconservatives in this “Gestapo” office had established what was essentially a separate government. (Hamilton 4/17/2004) Powell’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, is even more blunt. “When I say ‘secret cabal,’ I mean ‘secret cabal,’ he says of the White House officials behind the OSP. He compares Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neoconservatives to the Jacobins, the radical zealots who plunged 18th-century France into the Reign of Terror. “I see them as messianic advocates of American power from one end of the globe, much as the Jacobins in France were messianic advocates of the French Revolution. I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. You’re never going to bring utopia, and you’re going to hurt a lot of people in the process.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299-300) Among the claims critics find most troubling about the office are:
Heavy Reliance on Intelligence from Exiles and Defectors - The office relies heavily on accounts from Iraqi exiles and defectors associated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), long considered suspect by other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) One defector in particular, code-named “Curveball,” provides as much as 98 percent of the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of biological weapons. (CNN 7/11/2004) Much of the information provided by the INC’s sources consists of “misleading and often faked intelligence reports,” which often flow to Special Plans and NESA directly, “sometimes through Defense Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via the Defense Human Intelligence Service and sometimes through the INC’s own US-funded Intelligence Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) According to Kwiatkowski, the movement of intelligence from the INC to the Office of Special Plans is facilitated by a Colonel Bruner, a former military aide to Gingrich. (Hosenball and Isikoff 12/15/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Kwiatkowski 3/10/2004) Bruner “was Chalabi’s handler,” Kwiatkowski will tell Mother Jones. “He would arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi’s folks.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Kwiatkowski also finds that OSP personnel, along with DIA and CIA officials, are taking part in the debriefing of INC informants. She will recall confronting one DIA officer, John Trigilio, about the practice: “I argued with [Tregilio] after the president’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). I told him that the president had made a number of statements that were just not supported by the intelligence. He said that the president’s statements are supported by intelligence, and he would finally say, ‘We have sources that you don’t have.’ I took it to mean the sources that Chalabi was bringing in for debriefing… Trigilio told me he participated in a number of debriefs, conducted in hotels downtown, or wherever, of people that Chalabi brought in. These debriefs had Trigilio from OSP, but also CIA and DIA participated… If [the information] sounded good, it would go straight to the OVP or elsewhere. I don’t put it out of possibility that the information would go straight to the media because of the (media’s) close relationship with some of the neoconservatives. So this information would make it straight out into the knowledge base without waiting for intelligence [analysts] to come by with their qualifications and reservations.” (Lang 6/2004)
Cherry-Picked Intelligence - The Office of Special Plans purposefully ignores intelligence that undermines the case for war while exaggerating any leads that support it. “It wasn’t intelligence—it was propaganda,” Kwiatkowski will later explain. “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) “At the OSP, what they were doing was looking at all the intelligence they could find on WMD. That was the focal point, picking bits and pieces that were the most inflammatory, removing any context that might have been provided in the original intelligence report, that would have caused you to have some pause in believing it or reflected doubts that the intelligence community had, so if the intelligence community had doubts, those would be left out… They would take items that had occurred many years ago, and put them in the present tense, make it seem like they occurred not many years ago… But they would not talk about the dates; they would say things like, ‘He has continued since that time’ and ‘He could do it tomorrow,’ which of course, wasn’t true… The other thing they would do would be to take unrelated events that were reported in totally unrelated ways and make connections that the intelligence community had not made. This was primarily in discussing Iraq’s activities and how they might be related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might be against us, or against Israel… These kinds of links would be made. They would be made casually, and they would be made in a calculated way to form an image that is definitely not the image that anyone reading the original reports would have. The summaries that we would see from Intelligence did not match the kinds of things that OSP was putting out. So that is what I call propaganda development. It goes beyond the manipulation of intelligence to propaganda development.” (Lang 6/2004)
No Intelligence Oversight - The OSP bypasses established oversight procedures by sending its intelligence assessments directly to the White House and National Security Council without having them first vetted by a review process involving other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) The people at Special Plans are so successful at bypassing conventional procedures, in part, because their neoconservative colleagues hold key positions in several other agencies and offices. Their contacts in other agencies include: John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Bolton’s adviser, David Wurmser, a former research fellow on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, who was just recently working in a secret Pentagon planning unit at Douglas Feith’s office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001); Elizabeth Cheney, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs; Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council’s top Middle East aide; and Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey and Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Policy Board. The office provides very little information about its work to other US intelligence offices. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003)
'Stealth Organization' - Greg Thielmann, the former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, later says of the OSP: “It was a stealth organization. They didn’t play in the intelligence community proceedings that our office participated in. When the intelligence community met as a community, there was no OSP represented in these sessions. Because, if they had done that, they would have had to subject their views to peer review. Why do that when you can send stuff right in to the vice president?” (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 299) Lang will say in January 2004 that what happened was fundamentally different from anything that had happened under previous presidents. Cheney’s staff and allies “behaved as though they had seized control of the government in a ‘silent coup,’” The result, according to Lang, is “a highly corrupted system of intelligence and policymaking, one twisted to serve specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith.” (Unger 2007, pp. 301)
Pressuring Intelligence Analysts - Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis, who headed the International Programs Department at the Virginia Military Institute until March 2004, and an expert on Middle East affairs, later says he believes intelligence analysts at the CIA and other agencies were pressured indirectly. Davis will say, “By creating the OSP [Office of Special Plans], Cheney was able to say, ‘Hey, look at what we’re getting out of OSP. How come you guys aren’t doing as well? What is your response to what this alternative analysis that we’re receiving from the Pentagon says?’ That’s how you do it. You pressure people indirectly.” Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counterterrorism official with the CIA, will agree: “Over a long period of time, there was a subtle process of pressure and intimidation until people started giving them what was wanted… When the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed, under oath, over 100 analysts, not one of them said, ‘I changed my assessment because of pressure.‘… The environment was conditioned in such a way that the analyst subtly leaned toward the conceits of the policymakers… The intelligence community was vulnerable to the aggressiveness of neoconservative policymakers, particularly at the Pentagon and at the VP’s office. As one analyst said to me, ‘You can’t fight something with nothing, and those people had something. Whether it was right or wrong, fraudulent or specious, it almost didn’t make any difference, because the policymakers believed it already, and if you didn’t have hard countervailing evidence to persuade them, then you were at a loss.’” (Lang 6/2004)
Strong Pro-Israel, Anti-Arab Biases - Lastly, the people involved in Special Plans openly exhibit strong pro-Israel and anti-Arab bias. The problem, note critics, is that the analysis of intelligence is supposed to be apolitical and untainted by ideological viewpoints. (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003) According to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Special Plans is the group responsible for the claim Bush will make in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from an African country (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). (Dreyfuss 6/19/2003; Leopold 7/16/2003)
Personal Grudges against Intelligence Community - The OSP reflects the personal grudges and ill will of many in the Office of the Vice President against the intelligence community, in part because of the CIA’s refusal to give much weight to the claims of Chalabi and the INC. “This had been a fight for such a long period of time, where people were so dug in,” a friend of one of Vice President Cheney’s senior staffers will later reflect. A colleague of the senior staff later says, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.’” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Propaganda - Kwiatkowski will later recall that the OSP generated a large amount of what she terms propaganda, in the form of “talking points” used in briefings and in press conferences. “With the talking points, many of the propagandistic bullets that were given to use in papers for our superiors to inform them—internal propaganda—many of those same phrases and assumptions and tones, I saw in Vice President Cheney’s speeches and the president’s speeches,” she will say. “So I got the impression that those talking points were not just for us, but were the core of an overall agenda for a disciplined product, beyond the Pentagon. Over at the vice president’s office and the [neoconservative news magazine] Weekly Standard, the media, and the neoconservative talking heads and that kind of thing, all on the same sheet of music.” Kwiatkowski identifies Abram Shulsky, a neoconservative academic and recent Pentagon hire, as the source of many of these talking points. (Lang 6/2004)
Denials, Counter-Accusations after Public Learns of OSP - After the existence of the Office of Special Plans is revealed to the public, the Pentagon will deny that it served as a direct conduit to the White House for misleading intelligence, instead claiming that its activities had been limited to postwar plans for Iraq. (Hersh 5/12/2003) And a December 2003 opinion piece published in Insight magazine will call the allegations surrounding the Office of Special Plans the work of conspiracy theorists. (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67) The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. (Foer 11/12/2006)
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67) Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. (Symon 1/29/2003) Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67)
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). (Leopold 2/9/2006) In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 326-327)
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. (Leopold 2/9/2006) Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 441-442)
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
The co-founder and editor of the American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, subjects the 2002 House of Representatives to scrutiny, and concludes that under the rule of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), it is well on its way to becoming what he calls a “dictatorship.” Kuttner writes that such authoritarian rule in “the people’s chamber” of Congress puts the US “at risk of becoming an autocracy.” He explains: “First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). [DeLay] has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing.… Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal, or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split.… Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election. Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation.” Kuttner elaborates on his rather sweeping warnings.
Legislative Dictatorship - The House, and to a lesser extent the Senate, used to have what was called a “de facto four-party system”: liberal Democrats; Southern “Dixiecrats” who, while maintaining their membership as Democrats largely due to lingering resentment of Republicans dating back to the Civil War, often vote with Republicans; conservative Republicans; and moderate-to-liberal “gypsy moth” Republicans, who might vote with either party. Rarely did one of the four elements gain long-term control of the House. Because of what Kuttner calls “shifting coalitions and weak party discipline,” the majority party was relatively respectful of the minority, with the minority free to call witnesses in hearings and offer amendments to legislation. In the House, that is no longer true. While the House leadership began centralizing under House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) between 1987 and 1989, the real coalescence of power began under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) between 1995 and 1999. The process, Kuttner asserts, has radically accelerated under DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).
Centralized Legislation - Under current practices, even most Republicans do not, as a rule, write legislation—that comes from DeLay and Hastert. Drastic revisions to bills are often rammed through late in the evening, with little or no debate. The Republican leadership has classified legislation as “emergency” measures 57 percent of the time, allowing them to be voted on with as little as 30 minutes of debate. Kuttner writes, “On several measures, members literally did not know what they were voting for.” Legislation written and proposed by Democrats rarely gets to the floor for debate. Amendments to legislation is also constrained, almost always coming from Hastert and DeLay. “[V]irtually all major bills now come to the floor with rules prohibiting amendments.” DeLay enforces rigid party loyalty, threatening Republican members who resist voting for the leadership’s bills with loss of committee assignments and critical campaign funds, and in some circumstances with DeLay’s sponsoring primary opponents to unseat the uncooperative member in the next election.
Democrats Shut out of Conferences - In the House, so-called “conference committees,” where members work to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation, have become in essence one-party affairs. Only Democrats who might support the Republican version of the bill are allowed to attend. The conference committee then sends a non-amendable bill to the floor for a final vote.
No Hearings - The general assumption is that House members debate bills, sometimes to exhaustion, on the chamber floor. No more. Before DeLay, bills were almost never written in conference committees. Now, major legislation is often written in conference committee; House members often never see the legislation until it has been written in final, non-amendable form by DeLay and his chosen colleagues.
Abuse of Appropriations - Appropriations, or funding of events authorized by legislation, are ripe for use and misuse by the one-party leadership. Many appropriations bills must pass in order for Congress or other entities of the government to continue functioning. While “earmarks”—“pork-barrel” appropriations for individual members’ pet projects and such—are nothing new, under Gingrich and later Hastert/DeLay, the use of earmarks has skyrocketed. Huge earmarks are now routinely attached to mandatory appropriations bills. DeLay has perfected a technique known as “catch and release.” On close pending votes, the House Republican Whip Organization, made up of dozens of regional whips, will target the small but critical number of Republicans who might oppose the legislation. Head counts are taken; as members register (and change) their votes, some are forced to vote against their consciences (or their constituents) and others are allowed to vote no. Kuttner writes, “Basically, Republican moderates are allowed to take turns voting against bills they either oppose on principle or know to be unpopular in their districts.” This allows the member to save at least some face with their constituents. Under Wright, Republican members such as then-Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) were outraged when Wright held a vote open for 15 minutes after voting was to end; Cheney called it “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.” It is not unusual for DeLay to hold votes open for up to three hours to get recalcitrant members in line. (Kuttner 2/1/2004) In 2006, author John Dean will note that when the Republicans took control of the House in 1999, there were 1,439 earmarks in that year’s legislation. By the end of 2005, “there were a staggering 13,998 earmarked expenses, costing $27.3 billion.” Dean will write, “Needless to say, there is nothing conservative in those fiscal actions but there is much that is authoritarian about the wanton spending by those Republicans.” (Dean 2006)
Lack of Opposition - Kuttner notes that Congressional Democrats have not mounted a systematic, organized denunciation of the DeLay operation. Kuttner believes that many Democrats believe voters are uninterested in what they call “process issues,” and that voters will dismiss complaints as “inside baseball,” of little relevance to their lives. Worse, such complaints “make… us look weak,” as one senior House staffer says. Kuttner writes that many Democrats believe such complaints sound “like losers whining.”
Permanent Republican Majority - If DeLay and his confreres in the White House have their way, there will be, in essence, a permanent Republican majority in the House and hopefully in the Senate as well. Bill Clinton routinely practiced what he called bipartisan “triangulation,” building ad hoc coalitions of Democrats and Republicans to pass his legislative initiatives, and in the process weakening the Democratic leadership. Kuttner writes, “Bush’s presidency, by contrast, has produced a near parliamentary government, based on intense party discipline both within Congress and between Congress and the White House.” Republicans have been busy reworking the district maps of various key states to ensure that Republicans keep their majorities, concentrating perceived Democratic voters to have overwhelming majorities in a few districts, and leaving the Republicans holding smaller majorities in the rest. Both parties have been guilty of such “gerrymandering” in the past, but with DeLay’s recent “super-gerrymandering” of his home state of Texas, the Republican makeup of the Texas House delegation is all but assured. DeLay and other House Republicans are working to redistrict other states in similar fashions. As of the 2004 midterm elections, of the 435 House seats, only around 25 are considered effectively contestable—over 90 percent of the House seats are “safe.” Democrats would have to win a disproportionate, and unlikely, number of those “swing” seats to take back control of the House. Kuttner writes: “The country may be narrowly divided, but precious few citizens can make their votes for Congress count. A slender majority, defying gravity (and democracy), is producing not moderation but a shift to the extremes.”
Control of Voting - Kuttner cites the advent of electronic voting machines and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) as two reasons why Republicans will continue to have advantages at the voting booth. The three biggest manufacturers of electronic voting machines have deep financial ties to the Republican Party, and have joined with Republicans in opposing a so-called “verifiable paper trail” that could prove miscounts and possible fraudulent results. HAVA, written in response to the 2000 Florida debacle, requires that voters show government-issued IDs to be allowed to vote, a provision that Kuttner says is ripe for use in Republican voter-intimidation schemes. Republicans “have a long and sordid history of ‘ballot security’ programs intended to intimidate minority voters by threatening them with criminal prosecution if their papers are not technically in order,” he writes. “Many civil rights groups see the new federal ID provision of HAVA as an invitation to more such harassment.” The only recourse that voters have to such harassment is to file complaints with the Department of Justice, which, under the aegis of Attorney General John Ashcroft, has discouraged investigation of such claims.
Compliant Court System - Increasingly, federal courts with Republican-appointed judges on the bench have worked closely with Republicans in Congress and the White House to issue rulings favorable to the ruling party. Kuttner notes that if President Bush is re-elected: “a Republican president will have controlled judicial appointments for 20 of the 28 years from 1981 to 2008. And Bush, in contrast to both his father and Clinton, is appointing increasingly extremist judges. By the end of a second term, he would likely have appointed at least three more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and locked in militantly conservative majorities in every federal appellate circuit.” The Supreme Court is already close to becoming “a partisan rubber stamp for contested elections,” Kuttner writes; several more justices in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) and Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) would, Kuttner writes, “narrow rights and liberties, including the rights of criminal suspects, the right to vote, disability rights, and sexual privacy and reproductive choice. It would countenance an unprecedented expansion of police powers, and a reversal of the protection of the rights of women, gays, and racial, religious, and ethnic minorities. [It would] overturn countless protections of the environment, workers and consumers, as well as weaken guarantees of the separation of church and state, privacy, and the right of states or Congress to regulate in the public interest.” (Kuttner 2/1/2004)
The day after President Bush’s presidential election victory over Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an Associated Press exit poll indicates that 22 percent of voters made their choice because of “moral values”—a higher ranked criterion than the Iraq war, the threat of terrorism, or the economy. The mainstream media seizes on the poll as an indication of a new focus on morality among American voters. “It really is Michael Moore versus Mel Gibson,” says former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, comparing the liberal documentary maker to the actor who has wooed conservatives with his recent film, The Passion of the Christ. News analysts say that singer Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” where she showed her right breast for a moment during the February 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, was “the socio-political event of the past year.” Bush campaign manager and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove says, “I think it’s people who are concerned about the coarseness of our culture, about what they see on the television sets, what they see in the movies.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak uses the poll to claim that “the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, socially conservative agenda is transcendant.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will note that the interpretation of the poll is transparently false. First, he will point out, if one adds together the 19 percent who chose terrorism and the 15 percent who chose Iraq as the issues that most drove their vote, then it is “clear that national security was of greater concern to Americans than ‘moral values.’” Moreover, the poll itself is suspect: the category of “moral values” is so general as to mean anything from, as Rich will write, “abortion to aiding the poor to being nice to your mother.” According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the over-generalized category of “moral values” is an easy way for voters to choose “none of the above” instead of choosing a specific issue as their single motivator. According to Rich, Pew will find that “when voters were given no menu of suggestions to choose from, Iraq, the economy, and terrorism led by far, and issues that might be labeled as ‘values’ polled in the low single digits.” Worse for the conservative “moral values” argument, 60 percent of those polled actually favored either same-sex marriage or civil unions, and 55 percent support abortion in one form or another. ABC News polling director Greg Langer later notes that the erroneous “moral values” claim “created a deep distortion—one that threatens to misinform the political discourse for years to come.” (Rich 2006, pp. 150-151) One effect of the new “moral values” perception is the decision by 66 ABC affiliates not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan over Memorial Day over fears that the profanity and violence portrayed in the film might result in fines from the Federal Communications Commission (see November 11, 2004).
Stephen Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at a Cupertino, California public school, is prevented by school administrators from selecting passages from historical documents for his students that reinforce his belief that the US is a strictly Christian nation; in return, many media representatives accuse his school district of “banning the Declaration of Independence” from being taught. Williams describes himself as an “orthodox Christian.” He wants his students to learn that America’s “Founding Fathers” were staunch Christians who intended to create a nation based on Biblical tenets, a position not supported by the historical record. After finding few citations in school textbooks to support his beliefs, Williams began giving his students selected passages from a number of historical documents, including William Penn’s “Frame of Government in Pennsylvania,” the Delaware State Constitution, George Washington’s prayer journal, and President Bush’s statement on the recent National Prayer Day, where he told the nation, “Prayer is an opportunity to praise God for His mighty works.” Some of the parents of Williams’s students believed he was attempting to evangelize their children; one parent said, “My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Mr. Williams talks about Jesus 100 times a day.’” Williams’s principal, Patricia Vidmar, began reviewing his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to ensure that he does not proselytize religion to his students. Williams responded with a lawsuit complaining that his free speech and academic freedom had been unduly constrained. (Williams is being represented in court by the Alliance Defense Fund, which has filed several lawsuits challenging the legality of same-sex marriage.) When the national press reports Williams’s situation, conservative pundits and radio hosts begin informing, and misinforming, their listeners and readers about Williams and his teaching; many tell their audiences that the Cupertino school district is “banning the Declaration of Independence.” Fox News talk show hosts Sean Hannity and John Gibson, along with Fox News anchor Brit Hume, Fox News analyst Newt Gingrich, and MSNBC commentator Monica Crowley, all tell their audiences that the school does not allow the Declaration of Independence to be referenced in its classes. The conservative National Lawyers Association accuses Vidmar, whom it terms a “rogue school principal,” of working towards “rul[ing] that the Constitution is unconstitutional.” Some parents, district supporters, and civil liberties advocates say Williams has become a rallying point for conservative Christians eager to, in their words, rewrite American history. Ivory Madison, a legal analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says: “This is the same thing that people have been trying to do for 200 years. The only difference now is that they’re well funded, media savvy, and litigious. It’s a shame that our tax dollars have to be used for a school district to defend the Constitution.” One parent at the Cupertino school says of Williams’s teaching: “This is not about teaching history, this is about indoctrination.… [W]hat would happen if someone whose religion is not a majority religion would be doing this? It isn’t OK [for a teacher] to make a kid feel like he isn’t like you.” Another parent asked the school not to place her child in Williams’s class this year, and says, “[W]hat he’s doing isn’t teaching history. If you were teaching at a church school, that would be great. But he isn’t.” (Garofoli 12/8/2004; Media Matters 12/10/2004)
Farid Ghadry, the president of the Washington-based Reform Party of Syria (see October 2001), “wants to be the [Ahmed] Chalabi of Syria,” warns Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Chalabi played a key role in the US’s attempt to bring about regime change in Iraq, and was the neoconservatives’ choice to lead Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see 2002-2003). Perthes says, “Chalabi is a role model for Ghadry.” (Jacinto 1/12/2006) Ghadry, like Chalabi, is a rich Arab exile with strong connections to Washington neoconservatives who wants to overthrow the Ba’athist dictator of his native country—in this case, Bashir Assad. Ghadry says that even though there doesn’t seem to be a strong impetus to invade Syria any time soon in Washington, Syria needs to be targeted, and soon. In February 2005, he said, “Maybe we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. But there’s reason enough to help. It’s important to free Syria because Syria could be on the avant-garde of helping the US win the war on terror.” Ghadry has taken pains to distance himself from the inevitable comparisons with his Iraqi counterpart, even sending one mass e-mail titled “I am not Ahmed Chalabi.” But like Chalabi, he has cultivated friends and colleagues within the American political and business communities; (Eaves 2/7/2005) in the US, where he is known as “Frank” Ghadry, he once presented himself as Lebanese instead of Syrian, and has owned a number of businesses, including a small defense contracting firm and a failed Washington coffee-shop chain called Hannibal’s. (Lundegaard 10/4/1996; Business Forward 3/2000) He is charming, comfortable with Westerners, and has long supported the idea of peaceful co-existence with Israel. (Eaves 2/7/2005) For instance, in May 2007, Ghadry, a member of the right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will write, “As a Syrian and a Muslim, I have always had this affinity for the State of Israel. As a businessman and an advocate of the free economic system of governance, Israel to me represents an astounding economic success in the midst of so many Arab failures.… While many Arabs view Israel as a sore implant, I view it as a blessing.” (Unger 3/2007; Farid Ghadry 5/5/2007)
Ties to US Neoconservatives - Upon creating the Reform Party of Syria, Ghadry told reporters that Chalabi provided him with a template for his own plans for Syria: “Ahmed paved the way in Iraq for what we want to do in Syria.” And in 2005, Ghadry discussed his agenda with Chalabi, a discussion which took place in the living room of powerful US neoconservative and Chalabi sponsor Richard Perle, who, like Ghadry, supports enforced regime change in Syria. (Greenway 12/13/2005) Later, Ghadry joined the Committee on the Present Danger, a group of mostly right wing politicians and think-tank fellows, and which boasts as members such prominent neoconservatives as Newt Gingrich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey. (Eaves 2/7/2005) He is particularly close to Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the vice president, who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs (Syria News Wire 2/19/2006) and heads of the State Department’s Iran-Syria Operations Group, tasked with planning strategies to “democratize” the two nations. (Unger 3/2007) Cheney ensured that Ghadry’s group received some of the hundreds of millions of dollars given to the “Middle East Partnership Initiative,” which contributes to opposition groups throughout the region, (Iran Solidarity 11/5/2006) and has coordinated at least one meeting, in February 2006, between Ghadry and senior Bush administration officials, including officials from Vice President Cheney’s office, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon. (Wright and Kessler 3/26/2005) Ghadry describes notorious neoconservative political operator Michael Ledeen as “my friend.” (Landis 3/2/2005) He writes frequent screeds warning of dire consequences to the world if Assad remains in power, which often get picked up in right-wing media outlets such as Front Page and the Washington Times. And, like Chalabi, Ghadry says that once the US moves against Syria, it will be a virtual cakewalk: though Ghadry hasn’t lived in Syria since the 1960s, he says he has intimate knowledge of the Syrian society and culture, and he knows the Syrian people will welcome their US liberators. Syria has, he says, “good dissidents, who understand the United States, can work with the United States, and can help bring about major change.” (Eaves 2/7/2005) Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway wasn’t so sure, writing in December 2005, “Chalabi… is often accused of seducing the administration with false intelligence into invading Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush administration desperately wanted to be seduced. If you are feeling charitable, you can say that Chalabi, having lived in exile for so many years, may just have been out of touch with the real situation in Iraq. But one suspects that Farid Ghadry may be no better informed about his homeland than was Chalabi.” (Greenway 12/13/2005)
Refusal to Work With Other Dissidents - A Syrian news site observes in February 2006 that Ghadry’s plans for Syria are made more difficult by his refusal to work with other dissident groups because, according to one dissident leader, Husam Ad-Dairi, Ghadry “only wanted to be a leader.” Another dissident Syrian, Riad At-Turk, calls Ghadry’s idea of opposition “nonsense.” Ad-Dairi says, “Ghadry did not split off from the [Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization of dissident groups] because we are Ba’athists or Islamists. He split off because he was not willing to be part of the group; he only wanted to be a leader. He wanted to start a Syrian government in exile with 19 people in Washington DC. Who does that represent? So we opposed it.” Ghadry will later attack Ad-Dairi, At-Turk, and other dissidents, widely considered some of the most liberal in the disparate dissident movements, “Stalinists” and accuse them of supporting al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. (Pace 1/30/2006; Syria News Wire 2/19/2006)
Ties to Abramoff? - Ghadry’s hopes to lead Syria may be tainted by his apparent ties to GOP lobbyist and convicted criminal Jack Abramoff. In January 2006, the Reform Party of Syria’s headquarters were located very near the offices of Abramoff’s lobbying firm, Middle Gate Ventures, which was apparently partnered with the Reform Party. Middle East expert Joshua Landis called the group “a front organization for Israeli interests in the Levant… supported by an impressive constellation of neoconservative stars. Regime change, effected by a US invasion and occupation of Syria and Lebanon, is the one and only item at the top of this gang’s agenda, and it comes as no surprise that Abramoff’s ill-gotten gains went to funding it.” (Landis 1/11/2006)
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) holds a press briefing offering its analysis of the 9/11 attacks. Speaking at the event are former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, AEI fellow David Wurmser, AEI fellow Michael Ledeen, and one-time Harvard assistant professor Laurie Mylroie. Speaking first is Mylroie, who argues that al-Qaeda could not have pulled the attacks off without the help of Saddam Hussein. “There has been no clear demonstration that Osama bin Laden was involved in Tuesday’s assault on the United States, but there’s been a lot of speculation to that effect, and it may turn out that he is. So assume that he is because I think the key question will be, how likely is it that Osama bin Laden’s group or any other group carried out these attacks alone, unassisted by a state? I’d like to suggest that it is extremely unlikely—in fact, next to impossible.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 67)
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich says in a speech, “My view is that either before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.” He also suggests pressing for a new “Geneva convention for fighting terrorism which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law… are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism… .” (Gingrich 11/27/2006; GERSTEIN 11/29/2006) Gingrich makes these remarks as the featured speaker at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications’ annual first amendment awards dinner, which honors New Hampshire citizens who exemplify and defend free speech liberties. (Yates 11/28/2006)
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says that the US should sabotage Iran’s gasoline refinery as part of its efforts to bring down the Iranian government. Gingrich also is harshly critical of the Bush administration for its failure to deal more strongly with Iraq, saying, “I can’t imagine why they put up with this. I mean, either General Petraeus is wrong and the military spokesman’s wrong, or the current policies we have are stunningly ineffective.” He then gives his own prescription for regime change in Iran: “We should finance the students. We should finance a Radio Free Iran. We should covertly sabotage the only gasoline refinery in the country. We should be prepared, once the gasoline refinery is down, to stop all of the gasoline tankers and communicate to the Iranian government that if they want to move equipment into Iran—into Iraq, they’re going to have to walk.” Gingrich adds, “I think we are currently so timid and our bureaucracies are so risk-avoiding—it took enormous leadership by President Reagan and by Bill Casey to reenergize the CIA in the early ‘80s. And we’ve now been through a long period of beating up the intelligence community and having lawyers say, You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” (Fox News 9/25/2007)
While speaking to students at Drew University, prominent neoconservative and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is asked how the US government could justify violating personal rights with domestic eavesdropping and the Patriot Act. He responds: “If there’s a threat, you have a right to defend society. People will give up all their liberties to avoid that level of threat.” (Kwoh 4/18/2008)
Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), realizes that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is going to win the upcoming presidential election (see November 4, 2008). In preparation, Ailes begins hiring an array of conservatives to join his network (see November 3, 2003, July 2004, and October 26, 2009), many of whom he intends to groom for the 2012 presidential race. By the time the election is over, Ailes will have hired Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s political guru, and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate. (Ailes is able to woo both Rove and Huckabee away from CNN, which also offers them positions as paid commentators.) Soon, Ailes will hire several more possible Republican contenders, including the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former UN Ambassador John Bolton. Ailes fully intends to use Fox News as a platform for launching Republican presidential bids (see May 22, 2011), but his decision to hire Rove, Huckabee, Palin, and the others is also business-driven. A close friend of his will explain: “It would be easy to look at Fox and think it’s conservative because Rupert [Murdoch, the media executive who owns the Fox networks] and Roger are conservative and they program it the way they like. And to a degree, that’s true. But it’s also a business. And the way the business works is, they control conservative commentary the way ESPN controls the market for sports rights. If you have a league, you have a meeting with ESPN, you find out how much they’re willing to pay, and then everyone else agrees to pay the same amount if they want it.… It’s sort of the same at Fox. I was surprised at some of what was being paid until I processed it that way. If you’re ABC and you don’t have Newt Gingrich on a particular morning, you can put someone else on. But if you’re Fox, and Newt is moving and talking today, you got to have him. Otherwise, your people are like: ‘Where’s Newt? Why isn’t he on my channel?’” Ailes met secretly with Palin in September 2008, and will continue to court her for Fox after the campaign, even loaning her a private jet owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. CNN will decline to offer her a position, and Ailes, through programming chief Bill Shine, will negotiate a three-year, $3 million deal to have Palin as a regular contributor and a host of prime-time specials. Amid all of this, Ailes does not want Fox News to be seen as an arm of the Republican Party (see December 2002 and October 11, 2009). (Sherman 5/22/2011) In 2010, the press will report that Fox News has “exclusive rights” to broadcast and interview four presumed 2012 Republican candidates, Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Santorum (see September 27, 2010).
Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) apologizes for criticizing conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Gingrey was initially critical of Limbaugh and Hannity for not challenging President Obama on his proposed economic stimulus package strongly enough. “I mean, it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-GA] to stand back and throw bricks,” Gingrey said. “You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party.” Today Gingrey issues a lengthy apology for his words after receiving complaints from conservatives in his district and elsewhere. “I am one of you,” he tells supporters. “I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives—that was not my intent. I am also sorry to see that my comments in defense of our Republican leadership read much harsher than they actually were intended, but I recognize it is my responsibility to clarify my own comments.… As long as I am in the Congress, I will continue to fight for and defend our sacred values. I have actively opposed every bailout, every rebate check, every so called ‘stimulus.’ And on so many of these things, I see eye-to-eye with Rush Limbaugh.” Gingrey says that Limbaugh, Hannity, and Gingrich are “the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience.” Gingrey spokesman Chris Jackson says of the hosts, “Those guys are some our biggest supporters, and we need them.” Gingrey also makes a guest appearance on Limbaugh’s show where he berates himself for making his earlier criticisms, saying: “Rush, thank you so much. I thank you for the opportunity, of course this is not exactly the way to I wanted to come on.… Mainly, I want to express to you and all your listeners my very sincere regret for those comments I made yesterday to Politico.… I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments.… I regret those stupid comments.” (Powers 1/28/2009; Phil Gingrey 1/28/2009; Mooney 1/29/2009)
Fox News host Sean Hannity and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) join to accuse President Obama of attempting to impose a “dictatorship” in America. Discussing the Obama administration’s plans to implement new financial regulations and oversight, Hannity begins by accusing Obama of “mov[ing] America down the road to socialism.” He asks Gingrich to “explain” to the audience “how dangerous this power grab is.” Gingrich responds: “We are seeing the biggest power grab by politicians in American history. The idea that they would propose that the treasury could intervene and take over non-bank, non-financial system assets gives them the potential to basically create the equivalent of a dictatorship.… Look, it absolutely moves it towards a political dictatorship.” (Armbruster 3/26/2009)
Rick Santelli, the CNBC commentator whose on-air “rant” is credited for sparking the right-wing “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), refuses to take part in the upcoming April 15 anti-tax rallies being put on across the country by various “tea party” organizations (see April 15, 2009). CNBC spokesman Brian Steel says Santelli is “not going and not in any way involved” in the protests. Fox News anchors Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity are joining with protesters in Sacramento and Atlanta, respectively, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich plans to attend a rally in New York. Organizers say over 300 different protests will take place across the nation. Eric Odom, who owns a Chicago-based “tea party” Web site, says, “We have fully confirmed protests in 360 cities” and he is “very confident that all the protests will happen.” Odom predicts that the rallies featuring Cavuto and Hannity will bring at least 5,000 to 10,000 participants. He stresses that the protests will be made up of people from “all walks of life,” not just conservatives opposed to the Obama administration’s policies. Odom does not mention Santelli’s non-involvement. (Delaney 4/2/2009)
Republican lawmakers announce their intention to join with right-wing protesters on April 15, 2009, in what is envisioned as a nationwide protest against the Obama administration’s tax policies. The primary organizers are the think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, and right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin. They say that under President Obama, taxes are “too high” and freedoms are being “eroded.” They have also called for Obama’s impeachment and refer to him as “Obama bin Lyin” and other derogatory nicknames.
Republicans, Neo-Nazis, Secessionists Joining in 'Tea Party Protests' - Malkin has called the movement the “Tea Party Protests,” in an attempt to connect the protests with the American Revolution’s Boston Tea Party. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is sponsoring legislation to honor the protests. Representatives David Davis (R-TN), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), John Fleming (R-LA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Bob Latta (R-OH), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) will attend local protests, as will Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) and former Representative J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ). Officials from Senator Bob Corker’s (R-TN) and Representative Sam Graves’s (R-MO) office will attend the rallies as well, and Representatives Denny Rehberg (R-MT), Jack Kingston (R-GA), and Tom Rooney (R-FL) are urging their constituents to attend tea party protests. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who heads American Solutions for Winning the Futures (ASWF) and who will speak at the New York City rally, is encouraging his supporters to join the protests, and has provided them with what he calls a “toolkit” of talking points. ASWF is funded by oil and energy interests, and led the recent “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign. ASWF has been an official “partner” in the Tea Party campaign since March. The Tea Party Protests are being joined by gun rights militias, secessionists, and neo-Nazi groups.
Protests Orchestrated by Lobbyist Organizations and Promoted by Fox News - The protests are being heavily promoted on Fox News, which intends to hold all-day “news reports” on April 15 featuring several of its commentators, including Glenn Beck (see March 3, 2009), Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and Greta Van Susteren, live at different venues. Many of the protest organizers’ Web sites feature one or more of the Fox commentators as part of their promotion efforts (see October 13, 2009). Beck is one of several Fox commentators and hosts who claims that the protests are “grassroots” organizations “spontaneously” led by “ordinary people,” but in reality, the protests are being orchestrated by two lobbyist-run and lobbyist-organized organizations, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. According to progressive news site Think Progress, “[t]he two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests.” Freedom Works staffers are coordinating conference calls among protesters and working with conservative organizers to give them what it calls “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country” as well as guides featuring talking points and instructions on delivering a “clear message” to the public and the media. Freedom Works has set up numerous Web sites, some of which Think Progress claims are deliberately constructed to appear as the work of amateurs, to promote the protests. In Florida, Freedom Works took over the planning of events. Americans for Progress is writing press releases and planning events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states. Think Progress calls these activities “corporate ‘astroturfing,’” which it defines as corporations’ attempts to orchestrate events appearing to be grassroots, citizen-led actions. Freedom Works is headed by former Texas Republican Representative Dick Armey, who is a lobbyist for the firm DLA Piper; Americans for Prosperity is headed by Tim Phillips, who is a former partner of right-wing activist Ralph Reed in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. Americans for Prosperity has organized numerous pro-oil company “grassroots” events. (Fang 4/8/2009; Media Matters 4/8/2009; Fang 4/9/2009)
US Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL) tells a group of local leaders in Trussville, Alabama, “Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists.” Asked to clarify his comment, Bachus tells a reporter that 17 members of the House of Representatives are socialists. (Bouma 4/9/2009; Alarkon 4/9/2009)
Only Names One of 17 - When pressed, Bachus only names one of his “socialists”—Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has repeatedly recommended that the US adopt a program of “democratic socialism” similar to some practiced in Scandinavian countries. He refuses to name the other 16. Sanders asks rhetorically: “Has Spencer released his list yet? Everybody’s waiting with bated breath.” He adds, “I think at the very least he has to tell people what his definition of socialism is—and I think, yeah, he should tell us who he was referring to, who’s on the list.”
Possible Reference to Congressional Progressive Caucus - Many Congressional staffers and advisers believe that Bachus is referring to some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a left-leaning coalition of 77 House members founded by Sanders in the early 1990s. Although the caucus has not espoused socialism in any form, it does advocate reduced military spending, universal health care, and higher taxes on the rich. Right-wing groups have long labeled the caucus’s agenda as “fringe-left socialism”; one hard-right pundit, WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah, has called the caucus “Congress’s very own Red Army… marching the nation inevitably toward its self-proclaimed socialist ideal.”
Differing Definitions - Politico’s Glenn Thrush writes that the term “socialism” has different meanings for different people. “To many on the left, it’s a relatively benign—if outdated—term, representing an activist, interventionist government that prioritizes economic security over the unfettered freedom of the marketplace. To many on the right, it’s practically an epithet—suggesting a return to Soviet-style Communism or a leap toward a hyper-regulated European brand of capitalism that stifles innovation and hikes taxes. It’s safe to say that more people in Bachus’s suburban Birmingham district—the most GOP-tilting seat in the country, according to the Cook Political Report—view socialism as a bad, bad thing.”
Mixed Reactions - Doug Thornell, speaking for Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), says of Bachus’s accusation: “House Republicans’ solution to the current economic crisis is to launch head-scratching, ‘50s-style accusations against unidentified members of Congress. Next thing you know they’ll be going after beatniks and calling for the auto industry to bring back the Edsel.… With all the challenges we face, it’s stunning this is what Republicans are talking about. They sound like a broken record of GOP low points from the 2008 campaign.” Erin Kanoy of the Heritage Foundation is glad Bachus “called out” his colleagues, saying: “I think that people expressing where they see someone on the political spectrum has tended to be an off-limits thing and very politically incorrect—but sometimes I think you’ve got to call a spade a spade. If Bachus believes members of Congress are part of this movement, he should be able to say it.… He’s really reflecting a much larger frustration with the landslide of legislation that we’ve had coming at us that seems to be marching towards socialist government.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist agrees with Bachus’s position, but says he should not have gotten into the subject of lists. “We shouldn’t get into a labeling thing with the other side,” Norquist says. “We shouldn’t call them socialists—we should call them stupid because they are spending all this money we don’t have.” Sanders notes that conservatives tried to tar Barack Obama with similar accusations: “They said a lot of this stuff about Obama during the [presidential] campaign, calling him a socialist, and trying to instill fear in people” (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, and March 5, 2009). Many progressive and liberal bloggers have accused Bachus of launching an attack on Democrats worthy of the McCarthyite “Red scare” of the 1950s. (Akers 4/10/2009; Thrush 4/14/2009)
Defending Socialism, Decrying 'Scare Tactics' - In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Sanders writes: “I doubt that there are any other socialists, let alone 17 more, in all of the Congress. I also respectfully doubt that Spencer Bachus understands much about democratic socialism.… At its worst, Washington is a place where name-calling partisan politics too often trumps policy.… [B]randing someone as a socialist has become the slur du jour by leading lights of the American right from Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh. Some, like Mike Huckabee, intentionally blur the differences between socialism and communism, between democracy and totalitarianism. ‘Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff,’ Huckabee told last winter’s gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference. If we could get beyond such nonsense, I think this country could use a good debate about what goes on here compared to places with a long social-democratic tradition like Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where, by and large, the middle class has a far higher standard of living than we do.… [W]e should be prepared to study and learn from the successes of social democratic countries. Name-calling and scare tactics just won’t do.” (Sanders 4/22/2009)
Daniel Knight Hayden, an Oklahoma man who has declared himself affiliated with local tea party organizations and the “Oath Keeper” movement (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), is arrested by FBI agents after posting a series of messages on Twitter threatening to unleash a violent attack on Oklahoma state government officials on April 15, “Tax Day.” On April 13, under the moniker “CitizenQuasar,” Hayden began posting a blizzard of “tweets” about his intention to be on the Oklahoma State Capitol steps on the 15th, at first as part of a peaceful tea party event, then escalating into harsher rhetoric, and eventually threats of violence. On April 14, he wrote: “Tea Parties: And Poot Gingrich wants to stand in the limelight. He is a NWO operative,” referring to former Republican House Speaker and tea party favorite Newt Gingrich, and accusing him of being an “operative” for the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990). Towards midnight of April 14, Hayden begins the following series of posts: “Maybe it’s time to die. Let’s see if I can video record the Highway Patrol at the entrance to the Oklahoma State Capitol.” “While trying to inform them of Oath Keepers” (and links to the Oath Keepers blog). “And post it on the internet. Since i live on this sorry f_cking state,that is as good a place as ANY to die and start a WAR. WEshallsee.” “I WISH I had someone to watch my back with MY camera.” “AND, no matter WHAT happens, to post it on the internet IMMEDIATELY, AND send it to Alex Jones!!!!!!!!!!!!” (referring to radio talk show host Alex Jones). “Damnit!” “Alas… WE SHALL see the TRUTH about this sorry f_cking state!!!!!!!” After a few more posts, Dyer begins posting direct threats of violence (later removed from the Twitter account, but presented in the FBI affidavit). “The WAR wWIL start on the stepes of the Oklahoma State Capitol. I will cast the first stone. In the meantime, I await the police.” “START THE KILLING NOW! I am wiling to be the FIRST DEATH! I Await the police. They will kill me in my home.” “After I am killed on the Capitol Steps like REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!” “I really don’ give a sh_t anymore. Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the on the State Capitol steps.” Hayden is taken into custody before he can go to the Capitol building, and arrested for transmitting threats to kill or injure people using interstate communication tools over the Internet. FBI agent Michael Puskas confirms that Dyer posted under the moniker “CitizenQuasar,” and says Dyer also has MySpace and Blogger accounts under similar monikers. Wired magazine says it “appears to be [the] first criminal prosecution to stem from posts on the microblogging site,” and calls Dyer’s MySpace page “a breathtaking gallery of right-wing memes about the ‘New World Order,’ gun control as Nazi fascism, and Barack Obama’s covert use of television hypnosis, among many others.” Dyer will be arraigned on April 16 and ordered released to a halfway house, a move the Associated Press reports as suggesting “the magistrate judge does not consider him a genuine threat.” (Wired News 4/24/2009; Associated Press 4/26/2009) Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic, commenting on Hayden’s arrest, label him a “leftist” who intended to kill tea party protesters, a contention they say is proven by Hayden’s vows to seek revenge for the government’s execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). One poster writes: “Hayden appears to be one of those mixtures of far out ideologies. On one hand he seems to support nazism but accused Obama of using mind control.” (Free Republic 4/24/2009)
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” (Shakir et al. 4/15/2009; Fang 5/29/2009)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a likely candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential candidacy, refuses to say whether waterboarding is or is not torture. Interviewed on Fox News, Gingrich calls the release of the four Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing and defending torture (see April 16, 2009) “a big mistake,” but adds, “I want to see the United States run the risk, at times, of not learning certain things in order to establish a standard for civilization.” When asked if waterboarding is torture, Gingrich refuses to give a straight answer. “I think it’s something we shouldn’t do,” he says, but then adds: “Lawyers I respect a great deal say it is absolutely within the law. Other lawyers say it absolutely is not. I mean, this is a debatable area.” When asked if waterboarding violates the Geneva Conventions, Gingrich again demurs, saying, “I honestly don’t know.” He then says, “I think—I think that there—I am exactly where Senator [John] McCain was.” McCain has long opposed the use of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009). (Khanna 4/26/2004)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), widely considered a likely candidate for the presidency in 2012, lambasts current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for her recent complaints about the CIA never briefing her about the Bush administration’s use of torture. “I think she has lied to the House, and I think that the House has an absolute obligation to open an inquiry, and I hope there will be a resolution to investigate her. And I think this is a big deal. I don’t think the speaker of the House can lie to the country on national security matters,” Gingrich says. Gingrich then launches a personal attack (see September 20, 1990) on Pelosi, saying: “I think this is the most despicable, dishonest, and vicious political effort I’ve seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.… Speaker Pelosi’s the big loser, because she either comes across as incompetent or dishonest. Those are the only two defenses. The fact is she either didn’t do her job, or she did do her job and she’s now afraid to tell the truth.” (ABC News 5/15/2009) Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, also says the CIA lied to him about the Bush administration’s use of torture. He says that the CIA’s records about its briefings of Graham and Pelosi conflict with his own records of his briefings by intelligence officials, and he has no recollection of ever being briefed about “any of the sensitive programs such as the waterboarding or other forms of excessive interrogation.” (Stein 5/14/2009)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says that because Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is what he calls a “Latina woman racist,” she should immediately withdraw her nomination. Gingrich bases his remark on a 2001 comment by Sotomayor in which she said she “hopes that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” (see October 26, 2001). Sending a text message on Twitter, Gingrich writes: “Imagine a judicial nominee said, ‘My experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.’ New racism is no better than old racism.” He follows with another message: “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.” Republican National Committee (RNC) media chairman Todd Herman quickly “retweets” Gingrich’s message, which usually signifies agreement with the message, but the RNC will refuse to say whether or not it officially endorses Gingrich’s comment. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replies that Gingrich is probably not the best source of information or guidance on the issue, and warns against excessive rhetoric: “I think it is probably important for any involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of the impending confirmation. I think we’re satisfied that when the people of America and the people of the Senate get a chance to look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker that they’ll come to the same conclusion that the president did.” (Terkel 5/27/2009; Sargent 5/27/2009; Bellantoni 5/28/2009) Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, refuses to align himself with Gingrich’s characterization. Asked about Gingrich’s remark, Hatch says, “No, I don’t agree with that.” (Terkel 5/27/2009) Days later, Gingrich will appear to withdraw the “racist” characterization, although he will go on to accuse Sotomayor of “betray[ing]” the “American system” of law (see June 3, 2009).
John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he is “troubled” by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) in light of her supposed “judicial activism” (see May 26, 2009) and supposed willingness to put her personal background above her dedication to the rule of law (see October 26, 2001). However, Cornyn repudiates some of the more vicious attacks on Sotomayor from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Republican Tom Tancredo, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and others who have termed her “racist” (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). “I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn says. Of Gingrich and Limbaugh, Cornyn adds: “Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.” (National Public Radio 5/28/2009; Smith 5/28/2009) The next day, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the committee, says the inflammatory rhetoric from right-wingers such as Limbaugh, Tancredo, and Gingrich makes him “uneasy,” and he advises Republicans to limit their criticisms of Sotomayor to her judicial record. “I don’t think that’s good rhetoric,” says Sessions. “The question is, has the judge gone too far or not, given the established law of the land?” The Washington Post notes that in 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of his record of racial insensitivity (see June 5, 2009). Neither Sessions nor the Post mentions Sessions’s recent attack on Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). (Eggen and Kane 5/29/2009) On May 31, Sessions tells an NBC audience that his Republican colleagues should refrain from calling Sotomayor a racist, and he would prefer that they not continue to attack her over her 2001 remarks. (Associated Press 5/31/2009)
Former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan joins the ranks of Republicans (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, and May 29, 2009) asking for a more moderate and less inflammatory tone in recent criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009 and May 26, 2009). Republicans should “play grown-up,” she advises, in opposing the Sotomayor nomination, and notes that her background—disadvantaged, Hispanic, female—makes her dangerous to oppose too vehemently: “Politically she’s like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die.” Noonan continues: “New York is proud of her; I’m proud of our country and grateful at its insistence, in a time when some say the American dream is dead, that it most certainly is not. The dream is: You can come from any place or condition, any walk of life, and rise to the top, taking your people with you, in your heart and theirs. Maybe that’s what they mean by empathy: Where you come from enters you, and you bring it with you as you rise. But if that’s what they mean, then we’re all empathetic. We’re the most fluid society in human history, but no one ever leaves their zip code in America, we all take it with us. It’s part of our pride. And it’s not bad, it’s good.” Noonan calls Republicans who launch virulent attacks on her racial heritage or gender “idiots,” and writes that instead of “exciting the base,” as one Republican strategist has said the attacks will do, “How about excit[ing] a moderate, or interest[ing] an independent? How about gain[ing] the attention of people who aren’t already on your side? The base is plenty excited already, as you know if you’ve ever read a comment thread on a conservative blog.… They don’t need to be revved, they’re already revved. Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist (see May 27, 2009). Does anyone believe that? He should rest his dancing thumbs, stop trying to position himself as the choice and voice of the base in 2012, and think.… The choice for Republicans isn’t between ‘attack’ and ‘roll over.’ It’s broader than that, and more interesting. There’s a new and fresh opportunity here for Republicans in the Senate to be serious, and, in their seriousness, to be seen and understood in a new light.” (Noonan 6/1/2009)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) writes what appears to be a retraction or withdrawal of his previous accusations that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is a racist (see May 27, 2009). He writes that he was reacting to the news of remarks she made during a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), and calls his “initial reaction… perhaps too strong and too direct.” Others have criticized his “word choice” in his vilification of Sotomayor, and Gingrich writes, “The word ‘racist’ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)” (see May 29, 2009). Gingrich then launches an attack on Sotomayor’s “judicial impartiality” and accuses her of “a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system—that everyone is equal before the law.” Gingrich is either unaware of, or ignoring, a recent analysis which disproves the thesis that Sotomayor has systematically exhibited racial bias in her rulings (see May 29, 2009). He calls her a “radical liberal activist” masquerading as a “convention[al] liberal,” and lambasts Obama for believing that “judicial impartiality” is “no longer a quality we can and should demand from our Supreme Court justices.” (Think Progress 4/3/2007; Gingrich 6/3/2009) Liberal news and analysis Web site Think Progress notes that Gingrich may not be the most impartial person to weigh in on this issue, having called Spanish “the language of living in the ghetto” and warned of “gay and secular fascism” as an imminent threat to American society. (Think Progress 4/3/2007; Yglesias 11/17/2008)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who recently seemed to retract his characterization of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a “racist” (see May 27, 2009 and June 3, 2009), now calls Sotomayor a “racialist.” On CBS News’s Face the Nation, Gingrich says: “When I did a Twitter about her, having read what she said, I said that was racist—but I applied it to her as a person. And the truth is I don’t know her as a person. It’s clear that what she said was racist, and it’s clear—or as somebody wrote recently, ‘racialist’ if you prefer.” (Shakir 6/7/2009)
The Republican National Committee plans to spend a million dollars in August on television ads opposing health care reform. One of the key elements of the ad campaign is a study released today by the Lewin Group that finds 119 million Americans would lose the coverage they currently have under the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal. MSNBC’s progressive talk show host Rachel Maddow airs video clips of Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Tom Price (R-GA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) all citing the Lewin study as evidence that health care reform is bad for Americans. The Lewin Group is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance provider. United Health operates a subsidiary called Ingenix, which in turn operates a consulting firm, the Lewin Group. Maddow notes that Republicans call the Lewin Group “nonpartisan and independent” when in fact it is a branch of a health care insurer. In January 2009, United Health agreed to pay $400 million to the State of New York after being charged with defrauding customers—manipulating data in order to shift medical expenses onto consumers. Former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, says the issue is “not… about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the health insurance agency versus the American people.” (Ingenix 7/27/2009; MSNBC 7/28/2009)
House Representative Todd Akin (R-MO), holding a forum on health care reform at Maryville University, tells audience members that he opposes the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. “Why do we want to turn over all of our health care to the government?” he asks. Akin, who bills his meeting as a “Freedom Conference,” also lambasts the Obama administration’s environmental and economic moves. Contrary to many health care discussions with Democratic lawmakers (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009), the crowd at Akin’s forum is largely friendly and supportive. The forum also features speakers from conservative organizations and industry lobbying firms such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)‘s Center for Health Transformation. (Singer 8/4/2009) During the meeting, Akin jokes about his Democratic colleagues being lynched, a crack that receives cheers and applause. Akin remarks, “Different people from Washington, DC, have come back to their districts and had town hall meetings, and they almost got lynched.” After an outburst of cheers and laughter, Akin, grinning, says, “I assume you’re not approving lynchings, because we don’t want to do that.” As he says this, he mockingly imitates being strangled, presumably by a noose. (Terkel 8/6/2009; Kleefeld 8/6/2009)
Frank Schaeffer, who with his late father Francis Schaeffer helped shape the social and religious conservatism that currently dominates much of American politics, writes what he calls an “inside scoop” on “why conservatives are rampaging town halls” to disrupt discussions of health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009), and, ultimately, to deliberately foment political violence. Schaeffer was once a leader of the conservative evangelical movement who has now repudiated his former positions, and has written a book on the subject. (Schaeffer 8/7/2009; MSNBC 8/10/2009) Schaeffer’s father wrote a book, A Christian Manifesto, which compared pro-abortion policies to those of Adolf Hitler, and said that the use of force to roll back abortion law would be justified. Schaeffer himself has written a very different book, entitled Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elects, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back. (MSNBC 6/1/2009)
Comparing Pro-Abortion Activists to Nazis - He tells MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that his father used to compare pro-abortion activists to Nazis, and told his followers “that using violence or force to overthrow Nazi Germany would have been appropriate for Christians, including the assassination of [Adolf] Hitler.” It is a straight, short line, Schaeffer says, to go from the concept of justifiably assassinating Hitler to using violence against those who are compared to Nazis. “It’s really like playing Russian roulette,” he says. “You put a cartridge in the chamber, you spin, and once in a while it goes off. And we saw that happen with Dr. Tiller (see May 31, 2009). We’ve seen it happen numerous times in this country with the violence against political leaders, whether it’s Martin Luther King or whoever it might be. We have a history of being a well-armed, violent country.… There is a coded message here. And that is that you have a group of people who, like Rush Limbaugh (see July 21, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6, 2009) would rather see the president and the country fail, and their coded message to their own lunatic fringe is very simple—and that is go for broke. When you start comparing a democratically elected president, who is not only our first black president but a moderate progressive, to Adolf Hitler (see August 7, 2009), you have arrived at a point where you are literally leading—leaving a loaded gun on the table, saying the first person who wants to come along and use this, go ahead. Be our guest.” (MSNBC 8/10/2009)
Conservative World View Shattered by Obama Election - In a separate op-ed, Schaeffer writes: “The Republican Old Guard are in the fix an atheist would be in if Jesus showed up and raised his mother from the dead: Their world view has just been shattered. Obama’s election has driven them over the edge.” Schaeffer says that when he worked with Dick Armey (R-TX), the former House Majority Leader and now lobbyist was “a decent guy, whatever his political views. How could he stoop so low as to be organizing what amounts to America’s Brown Shirts today?” He answers his own question: Armey, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and others “can’t compute that their white man-led conservative revolution is dead. They can’t reconcile their idea of themselves with the fact that white men like them don’t run the country any more—and never will again. To them the black president is leading a column of the ‘other’ into their promised land. Gays, immigrants, blacks, progressives, even a female Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009)… for them this is the Apocalypse.… [N]ow all the the Republican gurus have left is what the defeated Germans of World War Two had: a scorched earth policy. If they can’t win then everyone must go down. Obama must fail! The country must fail!”
Using 70s-Era Anti-Abortion Protest Tactics - Schaeffer says conservative and industry lobbying firms orchestrating the anti-reform movement (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, May 29, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) are using the same tactics he and his father helped create for anti-abortion clinic protesters in the 1970s. He notes one lobbying organization, Armey’s FreedomWorks. “FreedomWorks represents a top-down, corporate-friendly approach that’s been the norm for conservative organizations for years,” Schaeffer writes. “How do I know this is the norm? Because I used to have strategy meetings with the late Jack Kemp (R-NY) and Dick Armey and the rest of the Republican gang about using their business ties to help finance the pro-life movement to defeat Democrats. I know this script. I helped write it. Democratic members of Congress are being harassed by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior at local town halls. It’s the tactic we used to follow abortion providers around their neighborhoods. ‘Protesters’ surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (see June 22, 2009) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety. We used to do the same to Dr. Tiller… until someone killed him.” (Schaeffer 8/7/2009)
Aware of Potential for Violence - In a previous interview with Maddow, Schaeffer expounded on this same topic. “[W]hat we did is we talked one game to the large public and we talked another game amongst ourselves,” he told Maddow. “And amongst ourselves, we were very radical.… I know that this is the case because of the fact that I was part of the movement, but also understood very well what we were doing back then was to attack the political issue when we talked to people like Ronald Reagan and the Bush family and Jack Kemp—the late Jack Kemp that we were very close to in all this. But on a private side, we also were egging people on to first pick at abortion clinics, then chain themselves to fences, then go to jail. We knew full well that in a country that had seen the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, two Kennedy brothers, and others, that what we were also doing was opening a gate here. And I think there’s no way to duck this. We live in a country in which guns are all over the place. We have plenty of people with a screw loose, plenty of people on the edge. It only takes one.” (MSNBC 6/1/2009)
Using Lies to Obscure Facts, Disrupt Debate - The health care reform opponents are using what Schaeffer calls “[a] barrage of outright lies, wherein the Democrats are being accused of wanting to launch a massive euthanasia program against the elderly, free abortions for everyone, and ‘a government takeover’ of health care” to disrupt informed debate. Some protesters have escalated to physical violence and intimidation. Schaeffer says that just as in the 1970s, the protesters engaging in the physical violence are often “plants sent to disrupt public forums on the health care issue.… [M]uch of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms. There is no daylight between the Republican Party, the health care insurance industry, far-right leaders like Dick Armey, the legion of insurance lobbyists, and now, a small army of thugs.… No, I don’t believe that these people are about to take over the country. No, the sky is not falling. But the Republican Party is. It is now profoundly anti-American. The health insurance industry is run by very smart and very greedy people who have sunk to a new low. So has the Republican Party’s leadership that will not stand up and denounce the likes of Dick Armey for helping organize roving bands of thugs trying to strip the rest of us of the ability to be heard when it comes to the popular will on reforming health care.”
American Fascism - Schaeffer accuses the right of undermining American democracy and attempting to establish an almost-fascist control of society. “Here’s the emerging American version of the fascist’s formula,” he writes: “combine millions of dollars of lobbyists’ money with embittered troublemakers who have a small army of not terribly bright white angry people (collected over decades through pro-life mass mailing networks) at their beck and call, ever ready to believe any myth or lie circulated by the semi-literate and completely and routinely misinformed right wing—evangelical religious underground. Then put his little mob together with the insurance companies’ big bucks. That’s how it works—American Brown Shirts at the ready.” He notes that the murder of Tiller closed down his clinic, one of the few in the country that performed late-term abortions. So the murder of Tiller achieved the goal of the anti-abortion movement. “In this case a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save our economy from going bankrupt because of spiraling health care costs may be lost, not because of a better argument, but because of lies backed up by anti-democratic embittered thuggery. The motive? Revenge on America by the Old White Guys of the far right, and greed by the insurance industry.” Schaeffer concludes, “It’s time to give this garbage a name: insurance industry funded fascism.” (Schaeffer 8/7/2009)
A number of conservative commentators quickly advance the idea that the Democrats’ health care reform package includes “death panels” (see August 7, 2009). The term was first used by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). The idea is an outgrowth of the thoroughly debunked claim that the reform bill will encourage doctors to deny elderly or mentally challenged patients health care, leaving them to die rather than spend money caring for them (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10, 2009). (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Government Cannot Be Trusted Not to Set Up Death Panels - Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), appearing on ABC News’s This Week, says the idea of “death panels” is feasible because “you’re asking us to trust the government. Now, I’m not talking about the Obama administration. I’m talking about the government. You’re asking us to decide that we believe that the government is to be trusted. We know people who have said routinely, well, you’re going to have to make decisions. You’re going to have to decide. Communal standards, historically, is a very dangerous concept.… [T]he bill’s 1,000 pages of setting up mechanisms. It sets up 45 different agencies. It has all sorts of panels. You’re asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there clearly are people in America who believe in—in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.” Host George Stephanopoulos repeatedly reminds Gingrich that there is no such language in the bill, and that the bill merely pays for voluntary counseling (see July 23, 2009 and Late July, 2009). Gingrich continues to make his assertions. (Walsh 8/10/2009; Media Matters 8/10/2009)
False Claim of British Death Panels - Conservative blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin falsely claims that Britain, which has had socialized medicine for years, has just such death panels. Fox News host Brian Kilmeade says: [E]veryone’s talking about seniors, and they’re talking about the middle class and affordable health care. If the upper class is paying for the next two classes, and are seniors going to be in front of the death panel? And then just as you think, okay, that’s ridiculous, then you realize there’s provisions in there that seniors in the last lap of their life will be sitting there going to a panel possibly discussing what the best thing for them is.”
'A Legitimate Concern from a Fair Reading of This Bill' - Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano calls the idea “a legitimate concern from a fair reading of this bill,” saying that the legislation is so vague in its language that it could allow the government to set up such panels: “If it’s federal money, the federal government can say: ‘We’re not gonna give Grandma a new knee, or Grandma a new kidney. We’re just gonna give her painkillers. We’re gonna save that money for that knee or that kidney for somebody who’s 25 instead of somebody who’s 85.’ That is power that Americans have never conferred on the government. That was Governor Palin’s concern, and that is a legitimate concern from a fair reading of this bill, which most members of Congress have not done.”
'That's Crazy' - Other conservatives deride the idea. New York Times columnist David Brooks says of the notion of death panels: “[T]hat’s crazy. If the—the crazies are attacking the plan because it’ll cut off Granny, and that—that’s simply not true. That simply is not going to happen.” Libertarian radio host Larry Elder, appearing on CNN, calls the idea “over the top,” “irresponsible,” and “incendiary.” On the same CNN broadcast, progressive radio host Ron Reagan, the son and staunch defender of former President Ronald Reagan, is bluntly dismissive of Palin: “You know, Sarah Palin only needs a red rubber nose and some exploding shoes, and she could go to work for Barnum and Bailey. The fact that we give this clown any time at all is shocking and silly and a little bit stupid. So, you know, I find that offensive, frankly, and Larry, it’s a perfect example of the sort of dishonesty that’s being peddled out there in this debate.” Elder notes: “I think any kind of irresponsible comment takes away from the real issue here, and that is whether or not you can provide universal coverage, high quality, at low cost. Any kind of incendiary comment takes away from that debate, just as throwing pies at people like Ann Coulter and my good friend David Horowitz and William Kristol takes away from their debate.” (Media Matters 8/10/2009)
Investigative journalists find that at least seven prominent Republicans who now denounce what they call “death panels” and claim that the Democrats’ health care legislation will lead to the untimely deaths of US senior citizens (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, and August 13, 2009) actually supported proposals similar to the legislation’s provision for government-funded “end-of-life counseling.”
Palin, Gingrich Supported 'Advance Directives' - In August 2008, Sarah Palin (R-AK), then the governor of Alaska, proclaimed “Healthcare Decisions Day.” She urged public health care facilities to provide more information about so-called “advance directives,” and said that seniors must be informed of all their options as the end of their lives draw near. The proclamation has recently been deleted from the Alaska governor’s Web site. Reporter Matt Taibbi notes that in late 2008 and early 2009, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) endorsed an aggressive “end of life” program from a Wisconsin health care provider, Gundersen Lutheran Health System, and wrote, “If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.” Taibbi accuses Gingrich of “lying [about death panels] in order to scare a bunch of old people.” (Matt Taibbi 8/12/2009; Fang 8/13/2009)
Five Others Voted for End-of-Life Counseling - In 2003, five Republicans who now oppose the supposed “death panels” voted in favor of an almost-identical provision in that year’s Medicare reform legislation. Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and John Mica (R-FL), and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) all voted for the bill, which provided coverage for “counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options, and advising the beneficiary regarding advanced care planning.” Boehner, McCotter, and Mica have claimed that the current attempt at health care reform would lead to “government-encouraged euthanasia.” Isakson opposes the House legislation because it allows the “government to incentivize doctors by offering them money to conduct end-of-life counseling.” And Grassley told constituents that they are “right to fear” that government could “decide when to pull the plug on Grandma” (see August 12, 2009). (Sargent 8/14/2009)
Widespread Republican Support in 2003 - In all, 202 House Republicans and 42 Republican Senators voted for the Medicare bill. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will say: “And there was not a peep about then-President Bush having a secret plan to kill old people. Bottom line? Either Republicans like Chuck Grassley and John Boehner and John Mica have totally changed their minds about whether living wills are really a secret plot to kill old people, or they voted for something just a few years ago that they actually thought was a secret plot to kill old people. Take your choice.” (MSNBC 8/17/2009)
According to an analysis by the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Fox News has become the place for eight former Bush administration officials and other Republican lawmakers, strategists, and future presidential candidates to espouse their views (see October 13, 2009). Media Matters says “[a] revolving door exists between the Republican Party and Fox News Channel… further demonstrating that Fox is effectively a conservative political organization and not a legitimate news outlet.” Media Matters analyzed Fox News broadcasts aired between September 1 and mid-October.
Karl Rove - The former deputy chief of staff of the Bush White House, Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s chief political adviser, is now labeled as a political adviser and commentator for Fox. He appears, on average, twice a week, usually on prime-time programs hosted by Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.
Dana Perino - Formerly the White House press secretary, Dana Perino is now a frequent contributor and analyst for Fox, and writes a column for Fox Forum. Perino appears most often on Hannity’s show, though she has made several appearances on Fox Business Channel.
John Bolton - The former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton is now a regular Fox contributor and analyst.
Mike Huckabee - Mike Huckabee, the ex-governor of Arkansas and dark-horse presidential candidate in 2008 has his own show, Huckabee, on Fox. Frequently, Huckabee directs viewers to “go to balancecutsave.com,” which redirects visitors to a Web page soliciting donations for his political action committee, which financially supports Republican candidates and also pays his daughter’s salary.
Newt Gingrich - Newt Gingrich is the former speaker of the House and a possible presidential candidate in 2012. He has been a regular on Fox since singing a contract with the network in 1999 after resigning from the House in disgrace.
John Kasich - Formerly a Republican House member from Ohio and now a candidate for governor of Ohio, John Kasich used to host a show on Fox, Heartland with John Kasich. He is a regular contributor and commentator on several Fox prime-time broadcasts.
Dick Morris - A Republican who once crossed party lines to advise then-President Clinton, Dick Morris is a frequent guest on Fox, appearing at least 20 times since September 1, usually on shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, or Greta Van Susteren. During the 2008 election cycle, Morris repeatedly urged viewers to donate to an anti-Obama political action committee, without divulging that the PAC had paid a firm connected to him. Morris also uses his Fox appearances to raise funds for a conservative group of which he is chief strategist.
Frank Luntz - Frank Luntz, a GOP strategist and pollster, regularly appears on Fox shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, who asked Luntz to instruct his audience on the signs “the tea party people should be carrying.” (Media Matters 10/26/2009)
Democratic candidate Bill Owens wins an unexpected, narrow victory in a special election for the US House seat representing New York State’s 23rd District, a win widely seen as a setback to the national tea party movement. Owens ran against Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman in a race that saw the original Republican Party candidate, Dede Scozzafava, drop out under heavy pressure from local, state, and national tea party organizations to give way to Hoffman, their preferred candidate. Scozzafava was the unanimous choice of the 11 county chairs of the district’s Republican Party organization. The 23rd District is traditionally Republican. Conservative figures identified with the tea party, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), who has presidential aspirations, came out strongly in favor of Hoffman and against Scozzafava, as did talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Thompson, and the editorial pages of the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. Scozzafava is a moderate Republican who supports gay and abortion rights, and the federal economic stimulus package promoted by the Bush and Obama administrations. The Republican National Committee (RNC), which had backed Scozzafava, applauded her decision to withdraw and endorsed Hoffman. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who like the RNC had supported Scozzzafava but in the days before the election endorsed Hoffman, says he worries that having third-party candidates routinely enter races would split conservative votes and give Democrats control of federal and state governments. “This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this,” he says.“If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] speaker for life and guarantee [President] Obama’s re-election.… I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.” After Hoffman’s loss, some tea party figures blame the Republican Party for the defeat, saying that if the party had gotten behind Hoffman from the outset, he would have defeated Owens. Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, agrees, saying: “I think Doug Hoffman likely would have won if he had been the Republican candidate from the get-go. It wasn’t a spike in the end zone for the Democrats. They got that seat not because Democrats were brilliant, but because Republicans were stupid.” Some conservatives attempt to frame the loss as a victory because they forced the more moderate Scozzafava out of the race. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) says, “Our number one goal was to make clear that the Republican Party cannot take someone as liberal as Dede Scozzafava and thrust her out on the voters and expect the voters just to accept it.” The seat became vacant after Representative John M. McHugh (R-NY) was appointed by President Obama to become secretary of the Army. After facing a barrage of heavy criticism from Limbaugh, Palin, and the like, Scozzafava abruptly withdrew from the race and threw her support to Owens. Some critics questioned Hoffman’s eligibility to run for the seat, noting that his home in Lake Placid, New York, is not in the district. The conservative Club for Growth spent $1 million promoting Hoffman’s candidacy, and other conservative organizations such as the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and NOM also supported Hoffman. The groups funneled cash into Hoffman’s campaigns, printed up literature, and sent volunteers from other areas in the country to work for Hoffman. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who now heads the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), says the race proves Republicans need to stop fielding moderate candidates. “My own view right now is the myth that you have to be a moderate—a Democrat lite—to win in the Northeast probably has less standing now than in any time since I’ve been in politics,” Armey says. “The small-government candidate in the Republican Party—or running as an independent—is going to be the one to draw the energy of these voters.” Marilyn Musgrave, a former representative from Colorado who works for the Anthony List, says after the election that the conservative backing of Hoffman proves to Washington lawmakers that they should not take conservative votes for granted. “Don’t just assume we’re yours,” she says. (Feldmann 10/29/2009; Nagourney and Peters 10/31/2009; Peters 11/3/2009)
The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) interviews David Barstow, the New York Times reporter who just published a front-page research article about the “tea party” movement (see February 15, 2010). Barstow says the article was sparked by the raucous, sometimes-violent events of the “town halls” of the summer of 2009 (see July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009).
Joined Tea Party Express Bus Tour, Stayed in Spokane Afterwards - He joined the Tea Party Express bus tour (see August 28, 2009), and covered over 30 tea party rallies in a little over two weeks. Barstow realized, he says, that the Tea Party Express (TPE) was but one of many distinctive tea party organizations. TPE’s goal is to gain seats for Republicans in Congress, and the tour organizers “were not really representative of the tea party movement as a whole, which was very much a grassroots creation that was drawing in lots of newcomers who were extremely concerned about preserving their independence and not being co-opted.” Some tea party organizers agonized over whether to host the TPE tour in their towns. But, Barstow goes on to say, the bus tour itself was incidental to the final story. He was far more interested in the stories of ordinary Americans like Pam Stout, an interview subject who went from being completely uninvolved in politics to becoming president of her local tea party chapter. So many Americans’ lives have been impacted by the recession, Barstow says, and many of those people have turned to their local tea parties to try to get involved in a movement to express their frustrations and perhaps do something about the government that they blame for allowing the economy to fail. The other driving force behind the tea parties, he says, is the members’ overwhelming fear of “impending tyranny.” Most tea partiers fear that American democracy will disappear, perhaps during their own lifetimes, to be replaced by some form of dictatorship or “one-world government” (see February 4-8, 2010). After the TPE bus tour concluded, Barstow stayed in Spokane, Washington, for the month of October 2009, interviewing many tea partiers and affiliated people. He chose the area because of its history of anti-government activism. He says he wanted to cover not just formal tea party organizations, but other groups with connections to the tea parties, including the 9/12 movement (see March 13, 2009 and After), the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), the Campaign for Liberty, and groups with strong ties to white supremacist militia organizations. From time spent in and around Spokane, he learned that the area’s tea parties are quite disparate and factionalized, though “you can make too much of that. If you spend enough time talking to people in the movement, eventually you hear enough of the same kinds of ideas, the same kinds of concerns, and you begin to recognize what the ideology is, what the paradigm is that they’re operating in.… There’s a fear that both parties have been complicit in this giant charade that has done enormous damage to ordinary Americans. It’s very complex, and yet at the same time there is something coherent about it.”
Increasing Militia Influence - Barstow says the influence of far-right, white supremacist militia groups on the tea party organizations in the Northwest and other areas is increasing. Even tea partiers who do not belong to or support militias often accept the idea of militias and civilian paramilitary training (see April 8, 2009, May 8-15, 2009, January 14, 2010, February 2010, July 23, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 24, 2010, and May 5, 2011).
Understanding the Tea Parties - To understand the tea parties, Barstow says, one must read the literature that informs the movement. He recommends reading books such as W. Cleon Skousen’s The 5000-Year Leap, a radical reinterpretation of the US Constitution; Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island, a book purporting to prove the Federal Reserve is a fraudulent institution; and Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Ayn Rand that explicates her “objectivist” social philosophy. Barstow says the tea party movement is informed by “a robust intellectual subculture” that helps shape members’ world views. According to Barstow, the tea parties are not, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has maintained, becoming the activist conservative wing of the Republican Party (see April 21, 2010), but something more. “They are seeking a bigger transformation than just nudging the Republican Party a little bit to the right,” Barstow says. “A lot of the coverage is about how these people want smaller government and less taxation. That’s true, and yet it doesn’t completely get what’s going on.” (Marx 2/18/2010)
On NBC’s Today show, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), widely expected to mount a presidential bid in 2012, tells an NBC audience that “tea party” leaders “understand that in the end their job is to help defeat Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.” Gingrich tells interviewer Matt Lauer that it would be a “disaster” if the “tea party” movement split the base of the Republican party in the November elections, and would “guarantee… the re-election of Nancy Pelosi as speaker.” Pelosi (D-CA) and Reid (D-NV) are the leaders of Democrats in the House and Senate, respectively. (Media Matters 4/6/2010) Gingrich has not hesitated to vilify Pelosi in the media (see May 15, 2009).
Dave Schwartz, the Maryland state director for the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), which funds and directs many tea party organizations, writes an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun praising the tea party movement for its successes and calling for it to eschew the conspiracy theories (see February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, August 24, 2010, September 2010, October 19, 2010, and August 17, 2011) that have often characterized it up to this point. “We must distance ourselves from ‘birthers,’ ‘truthers,’ and those who wish to use our enthusiasm for unrelated causes,” he writes, referring to two popular theories: that President Obama is not an American citizen, and that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by members of the Bush administration or others in the federal government. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States and was elected by a majority of voters. He is a father and a husband, and he has reached the pinnacle of his career through hard work and determination. We simply have a philosophical disagreement with him about the role of government in society. The tea party should fight the president’s and governor’s big-government policies with thoughtful solutions, not personal attacks.” He concludes by advising readers that “[f]or this movement to be a lasting political force, we must remain independent,” apparently referring to calls by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich for the tea party movement to join the GOP (see February 16, 2010 and April 21, 2010). (Schwartz 4/15/2010)
Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the former House Speaker whom many expect to run for president in 2012, tells an audience that he expects the “tea party” movement to evolve into what he calls “the militant wing of the Republican Party” rather than an independent or third party (see April 6, 2010). Gingrich speaks to an audience at an event sponsored by the Manufacturer’s Association of South Central Pennsylvania; the speech is covered by a regional newspaper, the York Dispatch. Gingrich calls the tea partiers’ rage towards Washington politics a “natural expression of frustration with Republicans and anger at Democrats.” The Dispatch reports that while many in the audience seem to agree with his conclusions, a smaller number do not seem to agree with Gingrich’s characterization of the “tea party” movement as “militant.” Gingrich also calls US public high schools an expensive “baby sitting service,” and says that students who desire to abandon their education “should be allowed to enter the work force”; he says that “[l]ast year’s extension of unemployment benefits was like a bribe to people to tolerate legislators’ incompetence,” and adds he has not yet decided whether to run for president. (Siegel 4/22/2010)
The American Jewish Coalition (AJC) urges the Republican Party leadership to condemn former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)‘s assertion that the Obama administration’s policy agenda is as “great a threat to America as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.” Gingrich, a paid Fox News commentator, made the statement in a recently published book, To Save America; in interviews promoting the book, he has called the Obama administration a “secular socialist machine” similar in fashion and beliefs to the Nazi and Soviet regimes. The AJC’s executive director, David Harris, says: “By invoking the current administration in the same breath as two murderous totalitarian states, Newt Gingrich has drawn a foolish and dangerous analogy. Gingrich’s linkage not only diminishes the horror of the Holocaust, it also licenses the use of extremist language in contemporary America.” Gingrich has said he is not drawing moral distinctions, but has gone on to say that because of the Obama initiatives, “we are going to be in a country which no longer resembles America.” Harris says: “It is vital that the Republican leadership say clearly that such analogies are unacceptable. Unfortunately, as the recent controversy over the new immigration law in Arizona also demonstrates, demonizing political opponents as Nazis is becoming all too common in American political debate.” (Media Matters 5/16/2010; American Jewish Coalition 5/19/2010) On Fox News, Chris Wallace asks Gingrich if his claim isn’t “wildly over the top.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, calls Gingrich’s comments “sick,” “shameful,” and “so over the top,” and adds, “I hope you apologize.” (Media Matters 5/16/2010; Media Matters 5/20/2010; Media Matters 5/20/2010)
On Fox News’s morning broadcast Fox and Friends, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a frequent Fox commentator and presumptive Republican candidate for president in 2012, says of the controversial plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the downed World Trade Center: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.” (Media Matters 8/16/2010)
Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum compares the “tea party” movement to earlier organizations, each formed, he writes, to oppose Democratic presidencies. “[T]oo many observers mistakenly react to the tea party as if it’s brand new, an organic and spontaneous response to something unique in the current political climate,” he writes. “But it’s not. It’s not a response to the recession or to health care reform or to some kind of spectacular new liberal overreach. It’s what happens whenever a Democrat takes over the White House. When FDR was in office in the 1930s, conservative zealotry coalesced in the Liberty League (see August 23, 1934 and After). When JFK won the presidency in the ‘60s, the John Birch Society flourished (see November 1963). When Bill Clinton ended the Reagan Revolution in the ‘90s, talk radio erupted with the conspiracy theories of the Arkansas Project. And today, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, it’s the tea party’s turn.” While differences between the various groups are substantive, Drum writes, the similarities are overwhelming. Drum notes that industrialist Fred Koch, an early backer of the Birchers (see 1940 and After), gave way to his sons, David and Charles Koch, who helped launch the organization that would become FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, both of which are major funders and organizers of the tea party movement (see 1979-1980 and 1984 and After). Tea partiers rely on a 50-year-old radical reinterpretation of the Constitution, W. Cleon Skousen’s The 5000 Year Leap; Skousen’s anti-Communist polemics were popular with the Birchers. And Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), believed that the 17th Amendment, which affirms the direct election of US senators, was what Drum calls “a poisonous concentration of power in the federal government.” Tea partiers and Fox News hosts hawk this same theory today (see October 16, 2009, April 8, 2010, and June 11, 2010). Drum writes that, far from being motivated by personal economic hardship (tea party supporters tend to be more affluent and less affected by the economic downturn than the average American—see April 14, 2010) or even because of a dislike of President Obama because of his race, the tea party exists because “[e]ver since the 1930s, something very much like the tea party movement has fluoresced every time a Democrat wins the presidency, and the nature of the fluorescence always follows many of the same broad contours: a reverence for the Constitution, a supposedly spontaneous uprising of formerly nonpolitical middle-class activists, a preoccupation with socialism and the expanding tyranny of big government, a bitterness toward an underclass viewed as unwilling to work, and a weakness for outlandish conspiracy theories.”
Constitutional 'Purity' - One similarity is the focus of each group on what they term the “purity” or “sanctity” of the US Constitution, even as they apply their sometimes-radical reinterpretations of constitutional mandates. “The Liberty Leaguers… spoke of it with ‘worshipful intensity,’” Drum writes. “The John Birch Society—which is enjoying a renaissance of sorts today (see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008, October 10, 2008, April 13, 2009, April 19, 2010, and August 24, 2010)—says of itself, ‘From its earliest days the John Birch Society has emphasized the importance of the Constitution for securing our freedom.’ And… study groups dedicated to the Constitution have mushroomed among tea partiers” (see May 2010).
Fear of 'Creeping Socialism' and Tyranny - Drum writes: “Other shared tropes include a fear of ‘losing the country we grew up in,’ an obsession with ‘parasites’ who are leeching off of hardworking Americans, and—even though they’ve always received copious assistance from business interests and political operatives—a myth that the movement is composed entirely of fed-up grassroots amateurs” (see 1984 and After, Late 2004, January 2009 and After, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, and August 30, 2010). Above all, though, is the recurring theme of “creeping socialism and a federal government that’s destroying our freedoms.” The American Liberty League fought to stop the Roosevelt administration from establishing Social Security, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and what Drum calls an “alphabet soup of new regulatory agencies.” In the 1960s, the John Birch Society (JBS) felt the government was being overrun by Communism and “collectivism.” Drum notes that JBS founder Robert Welch’s mantra, “Less government and more responsibility,” echoes central tenets of tea party beliefs. In the 1990s, then-Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) became House Speaker in large part because of his opposition to the Clinton administration and his leadership in the right’s battle to defund federal social-net programs. Today, tea partiers echo the JBS in their insistence that Obama is a closet Marxist or socialist, and echo fears from earlier groups that Obama, the Democrat, intends to turn American democracy into a tyranny.
Conspiracy Theories - Drum echoes conservative writer Jonathan Kay by noting the tea partiers’ “insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories” (see February 4-8, 2010). Welch argued that the federal government was bowing to Communist manipulation by fluoridating the water supply (see 1945 and After), but more importantly, promoted the idea that a mysterious group of “insiders” had been running the world since at least 1776, when the Illuminati took over most European governments. The “insiders” continued their influence, Welch avowed, through the years, taking over France after the French Revolution, Russia and other nations after the advent of Communism, and continued to exercise control through such organs as the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. The same groups are at the center of many conspiracy theories embraced by numerous tea partiers. Drum points out the fondness of the “anti-Clinton zealots” for their “colorful and ever-growing bestiary of shadowy plots,” most surrounding their belief that Clinton was a rapist, a murderer, and a drug peddler. Similar conspiracy theories were promulgated by the JBS about John Kennedy. “Today’s conspiracy theories are different in detail but no less wacky—and no less widespread,” Drum writes. The “birther” conspiracy theory, which holds that Obama is not a natural-born citizen, is quite popular with tea party supporters, and many more believe that Obama intends to place conservatives such as themselves in internment camps, a theory peddled by the JBS in the early 1960s. And many believe that ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the now-defunct community service organization, somehow took control of the Democratic Party, destroyed banks by forcing them to make loans to indigent minorities, crashed the economy, and installed Obama into power.
Effectiveness Improving over Time - Drum writes that each iteration of this right-wing phenomenon is more successful than the last. The Liberty League made no impact whatsoever on President Roosevelt’s 1936 re-election attempt. In 1964, the JBS succeeded in helping right-wing libertarian candidate Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) win the Republican presidential nomination. In the 1990s, Gingrich rode the wave of far-right activism to become speaker of the House, and the activism culminated in the impeachment of President Clinton and the election of President George W. Bush. Drum predicts that the latest wave, the tea party movement, will for all intents and purposes take over the Republican Party. In each iteration, moderate Republicans resisted the wave of right-wing change, but, Drum believes, not enough moderate Republicans exist in any position of power to resist the tea party transformation. The GOP has been shifting ever rightward since the 1970s, Drum notes, and the tea party movement has profited from a transformed media environment, where it can present its ideology almost nonstop on Fox News and rely on social media such as Facebook to connect with new recruits. Drum calls the paradigm shift “the mainstreaming of extremism.” In 1961, Time magazine disparaged the JBS as “tiresome” (see March 10, 1961); in 2009, it hailed Fox News personality Glenn Beck as “gifted.” Moderates have virtually no chance in today’s environment of pushing back against the tea party’s rightward surge. “Unlike the Birchers, or even the Clinton conspiracy theorists, the tea partiers aren’t a fringe part of the conservative movement,” Drum writes. “They are the conservative movement.” Drum believes that even with all the tea party’s current success, it will eventually burn itself out, “while its broader identity becomes subsumed by a Republican Party that’s been headed down the path of ever less-tolerant conservatism for decades. In that sense, the tea party movement is merely an unusually flamboyant symptom of an illness that’s been breeding for a long time.” (Drum 9/2010)
Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and an apparent candidate for the presidency in 2012, tells the conservative National Review that President Obama only pretends to be a “normal” American, but in reality is driven by his belief in “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Gingrich cites a recent article by conservative author Dinesh D’Souza (see September 12, 2010), calling D’Souza’s insight into Obama’s behavior “stunning… [the] most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.… What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.… This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president. I think he worked very hard at being a person who is normal, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, transparent, accommodating—none of which was true.… In the Alinksy [Saul Alinsky, a liberal community organizer] tradition, he was being the person he needed to be in order to achieve the position he needed to achieve.… He was authentically dishonest.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters calls Gingrich’s comments the latest in a long line of “not-so-subtle race baiting” by right-wing media figures. Gingrich is a frequent guest on Fox News. (Media Matters 9/12/2010) White House press secretary Robert Gibbs accuses Gingrich of “trying to appeal to the fringe.” In response, Gingrich tells the Daily Caller that his own remarks “seemed to touch some kind of irrational nerve on the left.” (Kurtz 9/16/2010) Days later, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asks if Gingrich is “just pretending to have lost his mind, or has he actually gone around the bend?” Robinson answers his own question: “His lunacy certainly seems genuine enough. It’s one thing to be a rhetorical bomb-thrower, as Gingrich has long fancied himself, and another to lob damp squibs of pure nonsense into the fray. The man’s contributions to the public discourse have become increasingly unhinged.” Robinson calls Gingrich’s assertions about Obama’s supposed “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior” “bizarre.” If Gingrich is indeed rational, Robinson continues, then he is probably attempting to promote the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not a US citizen, but instead “foreign, exotic, alien, somehow not American.” Moreover, Gingrich is trying to promote a much larger conspiracy theory: “that American democracy—indeed, the whole Anglo-American-Judeo-Christian enterprise—is under attack in a titanic clash of civilizations. In this view, we are threatened most acutely by the Islamic civilization. But we must also be on guard against the ‘Sinic’ civilization of China, the ‘Hindu’ civilization of India, and assorted others. This analysis was developed by Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard professor who died in 2008—and who said he never intended his work to be read as a battle plan. Gingrich seems to believe that our culture and values are also threatened from within—by black and brown people who demand that they, too, be given a voice in defining that culture and those values.” (Robinson 9/14/2010) Post media observer Howard Kurtz observes on Twitter that he is “amazed that Newt Gingrich said Obama has a Kenyan view of politics. Not exactly subtle.” (Media Matters 9/13/2010) Many conservatives have long accused Obama of being un-American because of his Kenyan ancestry (see February 25, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, October 8-10, 2008, June 29, 2009, and August 11, 2009).
Forbes Magazine encounters a firestorm of criticism due to its publication of a cover story alleging President Obama is driven by “anti-colonial” sentiments garnered from his Kenyan father (see September 12, 2010). The story was written by Dinesh D’Souza, a prominent conservative author and pundit, and has been praised and reiterated by conservative politician Newt Gingrich (see September 12, 2010 and After).
White House: 'New Low' for Forbes - White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says of the article: “It’s a stunning thing, to see a publication you would see in a dentist’s office, so lacking in truth and fact. I think it represents a new low.” He asks, “Did they not fact-check this at all, or did they fact-check it and just willfully ignore it?” In response, the magazine releases a statement saying: “Dinesh D’Souza’s cover story was presented as an analysis of how the president thinks. No facts are in contention. Forbes stands by the story.” D’Souza says that his article is based on a “psychological theory,” but insists, “the idea that Obama has roots that are foreign is not an allegation, it’s a statement of fact.” Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz notes that Obama’s father abandoned his family when Obama was two years old, and Obama only saw his father once more after that. Gibbs says that D’Souza’s article is another illustration of the fact that there is “no limit to innuendo” against the president. Forbes, he says, “left the facts on the cutting-room floor.” (Kurtz 9/16/2010)
Columbia Journalism Review: 'Singularly Disgusting' and 'Racist' - The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) calls the D’Souza article “a fact-twisting, error-laden piece of paranoia” and “the worst kind of smear journalism—a singularly disgusting work.” Reviewer Ryan Chittum writes: “Forbes for some reason gives Dinesh D’Souza the cover and lots of space to froth about the notion popular in the right-wing fever swamps that Obama is an ‘other’; that he doesn’t think like ‘an American,’ that his actions benefit foreigners rather than Amurricans. It’s too kind to call this innuendo. It’s far too overt for that.… This is loathsome stuff. And, again, it’s the cover story of one of the three big mainstream financial magazines.” Chittum continues: “The veneer of respectability, if you can call it that, that D’Souza and Forbes put on this noxious near-McCarthyite junk is that Obama is an ‘anticolonialist.’ It’s thin gruel. And, hey—I’m an anticolonialist, too. And so were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the rest of the gang.” He concludes, “Forbes has shamed itself with this one.” (Chittum 9/13/2010) D’Souza responds to the CJR review by accusing Chittum of being one of what he calls the “confirmed Obamorons, who are only satisfied with hosannas and genuflections before the Anoin[t]ed One.” Chittum responds with a more detailed dissection of the lies, errors, and misinformation in the article, and concludes: “D’Souza denies in his blog post that the piece is racist, but of course it is. Indeed, it’s racist at its rotten core. That’s the whole point. You can’t write stuff like ‘Incredibly, the US is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s,’ and credibly assert that it’s not racist.… That Forbes gave the cover of its mainstream magazine to this piece will be a black mark on its reputation for a long, long time.” (Chittum 9/16/2010)
Washington Post Columnist: 'Big Gob of Gibberish' - Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson calls D’Souza’s article “a big gob of gibberish,” reading like something written by “one of those conspiracy theorists who believe the CIA is controlling our brain waves.” The article “makes assertion after assertion that is plainly, demonstrably unsupported,” he continues. (Robinson 9/14/2010)
Post Columnist: 'There's Nothing Here of Any Benefit' - Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker says that D’Souza has “jump[ed] the shark” with his article, and asks sarcastically: “What’s next? Obama is an extraterrestrial pod deposited on Planet Earth to occupy a human shell and get elected leader of the free world so that he can lull the population into complacent dependency in advance of a full invasion of body snatchers?” She labels the article a “Republican revenge fantasy” and concludes: “It’s time to move on, gentlemen. There’s nothing here of any benefit, whatsoever.” (Parker 9/15/2010)
Media Matters: 'Completely Ridiculous' - The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters calls D’Souza’s arguments “completely ridiculous… an impressive combination of factual distortions and twisted logic.” (Media Matters 9/12/2010) Author Eric Boehlert, a Media Matters contributor, asks if Forbes believes so strongly in the story as to give it the cover, why won’t the magazine defend it? He writes: “I think the Obama cover story has done extraordinary damage to the Forbes brand. But I’d actually respect the magazine if someone—anyone—on staff in a position of power had the courage to come forward and be held accountable for, or even try to argue on behalf of, the D’Souza train wreck.” (Boehlert 9/16/2010)
The online news site Politico publishes an analysis of Fox News’s choice to actively and openly promote four of its paid contributors—Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee—as viable candidates for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. “How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll?” ask reporters Jonathan Martin and Keach Hagey. “With the exception of Mitt Romney [R-MA], Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office,” they write, and note that Fox’s competitors are expressing increasing frustration at their inability to interview any of Fox’s contributors. Some Republican insiders, they write, are calling the four “the Fox candidates.” It is “uncertain how other news organizations can cover the early stages of the presidential race when some of the main GOP contenders are contractually forbidden to appear on any TV network besides Fox,” the reporters note. C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully recently said that his network was denied an interview with Palin because Fox refused to give permission for her to appear on a “rival” network (C-SPAN is a government-funded news outlet that is considered relentlessly non-partisan). And, the reporters write, “Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC all report similar experiences.” Martin and Hagey write that the issue is one of basic “journalistic fairness and propriety,” and continue: “With Fox effectively becoming the flagship network of the right and, more specifically, the tea party movement, the four Republicans it employs enjoy an unparalleled platform from which to speak directly to primary voters who will determine the party’s next nominee. Their Fox jobs allow these politicians an opportunity to send conservative activists a mostly unfiltered message in what is almost always a friendly environment. Fox opinion hosts typically invite the Republicans simply to offer their views on issues of the day, rather than press them to defend their rhetoric or records as leaders of the party.” Fox News has said that once any of the four officially declare their candidacy for president, they will have to sever their contract with the network, but, the reporters note, Fox News is “such a lucrative and powerful pulpit that Palin, Gingrich, Santorum, and Huckabee have every reason to delay formal announcements and stay on contract for as long as they can.” Palin, for one, is already appearing in many early primary states, giving the strong impression that she is either preparing for a presidential run herself or laying the groundwork for a major role as a supporter of another candidate. However, Fox News isn’t saying one way or the other, and because of her exclusive contract with Fox, no other network reporter can ask Palin about her plans. As of late September 2010, only Gingrich has appeared on any other network, having made two appearances on ABC and three on NBC since January. He and the other “Fox candidates” have appeared dozens of times on Fox News during this time period. “The idea of the four prospects—and especially the former Alaska governor—facing media questions only on a network that both pays them and offers limited scrutiny has already become a matter of frustration in the political and journalistic community,” Martin and Hagey write. Within Fox News, there are some officials who have spoken anonymously about their unease at the idea of paying candidates they are supposed to cover. As yet, no one in senior management has instructed Fox News reporters on how to treat their colleagues and presumed presidential contenders. “The cold reality is, nobody at the reporter level has any say on this,” says a source familiar with the situation. “They’re left in the lurch.” And potential candidates who do not work at Fox are beginning to chafe at the disparate amount of coverage granted them by the network. One aide to an unnamed Republican considering a run for the presidency told a Fox employee, “I wish we could get that much airtime, but, oh yeah, we don’t get a paycheck.” Republican strategist Jim Dyke, who is not currently working for any potential 2012 GOP candidate, says that after the November midterm elections, the issue will become more visible. “As it becomes clear somebody is looking at running, Fox gets into a bit of a box because doesn’t it become an in-kind contribution if they’re being paid?” he asks. For her part, Palin seems quite comfortable staying exclusively within the friendly environs of Fox News, and has even advised other Republican candidates for office to “[s]peak through Fox News” (see September 15-16, 2010). (Martin and Hagey 9/27/2010)
Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey discusses Fox News’s relentless promotion of its own employees for presidential office (see October 26, 2009 and September 27, 2010). Rainey notes that Fox contributors Sarah Palin (R-AK), Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Mike Huckabee (R-TN) are all using their appearances on Fox to groom themselves for the 2012 presidential race, with the apparent blessing and collusion of Fox News. Rainey writes, with some apparent sarcasm, “It’s easy to get news coverage, it turns out, when you work for a news company!” Other Republicans attempting to build momentum for their own 2012 bid, such as Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, are being “shut out” of Fox’s promotional campaign. And other news networks—even C-SPAN—rarely get to interview Palin, Gingrich, Santorum, and Huckabee, as they are all under exclusive contract with Fox and do not appear on competing news providers. Some Republicans are discomfited by this situation, but, Rainey writes, they are “ma[king] their complaints quietly, lest they anger the powers at Fox.” Rainey goes on to note that the story is getting little attention outside political circles, “[b]ecause the information juggernaut built by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, once a GOP attack dog and now head of Fox News, has been tilting the playing field for so long, so persistently, and denying its bias so shamelessly that it’s created an alternate reality.” Rainey notes that Fox parent News Corp’s unprecedented multi-million dollar donations to Republican causes (see June 24, 2010 and After and September 30, 2010) have drawn relatively little criticism, even as Fox’s supposedly unbiased and nonpartisan news anchors and personalities (not its prime-time opinion makers) “routinely pound away at conservative talking points.” The other news networks spend their time on regular stories, Rainey writes, but Fox News spends so much “straight news” time covering non-existent “scandals” and promoting conservative causes that, in essence, it has created a conservative-friendly “alternate reality” for itself and its ideological colleagues. “One doesn’t even blink with surprise anymore when a Fox opinion program rolls out black-and-white newsreel footage of fascists,” he writes, “and with uniformly straight faces suggest that the Obama administration has America on the brink of a similar calamity.” Rainey rebuts claims that Fox News is merely countering the “shamelessly liberal” viewpoints of CNN and MSNBC. CNN, he writes, “has hewed relentlessly to the he-said-she said reporting imperative of old. The 24-hour news pioneer puts on alternative viewpoints, and not merely as whipping objects for ideological hosts. It’s aired multiple segments dissecting President Obama, his economic policies, and his plans for Afghanistan.” As for MSNBC, while its opinion shows are hosted by liberals, and Rainey believes that in some sense MSNBC may be trying to be a liberal version of Fox, its news broadcasts are relatively non-partisan. (Rainey 9/29/2010)
Bryan Fischer, the director of issue analysis for government and public policy at the American Family Association (AFA), says that the government should stop spending any money at all on anti-poverty efforts because such spending encourages African-Americans to “rut like rabbits.” In a blog post on the AFA Web site titled “Poverty has won,” Fischer says welfare and anti-poverty programs have done nothing but led to the destruction of marriage and harmed African-American children. “We have spent over $16 trillion fighting the war on poverty, and it’s time to run up the white flag of surrender,” he writes. “Poverty has won.” In the post, Fischer says that welfare has destroyed the African-American family by providing incentives for fornication instead of marriage. “It’s no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of people who rut like rabbits,” he writes. “Welfare has destroyed the African-American family by telling young black women that husbands and fathers are unnecessary and obsolete. Welfare has subsidized illegitimacy by offering financial rewards to women who have more children out of wedlock.” In previous statements on the AFA blog and on his talk radio show, Fischer has claimed that WikiLeaks is about nothing more than gays in the military (see December 7, 2010), that President Obama wants to give the entire North American landmass to Native Americans (see December 22, 2010), and the constitutional right to freedom of religion does not apply to Muslims (see March 24, 2011). Fischer has had as guests on his show potential Republican presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Haley Barbour. (Dolan 4/5/2011; Right Wing Watch 4/5/2011) The link that originally went to the “Poverty has won” post subsequently goes to an entirely different post; the post Fischer originally made subsequently seems to have been deleted. (Bryan Fischer 4/5/2011)
Washington pundits are split as to whether billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump is serious about mounting a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Recently, Trump has unleashed a barrage of criticism and allegations as to President Obama’s status as a US citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, and April 7, 2011), and has encouraged the rumor that he intends to run. Current polls show Trump running a strong second behind former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA), tied with former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AK), and well ahead of other Republican luminaries such as Sarah Palin (R-AK) and Newt Gingrich (R-GA) in a hypothetical 2012 primary battle. Tea party supporters choose Trump as their top candidate, well ahead of Romney and Huckabee. Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza notes that as recently as 2007, Trump was openly contemptuous of many Republican policies, and touted then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as “the best.” After questioning a number of political strategists, Cillizza determines that Trump is doing well in preliminary polls because of his enormous name recognition, his combative style, and his apparent business acumen. Democratic strategist Peter Hart says that tea partiers have abandoned Palin in large part for Trump, whom he calls “their current flavor du jour.” A Republican strategist who refuses to allow his name to be used says voters “like the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach that Trump seems to take.” And Trump’s success at forging a billion-dollar financial empire gives some people “economic hope,” according to Republican consultant Carl Forti. “They want a job.… Trump’s a businessman, so in theory, he knows what he’s doing.” Republican strategist Alex Vogel predicts that Trump’s popularity will fizzle within days of actually entering the race, saying: “It is a huge mistake for people to confuse fame with electability or seriousness of candidacy. If fame was all it took, [American Idol creator] Simon Cowell could pick presidents and not just rock stars.” Cillizza says that Trump’s current popularity speaks more to the volatility of the Republican primary field than a real movement among Republicans to put Trump in the White House. (Cillizza 4/7/2011) Progressive Washington pundit Steve Benen is less charitable than Cillizza, noting that “Trump has been running around to every media outlet he can find, spewing conspiracy theories and bizarre ideas that resonate with easily-fooled extremists. And wouldn’t you know it, polls suddenly show Republican voters gravitating to the guy.… When a clownish television personality plays to their worst instincts, these folks are inclined to like what they see.” Benen calls Trump’s potential nothing more than “an elaborate publicity stunt, closer to a practical joke than an actual campaign.” He concludes: “[W]hat matters here is what the latest polls tell us about the hysterical wing of the Republican Party. A reality-show personality has been whining incessantly about the president’s birth certificate, and a sizeable contingent of the GOP base has decided that’s enough to earn their support. Trump’s a sideshow. The real story here is the madness that’s overcome a few too many Republican voters.” (Benen 4/7/2011)
New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman profiles Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), who also serves as a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988). According to close friends and advisers to Ailes interviewed by Sherman, Ailes wants far more than the continued ratings and advertiser success of Fox News—he wants the network to steer one of its own into the White House in 2012 (see October 2008). He is tremendously influential; a Republican strategist tells Sherman: “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger. Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.”
Letdown? - Ailes has been keenly disappointed in the results of his network’s official and unofficial candidates so far. Former Alaska governor and Fox commentator Sarah Palin (see September 15-16, 2010), who has not yet announced her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, is polling at around 12 percent among Republican voters. Official presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Rick Santorum, a former senator, who both are commentators for Fox, have even lower numbers, at 10 percent and 2 percent respectively. Ailes has asked Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), who is not a Fox employee, to run; until recently, Fox News was enthusiastically promoting the putative presidential run of billionaire “birther” Donald Trump (see March 17, 2011). Ailes has envisioned General David Petraeus as a potential candidate, but Petraeus has instead accepted the post of CIA director. “He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” says a Republican close to Ailes. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of [President] Obama is a disaster.” None of the current crop of candidates meets Ailes’s expectations. Ailes is particularly disappointed in Palin; according to the same Republican, Ailes considers her “an idiot”: “He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.” After Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011, and other media outlets focused on Palin’s use of gunsight graphics to “target” Giffords and other vulnerable Democrats in the 2010 election (see March 24, 2010), according to Sherman, “Ailes recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable.” After the Giffords shooting, Ailes told an interviewer, “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’” Ailes was infuriated when Palin refused his advice to remain quiet until after the memorial service, and accused her critics of committing “blood libel,” a phrase often seen as anti-Semitic. The problem with Palin was further exacerbated when she argued about the amount of work Fox expects her to do: she does not want to host special broadcasts or other tasks the network expects of her. In March 2011, Fox suspended the contracts of Gingrich and Santorum so they could run their campaigns without legal or ethical entanglements. Shortly thereafter, Huckabee chose to remain at Fox and abandon his plans for a primary challenge. The network is still waiting for Palin’s decision whether to run for president.
Creation of the Tea Party - While Ailes and Fox News did not directly create the “tea party” “grassroots” movement, Ailes was involved in its creation and promotion from its outset (see February 19, 2009, February 27, 2009, and April 15, 2009). Ailes has always been somewhat leery of having Fox News too closely associated with the burgeoning movement (see March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 2, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 12, 2009, and September 12, 2010), and at one point banned Fox News host Sean Hannity from hosting a tea party rally. However, according to Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and the founder of the national Tea Party Express tour, “There would not have been a tea party without Fox.” Fox News has promoted a number of successful “tea party” candidates (see May 14, 2008 - February 2010), including former host John Kasich (see March 27, 2008 - June 1, 2009 and After), who won the Ohio gubernatorial election in 2010. Before that election, Gingrich, still a Fox News commentator at the time, said that he was confident the “tea party” would evolve into “the militant wing of the Republican Party” (see April 21, 2010). Ailes used some of the same “astroturf” tactics (see February 27, 2009 and April 14, 2009) in developing the “tea party” as he did when he represented tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds, creating phony, seemingly independent “front” groups to push the “tea party” messages in the media. (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential nomination, says that schools should save educational expenses by firing all custodians except for one “master janitor” and have the children do the rest of the maintenance work for their schools. Gingrich recommends this particularly for schools in poorer areas.
Attacks Unions, Child Labor Laws - Child labor laws prohibit such actions; Gingrich blames these laws, and the unions to which many maintenance workers and custodians belong, for causing “unnecessary” expenditures and for what he says is blocking poorer children from bootstrapping their way to economic success. “This is something that no liberal wants to deal with,” he tells an audience at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. “Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy,” he continues. “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid. You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor, and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.… You go out and talk to people, as I do, you go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age. They all were either selling newspapers, going door to door, they were doing something, they were washing cars. They all learned how to make money at a very early age. What do we say to poor kids in poor neighborhoods? Don’t do it. Remember all that stuff about don’t get a hamburger flipping job? The worst possible advice you could give to poor children. Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday. Get any job that teaches you to stay all day even if you are in a fight with your girlfriend. The whole process of making work worthwhile is central.”
Proposal Called 'Absurd,' 'Insane' - Gingrich, who in 1994 proposed placing children whose families were on welfare into state-run orphanages, is quickly targeted for criticism by experts and observers. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), calls Gingrich’s proposal “absurd,” and says: “Who in their right mind would lay off janitors and replace them with disadvantaged children—who should be in school, and not cleaning schools? And who would start backtracking on laws designed to halt the exploitation of children?” Gingrich says he has a number of “extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America and give people a chance to rise very rapidly.” (Haberman 11/18/2011; Gabriel 11/19/2011) Jordan Weissman, an associate editor of The Atlantic, calls Gingrich’s proposal “insane.” He writes: “This suggestion is, on its face, insane. It sounds like a bad Stephen Colbert joke [referring to a popular political satirist]. But if you stop and consider its merits for a minute or two… well no, it’s still quite insane. And if you spend an evening researching the nitty gritty of what public school custodians actually do for a living, it turns out to be downright cruel.” He says the proposal is “a jarring illustration of Gingrich’s casual disdain for American workers.” Weissmann refers to a job description for a New York City public school custodial engineer: that job requires the worker to use hazardous chemicals such as hydrochloric acid; repair heating and air conditioning systems; do electrical and plumbing repair; and other potentially dangerous tasks. Weissman asks, “What parent wants a nine-year-old, or even a 13-year-old, toying with the HVAC in her school?” Custodial jobs are among the most physically taxing of all jobs, causing workers to suffer an unusually high number of on-the-job injuries and causing long-term physical debilitation. Weissman concludes: “It would be easy to chalk Gingrich’s comments up simply to his well-known animus towards unions. But I don’t think that quite explains it. Rational people can argue about how much someone should be paid to clean.… But that decision starts from the respectful assumption that maintaining a school is something worthwhile for an adult to spend their lives on. That’s not the case in Gingrich’s worldview. Forget that an adult might need that job to put food on the table for their own children. Forget that he’s suggesting we flood an ailing job market with part time, minimum-wage-earning students. This isn’t about labor economics. It’s about respect, and the fact that the leading Republican presidential candidate doesn’t have a spit’s worth of it for manual labor. In his eyes, a janitor’s job just doesn’t mean much. It’s so easy, a child could do it.” (Weissman 11/21/2011)
Former Custodian: Gingrich 'Doesn't Even Know Why' He is Wrong - A diarist for the liberal blog Daily Kos describes himself as a former “custodian for a very large child care center.” He writes: “I was the guy mopping up vast amounts of wet, sticky rice from the floor, sanitizing the tables, chairs and high-chairs, and washing the dishes. I sanitized doorknobs. I filed down jagged parts of metal that somehow, every once in a while, stuck out from steel door jam[b]s and bathroom stalls. I hauled out dozens of bags of dirty diapers Every Single Day… and yes, I cleaned up an unholy amount of poop from a dozen itty bitty toilets. [T]hese are many of the things Newt Gingrich believes should be jobs for poor children in our public school systems. Cleaning up vomit. Cleaning feces off of toilet seats. Handling cleaning solvents that can eat right through latex gloves. Washing dishes with an industrial dish washer that heats the water over 180 degrees, enough to scald young skin.… Plunging toilets plugged with diarrhea and toilet paper, then sanitizing the toilet seat for the Non Poor students. Newt Gingrich wants our children cleaning blood, mucous, feces, urine, dried snot, vomit loaded with God-Knows-What pathogens from floors and walls and door knobs with chemicles [sic] that can eat the skin right off your arm or cause permanent blindness if it splashed into the eyes or loss of smell if some Janitor Kid jammed his finger up his nose… which kids never do, right? Never. Because an eight-year-old is going to observe strict safety regulations, right?” The diarist concludes: “[Gingrich] should be embarrassed for suggesting we make poor children clean our schools. There is SO much wrong with that statement and the most irritating thing is, he doesn’t even know WHY.” (Daily Kos 11/21/2011)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) issues accusations that Americans on government aid programs are in many cases wasteful drug users who use their aid money to go on lavish vacations. Gingrich, riding a surge of popularity as the Iowa caucuses approach, calls President Obama “the food stamp president” during his stump speeches. In an appearance in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Gingrich says: “Remember, this is the best food stamp president in history. So more Americans today get food stamps than before. And we now give it away as cash—you don’t get food stamps. You get a credit card, and the credit card can be used for anything. We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii. They give food stamps now to millionaires because, after all, don’t you want to be compassionate? You know, the Obama model: isn’t there somebody you’d like to give money to this week. That’s why we’re now going to help bailout Italy because we haven’t bailed out enough people this week, the president thought let’s write another check. After all, we have so much extra money.” The nonpartisan fact-checking entity PolitiFact calls Gingrich’s accusations complete lies. The “food stamp program,” known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has very strict guidelines about what can and cannot be bought with federal aid dollars. Except for very limited exceptions, SNAP recipients cannot use aid money for restaurant meals or to buy anything other than groceries. SNAP funds cannot be used to buy alcoholic beverages. The “electronic benefits transfer” card, or EBT cards, are similar in appearance to credit cards, but have a very different function. EBT cardholders cannot use their cards to buy airline tickets, whether it be for Hawaiian vacations or anything else. PolitiFact doubts that any recipients would have enough funds to buy such tickets in the first place; the average monthly SNAP benefit is $134 per person. Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution says, “There is undoubtedly some illegal bartering of EBT cards—though I understand trafficking in EBT cards is less than under the old food stamps—but I am having trouble imagining how you could barter an EBT card for an airplane ticket.” PolitiFact notes that Gingrich’s claims may have come from a recent news broadcast in St. Louis, which found that some Missouri SNAP recipients spent $2,737 on food in Hawaii in January 2011. The money, though spent out of state, was spent on legitimate goods such as groceries. The amount was .07 percent of the total money allocated to SNAP residents in Missouri for January 2011. And the Missouri beneficiaries had legitimate reasons to be in Hawaii—some of them were members of the military transferred to new duty bases, for example. If the Missouri story is the source of Gingrich’s claims, PolitiFact notes, then Gingrich completely misrepresented the facts of the story. As far as the “food stamps for millionaires” claim, anyone who earns over 130 percent of the poverty line cannot receive benefits. No such beneficiaries have been identified, and if they do exist, they are breaking the law. Michael Wiseman of George Washington University says, “I would challenge Newt Gingrich to find a millionaire in annual income who gets on food stamps legally.” PolitiFact says that Gingrich’s claims are “so ridiculous” that the researchers thought for a time that he might be joking. Think Progress reporter Marie Diamond calls Gingrich’s claims “absurd.” At a recent campaign event in Iowa, citizen Don Brantz confronted Gingrich, saying: “You don’t always tell the truth, Mr. Gingrich, and that food stamp thing is one of them. Iowa already has a computer system. We do not pay money so the people on food stamps can buy beer and anything else. It’s a very specific thing.” (Diamond notes that Gingrich is a frequent world traveller, taking lengthy vacations in luxury spots around the world. In one instance, he told reporters that after taking a luxury cruise in Greece, he came away with a deeper understanding of the European financial crisis.) (St. Petersburg Times 12/1/2011; Diamond 12/2/2011; Khan 1/2/2012) MSNBC talk show host Ed Schultz will say that Gingrich, like fellow Republican candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA), “is also quick to connect programs like food stamps to the African-American community.” Schultz’s guest, author and radio host Michael Eric Dyson, says: “I don’t think we need Newt Gingrich’s pedagogy in the NAACP. I think this is condescension at its most poignant. And, as with Rick Santorum, when you have pet Negro causes, you tend to treat Negros like pets.” New York Times columnist Charles Blow will say of Gingrich’s remarks that “this sort of racial pandering is exactly what happens at this point in a race.” Blow calls Gingrich’s remarks “extreme, very racist.” (Byers 1/6/2012)
According to a Washington Post analysis, 10 percent of US billionaires have given to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), who seems to be securing enough primary wins to be named the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Romney himself is a former venture capitalist worth at least $250 million. Forty-two of the US’s 412 billionaires have donated to Romney’s campaign and third-party “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011). President Obama has 30 billionaires on his donor list, or something over 7 percent. Romney opponents Rick Perry (R-TX) and Jon Huntsman (R-UT) have 20 and 12, respectively. The Washington Post reports: “Very wealthy donors are likely to play a greater role in this election cycle in the wake of recent court decisions that have loosened rules for campaign contributions (see January 21, 2010). That will only heighten one of the dominant narratives of the 2012 campaign: the nation’s rising income inequality and the outsize political influence of the super-wealthy.” Donors can only give $5,000 directly to candidates’ campaigns, but under the Citizens United ruling, they can give unlimited amounts to super PACs that run independent ads on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates. “The only limit on the resources is the willingness of the donors to give,” says government professor Anthony Corrado, a former Democratic official. “It doesn’t take long to transfer $500,000 from one account to another.” Obama had a head start in raising campaign funds going into October 2010, largely because the Republican candidates were spending money against one another in primary battles. But now that Romney seems more and more assured as the Republican nominee, Republican donors are expected to focus on donating to his campaign and super PACs, and are expected to catch up to and surpass Obama and the Democrats in short order (see August 2, 2010, September 20, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, May 5, 2011, and August 4, 2011). In 2008, Obama distanced his campaign from third-party donors, and donations from those individuals and interests were relatively down. But, perhaps recognizing the advantage Republicans have in raising money from the wealthy, Obama no longer objects to those donations. Romney’s largest donor so far is hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, who has given $1 million to Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011). Think Progress’s Travis Waldron notes that Paulson made millions by shorting the housing market before the mortgage collapse that sparked the global financial crisis and drove the US economy into a recession. Other billionaires supporting Romney include Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, California real estate developer Donald Bren, and developer and publisher Sam Zell. Several billionaires who used to support Romney’s primary opponent Newt Gingrich (R-GA), including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Amway founder Richard DeVos, are expected to begin giving generously to the Romney campaign or to his super PAC. Obama’s richest donor is Len Blavatnik, a Russian-American industrialist who has also donated to Romney. Other billionaires supporting Obama include insurance magnate Peter Lewis, former Google executive Eric Schmidt, and venture capitalist John Doerr. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt downplays the billionaire contributions, saying, “Our campaign is fueled by donations from more than 1 million Americans, 98 percent of which were in amounts of $250 or less.” Corrado says that as the November elections approach, spending will only increase. “One of the things about large investors in campaigns is that they’re very interested in getting results,” he says. “And it is much easier to get a large effect in a race if you can give to directly advocate for and against a candidate.” (Farnam 12/1/2011; Waldron 12/6/2011)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) modifies his previously stated stance that union janitors at public schools should be fired and poor schoolchildren should be put to maintenance and custodial tasks in their places (see November 18, 2011 and After). Gingrich now says that he recognizes some custodial jobs are dangerous, and says that poor students should be limited to jobs such as cleaning bathrooms. During a campaign rally, he asks, “What if they became assistant janitors and their jobs were to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?” Gingrich goes on to say that making poor kids work as janitors is similar to a successful program, Earning by Learning, that pays children to read books. He also says that poor children “have no habit of work” and no knowledge of how to make an income “unless it’s illegal.” He says: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.” Gingrich then goes on to attack child labor laws and the “liberals” who support them, saying: “This is something that no liberal wants to deal with. Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.… If we are all endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness, that has to apply to the poorest neighborhoods in the poorest counties, and I am prepared to find something that works, that breaks us out of the cycles we have now to find a way for poor children to work and earn honest money.” Alex Seitz-Wald of the progressive news Web site Think Progress responds, “Of course, reading books is not hard labor and is directly relevant to education—cleaning bathrooms is not.” (Seitz-Wald 12/1/2011; Easley 12/1/2011; Dover 12/1/2011) The next day, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly opines, “He seemed to try to clarify that… and say what he’s talking about is maybe having kids be assistants to those union members.” Jeremy Holden of the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters says of Gingrich’s entire proposal: “Here’s a thought. What if we focused on fixing the economy and schools, and the students’ ‘job’ was to go to school?” (Holden 12/2/2011) Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera later writes that it is obvious Gingrich knows little to nothing about the daily lives of poor people: “If he knew about the culture of poverty… Gingrich never would have proposed suspending child labor laws and putting ghetto public school students to work as junior janitors in fifth or sixth Grade. Like his earlier calls to bring back orphanages and to deny support to unmarried woman who have children while on welfare, this Gingrich proposal is crass and creepy.” Rivera notes that many poor families have breadwinners who work long hours in menial, physically demanding jobs, so poor children have many, many working role models in their lives. “[T]hese children know about work,” Rivera observes. (Rivera 12/8/2011) Gingrich later says that he will address the issue of poor children and work by taking part in a “program” by billionaire Donald Trump, the host of NBC’s The Apprentice, where Trump will hire 10 poor children as “apprentices.” Gingrich will elaborate, “I’ve asked [Trump] to take one of the poorer schools in New York and basically offer at least 10 apprenticeships to kids from that school to get them into the world of work, and to get them into an opportunity to earn money, and get them into the habit of showing up and realizing that effort gets rewarded, and that American is all about the work ethic.” (Edwards 12/5/2011)
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) criticizes the influence of super PACs and third-party organizations in political campaigns, calling the “new entities” a “disaster” and claiming that campaign finance laws have “made a mockery of our political campaign season.” Romney was the first to form a presidential super PAC, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011), and that organization has been extraordinarily successful in raising money to use for Romney’s benefit (see January 31, 2012, February 6, 2012, March 11, 2012, May 21, 2012, and Late May 2012). In an appearance on MSNBC, Romney says: “This is a strange thing in these campaign finance laws. They set up these new entities, which I think is a disaster, by the way. Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season.… We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs.” Republicans have advocated for unlimited direct contributions (see April 27, 2011, May 26, 2011 and After, January 10, 2012, January 21, 2012, and January 31, 2012) to candidates’ campaigns. Such direct contributions are currently illegal. Asked if he would ask ROF to stop running an ad that drew criticism from its target, Romney’s primary challenger Newt Gingrich (R-GA), he answers: “It’s illegal, as you probably know. Super PACs have to be entirely separate from a campaign and a candidate. I’m not allowed to communicate with a super PAC in any way, shape, or form. If we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house.” Gingrich has recently said that the idea of super PACs running entirely independently of the campaigns they work to assist is “baloney,” stating: “They ought to take this junk [negative ads] off the air. And don’t hide behind some baloney about, this ‘super PAC that I actually have no control over that happens to be run by five of my former staff.’ That’s just baloney.” ROF was created by, and is staffed by, many former aides and colleagues of Romney’s. Gingrich has named a former aide, Rick Tyler, to work with his super PAC, Winning Our Future. (Madison 12/11/2011)
Political satirist Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, mocks Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s recent calls to have public schools fire most of their professional custodial and maintenance staff and replace them with poor schoolchildren (see November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011). Stewart. along with Daily Show contributor Larry Wilmore, says that Gingrich’s proposal is an example of coded racism. Stewart notes that Gingrich modified his original claim that poor people have no work experience, and plays a video clip of Gingrich saying: “Some people who suggest that the working poor by definition know how to work, which is true, that’s why they’re called the working poor. I was talking about the people who come out of areas of neighborhoods where they may not have that experience.” Wilmore says, “Oh, okay, he’s not talking about poor people, he’s talking about poor black people.” Wilmore explains that Gingrich’s choice of phrasing, “in neighborhoods where they may not have that experience,” is “code for inner city, which is code for urban, which is code for black.” Stewart, pretending confusion, says, “It’s a lot of code,” to which Wilmore responds, “[I]t’s 2011, you can’t just call poor black people lazy.” According to Wilmore, Gingrich implied poor blacks were lazy by saying that they “have no habit of showing up on Monday.” Wilmore continues: “[S]omehow when black people are poor, it’s their fault. They’re on welfare and lazy, but down in poor white Appalachia, you’re not the problem. It’s China’s fault, or India’s fault, or all the money we’re spending on black people on welfare! I’m sorry, inner city government subsidy recipients. It’s code, Jon.” Wilmore points out that Gingrich’s solution, in Gingrich’s own words, is to have “poor neighborhood schools” hire schoolchildren to clean bathrooms and mop floors. Wilmore says: “Wait, Jon, so his plan to fix America is for black kids to start cleaning toilets?… He wants to give kids jobs by firing their parents from one of the few jobs they can get to support their kids!” The only other jobs those children see adults having, Gingrich says, is “a pimp or a prostitute or a drug dealer.” Wilmore concludes by proclaiming sarcastically: “Yep, dream big, black people. Hey, you don’t have to be a pimp, prostitute, or drug dealer. You can clean up people’s sh_t! Hey, that sounds… come on! Gingrich 2012, Yes We Clean!” (Daily Show 12/13/2011; Daily Kos 12/14/2011)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) tells a CBS audience that if he becomes president, he would send federal law enforcement officials to arrest judges who make rulings he finds unacceptable. Interviewed by CBS’s Bob Schieffer, he says the president should send Capitol Police officers or US Marshals to arrest “activist” judges who make controversial rulings, and compel them to appear before Congress to justify their decisions. Schieffer asks: “Let me just ask you this and we’ll talk about enforcing it, because one of the things you say is that if you don’t like what a court has done, the Congress should subpoena the judge and bring him before Congress and hold a congressional hearing. Some people say that’s unconstitutional. But I’ll let that go for a minute. I just want to ask you from a practical standpoint, how would you enforce that? Would you send the Capitol Police down to arrest him?” Gingrich responds he would if he “had to,” and continues, “Or you instruct the Justice Department to send the US Marshal.” A judge who issues what Gingrich calls a “radical” ruling would be forced to explain his ruling before Congress, Gingrich says: “I would then encourage impeachment, but before you move to impeach him you’d like to know why he said it.” If the judge refuses to appear under his own power, federal law enforcement officials are empowered to bring them in to testify involuntarily, he says: “I mean, you’re raising the core question—are judges above the rest of the constitution or are judges one of the three co-equal branches?… You have an increasingly arrogant judiciary. The question is: Is there anything we the American people can do? The standard answer has been eventually we’ll appoint good judges. I think that’s inadequate. The Constitution promises a balance of the judicial branch, the executive branch, and the legislative branch. The Federalist Papers say specifically the weakest of the three branches is the judiciary.” Schieffer says: “You know, the old saying in legal circles is that the Supreme Court is not last because it’s right. It’s right because it’s last. There comes a point where you have to accept things as the law of the land. How does the president decide what is a good law—and I’m going to obey the Supreme Court—or what’s a bad law and I’m just going to ignore it.” Gingrich replies: “I think it depends on the severity of the case. I’m not suggesting that the Congress and the president review every decision. I’m suggesting that when there are decisions… in which they are literally risking putting civil liberty rules in battlefields. I mean it is utterly irrational for the Supreme Court to take on its shoulders the defense to the United States. It is a violation of the Constitution.” Reporter Sam Stein notes that the day before, Gingrich held a half-hour telephone call with donors and supporters in which he pledged that if elected president, he would abolish courts and eliminate “activist judges” he considers “outside the mainstream or infringing too deeply on the commander in chief’s authority.” Many judicial experts consider Gingrich’s stance to be flatly unconstitutional. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served in the recent Bush administration, has called Gingrich’s ideas about the judiciary “dangerous, ridiculous, totally irresponsible, outrageous, off-the-wall, and [likely to] reduce the entire judicial system to a spectacle.” Bert Brandenburg of the nonpartisan Justice at Stake organization says: “Overall, he’s racing towards a cliff. It may be expedient to appeal to specific voters in primaries or caucuses, but it’s a constitutional disaster. Americans want courts that can uphold their rights and not be accountable to politicians. When you get to the point where you’re talking about impeaching judges over decisions or abolishing courts or calling them before Congress, it’s getting very far away from the American political mainstream.” Two of Gingrich’s Republican presidential challengers, Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), publicly disagree with Gingrich’s position, with Paul calling the idea of compelling judges to appear before Congress “a real affront to the separation of the powers.” Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University and a former federal appeals judge appointed by President Bush, says conservatives “should not be cheering” and “are misled” if they believe Gingrich’s ideas are in their best interests, especially considering many conservatives are relying on the Supreme Court to find President Obama’s health care legislation unconstitutional. He says: “You would think that this would be a time when they would be defending the independence of the judiciary, not attacking it. You can’t have it both ways. It can’t be that when conservative Republicans object to the courts, they have the right to replace judges, and when liberal Democrats disapprove of the courts, they don’t. And the Constitution is pretty clear that neither side can eliminate judges because they disagree with their decisions.” (Gardner and DeLong 12/18/2011; Ford 12/18/2011; Stein 12/18/2011; DeLong 12/19/2011)
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) has apparently exploited a loophole in campaign finance law that has allowed him to build what McClatchy News calls “a political money machine that raised $54 million over five years,” according to McClatchy reports. Gingrich has used “a supposedly independent political committee that collected unlimited donations” to “finance… a coast-to-coast shadow campaign that raised his profile and provided a launch pad for his presidential run.” Critics call the ASWF issue another aftereffect of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010).
$54 Million over 5 Years - The Gingrich-supporting PAC, “American Solutions for Winning the Future” (ASWF) was closed down in July 2011. Organized as a so-called “527 group” (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000), the tax-exempt, “nonprofit” organization raised $28.2 million in the two-year period ending December 31, 2010, the last period for which McClatchy has data. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that ASWF raised almost double the amount garnered by the next closest 527. The organization raised some $54 million throughout its existence, from 2006 to July 2011. McClatchy has learned some of the details behind ASWF and is now revealing them to the public. The organization provided at least $8 million to pay for the chartered luxury jets that Gingrich used to fly back and forth around the nation for public appearances and campaigning for president. The jet charters occurred during the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries.
Largely Financed by Billionaire, Corporate Donations - ASWF has accepted enormous cash donations from billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner, who has emerged as Gingrich’s primary benefactor. Adelson has given $7.65 million to ASWF, including a million-dollar startup contribution in 2006. According to an Adelson spokesperson, “he and Speaker Gingrich go back a number of years.” Adelson is a prominent supporter and financier of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and like Gingrich holds far-right, aggressively territorial views about Israel. Gingrich has made provocative statements about Israel and the Palestinian people over the years, denying that the Palestinians are a separate people and declaring his support for Israel’s forced-settlement plans that have displaced many Palestinians. A Gingrich spokesman says Adelson and others merely gave to the organization because they agree with Gingrich’s views. Charlotte, North Carolina, real estate developer Fred Godley gave ASWF $1.1 million in 2007 and another $100,000 in 2009. Energy firms donated heavily to ASWF: Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal producer, and its chief lobbyist Fred Palmer gave ASWF $825,000. Arch Coal, the US’s second-largest coal company, gave $100,000. Oil and gas firm Devon Energy gave $400,000, as did American Electric Power Company and its CEO Michael Morris. Plains Exploration Company gave $200,000. The late Cincinnati billionaire Carl Lindner gave $690,000. Dallas real estate firm Crow Holdings gave $600,000. Minnesota broadcasting mogul Stanley Hubbard gave $385,000. Wisconsin businessman Terry Kohler gave $328,082. California businessman Fred Sacher gave $275,000. NASCAR president James France gave $264,000. Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus gave $250,000. Another Las Vegas casino owner, the late Frank Fertitta Jr., gave $250,000, along with his sons; together the three of them co-owned a casino and the Ultimate Fighting Championship sports league. Former CarMax and Circuit City chief Richard Sharp gave $150,000. Stock brokerage titan Charles Schwab gave $150,000. Cincinnati Reds owner Robert Castellini gave $146,000. Political science professor Larry Sabato says that in light of such enormous contributions, “there’s no way that any politician is going to deny you much of anything that you want.”
New Super PACs Supplanting ASWF - In place of ASWF, two new pro-Gingrich super PACs have formed to support Gingrich’s attempt to close the gap between himself and frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the Republican primary.
'Diabolical Scheme' to 'Circumvent' Campaign Finance Law - Campaign expert Lawrence Jacobs calls Gingrich’s use of ASWF “clever,” and adds, “Looking back, and now seeing Gingrich as the frontrunner… it’s an ingenious, diabolical scheme to circumvent what’s left of the campaign finance regime.” Jacobs says of the organization: “The money wasn’t used literally to finance a campaign for a particular office. It was used for a general, over-time campaign to keep Gingrich alive politically—an enormously luxurious campaign operation to sustain his political viability for the right time to jump into the presidential race. It’s no accident that he’s popped in in 2012.” Jacobs says ASWF operated “right on the line” of legality. Sabato says ASWF played a key role in resuscitating Gingrich’s flagging political career. His term as speaker of the House ended in scandal and resignation, and his high-profile divorces and profligate personal and campaign spending had led many to assume that Gingrich’s political career was over. But Sabato says Gingrich used ASWF to create what he calls a new kind of informal candidacy, one that shows the inherent weakness of campaign finance laws that are supposed to ensure “nobody could give so much money that they would become too influential, too powerful.” ASWF was always nominally independent, as required by law, but in 2009 Gingrich ousted its board of directors and took the title of general chairman. Gingrich never formed a formal exploratory committee before declaring his candidacy for president. McClatchy observes, “None of his Republican presidential rivals, nor any other federal candidate for that matter, is known to have operated such a committee before formally declaring his or her candidacy.” Gingrich spokesperson R.C. Hammon says Gingrich did not begin considering a presidential campaign until April 2011, and all of his committee activities were “legitimate.” Hammond says: “The purpose of American Solutions was to advance an agenda of free enterprise and tri-partisan solutions. Those were the activities he was undertaking.” ASWF is just one of a network of political entities that Gingrich has created over the last 10 years. He has managed to enrich himself by charging lucrative fees for speeches, consulting for undisclosed health care industry firms, and selling historical documentaries and books. After the group was formed in the fall of 2006, Gingrich sent a letter to potential backers calling it a unique organization “designed to rise above traditional gridlocked partisanship” and to develop “breakthrough solutions to the most important issues facing this country.” Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman who served on ASWF’s board for two years, says the group “certainly helped build his path back into political prominence.” He adds, “They basically sent Newt around the country promoting American Solutions.” Weber is now supporting Romney for the presidency. He says that ASWF had “not gotten really up to speed in terms of programming” when he received a call, apparently in 2008, advising him that the board was being abolished. Gingrich then took over as the group’s general chairman.
Relatively Little Spent on Campaign Initiatives, Most Spent on Raising More Money - ASWF proposed a number of campaign and advertising initiatives that would appeal to conservative donors, including:
a “Drill Now!” movement aimed at increasing US oil exploration;
attempts to rally opposition to President Obama’s health care reform efforts;
a campaign to fight climate change legislation that would call for reduced carbon emissions by industrial concerns.
But of $37.9 million raised from 2006 through 2009, the committee spent just $7.2 million on programs, according to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Most of the ASWF money was spent on telemarketers and direct-mail appeals to develop a loyal pool of wealthy contributors. InfoCision, an Ohio telemarketing firm that specializes in building lists of “small” donors, was paid some $30 million over the course of the organization’s existence, exhausting much of the money contributed. $17 million of that money was used to finance Gingrich’s travel. (Gordon 12/19/2011; Waldron 12/19/2011)
The political watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) files a complaint against presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) alleging that he sold his mailing list to his own campaign for $42,000. CREW files the complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and calls the transaction an unlawful personal use of campaign funds. The complaint also alleges that Gingrich seems to be improperly commingling book sales and campaign events. The mailing list sale was never listed on FEC disclosure forms. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says: “Newt Gingrich will do anything to make a buck, even sell his own mailing list to his campaign. He has a long history of playing fast and loose with ethics rules, so it should surprise no one to learn he is at it again.” Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond says in response that “if the FEC considers the complaint, they will find that the rules are being followed and published regulations are being enforced.” It is not unusual for political campaigns to buy and sell mailing lists, but the Gingrich case is unusual because Gingrich’s campaign says it bought the mailing list directly from Gingrich, and not from a political committee or group. Documents show that Gingrich stated in July 2011 that he was owed $47,005 by the campaign for “direct mail list/travel.” At the time, Hammond said the campaign paid Gingrich $42,000 for the mailing list. Hammond claims that he, not Gingrich, owned the mailing list, and that the failure to disclose the payment was merely an oversight. In its complaint, CREW notes that the mailing list was not included as an asset in Gingrich’s financial disclosure records, which are filed by presidential candidates. Therefore, the group argues, the list appears to be owned by Gingrich Productions, which is the name of the holding firm now headed by Gingrich’s wife Callista. Gingrich Productions routinely sells books and other materials at the same venues as Gingrich holds campaign-related events, an improper “commingling” of sales and campaign appearances. Federal law prohibits candidates from using campaign resources to profit personally or from using corporate funds to subsidize a campaign. (Eggen 12/19/2011) On the same day as the complaint filing, the press reveals an “extraordinary” and potentially illegal relationship between Gingrich and an “independent” political PAC (see December 19, 2011).
Republican presidential contender Ron Paul (R-TX) again denies any involvement in the racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic content printed in his newsletters for 16 years (see 1978-1996). CNN anchor Sanjay Gupta describes Paul as “kind of prickly” over the accusations of racism in the newsletters, and notes that “his story appears to have changed over the years.” In 1996, Paul admitted writing much of the newsletters’ content, admitted to the positions taken in the newsletters, and called questions about his newsletters “gutter politics” (see May 22 - October 11, 1996). He began denying their content, and his involvement in his newsletters, in 2001 (see October 1, 2001). In 2007 and 2008, he freely admitted supporting the implicitly racist John Birch Society (JBS—see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008 and December 2011). He denied knowing anything about the newsletters’ objectionable content in 2008 (see January 8-15, 2008 and January 16, 2008) when the questions arose during that year’s presidential contests; Paul supporters accused rival libertarians of smearing Paul’s character (see January 12-15, 2008). In May 2011, Paul was one of five Republican presidential candidates to take part in a debate sponsored in part by the JBS and a racist militia group (see May 5, 2011). Today, Paul walks out of an interview with CNN reporter Gloria Borger rather than continue to answer her questions about his newsletters. He tells Borger that he read the newsletters published under his name “on occasion,” and implies that he was too busy with his medical practice to pay close attention to the newsletters. “You know, I didn’t write them and I don’t endorse those views and I’ve explained it many times,” he tells Borger. “I never read that stuff. I never—I would never—I came—I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written, and it’s been going on 20 years that people have pestered me about this, and CNN does every single time. So when are you going to wear yourself out?” Paul says even asking about the newsletters is not legitimate, and instead the media should just accept his denials and move on. Borger says such questioning is legitimate because “[t]hese things are pretty incendiary, you know.” Paul retorts, “Because of people like you.” When Borger presses the issue, Paul walks away and refuses to answer further questions. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState (.com), who is not a Paul supporter, asks Gupta why in 2008 Paul “allowed neo-Nazi Web sites to fundraise for him. We can ask him why three years ago he went on Iranian TV to say that Israelis had set up concentration camps to indiscriminately kill Palestinians.… But I think a more relevant question is, if we can’t go back and ask him these questions from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, why then he—can he go back to the ‘90s and attack [fellow Republican presidential candidates] Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or Rick Perry for things? They wrote it. Does he believe this is a legitimate double standard?… Ron Paul supporters frequently attacked Barack Obama for sitting in Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church (see January 6-11, 2008) and Barack Obama has denied ever hearing Jeremiah Wright’s sermons. How is Ron Paul’s denial of knowing these things any different from going after Barack Obama for the Reverend Wright matter? There is none. They can’t defend that.” (CNN 12/21/2011) Note: Erickson is referring to a specific sermon of Wright’s, where he denounced what he called America’s “white arrogance.” Obama did not hear the sermon because he was not in Illinois at the time (see August 1, 2008 and After).
The Virginia Republican Party will require voters to sign a loyalty oath in order to participate in the March 6 presidential primary. In order to vote in the primary, Virginians will have to sign a form at the polling place pledging to support the eventual Republican nominee for president. Any voter who refuses to sign the oath would not be allowed to vote. The State Board of Elections voted 3-0 to approve the forms as requested by the Virginia GOP. The oath is legal under Section 24.2-545 of the Code of Virginia. The oath reads, “I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for president.” The voter must then sign the form and print his or her name. Only two candidates, Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), will be on the ballot; other Republican candidates either did not garner enough signatures to qualify or did not seek to be placed on the ballot. Virginia has “open” primaries, which means that voters from any party, or unaffiliated voters, may vote in any party’s primary, although voters must only vote in one primary of their choosing. In the 2000 GOP presidential primary, voters were required to sign a pledge reading, “I, the undersigned, state that I do not intend to participate in the nomination process of any other party than the Republican Party.” Virginia did not hold a GOP primary election in 2004 because President Bush was running uncontested for re-election. For the 2008 elections, the Virginia GOP chose not to require a loyalty oath, partially because Democrats were voting in their own primary election. In 2012, there will be no Virginia Democratic primary because President Obama will be the only Democrat on the ballot. GOP State Delegate Robert Marshall says he disagrees with the idea of a loyalty oath, and that such a thing does not fit in with the philosophy espoused by the Republican Party. “Ironically, requiring a loyalty oath will bar even former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich [another presidential candidate who is not on the ballot] from voting in the primary because he already has said unequivocally that he will not vote for Ron Paul for president if he’s the Republican nominee,” Marshall says. “Virginia’s Republican leadership wants to mandate a loyalty oath when Virginia’s Republican officials are in court fighting the Obamacare mandate? This sends the wrong message.” (Cain 12/29/2011; Walker 12/29/2011)
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says that his primary opponent, frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), is lying about having no control or influence over his “independent” super PAC, Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011). Gingrich, asked if he is accusing Romney of lying about his involvement with the organization, affirms the suggestion, saying: “This is a man whose staff created the PAC (Restore Our Future), his friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC. It’s baloney. He’s not telling the American people the truth.” (Todd and Gregory 1/3/2012) Gingrich is facing allegations that he has misused a super PAC that advocated on his behalf (see December 19, 2011).
As Republican voters in Iowa go to cast their votes for the party’s presidential nominee in statewide caucuses, spending by the various candidates in the state is at an all-time high, topping $16 million. Broken down by candidate, the spending on candidate advertising, voter drives, and other political activities is as follows:
Governor Rick Perry (R-TX): $4.3 million from his campaign. Perry’s super PAC, Make Us Great Again, has spent $1.6 million.
Representative Ron Paul (R-TX): $2.8 million from his campaign.
Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA): $1.5 million from his campaign. His super PAC, Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011 and January 3, 2012), has spent $2.8 million.
Former Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA): $980,000 from his campaign. His super PAC, Winning Our Future (see December 19, 2011), has spent $264,000.
Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA): $30,000 from his campaign. His super PAC, the Red White and Blue Fund, has spent $530,000.
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN): $180,000 from her campaign.
The super PAC expenditures in Iowa primary activities—at least $6 million—far outstrip the $1.5 million spent by outside groups in Iowa in 2004 and the $3.4 million spent in 2008. Spending in upcoming primaries in other states is predicted to be even higher. (Todd and Gregory 1/3/2012; Seitz-Wald 1/3/2012) The day before the primaries, the New York Times writes a blistering op-ed, “The Slush Funds of Iowa,” decrying the “unrelenting arctic blast of campaign ads” featuring “constant negativity” from the various campaigns. The Times calls the super PACs behind most of the ads “essentially septic tanks into which wealthy individuals and corporations can drop unlimited amounts of money, which is then processed into ads that are theoretically made independently of the candidates.” The Times says that regardless of the pretense of independence both the super PACs and the candidates maintain, “the PACs are, in fact, a vital part of the campaigns’ strategy.” The editorial cites an earlier Times report that cited Romney as an example, comparing the upbeat, family-oriented ads aired in Iowa by the Romney campaign with the relentless negative ads aired by his PAC, and saying that Romney “has effectively outsourced his negative advertising to a group that has raised millions of dollars from his donors to inundate his opponents with attacks.” The editorial notes, “Mr. Romney’s name is never mentioned [in the negative ads], and few [Iowa] viewers will realize that the ad’s producers are all close associates of his who worked on his campaign four years ago.” (New York Times 1/2/2012)
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus sharply criticizes the actions of so-called “super PACs.” Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. A mere 12 donors, including several corporations, one union, and a number of billionaires, made up over half of the donations given to super PACs in the first half of 2011, and Republican super PACs have outraised Democratic super PACs by more than a 2-1 margin (see August 4, 2011). Marcus writes that the presidential election is already devolving into an affair “without meaningful contribution limits or timely disclosure, outsourced to political action committees whose spending often dwarfs that of the candidates they support.” The PACs and super PACs rarely obey the law and operate independently of the candidates they support. The Republican primary season demonstrates just how powerful they are: the super PAC supporting presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), “Restore Our Future,” has spent $4 million attacking Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA). The veneer of independence for Restore Our Future is thin: it is run by former Romney political director Carl Forti, its treasurer Charles Spies was Romney’s general counsel, its head fundraiser Steve Roche used to head the Romney 2012 finance team, and Romney has spoken at Restore Our Future events (see June 23, 2011). However, Marcus notes, “up-to-date information about who is bankrolling this effort will not be available until the end of January, by which point four states will have voted and Romney may have the nomination wrapped up.” Restore Our Future was last required to report its donors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in July 2011, when it reported raising $12 million. Gingrich’s own super PAC, “Winning Our Future,” is primarily funded by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, and their fellow Republican candidate Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) has the super PAC “Make Us Great Again.” Long-shot Republican candidate Jon Huntsman’s super PAC, “Our Destiny,” is reportedly funded primarily by Huntsman’s wealthy father. And President Obama’s super PAC, “Priorities USA Action,” has launched anti-Romney ads. Marcus writes, “The rise of these groups erodes the twin pillars of a functional campaign finance system: limits on the size of contributions and timely information about who is writing the checks.” Her concerns are echoed by veteran campaign finance reformer Fred Wertheimer, who recently said: “The establishment of the candidate-specific super PAC is a vehicle to completely destroy candidate contribution limits. It is a vehicle that will spread to Congress and it will lead us back to a system of pure legalized bribery, because you will be back, pre-Watergate, to unlimited contributions that are going for all practical purposes directly to candidates.” For now, super PACs, with their supposed independence, are free to air advertisements attacking opposing candidates while the candidate they support, Marcus writes, “gets to remain above the fray, not required to appear on camera to say that he or she approved this message.” FEC official Ellen Weintraub tells Marcus, “I view the super PAC as the evil twin of the candidate’s campaign committee.” Referring to the legal limit of $2,500 for donations to candidates from individual or corporate donors, Weintraub says, “How can it possibly be true that to give more than $2,500 to a candidate is potentially corrupting but to give millions to an outside group that is acting on the candidate’s behalf is not?” Marcus concludes by saying that “dangerous” super PACs will only increase their influence as the presidential campaign season continues. (Marcus 1/3/2012)
Dahlia Lithwick, the senior legal correspondent for Slate, muses on the likelihood that the US Supreme Court will overturn a recent decision by the Montana Supreme Court that upheld the state’s limits on corporate election spending (see December 30, 2011 and After). The Montana high court’s opinion directly contradicts the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Lithwick notes that some Republican primary candidates are learning to their sorrow just how effective corporate spending can be when it is turned against them, citing Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who was targeted by almost $5 million of super PAC spending on negative ads against him in the recent Iowa caucuses (see January 3, 2012). Much of that came from a super PAC supporting Gingrich’s rival Mitt Romney (R-MA). Lithwick also cites a recent column by liberal columnist Ruth Marcus “explaining all the ways in which the super PACs are both coordinating with campaigns and evading federal disclosure requirements” (see January 3, 2012). Marcus wrote that the Citizens United decision set the stage for just the kind of negative, coordinated attacks seen in Iowa, and allowed the political system to be overwhelmed by corporate-funded entities that are not publicly accountable (see January 4, 2012). The probability for historic levels of corruption was overwhelming, Lithwick writes, and entirely foreseeable (see October 17, 2011). Lithwick notes conservative legal scholar Eugene Volokh as saying the Montana high court’s decision “practically begs to be overturned at the Supreme Court.” But the Montana high court, citing specific evidence showing the potential for corruption in the plaintiff’s actions (including a fundraising brochure that promised donors “no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you made” any donations), found that the limits on corporate electoral spending are necessary to keep corruption at bay. Lithwick concludes, “I think what we just saw in Iowa and Montana proves again that corporations aren’t really people, money isn’t really speech, and that saying so isn’t just a way of speaking truth to power.” (Lithwick 1/4/2012)
The presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich (R-GA) expresses its anger at media coverage of its candidate’s recent remarks alleging that African-Americans rely more on food stamps than other ethnic groups, and seemingly prefer that reliance to actual work (see January 5, 2012). Campaign spokespersons tell reporters that Gingrich’s words were misquoted and taken out of context. Gingrich himself, asked about the remarks, says: “I know that the left has a passion for defending its right to be the only moral arbiter in America. Therefore… if you in fact talk openly and honestly about the failure of liberal institutions and the way they hurt the poor, there becomes a sudden frenzy of a herd of people running screaming, ‘racism, racism.’ It is a fact that liberal institutions in inner cities have failed the poor. It’s a fact that bad schools trap poor children. It’s a fact that bad public safety policies lead to the collapse of cities like Detroit. It is a fact that high taxation drives jobs out. It’s a fact that the approach that favors unemployment compensation and food stamps over work and pay checks has failed. I’m happy to have that debate. I believe all Americans of every ethnic background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. I’m prepared to discuss that even if it makes liberals uncomfortable. For the life of me I cannot understand why having a conservative Republican who cares about young people having jobs should be seen as such a terrible idea. Or should be seen as somehow a racist characterization. I think all young people of all backgrounds should have jobs.” MSNBC’s Ed Schultz calls Gingrich’s comments “racially insensitive” and “simply not true.” He then shows the statistics of Americans given benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Around 40 million Americans receive SNAP benefits: 59 percent of those are white and 28 percent are black. Thirty percent of SNAP recipients have jobs and depend on SNAP to supplement their income. Forty-seven percent of SNAP recipients are children. Seventy-six percent of SNAP households contain a child, an elderly person, and/or a disabled person. Schultz says Gingrich’s comments were reported accurately, regardless of Gingrich’s protestations that the media “distorted” his comments and crafted “an attack” with the misreported words. NAACP president Benjamin Jealous calls Gingrich’s remarks “extremely frustrating” to hear, and says Gingrich is trying to “divide” the country along racial lines for his electoral gain. Gingrich uses “stereotypes… not rooted in fact” on which to base his arguments, Jealous says, and adds, “His facts are wrong, the implications are wrong, and the effect is wrong.” (MSNBC 1/5/2012; Byers 1/6/2012)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA), continuing his rhetorical attacks on President Obama, singles out African-Americans as largely dependent on “food stamps.” Appearing at campaign rallies in New Hampshire, Gingrich repeatedly calls Obama “the best food stamp president in history,” says he would be “the best paycheck president in American history,” and says of African-Americans that he wants to tell them why they should “not be satisfied with food stamps.” Gingrich says he would be willing to discuss the topic at the next NAACP convention. Gingrich says: “More people are on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history. Now, there’s no neighborhood I know of in America where if you went around and asked people, ‘Would you rather your children had food stamps or paychecks?’ you wouldn’t end up with a majority saying they’d rather have a paycheck. And so I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. And I’ll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which should be particularly good for African-American males—because they’re the group that gets the smallest return on Social Security because they have the shortest life span.” Think Progress reporter Tanya Somanader calls Gingrich’s take on food stamp recipients both “prejudicial” and “false.” The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has white Americans as the majority of its recipients. Most Americans receiving food stamps are either children or elderly retirees. Working-age women of all races represent only 28 percent of SNAP beneficiaries, and working-age men represent only 17 percent. Many SNAP beneficiaries actually have jobs and bring home paychecks that are their primary source of income; 85 percent of those recipients live below the poverty line. Somanader writes, “Thus, SNAP benefits provide a necessary safety net to families trying to stay afloat in a sluggish economy.” (Khan 1/2/2012; Somanader 1/5/2012) NAACP president Benjamin Jealous will note that Gingrich rejected multiple invitations to speak at the NAACP convention in past years. (MSNBC 1/5/2012) Gingrich’s fellow Republican candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) recently said that he wanted to end the cycle of blacks “taking someone else’s money” via SNAP and other federal safety-net programs (see January 1-3, 2012). Gingrich recently advocated firing most school custodial and maintenance workers and forcing poor children (presumably federal aid recipients) to fill the positions instead (see November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011). Previously, Gingrich has accused food stamp recipients of being millionaires and using the money to “go to Hawaii” (coincidentally Obama’s home state). Government and independent experts say that the surge in federal aid recipients—higher now than in any time in US history—is because of policies instituted under George W. Bush and, in some cases, continued by Obama. The stories Gingrich tells of millionaire food stamp recipients vacationing in Hawaii have been shown to be false (see November 30 - December 2, 2011), though under a now-obsolete form of food stamp distribution, some recipients were able to use the proceeds to buy beer or trade them for small amounts of cash. (Khan 1/2/2012)
Casino owner Sheldon Adelson, one of America’s wealthiest individuals, gives $5 million to a super PAC acting on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Adelson’s fortune comes from casinos he owns in Las Vegas and Asia. Adelson has let it be known that he intends to donate much more during the campaign season, both in the primaries and in the general election, when a Republican will challenge President Obama for the presidency. The Washington Post calls Adelson’s donation “the latest in an avalanche of campaign cash flooding the presidential season to independent groups known as super PACs.” Adelson donates the money to Winning Our Future, a super PAC whose predecessor, American Solutions for Winning the Future (ASWF), is plagued with allegations of misconduct and illicit involvement by Gingrich (see December 19, 2011). ASWF was also a benefactor of Adelson’s donations, both monetary and in Adelson’s permission for Gingrich to use his personal aircraft. According to a person close to Adelson, the billionaire is willing to spend at least $5 million more, either on Gingrich or the Republican nominee for president. The source adds that Adelson wants to keep Gingrich competitive in the primary race at least through the January 21 South Carolina primary. If Gingrich does well in South Carolina, as he is predicted to, the source says Gingrich’s super PAC may well receive another hefty donation. In December 2011, Adelson denied saying he planned on donating $20 million to the organization. Adelson and his wife Miriam have known Gingrich since the mid-1990s, when Adelson was locked in disputes with labor unions and government regulators over his construction of the massive Venetian casino in Las Vegas. Like Gingrich, Adelson is extremely conservative on the subject of Israel. Gingrich, buoyed with super PAC donations in recent weeks, did well in the Iowa caucuses (see January 3, 2012) against frontrunner Mitt Romney, whose own super PAC, Restore Our Future, has a stable of wealthy donors keeping pro-Romney and anti-Gingrich ads on the airwaves (see June 23, 2011 and January 3, 2012). Reportedly, Romney’s supporters begged Adelson not to make his contribution to Gingrich, and instead to let Gingrich’s campaign wither without Adelson’s support. Gingrich’s campaign intends to use much of the donation for airtime in South Carolina, and to air portions of a film documenting Romney’s time as CEO of Bain Capital, a private equity firm that oversaw the bankruptcy and dissolution of numerous small businesses and corporations. Gingrich claims Adelson is acting entirely on his own, saying, “If he wants to counterbalance Romney’s millionaires, I have no objection to him counterbalancing Romney’s millionaires.” (Grimaldi 1/7/2012; Confessore and Lipton 1/9/2012) Slate columnist Will Oremus observes: “There’s no question that Gingrich has been paid for by Sheldon Adelson. It’s up to voters to decide whether he’s been bought.” (Oremus 1/27/2012)
The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the “food stamp” program, is playing a critical role in keeping American citizens from starving during the economic recession. The program has long been reviled by Republicans and conservatives, and recently Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich (R-GA) smeared President Obama as “the food stamp president” (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012), and falsely claimed that Obama has presided over the largest increase of Americans receiving SNAP assistance in US history (see January 17, 2012). The program benefits a disproportionately large number of children and disabled and elderly people, according to the CBPP. Since the recession began in late 2007, the CBPP says, “SNAP has responded effectively to the recession” in providing much-needed assistance to Americans, particularly since the recession has driven many families into “low-income” status. “According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which counts SNAP as income, SNAP kept more than 5 million people out of poverty in 2010 and lessened the severity of poverty for millions of others.” As the economy recovers and legislative provisions expire, SNAP spending will decrease, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predictions. “By 2022 SNAP is expected to return nearly to pre-recession levels as a share of GDP. Over the long term, SNAP is not growing faster than the overall economy and thus is not contributing to the nation’s long-term fiscal problems.” The payment accuracy of SNAP is extraordinarily high, the CBPP claims, refuting the claims of massive fraud made by Gingrich and other opponents of the program. And, according to the CBPP, economists say that the program is “one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus,” helping grow the economy as it protects poverty-stricken families. (Rosenbaum 1/9/2012)
Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the second Bush administration, writes that the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the subsequent flood of corporate money into the political campaign continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, and January 10, 2012) are good for American politics. (Smith 1/13/2012) According to a 2008 press report, Smith co-founded the CCP in 2006 in order to roll back campaign finance regulations, claiming that virtually any regulation is bad for politics. Smith has refused to reveal the financial sponsors that gave him the “seed money” to start the organization. Smith helped win the landmark SpeechNow case (see March 26, 2010) that allowed for the creation of “super PACs,” the organizations that are primarily responsible for flooding the campaign with corporate money. According to law professor Richard Hasen, Smith and the CCP have worked diligently to bring cases like the SpeechNow case to the Supreme Court so that the conservative-dominated Court can “knock them out of the park.” (Cummings 8/12/2008) Smith now writes: “Super PACs are not an evil tolerated under the First Amendment—they are what the First Amendment is all about. A super PAC, after all, is simply a group of citizens pooling resources to speak out about politics.” He claims that super PACs merely “leveled the playing field” after Democrats and Democratic-supporting organizations consistently outfunded Republican campaigns during elections. Super PACs have kept the presidential campaigns of candidates such as Rick Santorum (R-GA—see February 16-17, 2012) and Newt Gingrich (see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) alive. Smith predicts that Democrats will easily outspend Republicans again once the presidential primary campaign concludes (see Around October 27, 2010), November 1, 2010 and May 5, 2011), but says, “Super PACs, however, will help level the field.” Smith claims that super PACs “disclose all of their expenditures and all of their donors,” and claims that any information to the contrary is wrong, as it is “confusing super PACs with traditional nonprofits such as the NAACP or the Sierra Club.” He concludes: “Super PACs are helping to shatter the old, established order, create more competition, and break the hold of special interests lobbyists—big business actually joined the ‘reform’ community in opposing super PACs in court. Are super PACs harming politics? Of course not. How odd that anyone would think that more political speech was bad for democracy.” (Smith 1/13/2012) The Citizens United decision specifically allows for donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010).
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says that the federal government should fire employees who hold liberal views, a suggestion that directly contravenes federal law. Gingrich makes his suggestion during a Fox News forum hosted by Fox talk show host Mike Huckabee, a 2008 presidential candidate. “I think an intelligent conservative wants the right federal employees delivering the right services in a highly efficient way and then wants to get rid of those folks who are in fact wasteful, or those folks who are ideologically so far to the left, or those people who want to frankly dictate to the rest of us,” he says. TPM Muckraker reporter Ryan J. Reilly writes that such an idea comes “uncomfortably close to being in conflict with a federal law making it illegal to take any personnel action against an employee ‘based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicapping condition, marital status, or political affiliation.’ Accusations that political affiliation was taken into account would [usually] be investigated by the Office of Special Counsel.” Reilly goes on to note that similarly ideological-based discriminatory hiring practices were followed by the Bush administration. (Reilly 1/14/2012)
Fox News commentator Juan Williams, an African-American, takes umbrage with recent comments by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) that he says had unacceptably racial overtones. Williams, moderating a Republican presidential debate in South Carolina with Gingrich and other candidates for Fox News, asks: “Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012). You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools (see November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011). Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?” Gingrich responds, “No, I don’t see that.” Gingrich reiterates his call for poor students to earn money by doing janitorial work around their schools, saying that they would earn money, “which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money.” Williams presses Gingrich, asking him if his comments, including his reference to Obama as a “food stamp president,” don’t belittle the poor and racial minorities: “My Twitter has been inundated with people of all races asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor,” he says. Gingrich retorts: “The fact is more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.… I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their Creator with the right to pursue happiness, and if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job.” The debate audience, described by Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser as “largely white [and] Republican,” cheers Gingrich’s remarks and boos Williams. (Fox News 1/16/2012; Martel 1/16/2012; Millhiser 1/17/2012) Williams later says that he believes Gingrich is “pandering” to conservative and presumably racist voters in the audience (see January 18, 2012). Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh will accuse Williams, not Gingrich, of appealing to racism in his question. “[T]his line of questioning was all racially tinted from Juan Williams,” Limbaugh will say. “Newt Gingrich did not take the bait and answer in a racial context. He answered within the context that we’re all people and that we, as conservatives, want the best for everybody.… [W]e are for everybody doing well, that we conservatives do not see black and white, male, female, gay, straight when we look at people down the line. We see potential. We want the best for everybody. We know what’s holding ‘em back, and that’s government, government central planners, people like Barack Obama, [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, who look at people and see them with contempt and condescension, see them being incapable, and they treat them that way and they devise systems to deal with them that way, and they keep them forever dependent, which destroys their humanity, which makes us sick. It breaks our hearts.” (Rush Limbaugh 1/17/2012) Limbaugh later claims that Williams would not have a job if not for “the white guy, conservative who runs Fox News.” (Media Matters 1/31/2012) Millhiser reiterates the facts that “[t]he overwhelming majority of African-Americans are not on food stamps” and “the majority of [Americans] who receive food stamps are white.” He writes: “It’s deeply disturbing that a man who claims he should be president of the United States cannot understand why his remarks are offensive.… Gingrich’s suggestion that food stamps are somehow a preeminent black issue flies in the face of reality. Worse, it lumps all African-Americans together as federal aid recipients when the overwhelming majority of working-age black men and women are self-supporting taxpayers. Thousands of them are professionals such as doctors or lawyers. One of them is the president of the United States.” (Millhiser 1/17/2012) Gingrich has a history of making racially questionable remarks and characterizations (see May 27, 2009, June 7, 2009, August 16, 2010, September 12, 2010 and After and December 13, 2011). His claim that Obama has presided over more Americans receiving food stamps than ever before is wrong (see January 17, 2012). And a recent study by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found SNAP to be an extraordinarily effective program in helping Americans survive the effects of the recession (see January 9, 2012).
The nonpartisan FactCheck.org finds that recent claims by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history” are wrong. In fact, far more Americans were added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rolls under President George W. Bush than under Obama. Gingrich has made the claim in a number of political speeches (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012), but his reiteration of the claim during a recent Republican debate in South Carolina has drawn a great deal of media attention (see January 16, 2012). FactCheck finds: “Gingrich would have been correct to say the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it’s also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office. But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents.” Information from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)‘s Food and Nutrition Service going back to January 2001 “show[s] that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.” Moreover, “the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.” The trend in recent months has been for the number of food-stamp recipients to decline, another fact Gingrich fails to note. FactCheck finds that the rise in the number of Americans on food stamps—currently one out of seven—began during the second term of the Bush presidency. “In the 12 months before Obama was sworn in, 4.4 million were added to the rolls, triple the 1.4 million added in 2007,” the organization writes. “To be sure, Obama is responsible for some portion of the increase since then. The stimulus bill he signed in 2009 increased benefit levels, making the program more attractive. A family of four saw an increase of $80 per month, for example.… The stimulus also made more people eligible. Able-bodied jobless adults without dependents could get benefits for longer than three months.” Part of the reason for the higher number of recipients under Obama is the new outreach to eligible citizens by state governments, according to the USDA; many state governments have worked harder to inform eligible citizens of their right to apply for government assistance, and have reduced the amount of information that claimants must provide to receive assistance. FactCheck concludes: “We don’t argue that the program is either too large (as Gingrich does) or too small. It has certainly reached a historically high level, and may or may not grow even larger in the months to come. But the plain fact is that the growth started long before Obama took office, and participation grew more under Bush.” And it quotes the USDA’s Kevin Concannon, who recently told a Wall Street Journal reporter, “I realize Mr. Gingrich is a historian, but I’m not sure he’d get very high marks on that paper.” (Jackson 1/17/2012) CBS News notes that the White House has called Gingrich’s claims “crazy,” and finds: “While the number of people on food stamps is indeed at a record level, that’s in part because of eligibility rules being relaxed under the administration of George W. Bush. It’s also due in part to the economic downturn that began under Mr. Bush.… [T]hat percentage increase hardly makes Obama the ‘best food stamp president in American history,’ at least when you look at the question proportionally. The percent increase in beneficiaries during Mr. Bush’s presidency was higher than it has been under Mr. Obama: The number of beneficiaries went from 17.3 million in 2001 to 28.2 million in 2008—an increase of 63 percent in years that are mostly considered non-recessionary.” (Hughes 1/17/2012) US News and World Report agrees with FactCheck, finding that “SNAP participation has been on the rise since well before President Obama took office. Nearly 17.2 million people in FY 2000 participated in the program, a figure that increased by nearly 64 percent by 2008.” (Kurtzleben 1/17/2012) The Associated Press accuses Gingrich of distorting the facts and notes: “It’s gotten easier to qualify for food stamps in the past decade but that is because of measures taken before Obama became president. It’s true that the number of people on food stamps is now at a record level. That’s due mainly to the ailing economy, which Republicans blame on Obama, as well as rising food costs. The worst downturn since the Great Depression wiped out 8.7 million jobs, pushed the unemployment rate to a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, and increased poverty.” (Associated Press 1/17/2012) The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that SNAP is a critical element in keeping poverty-stricken Americans, particularly children and the elderly, from starving during the economic recession (see January 9, 2012).
New York Times political columnist Charles Blow attacks presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) for “belittling” both African Americans and African-American debate moderator Juan Williams in a recent Republican presidential debate (see January 16, 2012). Blow accuses Gingrich of “sneer[ing]” at Williams “for having the temerity to ask him if his condescending remarks about the work ethic of poor black people are indeed condescending.” He also points out the underlying messages in Gingrich’s statements: When Gingrich says that “only the elites despise earning money,” Blow writes that his implication is “that elites are liberals, not men like Gingrich—whose net worth the Los Angeles Times has estimated to be $6.7 million, who was a history professor, who was paid $1.6 million dollars by Freddie Mac for ‘advice,’ and who had a half million dollar line of credit at Tiffany’s. If Gingrich isn’t among America’s elite, the word no longer has meaning.” Instead, Blow writes, Gingrich is targeting President Obama as an “elitist liberal.” Blow quotes Gingrich earlier in the debate saying: “It tells you everything you need to know about the difference between Barack Obama and the [other four Republican candidates in the debate]: that we actually think work is good. We actually think saying to somebody, ‘I’ll help you if you’re willing to help yourself’ is good. And we think unconditionally efforts by the best food stamp president in American history to maximize dependency is terrible for the future of this country.” Gingrich has repeatedly labeled Obama as “the food stamp president” (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012). Blow writes: “The phrase ‘maximize dependency’ is a particularly interesting one because it suggests a systematic, orchestrated campaign by the president and liberals in general to keep blacks poor and dependent on ‘big government’ as a way of insuring their continued political support. This is a classic, right-wing, race-based argument in a new suit.” Williams asked again if Gingrich could not see that he was deriding African-Americans by his remarks, and Gingrich reiterated his positions and again insulted poor people’s work ethic. Blow observes: “These exchanges, and the audience’s response to them, underscore how Republicans’ gut reactions and their official rhetoric diverge, particularly in the [S]outh. [Gingrich] understands this cleavage and knows how to exploit it in subtle and sophisticated ways.… Gingrich seems to understand the historical weight of the view among some southern whites, many of whom have migrated to the Republican Party, that blacks are lazy and addicted to handouts. He is able to give voice to those feelings without using those words. He is able to make people believe that a fundamentally flawed and prejudicial argument that demeans minorities is actually for their uplift. It is Gingrich’s gift: He is able to make ill will sound like good will.” (Blow 1/17/2012)
Fox News begins adopting the characterization of President Obama as “the food stamp president” currently being used by Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich (see November 30 - December 2, 2011, January 5, 2012, and January 16, 2012). On January 17, Fox host Eric Bolling says of Obama: “But he is the food stamp president. There[.] I have no problem with this.… Obama has presided—presided over the biggest expansion in food stamp usage, in numbers: in pure dollar amount, it went from $60 billion to an $83 billion program—the fourth-largest entitlement program in America. Under Obama, it’s exploded. Why can’t he be—and by the way, food stamps, there are more white people on food stamps than black people. So it’s not a racial issue.” (Media Matters 1/17/2012; Media Matters 1/31/2012) The same day, Fox pundit Tucker Carlson says on Sean Hannity’s show that Gingrich is doing a “great job” explaining why Obama is “the food stamp president,” adding, “And more people have joined the food stamp program under Obama than any other president.” The day after, Fox pundit Dick Morris says on Hannity’s show: “Newt is totally right. When Obama took office, there were 32 million people on food stamps. Now, there are 46 million. What Obama has done is, under [former President] Clinton, he cut the welfare rolls in half, and now Obama has basically put everybody in the country on welfare.” Another of Hannity’s guests, former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), criticizes the White House for challenging Gingrich’s characterizations, saying “they protest too much because the facts are what they are—and that’s hundreds of thousands of more Americans are now on food stamps than before Barack Obama took over.” Hannity agrees, saying: “He is the food stamp president. Look at the numbers, they speak for themselves—32 million to 46 million, 12 million increase. Obama’s policies have resulted in a lot more people being on food stamps. What’s the problem?” Fox’s “straight news” anchor Monica Crowley reiterates the characterization on Fox News’s America Live, telling viewers: “At this point, what Newt is saying is that this administration took a bad economy and made it so much worse, with polices that have really oppressed job creation, suppressed economic growth, to the point where people cannot find jobs. And also, you know, one thing he didn’t say, which is the extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks and so on. You know how the situation in America… where you have record numbers of people not just on food stamps, 46 million, but record numbers of people on at least one or more social welfare programs, and that’s a direct result of the Obama administration’s policies.” (Media Matters 1/19/2012; Media Matters 1/31/2012) The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that according to the statistics, the number of food stamp recipients went up far more under President George W. Bush than under Obama, rendering the claims of Gingrich and the Fox News commentators inaccurate (see January 17, 2012). (Media Matters 1/31/2012)
Fox News commentator Juan Williams discusses the recent exchange between himself and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich over what Williams characterizes as racially motivated comments from Gingrich. Hosting a debate between Republican presidential contenders, Williams, an African-American, asked Gingrich whether he understood that his recent comments belittling blacks as food stamp recipients who were unused to working (see November 30 - December 2, 2011, January 5, 2012, November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011) were being received negatively by African-Americans, and Gingrich responded by repeating the claims, to the loud approval of the debate audience (see January 16, 2012). Williams tells Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that Gingrich intended to “play racial politics” in responding to Williams. Williams also attacks Gingrich’s premise that the young and poor in America have little interest in landing jobs, telling O’Reilly, “When you see that jobs are offered to young people in this country, you have lines around the block… he was suggesting that somehow these kids don’t want to work.” O’Reilly interprets Gingrich’s remarks as saying that Gingrich wanted the government to fund school jobs to help children learn a work ethic, but Williams says O’Reilly’s interpretation is not what Gingrich meant. O’Reilly asks if Williams believes Gingrich “was pandering to a certain voter in South Carolina,” alluding to conservative and presumably racist white voters, and Williams agrees. (Martel 1/18/2012)
The news Web site Politico reports that many Democrats are worried that the “flat-out” opposition of President Obama to super PACs, including the one supporting his re-election, will cripple the Obama campaign’s re-election campaign for 2012, especially in the face of enormous corporate donations for Republican-supporting super PACs. The super PAC that supports Obama, Priorities USA Action, has been in operation since 2011, but has so far raised relatively little—around $5 million—in comparison to Republican super PACs and other such organizations. The super PAC supporting Republican contender Mitt Romney (R-MA), Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011 and July 12, 2011), has raised $12 million so far, and other groups such as American Crossroads and its “nonprofit” affiliate, Crossroads GPS, have raised far more. Former South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian, a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee, says: “I don’t think the president is just ambivalent about his super PAC. He’s flat-out opposed to it.… I was at the national finance committee in Chicago, and these are the people with these connections, and nobody was talking, even behind the scenes, about writing checks to the super PAC. That’s a problem. We didn’t make the rules. The president has called out the Supreme Court on Citizens United to their faces (see January 21, 2010, January 24, 2010, and January 27-29, 2010).… But it’s the state of play now, and we have to look at what Romney’s PAC did to [Republican primary challenger Newt Gingrich] in Iowa (see January 3, 2012). It’s dangerous. We can’t unilaterally disarm.” So far, Obama’s campaign has pledged that neither Obama nor his top aides will raise money for super PACs, but the campaign says it realizes the magnitude of the threat posed by the wide-open fundraising from the GOP. In a concession, Obama’s senior campaign staff will allow their top bundlers to ask wealthy contributors for donations to Priorities USA Action. Vice President Joseph Biden has already spoken before a meeting of major donors in November 2011, hours after those donors heard fundraising pitches from Priorities USA Action and other Democratic groups. Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is helping the Obama campaign reach out to donors, says: “Super PACs are like guns. In the right hands, a gun is useful, essential for defending your country and perfectly acceptable. In the wrong hands, they kill people.… My goal is to make sure the president doesn’t get outgunned.” Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod says of the organizations lining up behind Romney: “They’re talking upwards of half a billion dollars in negative ads aimed at the president from interest groups who don’t disclose and who can raise unlimited amounts of money. That is a very, very concerning thing to me.” (Thrush and Vogel 1/18/2012)
Nevada casino owner and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has already given an unprecedented $5 million to a super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see January 6, 2012), has his wife Miriam donate another $5 million to Gingrich’s super PAC, Winning Our Future. That organization spent over $6 million on “independent expenditures” in the recent South Carolina primary, mostly on attack ads against primary opponent Mitt Romney (R-MA). Winning Our Future outspent all other Republican super PACs involved in that primary, whose expenditures totaled some $5.3 million. The new $5 million contribution will likely go to Gingrich’s campaign efforts in Florida, which is seen as a “must-win” state for Gingrich. Other groups have already spent some $6.4 million in Florida. Think Progress reporter Josh Israel writes: “[T]his contribution will allow the pro-Gingrich super PAC to instantly achieve almost immediate parity.… At this pace, the Adelson family could outspend Gingrich’s competition by themselves.” The Adelson funds come from a joint account; Sheldon Adelson signed the first check and Miriam Adelson signs the second. (Hamburger 1/23/2012; Israel 1/23/2012)
Fox News commentator and analyst Juan Williams, in a column for the Washington, DC, political publication The Hill, writes of his dismay at what he believes is the racially charged rhetoric that is dominating the Republican presidential primary. Williams got into a heated exchange with Republican candidate Newt Gingrich during a recent debate in South Carolina (see January 16, 2012). But Williams is displeased with the responses of all of the candidates at the debate. “With [ethnic] solidly in the Democratic camp and behind the first black president,” Williams writes, “the scene is set for a bonanza of racial politics. The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are ‘entitlement society’—as used by Mitt Romney—and ‘poor work ethic’ and ‘food stamp president’—as used by Newt Gingrich. References to a lack of respect for the ‘Founding Fathers’ and the ‘Constitution’ also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core ‘old-fashioned American values.’ The code also extends to attacks on legal immigrants, always carefully lumped in with illegal immigrants, as people seeking ‘amnesty’ and taking jobs from Americans. But the code sometimes breaks down.” Williams, an African-American, asked each candidate at the debate about some aspect of racially driven politics, from voter identification laws that would keep African-Americans from voting to racial discrimination in drug enforcement policies. Gingrich, he writes, was the most flagrant in appealing to racist whites with his practiced, sophisticated use of “coded appeals”—“dog whistling,” Williams says it is often called—to racist stereotypes against blacks and Hispanics. Gingrich’s rhetoric, he writes, appeals to “certain white audiences by intimating that black people are lazy, happy to live off the government, and lacking any intellect.” Instead of answering Williams’s question (referring to Gingrich’s characterization of food stamp recipients as largely African-American and too lazy to seek gainful employment), Gingrich “threw red meat to Republicans in South Carolina, a state with a long history of racial politics. He used the same rhetorical technique of the segregationist politicians of the past: rejecting the premise of the question, attacking the media, and playing to the American people’s resentment of liberal elites, minorities, and poor people.” Williams says he does not regret asking Gingrich about his characterization of welfare recipients, and writes: “I do not know anyone on food stamps who would prefer them to gainful employment.… The problem is not a lack of work ethic on the part of the poor, who are disproportionately minorities. The problem is there are few good jobs for blue-collar people with the best work ethic. Let’s have an honest debate about why this is the case and what we can do to fix it. But I regret that our political discourse has become so fragmented and combative that the point I was trying to make was obscured by pro-wrestling theatrics and post-debate spin. Poverty, unemployment, and the hopelessness that pervade minority communities are real issues that the GOP nominee, and President Obama for that matter, should address in this campaign.” (Williams 1/30/2012) A blogger for the liberal Daily Kos writes of Williams’s column, “You have to wonder how long Juan Williams will last at Fox News” after writing the column. (Daily Kos 1/30/2012)
The conservative news outlet Sunshine State News notes that the conservative lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011) is paying tea party leaders to serve as “field coordinators” in Florida in preparation for the upcoming Republican presidential primary. Reportedly, AFP is paying the tea party leaders $30,000 each to help increase AFP’s membership, and $2 for every new AFP member the tea party volunteers sign up at Florida polling stations on Election Day. According to an email from the West Orlando Tea Party organizers: “Americans for Prosperity has offered many local tea party groups an opportunity to collect a few dollar$ for our cause and it revolves around the January 31st primary. Anyone who volunteers from our group will net our WOTP group $2 for every person they ‘sign up’ for AFP which involves getting the name, address, and email of local voters at local polling stations that day. They will provide us with T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other handouts to recruit like-minded conservatives.” AFP’s Florida director Slade O’Brien says, “It’s an opportunity for tea parties to raise dollars for their organizations by helping AFP with an awareness and membership drive on Tuesday.” But critics say AFP is using the same tactics conservatives have accused the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) of using—“buying foot soldiers for election work.” Former AFP state director Apryl Marie Fogel says: “It’s reprehensible. Slade is doing things we would never have considered doing.… Incentivizing people with money is no different than what ACORN or other groups are doing.… This is the opposite of what AFP stands for.” AFP has already hired 10 coordinators, with plans to hire 10 more in the coming days. One coordinator in the Tampa area, Karen Jaroch, is a founding member of the Tampa 9/12 Project chapter (see March 13, 2009 and After), and she says that AFP’s involvement “might open some doors” to building a stronger movement. O’Brien denies that AFP is working on behalf of any particular Republican candidate, and both O’Brien and Jaroch deny that AFP is working on behalf of the Newt Gingrich (R-GA) campaign. “I don’t know any field coordinators for Newt,” Jaroch says. “One favors Mitt Romney and one supports Rick Santorum. I’m undecided.” The liberal news outlet Mother Jones notes that O’Brien is a veteran political consultant whose former firm, Florida Strategies Group, “specialized in Astroturf campaigns and ‘grass-tops lobbying.’” O’Brien worked for AFP’s predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, in the 1990s. Mother Jones also speculates that the AFP drive is part of a Koch Brothers effort to construct a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters called “Themis” (see April 2010 and After). (Ward 1/30/2012; Mencimer 1/30/2012)
Saul Anuzis, the chair of Michigan’s Republican Party between 2005 and 2009, and a prime contender to chair the Republican National Committee in 2010 (see November 12, 2010), tells a reporter that he is confident the rise of super PACs and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) will help the Republicans defeat President Obama in November. “Absolutely, there’s no doubt about it,” he says. “Without those financial resources to compete against an incumbent president who has all the resources to raise money, you could never win.” Data shows that Republican super PAC spending has topped Democratic super PAC spending by a ratio of 7.5 to 1. Many of those Republican super PACs are bankrolled by a very small number of billionaires, such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (see December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, and January 23, 2012), who contributed $11 million in January 2012 to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA). A relatively small number of wealthy energy interests have also contributed heavily to Republican candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA—see February 6, 2012). (Keyes and Waldron 2/10/2012)
The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event, featuring Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney (R-MA), Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and Rick Santorum (R-PA), also features two noted white supremacists, Peter Brimelow and Robert Vandervoort, as headlined participants. Brimelow, the owner of the anti-immigration, anti-Semitic, and white supremacist Web site VDare.com (see November 26, 2004 and May 2008), is part of a panel discussion titled “The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity is Weakening the American Identity.” Vandervoort, who writes for the anti-immigrant, white supremacist Web site ProEnglish.com and has ties with the supremacist groups American Renaissance (see July 15, 2002 and September 1995) and the Council of Conservative Citizens (see January 23, 2005, June 2, 2009, and April 16, 2011), speaks on a panel discussion about “High Fences, Wide Gates: States vs. the Feds, the Rule of Law, and American Identity.” Vandervoort also takes part in the “multiculturalism” panel discussion with Brimelow. (Little Green Footballs 2/8/2012; Gane-McCalla 2/9/2012; Conservative Political Action Conference 2/9/2012 ) Other Republicans speaking at the conference include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN). CPAC also hosts groups such as the anti-gay Family Research Council and the segregationist Youth for Western Civilization. CPAC denied permission for the gay conservative group GOProud to participate in the event, citing the group’s “behavior and attitude” as its reason for denying access. Michael Keegan, the president of the liberal organization People for the American Way (PFAW), issued a statement calling on Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich to “speak out” against Brimelow and Vandevoort’s participation, and adding, “It’s shocking that the CPAC would provide a platform for someone like Brimelow.” (Tashman 2/8/2012) CPAC’s main organizer, the American Conservative Union (ACU), refused to heed calls by Keegan and others to repudiate Brimelow and Vandervoort, instead issuing the following oblique statement through spokeswoman Kristy Campbell: “CPAC is proud to have more than 150 sponsors and exhibitors this year. This panel was not organized by the ACU, and specific questions on the event, content, or speakers should be directed to the sponsoring organization. Cosponsors and affiliated events do not necessarily represent the opinions of the American Conservative Union.” (Gray 2/8/2012) Conservative blogger Charles Johnson, who in recent years has regularly protested against what he perceives as the increasing prominence of racism on the American political right, writes: “I admit, this one kind of shocks me, and it’s not easy to do that any more. I knew the right wing had gone bug-eyed loony, but this is way beyond the usual xenophobia and paranoid bigotry; this is open white nationalism at the Republican right’s premier high-profile conference, in an election year. Stunning. Masks are dropping all over Wingnutland.” (Little Green Footballs 2/8/2012) During the panel on multiculturalism, Brimelow and Vandervoort are joined by Representative Steve King (R-IA) in claiming that America’s “identity” is being “weakened” by its acceptance of minority citizens and their cultural influence. Vandervoort claims that “leftist thugs” have attempted to prevent him from taking part in the event as part of their larger attempt to “shut down freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.” Brimelow calls multiculturalism and bilingualism “diseases” that are infecting American society as they work to empower minorities and “suppress traditional” (i.e. white) citizens. Multiculturalism and bilingualism are, he says, a “ferocious attack on the working class.” King discusses his bill that would make English the official language of the United States. King praises Brimelow, telling him that he has “read your books” and says to the gathered onlookers that Brimelow “eloquently wrote about the balkanization of America.” (Tashman 2/9/2012) The 2011 CPAC event welcomed the far-right, implicitly racist John Birch Society as one of its sponsors (see April 19, 2010 and December 2011). That year, some conference participants stated their opposition to having white supremacists taking part in the event, opposition that apparently was not raised this year. And in 2011, Joseph Farah, the publisher of WorldNetDaily, was not part of CPAC because organizers did not want him discussing his questions about President Obama’s citizenship (see May 18, 2009 and March 24, 2011). This year, Farah is allowed to return.” (Benen 2/9/2012)
Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the George W. Bush administration, writes a second editorial for US News and World Report defending “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities responsible for infusing millions of dollars into the political campaign system. Smith wrote an editorial in January 2012 defending super PACs, claiming they are the direct outgrowth of First Amendment free-speech rights and are actually good for the campaign system (see January 13, 2012). However, as in his first editorial, Smith makes a number of false claims to bolster his arguments. Such organizations were created in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the following SpeechNow.org decision (see March 26, 2010). He notes, correctly, that until 1974 there were no federal restrictions on super PACs, apparently referring to that year’s amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (see 1974), though he fails to note that such organizations did not exist until after the SpeechNow decision. He claims that “[t]here is no evidence that super PACs have led to a greater percentage of negative ads” than in earlier presidential campaigns, though he cites no evidence to that effect. He also claims, as he did in the first editorial, that it is false to claim super PACs “spend ‘secret’ money. This is just not true. By law, super PACs are required to disclose their donors. There are groups that have never had to disclose their donors, non-profits such as the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and the NRA. If you want more disclosure, super PACs are a step forward.” Unfortunately, the Citizens United decision specifically allows donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). As in the first editorial, Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010). He also claims that super PACs increase competition—“level the playing field,” as he wrote in the first editorial—by allowing Republican candidates to equal the spending of their Democratic opponents. In reality, Republicans have outstripped Democrats in outside, super PAC spending since the Citizens United decision (see Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, and May 5, 2011). Smith bolsters his claim by citing direct campaign spending as offsetting “independent” super PAC spending, such as in the 2010 US House race involving incumbent Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who won re-election even after a $500,000 super PAC-driven effort on behalf of his challenger. DeFazio, Smith claims, “outspent his opponent by a sizable margin and won. Still, for the first time in years he had to campaign hard for his constituents’ support. That’s a good thing.” He cites the presidential campaigns of Republican contenders Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) and Rick Santorum (R-PA—see February 16-17, 2012), which have relied on the contributions of a very few extraordinarily wealthy contributors to keep their candidacies alive against the frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), whose own super PAC funding is extraordinary (see June 23, 2011). And, he writes, super PAC spending “improves voter knowledge of candidates and issues. Indeed, political ads are frequently a better source of information for voters than news coverage.” The most important benefit of the two Court decisions and the subsequent influx of corporate money into the US election continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, and January 23, 2012), he writes, “is that they get government out of the business of regulating political speech. Who would say that you can’t spend your own time and money to state your own political beliefs? Vindicating that fundamental First Amendment right is good for democracy.” (Smith 2/17/2012)
The Republican presidential primaries are being largely controlled, at least from a financial standpoint, by a very few extraordinarily wealthy individuals, according to research provided by former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich and the news organization ProPublica. In January 2012, the campaign of frontrunner Rick Santorum (R-PA) was almost entirely funded by billionaires William Dore and multi-millionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012), who between them supplied over three-quarters of the $2.1 million donated to Santorum’s “super PAC” “Red White and Blue Fund.” Dore is the president of a Louisiana energy corporation and Friess is a fund manager in Wyoming. Of the $11 million raised by the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich (R-GA), $10 million came from Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam. Adelson runs a casino ownership group in Las Vegas. Most of the rest of Gingrich’s funding came from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel provided $1.7 million of the $2.4 million raised in January by the super PAC for Ron Paul (R-TX). As for Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a multi-millionaire, his super PAC “Restore Our Future” raised $6.6 million in January. Almost all of it came from 40 donors, including hedge fund billionaires Bruce Kovner, Julian Robertson (the largest donor at $1.25 million), and David Tepper, hotel owners J.W. Marriott and Richard Marriott, and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman. The lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011) has contributed over $1.4 million to various Republican candidates. Reich writes, “Whoever emerges as the GOP standard-bearer will be deeply indebted to a handful of people, each of whom will expect a good return on their investment.” Reich goes on to cite American Crossroads’s “super PAC” Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican political consultant Karl Rove, and its lineup of corporate moguls contributing hundreds of millions of dollars. The lineup of Crossroads supporters includes Charles and David Koch (see 1940 and After, 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, Late 2004, October 2008, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 2010, August 17, 2011, April 2010 and After and October 4, 2011), and Harold Simmons, owner of Contran Corporation, who has contributed $10 million to the organization. Reich says there is no legal way to know exactly how much the Kochs and their fellows have contributed: “The public will never know who or what corporation gave what because, under IRS regulations, such nonprofit ‘social welfare organizations’ aren’t required to disclose the names of those who contributed to them.” The previous limit of $5,000 per year per individual was erased by the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, a decision Reich calls “grotesque.” Reich writes: “In a sense, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and Romney are the fronts. Dore et al. are the real investors.… Now, the limits are gone. And this comes precisely at a time when an almost unprecedented share of the nation’s income and wealth is accumulating at the top. Never before in the history of our Republic have so few spent so much to influence the votes of so many.” (Thompson 2/2/2012; Reich 2/21/2012; Shaw 2/21/2012) President Obama’s super PAC, “Priorities USA Action,” has received $2 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and another $1 million from the Service Employees International Union’s Committee on Political Education (SEIU COPE). However, Priorities USA has raised relatively paltry sums in comparison to the monies raised by the Republican super PACs, according to a Reuters report. Obama and his re-election campaign had originally distanced themselves from the super PAC operating in their name, in part because they disapprove of the Citizens United decision and the influence of super PACs in electoral politics. Since the Obama campaign officially endorsed the organization, donations have risen. Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod says that Obama “believes that this is an unhealthy development in our political process, but it is a reality of the rules as they stand. This was not a quick decision, but he also feels a responsibility to win this election. There’s a lot hanging on this beyond him.” By the end of January, Priorities USA had raised $4.2 million. In contrast, Romney’s “Restore Our Future” had raised $36.8 million by the end of last month. (Mason 2/2012; Shaw 2/21/2012) Partly in response to reports of billionaires’ influence on the 2012 elections, comedian Bill Maher will announce his donation of $1 million to the Obama super PAC. Maher will tell an audience that an Obama victory over any of the Republican contenders is “worth a million dollars” and will describe the donation as “the wisest investment I think I could make.” (Mason 2/24/2012) Friess is often described in the press as a “billionaire,” but both Friess and Forbes magazine say that appellation is inaccurate. (Kilachand 2/8/2012)
Sheldon Adelson, the owner of casinos in Nevada and Southeast Asia, says he may contribute up to $100 million to the presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich (R-GA). Adelson has already given some $11 million to Gingrich’s campaign, bolstering Gingrich’s otherwise-floundering efforts to become the Republican presidential nominee (see December 19, 2011, January 6, 2012, and January 23, 2012). He mocks the idea that he is trying to personally buy the presidential election for Gingrich, saying of his detractors: “Those people are either jealous or professional critics.… They like to trash other people. It’s unfair that I’ve been treated unfair—but it doesn’t stop me. I might give $10 million or $100 million to Gingrich.” Adelson, one of the world’s richest people, is well able to afford the largesse: according to Forbes magazine, Adelson’s $11 million gift to Gingrich only amounts to 0.044 percent of his fortune. But Adelson says he does not believe in the wealthy trying to influence US politics. “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he says. “But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like [George] Soros (see January - November 2004) have been doing it for years, if not decades. And they stay below the radar by creating a network of corporations to funnel their money. I have my own philosophy and I’m not ashamed of it. I gave the money because there is no other legal way to do it. I don’t want to go through 10 different corporations to hide my name. I’m proud of what I do and I’m not looking to escape recognition.” Adelson, whose net worth has increased more than any other American’s during the Obama administration, says he wants to see President Obama removed from office for economic reasons. “What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years,” he says. “That scares me because the redistribution of wealth is the path to more socialism, and to more of the government controlling people’s lives. What scares me is the lack of accountability that people would prefer to experience, just let the government take care of everything and I’ll go fish or I won’t work, etc.… US domestic politics is very important to me because I see that the things that made this country great are now being relegated into duplicating that which is making other countries less great.… I’m afraid of the trend where more and more people have the tendency to want to be given instead of wanting to give. People are less willing to share. There are fewer philanthropists being grown and there are greater expectations of the government. I believe that people will come to their senses and not extend the current administration’s quest to socialize this country. It won’t be a socialist democracy because it won’t be a democracy.” He refuses to say whether he would support another Republican candidate if Gingrich fails to secure the nomination, though he admits: “The likelihood is that I’m going to be supportive of whoever the candidate is. I just haven’t decided that yet and will wait to see what happens.” Adelson, whose Gingrich donations went mostly for negative ad campaigns against fellow Republican Mitt Romney (see December 19, 2011), adds: “I don’t believe in negative campaigning. I believe in saying that my opponents are very good people and I’m confident a lot of them would do a good job, but I would do a better job, and here’s why. Money is fungible, but you can’t take my money out of the total money you have and use it for negative campaigning.” Adelson denies that his money went towards the negative campaign ads that helped Gingrich win over Romney in South Carolina, saying: “That’s what everybody says, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Most of what’s been written about me in this is untrue.” (Bertoni 2/21/2012)
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