Friday, March 5, 2010

Exhuming McCarthy 2.0

The Republican Party has been in an ethical wilderness for so long now, has so aggressively assisted in its own spiritual demise, it’s hard to remember when this deathwatch really began. Bereft of any vision for the nation, emotionally attuned to the punitive instinct, ready to oppose President Obama on any initiative out of reflex rather than principle, the GOP has been on intellectual and credibility life support for a long time.

Liz Cheney, Jim Bunning and the Republican National Committee just pulled the plug.

With three events that happened in such lockstep it makes you think it was intentional, the conservatives in Congress and outside have been badly served by some of their number who showed, by accident and on purpose, just how desperate and mean-spirited they’re willing to be in order to advance their agenda.

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The Republicans’ lock on their old strong suit, national security, isn’t what it used to be; two wars and responsibility for the worst attack on American soil won’t enhance its bona fides on that front over the long haul. And so, the former vice president Dick Cheney has, in speeches and op-ed pieces and a forthcoming book, been working furiously to rewrite history as it relates to the panoramically criminal actions of the Bush administration.

Daughter Liz has happily entered the family business. On March 1, Liz Cheney’s right-wing advocacy group, Keep America Safe, released a breathtakingly ridiculous Web video that suggests that lawyers at the Justice Department responsible for defending the military prisoners collectively misidentified as “detainees” share the ideological viewpoints of the al-Qaida network.



It was a revisitation of the same innuendo and character assassination perfected by Republican Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy and unleashed on the country for three harrowing years during the McCarthy hearings in the 1950's. And like her apparent ideological mentor, Liz Cheney had her Joseph Welch moment. In fact, she had more than one.

Cheney’s DoJ broadside got a lot of pushback from a broad range of conservatives, some from previous Republican administrations, who indicated that the video was off base in its ad hominem attacks of Justice attorneys. The Conservative Power Line blog called the video “vicious” and “unfounded.”

Reginald Brown, former Bush associate White House counsel said “the video is truly offensive … It’s beyond a cheap shot to suggest that a lawyer is an al-Qaida sympathizer because he advocates a detainee’s position in the Supreme Court ...”



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Cheney’s YouTube mal mot surfaced two days before a story in Politico, a piece highlighting GOP fundraising documents apparently lost or forgotten at a Republican National Committee leadership retreat for top donors and fundraisers, held Feb. 18 at the Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande, Fla.

The presentation was delivered by RNC Finance Director Rob Bickhart, Politico reported on March 3. The 72-page document was provided to Politico by a Democrat who was apparently at the hotel.

The docs, assembled as a PowerPoint presentation, shows one graphic that highlights desired motivational triggers for getting donations from conservative supporters. At the top of the column for “Visceral Giving” (read: spot donors) is the word “Fear.” In another column headed “Calculated Giving” (code for deep-pocketed donors), motivations the document said are ripe for exploitation include giving that’s “Ego-Driven” or powered by a desire for “Access” or “Personal” reasons.

Another slide in the deck reads: “What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate? Save the country from trending toward Socialism!”

From the Politico story: “In neat PowerPoint pages, it lifts the curtain on the often-cynical terms of political marketing, displaying an air of disdain for the party’s donors that is usually confined to the barroom conversations of political operatives.”

It was all too clear for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. “The Republicans simply don’t respect American voters,” he told MSNBC on Thursday. “What this shows is that they don’t even respect their own donors among their own voters.”

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As you’d expect, the damage-control machine went off loudly at RNC headquarters.

“This was an internal matter,” RNC Chairman and apologist-in-chief Michael Steele told Fox News. “Clearly it’s not something I would tolerate … We’re dealing with it administratively within the RNC.”

“They don’t get it,” Judson Phillips, an attorney and organizer of the recent National Tea Party Convention, told the Daily Beast. “They freaking don’t get it.” Phillips said he disagreed with the characterization of small donors as “reactionary” and motivated by “fear.” “Our motives are patriotic,” he said. “Can they be any more insulting?”


Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, the activist group that played a role in organizing the first Tea Party protests, called the presentation “inept and silly.”

“I’m just kind of shocked,” he said. “I don't get what they were trying to accomplish. ... ”

Brandon said the use of the word “fear” was ill-advised. “When people start using the term ‘fear,’ you start getting the black helicopter mythology going,” he told the Beast.

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But the table was set for all this on Feb. 26, when Jim Bunning, GOP senator from Kentucky, took insensitivity to new heights. Pissed off at having missed a NCAA game featuring the Kentucky Wildcats, his personal fave, Bunning voted repeatedly to block H.R. 4691, a 30-day extension of provisions and benefits -- unemployment insurance, flood insurance, highway funding, SBA business loans and small business provisions of the American Recovery Act — for an estimated 400,000 Americans around the country. His refusal to cast the vote that would have meant the necessary unanimous consent also blocked COBRA benefits for people who’d lost their jobs. The benefits expired on Feb. 28.

“I have missed the Kentucky-South Carolina game that started at 9:00,” he said, 
”and it's the only redeeming chance we had to beat South Carolina since they're the only team that has beat Kentucky this year.”



The TiVo-deprived senator from Kentucky tried to stand on principle — that we shouldn’t spent another $10 billion we really don’t have, in the face of a multitrillion-dollar deficit. “The only difference I have [with] some of my good friends from the other side of the aisle, is that I believe we should pay for it,” he said.

But Bunning’s act was weak. His attempt to teach Congress the basics of financial rectitude with the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans hanging in the balance looks sour and cynical.

And Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, wasn’t buying: “This idea of somehow we are going to hold back on unemployment benefits and balance the budget on the backs of unemployed people in Illinois and Kentucky, you could not pick a worse strategy or a worse time to do it.”

But it didn’t look that way to the folks on Bunning's side of the aisle. Compounding the horrible optics of such a singular moment on the Senate floor was the fact that, astonishingly, other Republicans had Bunning’s back.

Firedoglake reported on Tuesday:

“Right-wing conservatives compounded the problem by cheering Bunning on and making inartful comments. Jon Kyl, number 3 in the Senate leadership, argued against jobless benefits altogether, calling them a “disincentive for work.” Kentucky Senate candidates to replace Bunning, Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, applauded the effort in an attempt to capture the far-right base. And right-wing media praised Bunning as well. This is starting to look a lot like Newt Gingrich’s 1995 government shutdown, which forced a reconsideration of cruel Republican policies among the public.”

The bill’s passed the Senate on Tuesday and the president signed it; the benefits are flowing to where they should have gone all along — no thanks to the gentleman from Kentucky.



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Before the latest misfortunes and since, RNC Chairman Steele has been working the airwaves, stoking the confidence engine, doing his best to brandish a political sang-froid he hasn’t earned yet.

“Absolutely, absolutely, at the rate we’re going now, with the ground game we’re putting in place, we absolutely can take the Congress back this year.”

That may have been true when he said it, on Jan. 10 on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

But in the light of this latest, three-step process of exhuming the worst of Republican identity, the question for independent voters who might be inclined to consider Republican candidates this fall is: Why reward the GOP for this kind of insensitivity to the small donors who could help keep their election hopes alive? Why gift the Republicans for this kind of indifference to their own constituents — and to the truth itself?

With Cheney’s hardly-subtle terror baiting, the RNC’s fear-mongering by Power Point and Jim Bunning’s antagonism toward the less fortunate, the Republicans, and conservatives more generally, clearly have identity issues. They’re the kind of problems that voters look for, as an indicator of how the party with the problem is likely to govern. They’re the kind of issues Americans don’t necessarily feel obliged to reward with election.

The GOP is facing the next stage in a crisis of cynicism, and the American people have had quite enough of that little commodity lately, thanks. Why on earth would they sign on for any more in November?

That’s not a question about the Republicans that liberals are necessarily coming to, or Tea Party activists or independents or any other political group. It’s an apolitical question — like the one that follows, borne of straight-up common sense: How you gonna govern a nation, or the Congress, when you can’t even govern yourself?

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