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“Objectivist” philosopher and burgeoning novelist Ayn Rand writes admiringly of one of her heroes, serial killer William Edward Hickman. She admires Hickman’s stated credo, “What is good for me is right.” In her journals, Rand writes in response, “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.” Rand is planning a novel, The Little Street, to feature a character based on Hickman, who she considers her “ideal man.” In her journals, Rand writes that Hickman “is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness—[resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people.… Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.” Later in her journals, she clarifies her idealization of Hickman: “[My hero is] very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.” (Rand will never complete The Little Street.)
Torturer and Killer - According to author and biographer Michael Prescott, in 1928, Hickman is one of the most notorious criminals in America, a forger, armed robber, child kidnapper, and multiple murderer. As a child, he enjoyed torturing and killing small animals. As a young man, he engaged in a crime spree beginning in the Midwest and ending in California, robbing gas stations and drug stores, allegedly murdering a girl in Milwaukee, and murdering the grandfather of his crime partner in Pasadena. That partner later told police that Hickman often talked about his desire to kill and dismember someone someday. In 1927, he kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, Marion Parker, from her school and began taunting her wealthy father with ransom notes. (He called himself “a master mind” and “not a common crook” in those notes, and signed himself “The Fox,” writing, “Fox is my name, very sly you know.” After days of exchanging letters, Hickman accused the father of lying about his intention of paying the ransom and strangled Marion Parker with a towel. After she was dead, he dismembered the body with a pocket knife, wrapped up the separate remains, packed the remains into a car, and drove to meet the father, tossing body parts out of the car along the way. The father, believing his daughter to still be alive, gave $1,500 to Hickman. In return, Hickman threw the girl’s head and upper torso out of the car at the father’s feet and sped off. Hickman fled to Oregon, where he was arrested. He quickly confessed to the murder, at least one more murder, and the robberies. After failing to pin his crimes on another man (presumably his former partner), and unsuccessfully claiming his innocence by reason of insanity, Hickman will be executed at San Quentin Prison. Prescott will write of Hickman, “Hickman reportedly ‘died yellow’—he was dragged, trembling and fainting, to his execution, his courtroom bravado having given way at last.”
Idealizing a Sociopath? - In 2005, Prescott will ask if Rand’s “ideal man” was, in reality, a criminal sociopath, and if so, what that says of Rand’s own values and judgment. In 1928, Prescott notes, Rand is still in her twenties and heavily influenced by the egocentric philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand writes of Hickman that he represents “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul.… Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” Hickman, she writes, is “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy” filled with “immense, explicit egotism.” (Some newspaper writers at the time compare Hickman to Nietzche’s “Superman,” writing that Hickman twisted Nietzsche’s teachings to suit his own ends.) Her defenders might argue, Prescott will write, that as Rand matures, she will grow out of her fascination with Nietzsche, and, by extension, Hickman, and evolve a more rational outlook. (Michael Prescott 2005; Ames 2/26/2010)
Anti-Social, Amoral Characters in Later Books - However, Prescott uses quotes from Rand’s later novels to show her ongoing fascination with amoral, self-centered characters and the philosophies that inform their worldviews. She will write in her notes for The Fountainhead: “One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one’s way to get the best for oneself. Fine!” Her notes on her novel’s hero, Howard Roark, say that Roark “has learned long ago, with his first consciousness, two things which dominate his entire attitude toward life: his own superiority and the utter worthlessness of the world.… He was born without the ability to consider others.” In the original version of her first novel We the Living, the character Kira, whom Prescott characterizes as “Rand’s stand-in,” says, “What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?” Prescott notes that the statement will be altered in subsequent publications. In her journals, Rand will write that man “is man only so long as he functions in accordance with the nature of a rational being. When he chooses to function otherwise, he is no longer man. There is no proper name for the thing which he then becomes.… When a man chooses to act in a sub-human manner, it is no longer proper for him to survive nor to be happy.” In her longest novel, 1957’s Atlas Shrugged, she will refer to a crowd of poor and starving people as “savages,” “refuse,” “inanimate objects,” and “imitations of living beings,” all patently beneath the heroes and heroines of her story. In the novel, a wealthy citizen striking against progressive taxation causes a train crash, and Rand will make it clear that the people who die in the crash deserve it because they supported the taxation policies that triggered the attack. Rand will continue to write admiringly of the Nietzschean concept of the “Superman” throughout her career. Columnist Johann Hari will write: “Her heroes are a cocktail of extreme self-love and extreme self-pity: They insist they need no one, yet they spend all their time fuming that the masses don’t bow down before their manifest superiority.” (Michael Prescott 2005; Hari 11/2/2009; Ames 2/26/2010)
Rand Admired by Many Modern Republicans - In 2010, liberal columnist Mark Ames will go farther than either Prescott or Hari and label Rand “a textbook sociopath,” adding: “In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of ‘ideal man’ she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe—former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox—along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.” Ames will note that many politicians aligned with the “tea party” movement, such as Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are outspoken Rand admirers. (Ames 2/26/2010) Hari will ask: “What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why?” (Hari 11/2/2009)
At least 19 Congressional Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), say that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” proposal would cost American families $3,128 apiece in extra taxes.
Misrepresenting an MIT Study - Boehner, McConnell, and their fellow Republicans base their claim on a 2007 MIT study. However, one of the study’s researchers, John Reilly, says that the Republicans are misreading it. According to Reilly, any tax burden on American families would not be felt until 2015, and the cost would be closer to $31 per person and $79 per year. The controversial claim originates in a Web posting by the House Republican Conference on March 24, which says: “The administration raises revenue for nationalized health care through a series of new taxes, including a light switch tax that would cost every American household $3,128 a year. What effect will this have on Americans struggling to pay their mortgages?” The St. Petersburg Times explains that the GOP’s “light switch tax” is a reference to President Obama’s proposal to tax power companies for carbon dioxide emissions, and allow companies to trade emissions credits among themselves. The program is called cap-and-trade. Republicans say the power companies would pass the tax on to electricity consumers, thus creating what they call a “light switch tax”—a term the Times calls misleading in and of itself. According to the MIT study, such a program would raise around $366 billion per year; Republicans divide that figure by the 117 million households in the US and get $3,128 in additional costs. Reilly says the Republicans are “just wrong. It’s wrong in so many ways it’s hard to begin.”
Corrected by Study's Author - And, Reilly says, he told House Republicans so when they contacted him on March 20. “I had explained why the estimate they had was probably incorrect and what they should do to correct it, but I think this wrong number was already floating around by that time.” Republicans also claim that the Obama administration intends to use cap-and-trade money to pay for what they call “nationalized health care,” a claim refuted by details of the program released by Obama officials. (House Republicans later amend this claim to say that the program will pay for “increased spending.”) The Times notes that Boehner rebuffs a second attempt by Reilly to correct the claim that the program will cost American households over $3,000 per year.
Further Falsehoods - Instead, nine other Republicans and the neoconservative Weekly Standard begin echoing the claim, with the Standard claiming that their figures show an annual cost of over $3,900 and accusing Reilly of “low-balling the cost of cap-and-trade by using some fuzzy logic.” Reilly says the Standard “just completely twisted the whole thing.… It’s false.” Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) takes the claim even further, saying that the huge annual tax would be levied on “every living American.” Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) restates the cost to $4,500 per family, and fellow House colleague Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) raises the rate to $4,560. Fox News correspondent Jim Angle reports Gregg’s claim without refutation or examination; on a later Fox broadcast, Gregg says, “every time you turn on your light switch, you’re going to be paying a tax.”
Denouncing the Lies - Reilly has written to Boehner and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to denounce the GOP’s distortion of the MIT study. Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) accuses the Republicans of “using an intentional misrepresentation of the study,” and says: “One of the things I find most distressing is their repeated falsehood about somehow a $3,000 increase in taxes on the American people based on a research done by MIT. They talked about it four times again last night!… The fact is that in the budget we have an opportunity for people who want to be legislators not communicators to help us allocate how those benefits will be utilized.” (Adair 3/30/2009; Armbruster 4/1/2009; Armbruster 4/2/2009)
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) produces a Republican alternative to the Obama administration’s $3.6 trillion budget proposal. Calling President Obama’s budget “completely irresponsible,” Boehner holds up a booklet on the floor of the House and says: “Two nights ago the president said, ‘We haven’t seen a budget yet out of Republicans.’ Well, it’s just not true because—Here it is, Mr. President.” Boehner calls the booklet a “blueprint for where we’re going.” However, the booklet contains almost no details and no actual numbers; the Associated Press calls it “a glossy pamphlet short on detail.” Boehner’s House colleague Paul Ryan (R-WI) says more details will be revealed next week. “We’re going to show a leaner budget, a budget with lower taxes, lower spending, and lower borrowing,” Ryan says. “Our plan curbs spending, creates jobs, and cuts taxes, while reducing the deficit,” says Boehner. When asked about specifics, including where the cuts would come from, Boehner tells a reporter, “We’ll wait and see next week.” (Keck 3/26/2009; Taylor 3/27/2009)
Cutting Deficits, Lowering Taxes for Wealthy Americans and Working Class - The proposal does not specify how it would reduce the federal deficit. It does advocate heavy cuts in domestic spending and lowering tax rates: the Republicans propose reducing the 35 percent, 33 percent, and 28 percent tax brackets to 25 percent, which would result in significant tax cuts for wealthier Americans. The proposal would also reduce the tax rate for those making below $100,000 to 10 percent. Liberal analyst Matthew Yglesias notes, “It’s strange that the Republicans railing about long-term deficits seem to love long-term deficits when the point of the deficits is to further enrich the rich.” (Garofalo 3/26/2009)
No Actual Numbers - Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) says “[i]t’s not likely” that the GOP budget will be adopted. However, Pence says he believes “that a minority in Congress plus the American people equals the majority.” Pence adds, “We intend to take our case for fiscal discipline, growth, and tax relief to the American people from sea to shining sea and if the American people will rise up, anything is possible on Capitol Hill.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs laughs at the Republicans’ budget proposal, noting that the blueprint contains more pictures of windmills than charts. “It’s interesting to have a budget that doesn’t contain any numbers,” he says. “I think the ‘party of no’ has become the ‘party of no new ideas.‘… The administration is glad that the Republicans heard the president’s call to submit an alternative,” he says. “We just hope that next time it will contain actual numbers so somebody can evaluate what it means.” Obama’s proposal is likely to be modified by more conservative Democrats in the upcoming days. Senate Republicans later say that they do not intend to submit a specific alternate proposal to Obama’s budget, a decision that the Associated Press notes “spares them the need to make politically difficult choices.” (Keck 3/26/2009; Taylor 3/27/2009) Asked about the proposal’s effect on the federal deficit by MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell, Pence is unable to answer the question. O’Donnell asks: “So you don’t have the numbers now? About what your plan would be in terms of how it would cut the deficit or add to the deficit? You don’t have any numbers on that?” Pence attempts to duck the question: “Well, it’s really a broad—when the White House a few minutes ago was attacking the numbers in this bill, the tax cut numbers. There’s plenty of numbers in the Republican recovery plan. And we just really believe the president’s plan to raise taxes by nearly 2 trillion dollars on almost every American… deserves a debate on Capitol Hill.” O’Donnell responds, “[H]ow is your plan credible?” Pence replies: “Well, I thought through this morning, we didn’t have a plan, so it may be progress our plan is being attacked.… This is the broad outline.” (Think Progress 3/26/2009)
'Marketing Document' - Five days later, Ryan will admit that the “budget proposal” being offered by Boehner is nothing more than a “marketing document” (see April 1, 2009).
Republican Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) admits that the “budget proposal” offered the previous week by the GOP in response to President Obama’s own budget proposal (see March 26, 2009) was never anything more than a “marketing document.” On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Ryan says, “The thing you saw last week was not the alternative budget, this is our alternative budget.” Ryan is referring to a budget the GOP intends to release later today. The “budget” touted on the floor of the House by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was a “marketing document,” Ryan says. “Somewhere along the line there was a misimpression given that that was our budget.” In the Wall Street Journal, Ryan says the GOP budget will include the following:
A five-year non-defense spending freeze;
Cutting the deficit 50 percent more than Obama’s proposal by 2019;
More oil exploration and fewer regulations on pollution;
A revamping of Medicare for those currently below age 55;
Making permanent the Bush administration’s tax cuts for wealthy Americans, and a simplified tax code that taxpayers could choose to use.
Of President Obama’s budget, Ryan says, “If this agenda comes to pass, it will mark this period in history as the moment America turned European.” (Zimmerman 4/1/2009) The Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, says that a spending freeze as advocated by the GOP budget would be calamitous for the American economy. The freeze would negate the entirety of the Obama administration’s multi-billion stimulus package, and would rely entirely on economic recovery generated by supply-side tax cuts. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews compares the idea to the economic ideas that led to the Great Depression: “[I]t sounds very much like [former President Herbert] Hoover. This is a doctrine which was tried in 1932 and failed. In a period of international deflation, the worst thing you can do is join in the deflation by cutting spending.” (Garofalo 4/1/2009)
Twice in the same broadcast, Fox News airs a segment called “FOXFacts” that echoes almost verbatim claims made in a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan appears for an interview on Fox News’s Happening Now, a “straight news” broadcast, hours after his editorial appears in print, and is interviewed by co-host Jon Scott. The seven “FOXFacts,” which appear on-screen during the interview, are nearly identical to the claims and even the wording of Ryan’s editorial. In February, Scott passed off a Republican press release as independently researched news, even to the point of repeating a typographical error from the press release (see February 10, 2009). Ryan and the accompanying FOXFacts claim that the Republican budget proposal achieves lower deficits than the Obama plan, prioritizes national defense and veterans’ health care, rejects Obama’s “cap-and-trade scheme,” makes permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, lowers capital gains and dividend taxes, repeals estate taxes, and slashes corporate income taxes. An hour later, while interviewing Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Scott again airs the same “FOXFact” graphics. (Media Matters 4/1/2009; Media Matters 4/1/2009; Wall Street Journal 4/1/2009) Before appearing on Fox, Ryan admits to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough that the Republican “budget plan” is nothing more than a “marketing document” containing few specifics (see April 1, 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)
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)
At a town hall in Hiawatha, Kansas, Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) tells constituents that the Republican Party desires a “great white hope” to appear, capable of defeating the political agenda of President Obama and the Democrats who lead Congress. Jenkins later apologizes for what she calls her infelicitous word choice. Jenkins lists a number of white Republicans who could emerge to lead the Republican Party against Obama and the Democrats. “Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope,” she says. “I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington.” Jenkins names three Republican House members—Eric Cantor (R-VA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Paul Ryan (R-WI)—as potential leaders. “So don’t, you know, lose faith if you are a conservative,” she says. Local reporters note that the phrase “great white hope” is often associated with racist attitudes in the US, centered around African-American boxer Jack Johnson, who became heavyweight boxing champion in the early 1900s. The reaction among white Americans was strong enough to create a campaign to find a white boxer—a “great white hope”—who could defeat Johnson and reclaim the title for whites. Kenny Johnston, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, finds Jenkins’s remarks unacceptable. “The congressman might have avoided this problem if she had stuck to discussing constructive solutions to the health care crisis instead of lamenting the Republican Party’s search for a leader,” he says. A spokeswoman for Jenkins, Mary Geiger, says Jenkins intended no racial overtones in her word choice. “There may be some misunderstanding there when she talked about the great white hope,” Geiger says. “What she meant by it is they have a bright future. They’re bright lights within the party.” (Carpenter 8/26/2009) Reporting on the incident, the news Web site Raw Story notes that in 1910, white boxer James Jeffries, slated to fight Johnson, told reporters, “I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.” During the match, a ringside band played the song, “All Coons Look Alike to Me.” Johnson defeated Jeffries. (Raw Story 8/27/2009)
Johann Hari, a commentator for the London Independent, pens a caustic column about the American “birther” conspiracy theory and Donald Trump, the billionaire entrepeneur and television host who has used the controversy to vault himself to the forefront of the Republican Party’s group of 2012 presidential contenders (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, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). Hari says that Trump’s meteoric ascendancy within the Republican Party proves “that one of its central intellectual arguments was right all along. They have long claimed that evolution is a myth believed in only by whiny liberals—and it turns out they were onto something. Every six months, the Republican Party venerates a new hero, and each time it is somebody further back on the evolutionary scale.” Hari cites former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and current US Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) as previous “stops” on the Republicans’ backwards slide, until the party got to Trump as its current representative. “A survey suggests he is the most popular candidate among Republican voters,” Hari writes. “It’s not hard to see why. Trump is every trend in Republican politics over the past 35 years taken to its logical conclusion. He is the Republican id, finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and all reality.” Hari lists four major trends that he says the modern Republican Party reflects, and that Trump epitomizes.
'Naked Imperialism' - Hari says Trump advocates what he calls the first trend of modern Republican ideology, “naked imperialism,” and cites Trump’s promise to, as president, simply “go in” to Libya “and take the oil.… I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff.” On Iraq, he has said: “We stay there, and we take the oil.… In the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation’s yours.” Hari says that in Trump’s view, a view held by many Republicans, “the world is essentially America’s property, inconveniently inhabited by foreigners squatting over oil fields. Trump says America needs to ‘stop what’s going on in the world. The world is just destroying our country. These other countries are sapping our strength.’ The US must have full spectrum dominance.”
'Dog-Whistle Prejudice' - Along with his imperialism, Hari says, Trump has a penchant for what he calls “dog-whistle prejudice—pitched just high enough for frightened white Republicans to hear it.” Citing Trump’s support for the “birther” theory, Hari writes: “The Republican primary voters heard the message right—the black guy [President Obama] is foreign. He’s not one of us.”
'Raw Worship of Wealth' - The third trend that Hari says endears Trump to Republicans is his “raw worship of wealth as an end in itself—and [the exemption of the wealthy] from all social responsibility.” Republicans seem not to care that Trump, born into wealth, has bankrupted four businesses, repeatedly failed to pay his taxes, and, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clay Johnson, has made the bulk of his fortune from “stiffing his creditors” and “from government subsidies and favours for his projects—which followed large donations to the campaigns of both parties, sometimes in the very same contest. Trump denies these charges and presents himself as an entrepreneur ‘of genius.’” However, Hari says Republicans seem to believe that “the accumulation of money is proof in itself of virtue, however it was acquired. The richest 1 percent pay for the party’s campaigns, and the party in turn serves their interests entirely.… In America today, a janitor can pay more income tax than Donald Trump—and the Republicans regard that not as a source of shame, but of pride.”
Imposing America's Will on Reality - The fourth trend, Hari writes, “is to insist that any fact inconvenient to your world-view either doesn’t exist, or can be overcome by pure willpower.” He cites the example of the US’s imminent need to extend its debt ceiling in order to avoid default. While almost every economist in the world says the US going into default will trigger “another global economic crash,” Trump “snaps back: ‘What do economists know? Most of them aren’t very smart.’” Trump says “it’s so easy” to deal with the upward spiral of oil prices merely by calling a meeting of the leaders of the OPEC nations and, as he has said: “I’m going to look them in the eye and say: ‘Fellows, you’ve had your fun. Your fun is over.‘… It’s so easy. It’s all about the messenger.” He will stop China from manipulating its currency merely by ordering it to do so, and derides any mention of how much American debt China owns. Hari writes: “This is what the Republican core vote wants to be told. The writer Matthew Yglesias calls it ‘the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics.’ It’s named after the DC comics superhero the Green Lantern, who can only use his superpowers when he ‘overcomes fear’ and shows confidence—and then he can do anything. This is Trump’s view. The whiny world simply needs to be bullied into submission by a more assertive America—or the world can be fired and he’ll find a better one.”
Expressing the Underlying Core Beliefs of the GOP - Trump will not get the Republican nomination, Hari believes, not because Republicans reject his premises, but “because he states these arguments too crudely for mass public consumption. He takes the underlying whispered dogmas of the Reagan, Bush, and Tea Party years and shrieks them through a megaphone. The nominee will share similar ideas, but express them more subtly.” Hari points to the budget proposal by US Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), one supported by every House Republican and most Senate Republicans, which would, among other things, halve taxes on America’s most wealthy, end corporate taxation, end taxation on dividends and inheritance, and pass that tax burden onto the middle class and poor by gutting spending on food stamps, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, and basic services. The Ryan budget would send the US deficit soaring, though Ryan, embracing the tenet of imposing his beliefs on reality, insists it would cut the deficit. Hari concludes: “The Republican Party today isn’t even dominated by market fundamentalism. This is a crude Nietzcheanism, dedicating to exalting the rich as an overclass and dismissing the rest.” (Hari 4/28/2011)
TPMDC reporter Brian Beutler notes that many Congressional Republicans, led by but not limited to those who consider themselves “tea party” members (see April 30, 2011), are heeding the advice of a small number of unorthodox financial experts who go against the “common wisdom” that a possible credit default by the US would lead to potential catastrophe among national and global financial markets. The issue centers on Congressional Republicans’ insistence that they will not raise the US debt limit, or debt ceiling, unless the Obama administration gives them a wide array of draconian spending cuts; in the past, raising the US debt limit has been a routine matter, often handled with virtually no debate and little, if any, fanfare. Beutler says that the most influential of these advisors is Stanley Druckenmiller, who made billions managing hedge funds. Druckenmiller’s advice was that the US could weather several days of missed interest payments if the US debt ceiling were not immediately raised without serious consequences. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) are all echoing Druckenmiller’s claims in media interviews and in Congress. Beutler writes that the newfound popularity of Druckenmiller’s claims “alarms everyone from industry insiders to Treasury officials to economists, conservative and liberal, to non-partisan analysts who say the consequences of the US missing even a single interest payment to a debt-holder would be catastrophic—even if it was followed immediately by a legislative course correction.” Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Binder, now a Princeton economist, warns that if the US were to default on its debt even for a few days, the US dollar would crash in value, interest rates would spike, and the US economy would find itself spiraling into a full-blown recession. Binder writes: “For as long as anyone can remember, the full faith and credit of the United States has been as good as gold—no one has better credit. But if investors start to see default as part of US political gamesmanship, they will demand compensation for this novel risk. How much? Again, no one can know. But even if it’s as little as 10-20 basis points on the US government’s average borrowing cost, that’s an additional $10 billion to $20 billion in interest expenses every year. Seems like an expensive way to score a political point.” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon agrees, telling PBS viewers: “Every single company with treasuries, every insurance fund, every—every requirement that—it will start snowballing. Automatic, you don’t pay your debt, there will be default by ratings agencies. All short-term financing will disappear. I would have hundreds of work streams working around the world protecting our company for that kind of event.” JPMorgan issued a statement after Dimon’s comment saying that even a brief default would trigger “a run on money market funds… that would leave businesses unable to meet their short-term obligations and teetering on the bring of bankruptcy.” JPMorgan compares the money-market run to the aftermath of the 2008 Lehman Bros collapse, which sent the US into a recession. Analyses and reports by the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee and Government Accountability Office have warned of dire consequences following a default even of a day or two. Toomey and others insist that a credit default would simply make the Treasury Department find other ways to avoid missing interest payments, but, economists and financial leaders warn, the consequences of that would be enormous. Binder writes: “If we hit the borrowing wall traveling at full speed, the US government’s total outlays—a complex amalgam that includes everything from Social Security benefits to soldiers’ pay to interest on the national debt—will have to drop by about 40 percent immediately. That translates to roughly $1.5 trillion at annual rates, or about 10 percent of GDP. That’s an enormous fiscal contraction for any economy to withstand, never mind one in a sluggish recovery with 9 percent unemployment.” Druckenmiller and some Republicans believe that forcing a credit default would end up benefiting the country, as the Obama administration would give in to Republican demands for enormous spending cuts in return for Republicans’ agreement to raise the debt ceiling. Business Insider reporter Joe Weisenthal recently wrote: “Of course, a default by the world’s most stable nation would probably have impacts in ways nobody can imagine, but one thing seems to be clear. The notion—as some people suggest—that a default would somehow increase US credit-worthiness is absurd.” (Weisenthal 4/20/2011; Rampell 4/26/2011; Beutler 5/20/2011)
Joydeep Mukherji, the senior director for the credit firm Standard & Poor’s, says that one of the key reasons the US lost its AAA credit rating (see August 5, 2011) was because many Congressional figures expressed little worry about the consequences of a US credit default, and some even said that a credit default would not necessarily be a bad thing (see May 20, 2011). Politico notes that this position was “put forth by some Republicans.” Mukherji does not name either political party, but does say that the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that “people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default. That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable. This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.” Since the US lost its AAA credit rating, many Republicans have sought to blame the Obama administration (see August 6-9, 2011), even though House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that he and his fellow Republicans “got 98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt ceiling legislation whose passage led to the downgrade (see August 1, 2011). Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, led many Republican “tea party” members in voting against raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and claimed that even if the US did not raise its debt ceiling, it would not go into default, a statement unsupported by either facts or observations by leading economists (see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011). “I want to state unequivocally for the world, as well as for the markets, as well as for the American people: I have no doubt that we will not lose the full faith and credit of the United States,” she said. Now, however, one of Bachmann’s colleagues, Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA), says that the media, and S&P, misinterpreted the Republican position. “No one said that would be acceptable,” McClintock says of a possible default. “What we said was in the event of a deadlock it was imperative that bondholders retain their confidence that loans made to the United States be repaid on schedule.” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says of S&P’s response to the default crisis: “They, like many people, looked at this terrible debate we’ve had over the past few months, should the US default or not, really a remarkable thing for a country like the United States. And that was very damaging.” (Boak 8/11/2011) TPMDC reporter Brian Beutler recalls: “For weeks, high-profile conservative lawmakers practically welcomed the notion of exhausting the country’s borrowing authority, or even technically defaulting. Others brazenly dismissed the risks of doing so. And for a period of days, in an earlier stage of the debate, Republican leaders said technical default would be an acceptable consequence, if it meant the GOP walked away with massive entitlement cuts in the end.” He accuses McClintock of trying to “sweep the mess they’ve made down the memory hole” by lying about what he and fellow Republicans said in the days and weeks before the debt ceiling legislation was passed. Beutler notes statements made by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), where they either made light of the consequences of a possible credit default or said that a default was worthwhile if it, as Cantor said, triggered “real reform.” Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX), one of the “tea party” members, accused the Obama administration of lying about the consequences of default; Beutler writes, “This was a fairly common view among conservative Republicans, particularly in the House” (see July 14, 2011). (Beutler 8/11/2011)
Grover Norquist, a highly influential conservative lobbyist and activist, says that if President Obama wins re-election in 2012, Congressional Republicans will impeach him to regain control of the nation’s governance. Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a hardline opponent of government taxation, tells the National Journal that he expects Obama to raise taxes on the wealthy in 2013. He is best known for his anti-tax pledge, which almost all Congressional Republicans and a few Democrats have signed, and which states their absolute opposition to any tax hikes of any kind. The online news site National Confidential says that signers who break that pledge will likely “face a primary opponent funded by Norquist and his shadowy multi-millionaire donors.” Norquist says of Obama’s record of cutting taxes on middle- and lower-class taxpayers: “He came up with this idea for the one-year tax holiday so he could claim that he’s for a tax cut. Mind you, it’s a temporary tax cut, but he does not want to run as a tax increaser. I think [Republicans are] in reasonably good shape. Between now and November, I believe we will see a one-year extension of the FICA tax [cut]. I believe we will see the extension of [the break on] depreciation spending. And then the third one that you could have is repatriation. If I was Obama’s political consultant, I’d have put repatriation on the table when he extended the Bush-era tax cuts by two years [in 2010]. The estimates are that it would bring $6 [billion] to $800 billion back. If I were president, I would love to have that money flow back into the real economy, not the Solyndra economy, the year before I’m running for office.” (Cook 1/28/2012; National Confidential 1/28/2012) “Repatriation” is the idea that American corporations can receive one-time tax breaks by putting their foreign earnings into the American economy. Norquist’s reference to “the Solyndra economy” refers to the controversy surrounding the recently bankrupted Solyndra Corporation, which received $528 million in federal loan guarantees and which some conservatives, including Norquist, have attempted to tie to the Obama administration. (Investopedia 2012; New York Times 2012) Norquist predicts that if re-elected, Obama will allow a number of tax cuts on large corporations and the wealthy to expire at the end of 2012, and this, he says, will allow Congressional Republicans to begin impeachment proceedings. “We’re focused on the fact that there is this Damocles sword hanging over people’s head,” he says. “What you don’t know is who will be in charge when all of this will happen. I think when we get through this election cycle, we’ll have a Republican majority, [though] not necessarily a strong majority in the Senate, and a majority in the House. The majority in the House will continue to be a Reagan majority, a conservative majority. [House Speaker John] Boehner never has to talk his delegation going further to the right. If the Republicans have the House, Senate, and the presidency, I’m told that they could do an early budget vote—a reconciliation vote where you extend the Bush tax cuts out for a decade or five years. You take all of those issues off the table and then say, ‘What do you want to do for tax reform?’ Then, the question is, ‘OK, what do we do about repatriation and all of the interesting stuff?’ And, if you have a Republican president to go with a Republican House and Senate, then they pass the [Paul] Ryan plan [on Medicare],” referring to House Representative Paul Ryan’s plan to virtually end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher system. If the Democrats retain control of Congress and the White House, Norquist says: “Obama can sit there and let all the tax [cuts] lapse, and then the Republicans will have enough votes in the Senate in 2014 to impeach. The last year, he’s gone into this huddle where he does everything by executive order. He’s made no effort to work with Congress.” (Cook 1/28/2012) According to the US Constitution, “The President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” (Constitution of the United States 6/21/1788) It is unclear how Norquist frames his prediction of Obama’s allowing tax cut legislation to lapse as constituting “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes [or] Misdemeanors.”
The First National Romney Victory Leadership Retreat, a two-day, invitation-only conference in Park City, Utah, features a number of prominent Republican lawmakers and financiers gathered to coordinate strategy for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA). The Washington Post describes the event as three days of “strategizing and fraternizing.” One donor and member of Romney’s national finance team told a reporter before the event that a “well organized, committed team” is expected who are “subordinating individual ego for the greater goal.” Perhaps the most controversial figure attending is Karl Rove, the former Bush administration political advisor who now helps run American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012). The two groups have been heavily involved in running advertisements and other activities on behalf of the Romney campaign, but the law says the groups must conduct themselves independently of the Romney campaign. The Post reports, “Rove’s appearance could raise questions because of laws barring any coordination between super PACs and campaigns.” Common Cause’s Mary Boyle says that Rove’s appearance “seems to make a mockery of the rule that bans coordination between a super PAC and a candidate.” Tara Malloy, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, agrees with Boyle, but says Rove’s participation in the event is probably legal. “[T]he coordination rule is a pretty slim reed between candidates and the super PACs that support those candidates,” she says. “It’s not by any means an airtight barrier between those two.” To break the law, Romney campaign officials would have to have a “substantial discussion” with Rove about advertising strategies. Malloy says, “The scandal in Washington is what is legal, not what’s illegal.” Other attendees include former Secretary of State James A. Baker; former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, the founder of the American Action Network (AAN), another influential “independent” super PAC (see Mid-October 2010); Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH), a possible vice-presidential contender for Romney; former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (who will lead Romney’s transition team if Romney wins the presidential election); Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA), another possible vice-presidential choice; former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), also on the vice-presidential “short list”; former Governor John Sununu (R-NH); and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to the assemblage, as does former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), a possible vice-presidential pick, moderates a panel discussion on “Innovation in America,” joined by Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, billionaire donor Ken Langone, and two other possible vice-presidential choices, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator John Thune (R-SD). Rove takes part in a panel discussion called “Media Insight,” along with Romney counsel Ben Ginsberg, Kristol and his Weekly Standard colleague Fred Barnes, and GOP strategist Mary Matalin. A “Women for Romney Victory Tea” features Romney’s wife Anne and former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill. Possible vice-presidential choices Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), and Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) do not attend the conference. Nor does Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), a popular Republican who is not known to be on the vice-presidential list. Many Wall Street and private equity donors are also in attendance, welcomed by Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and the co-chair of Romney’s national finance team. One finance team member predicts the three-day event will raise as much as $700 million for Romney’s campaign. (Walshe 6/20/2012; Rucker 6/20/2012; Israel 6/21/2012)
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