| September 23, 2014
When Romney Met Alinsky
Back in the spring of 2012, right-wingers began foaming at the mouth when the late Andrew Breitbart revealed that then Illinois State Senator Obama was part of panel discussion after a 1998 play about 1960's radical organizer Saul Alinsky. Now, the same conservatives are hyperventilating about the correspondence between the young Hillary Clinton and Alinsky, an ally with whom she parted company in 1969.
Of course, the Republican rage is more than a little ridiculous. After all, Tea Party faithful including Breitbart Youth James O'Keefe boasted of their use of Alinsky's tactics during their ferocious if failed campaign to stop health care reform in 2009. And as it turns out, Mitt Romney's beloved father and Michigan Governor George Romney not only met with Alinsky back in 1967, but largely agreed with his message.
As Andrew Kaczynski first noted (and Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller also reported), Michigan Governor George Romney met with Alinsky in the wake of the devastating Detroit riots. While the Library of Congress has photographs of that meeting, author T. George Harris described the tete-a-tete in his 1967 book, Romney's Way:
When slum organizer Saul Alinsky, with the West Side Organization's militant Negroes and clerics, wanted to meet with the white Detroit rulers, Romney indirectly arranged the meeting, and attended. Democratic Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh avoided the rough company.
"I think you ought to listen to Alinsky," Romney told his reluctant white friends. 'It seems to me that we are always talking to the same people. Maybe the time has come to hear new voices." Said an Episcopal bishop, 'He made Alinsky sound like a Republican.'"
To be sure, George Romney has had an outsized impact on his son. Mitt Romney didn't just call himself just "a guy from Detroit," but spoke passionately of joining his father for the 1946 Golden Jubilee in his home city. (Unfortunately for Mitt, that event occurred the year before he was born.) And Mitt didn't just recall his dad as "a lath and plaster man could work his way up to running a little car company called American Motors and end up Governor of a state where he had once sold aluminum paint," but remembered important rules of the road from him as well:
"I happened to see my dad run for governor when he was 54 years old," said Romney. "He said, 'Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win election to pay a mortgage.' If you find yourself in a position when you can serve, you ought to have a responsibility to do so if you think you can make a difference."
Of course, during his first run for the White House Mitt Romney repeatedly claimed that he also "saw" his father march with Martin Luther King, Jr. While Mitt later admitted his "figure of speech" was not literally true, he countered that "I think the thing that's relevant is that my dad was a champion in the civil rights movement, that he aligned himself with Martin Luther King."
That kind of activism wouldn't win George Romney any friends among today's Tea Partiers. Nor, as Rick Perlstein pointed out, would this Alinskyesque quote:
As a CEO he would give back part of his salary and bonus to the company when he thought they were too high. He offered a pioneering profit-sharing plan to his employees. Most strikingly, asked about the idea that "rugged individualism" was the key to America's success, he snapped back, "It's nothing but a political banner to cover up greed."
As it turns out, neither George Romney's son nor his political party would listen to that kind of message today. But in an important sense, the Republican Party including its Breitbart shock troops followed George Romney's 1967 admonition, "I think you ought to listen to Alinsky."
As Politico reported in September 2009, the Tea Party's manufactured campaign against the Obama administration appropriated Saul Alinsky's methods if not his message:
The 1971 agitator's handbook "Rules for Radicals" -- written by Saul Alinsky, the Chicago community organizer who was the subject of Hillary Clinton's senior thesis, and whose teachings helped shape Barack Obama's work on Chicago's South Side -- has been among Amazon's top 100 sellers for the past month, put there in part by people who "also bought" books by Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, and South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint.
Yes, the same folks who brought you Obama the socialist have been appropriating the words and ways of leftists past -- and generally letting their freak flags fly...
James O'Keefe, the activist and filmmaker who posed as a pimp for an expose of several ACORN offices in the Northeast, told the New York Post earlier this week] that he, too, had been inspired by "Rules for Radicals," which includes such tactical lessons as "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon" and "Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules."
Among those conservative rules, apparently, is spouting dark warnings of dangerous - if spurious - ties between President Obama and peripheral figures in his own or his father's life. Of course, Newt Gingrich's ridiculous claim that "Saul Alinsky radicalism is at the heart of Obama" is no more true of the President than it is of Mitt Romney. Then again, as Bill Moyers and Alinsky chronicler Hillary Clinton pointed out:
"Much of what Alinsky professes does not sound 'radical."... His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is Alinsky really believes in them and recognizes the necessity of changing the present structures of our lives in order to realize them."
All of which explains why, as the Wall Street Journal reported, Andrew Breitbart's allies at FreedomWorks not only give Mr. Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" to its top leadership members, but distribute an abridged version to its entire network.
| September 20, 2014
The Tortured Logic of NFL Commissioner Condoleezza Rice
With NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell under fire for the league's reprehensible handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, the names of potential successors are already being bandied about. But one of them--Condoleezza Rice--would be among the very worst choices the National Football League could make. After all, the NFL's credibility is at risk for having condoned violence toward and degradation of women by some of its players. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Rice didn't just defend torture perpetrated by the government of the United States; she followed in Richard Nixon's footsteps by claiming "if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture."
On its face, Condi Rice's experience in business, government and academia, her groundbreaking biography and deep love for the game make for an impressive resume to take over the NFL's headquarters in New York. In 2002, then Bush national security adviser and longtime Cleveland Browns fan Rice made it clear that being commish was her "dream job." In 2005, she declared, "If that jobs becomes open, I'm gone." Already selected to the committee that will decide the four teams for the NCAA's college football championship playoff, Rice has been suggested by press (see here and here) and pundits right and left, including Juan Williams of Fox News and Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post. As Williams put it:
Visit Dailykos to read the full story.
| September 12, 2014
Obama, Bush Agree That Terrorists "Not Islamic"
There was plenty not to like in President Obama address on ISIS Wednesday night. His claim to have authority to wage an open-ended military campaign without Congressional action doesn't pass the smell test. To the degree that "success" in restoring regional stability can even be defined, it is contingent on building and sustaining a staggeringly complex coalition of nations, militias and sectarian groups often at odds with each other. And engaging in a preventive war to head off possible future threats, rather than to preempt clear, imminent attacks against American interests, has not been a happy experience for the United States.
But for his conservative critics, President Obama's biggest sin was to declare "ISIL is not Islamic." With his proclamation that "no religion condones the killing of innocents," Laura Ingraham seethed that "we have a Commander In Chief who won't call it what it is." Columnist and Fox News regular Charles Krauthammer sneered "there's also something both patronizing and ridiculous for a Western Christian to be telling the Muslim world what exactly their religion is about."
Of course, the Republican Party's water carriers had no problem when President George W. Bush did just that during his September 20, 2001 address to a joint session of Congress. Less than 10 days after Al Qaeda's devastation in New York and Washington, President Bush explained (around the 4:20 mark above):
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.
The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.
The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.
Of course, that was then and this is now. And now, a Democrat sits in the Oval Office.
| September 10, 2014
Does Monica Wehby Really Support Abortion Rights and Marriage Equality? Judge for Yourself
Until her current Oregon Senate run this year, millionaire neurosurgeon Monica Wehby's political career consisted of appearing in anti-Obamacare ads and pushing a ballot measure to limit medical malpractice awards. Now, Dr. Wehby is calling for upper class tax cuts, a balanced budget amendment and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the same Republican prescription for failure Oregon's increasingly Democratic voters have repeatedly rejected. That's why the woman best known for stalking both her ex-husband and boyfriend is pretending to be a pro-choice, pro-marriage equality moderate in blue Oregon. Sadly for Wehby, her endorsement of the Supreme Court's right-wing justices shows otherwise.
Of course, you'd never know that watching the powerful new ad featuring Wehby and Ben West, one of the plaintiffs in the litigation that ultimately struck down Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage. As Wehby explained to Politico:
"My opponent keeps trying to paint me as an extreme right-wing Republican, and that's actually not who I am. I'm a very independent-minded person, like our state. I've always felt government should stay out of it. This isn't a change in thought for me at all."
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court Justices Dr. Wehby likes best have no intention of keeping government out of "personal decisions" like marriage and abortion. As a somewhat stunned Willamette Week recounted their editorial board meeting with Wehby and Republican rivals earlier this year:
We asked all five candidates in this race a fairly simple question: which U.S. Supreme Court justice most closely mirrors your values? After one candidate named Justice Anthony Kennedy, Wehby piggybacked on the answer. After Conger gave a ringing endorsement of arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, Wehby awkwardly changed her answer to Scalia as well. (Outside the interview, she told us she really meant to say Chief Justice John Roberts, but that she actually likes Justice Samuel Alito best of all.)
That certainly sounds like someone who Republicans can count on to block any Supreme Court selections President Barack Obama might make and to rubber stamp any hardliner a President Ted Cruz or President Paul Ryan might elevate to the highest court in the land. Monica Wehby may claim that marriage equality for gay Americans is "not a government decision," but her man Antonin Scalia believes "legislative bodies can ban what they believe to be immoral."
And when it comes to abortion rights, those four conservatives along with Clarence Thomas have been quite happy to stand between a woman and her doctor. After all, the supposed "swing justice" Anthony Kennedy who has guided the Court in recognizing rights for gay Americans has been one of the harshest critics of abortion access. Joined by Justices Alito and Scalia as well as Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for the 5-4 Court in the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart "partial birth abortion" case. In his opinion, Kennedy (who in his 2000 dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart used the incendiary term "abortionist" no fewer than 13 times) dismissed the Court's "health of the mother" exception and instead enshrined the thoroughly debunked myth of "post-abortion syndrome" as law. As the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus recalled:
"Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child," Kennedy intoned. This is one of those sentences about women's essential natures that are invariably followed by an explanation of why the right at stake needs to be limited. For the woman's own good, of course.
It's doubtless no problem for Dr. Monica Wehby, either. Hoping to represent a Republican Party whose platform calls for a "Human Life Amendment" banning all abortions, would-be Senator Wehby can change her message as audiences demand. In March, she explained to the Medford, Oregon Christian station The Dove, "Those of us who are us that are pro-life, we need to extend a culture of life in society." (See the video above, beginning around the 11:30 mark.) Yet Wehby also proclaimed, "I believe this is a personal decision between a woman and her family, not a woman and the federal government." And during her primary campaign against three Republican anti-abortion hardliners, the evasive Wehby tried to occupy every position--and no position--simultaneously:
Kennedy continues: "While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained." No reliable data? No problem!
She said her Catholic background and work taking care of children informed her "personally pro-life," stance on abortion, but said those views weren't going to change the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade.
"The Supreme Court ruled that this is, that abortion is supposed to be safe and legal," Wehby said. "And that's where we are. I don't think this should be used as a litmus test for people."
Of course she doesn't want her pro-life views viewed as a litmus test by Oregon voters because she would be certain to lose. And if she becomes a United States Senator, Dr. Wehby will doubtless help her Republican Party curb the reproductive rights of American women and the civil rights of gay Americans. To put it another way, Dr. Monica Wehby is not an independent-minded moderate; she just plays one on TV. Just look at the company she keeps and judge for yourself.
| September 9, 2014
Why Republicans Fought Obamacare and Why They're Giving Up
The signs, as the likes of Vox, Bloomberg News, TPM and the Washington Post have observed, are everywhere. With Democratic candidates finally touting the Affordable Care Act and many Republican campaigns abandoning their all-out war to destroy it, it is increasingly clear that Obamacare is here to stay.
What Paul Krugman called the "Obamacare Life Spiral" is unmistakable. Thanks to the Democrats who made it possible, millions of newly insured--and very satisfied--Americans are enjoying health care coverage even as the worst practices of the insurance industry have been banned. Nevertheless, insurers' bottom lines and stock prices are booming, while many of the carriers plan to expand their offerings in Obamacare's exchanges next year. And with hospitals in Medicaid-expanding states in much stronger financial shape, GOP leaders in rejectionist states like Pennsylvania and Tennessee are rethinking their decisions to needlessly deny coverage to hundreds of thousands of their constituents, effectively condemning thousands to death.
So it's no mystery why Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are running away from their pledges to repeal Obamacare "root and branch." (In his case, McConnell has 410,000 reasons to reconsider.) And, as I detailed last year in "The Real Reason for the GOP's All-Out War on Obamacare," there's also no mystery why the Republican Party waged a decades-long crusade to crush health care reform at any cost:
At its core, the Republicans' scorched-earth opposition to Obamacare has never been so much about "freedom" or "limited government" or any other right-wing ideological buzzword as it has been about political power, pure and simple. Now as for the past 20 years, Republicans have feared not that health care reform would fail the American people, but that it would succeed. Along with Social Security and Medicare, successful health care reform would provide the third and final pillar of Americans' social safety net, all brought you by the Democratic Party. To put it another way, the GOP was never really concerned about a "government takeover of health care", "rationing", "the doctor-patient relationship" or mythical "death panels," but that an American public grateful for access to health care could provide Democrats with an enduring majority for years to come.
But what Utah Senator Orrin Hatch called a "holy war" to block health care reform didn't start when Barack Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, but instead when Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993. It was then that former Quayle chief of staff and Republican strategist William Kristol warned his GOP allies that a Clinton victory on health care could guarantee Democratic majorities for the foreseeable future. "The Clinton proposal is also a serious political threat to the Republican Party," Kristol wrote in his infamous December 3, 1993 memo titled "Defeating President Clinton's Health Care Proposal," adding:
"Its passage in the short run will do nothing to hurt (and everything to help) Democratic electoral prospects in 1996. But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse--much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for 'security' on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government."
And that, for Kristol, meant it had to be stopped at all costs:
"The first step in that process must be the unqualified political defeat of the Clinton health care proposal. Its rejection by Congress and the public would be a monumental setback for the president; and an incontestable piece of evidence that Democratic welfare-state liberalism remains firmly in retreat."
As the American Prospect recalled, Kristol's war plan:
Darkly warned that a Democratic victory would save Clinton's political career, revive the politics of the welfare state, and ensure Democratic majorities far into the future. "Any Republican urge to negotiate a 'least bad' compromise with the Democrats, and thereby gain momentary public credit for helping the president 'do something' about health care, should be resisted," wrote Kristol. Republican pollster Bill McInturff advised Congressional Republicans that success in the 1994 midterm elections required "not having health care pass."
So, Republicans and their media water carriers followed Kristol's advice to the letter. In the Senate, long-time health care reform supporter Bob Dole adopted Kristol's mantra, declaring "Our country has health care problems, but no health care crisis." Long before she introduced the easily debunked "death panels" fraud, Betsy McCaughey almost single-handedly undid the Clinton health care reform effort with the false claim that "the law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better." In 1993, GOP Senators Hatch and Chuck Grassley, among those who would 16 years later call the ACA's individual mandate unconstitutional, joined 19 other Republican Senators in proposing their own bill that "would have required everyone to buy coverage, capped awards for medical malpractice lawsuits, established minimum benefit packages and invested in comparative effectiveness research." (As Hatch later justified his turnabout, "We were fighting Hillarycare at that time.")
The rest, as they say, was history. At least, that is, until history began repeating itself with the election of Barack Obama.
The dire warnings from the right began within days of Obama's election. Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute parroted the think-tank's claim that Obama's health care proposal is "socialized medicine" and sounded Kristol's old clarion call:
"Blocking Obama's health plan is key to GOP's survival. Ditto Baucus' health plan. And Kennedy's. And Wyden's."
Approvingly citing Norman Markowitz' assertion at PoliticalAffairs.net that "national health care [and other measures] will bring reluctant voters into the Obama coalition," Cannon fretted that "making citizens dependent on the government for their medical care can change the fates of political parties." For arch conservatives, that formula spells trouble for the GOP.
James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute also picked up Kristol's baton. Concerned that "creating the Obamacare Class would pull America to the left," Pethokoukis echoed Cannon's obstructionist line. Writing in US News, he recounted the grim warning from a Republican strategist who told him:
"Let me tell you something, if Democrats take the White House and pass a big-government healthcare plan, that's it."
Just two weeks after Barack Obama was sworn in, Kristol left no doubt that he believed the Republican Party should repeat the obstructionism that destroyed the Clinton health care plan in 1993 and 1994. GOP leaders in Congress, Kristol told Fox News' Neil Cavuto, should emulate the roadblock Republicans of the 1990's to halt Obama's economic recovery package now and everything else - including health care reform - later:
"But the loss of credibility, even if they jam it through, really hurts them on the next, on the next piece of legislation. Clinton got through his tax increases in '93, it was such a labor and he had to twist so many arms to do it and he became so unpopular...
...That it made, that it made it so much easier to then defeat his health care initiative. So, it's very important for Republicans who think they're going to have to fight later on on health care, fight later on maybe on some of the bank bailout legislation, fight later on on all kinds of issues. It's very important for them, I think, not just to stay united at this time, though that's important, but to make the arguments."
Of course, the arguments Republicans made during the right-wing's health care "hissy fit" of 2009 and 2010 were all specious ones. Senate Minority Leader McConnell, who previously denied that 47 million Americans "go without health care" because they can go to the emergency room, repeated his mantra that "all of us want reform, but not reform that denies, delays, or rations health care". "Death panels" became Politifact's 2009 Lie of the Year. In 2010, that bogus GOP talking point lost its title to another, "government takeover of health care."
But when they weren't inventing "facts" out of whole cloth, the GOP's best and not-so-brightest in rare moments of candor gave away the Republican game on health care reform. In November 2009, Senator Hatch confessed his darkest fear about a Democratic win on health care:
HATCH: That's their goal. Move people into government that way. Do it in increments. They've actually said it. They've said it out loud.
Q: This is a step-by-step approach --
HATCH: A step-by-step approach to socialized medicine. And if they get there, of course, you're going to have a very rough time having a two-party system in this country, because almost everybody's going to say, "All we ever were, all we ever are, all we ever hope to be depends on the Democratic Party."
Q: They'll have reduced the American people to dependency on the federal government.
HATCH: Yeah, you got that right. That's their goal. That's what keeps Democrats in power.
In August 2011, the very short-lived GOP White House frontrunner MIchele Bachmann echoed the point that the successful entrenchment of health care reform would be mean a permanent Democratic majority. As CNN reported, Bachmann explained why at a campaign event in South Carolina (around the 1:41:00 mark in the video):
Bachmann stressed the need to repeal President Obama's health care reform law, or so-called Obamacare, before it "metastasizes" like a cancer and "we will not be able to get rid of it." "You can't put socialized medicine into a country and think that ever again you can elect a Republican as president - or a conservative or even a tea partier as president - and think that somehow we're going to get back to limited government," Bachmann said. "It won't happen because socialized medicine is the definition of big government."
It's wonder that after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act allowing adult children to join their parents' policies, ending lifetime caps, prohibiting insurers' bans on pre-existing conditions, enabling over 30 million Americans to get insurance cover and more, conservative analyst and former Bush speechwriter David Frum admitted as much, announcing "Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s."
But while Republicans continue to peddle horror stories about America's future under Obamacare, the very satisfied residents of Massachusetts are telling a different story today. Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Medical Society released survey findings showing continued strong support for the 2006 law signed by Republican Governor Mitt Romney, one its architect Jonathan Gruber described as "the same f**king bill" as Obamacare:
The survey finds that 84 percent of Bay State residents are satisfied with their health coverage -- considerably higher than the approximately 67 percent of Americans nationally who are happy with their health care. Specifically, respondents praised high quality of care and good access to medical services as the reasons for their satisfaction. An additional 75 percent said that finding the kind of medical care they need isn't difficult.
Those results track with earlier polls on Massachusetts' reform law. In 2011, a survey administered by state insurance officials found that 86 percent of residents were pleased with the range of services covered by plans under the law's insurance marketplace and 82 percent were pleased with their choice of doctors.
The popularity of "Romneycare" should come as no surprise. After all, the program now in its seventh year reduced the ranks of the uninsured from 10 percent to a national low of just two percent. Neither the supposed "rate shock" nor the hordes of angry residents forced to pay penalties for non-compliance came to pass: just 44,000 out of 6.6 million people paid the fine rather than comply with the individual mandate in 2010.
To be sure, the national Affordable Care Act and the Massachusetts law are not exactly the same and different states are differentially situated. As the Washington Post explained in May, "Massachusetts is a relatively rich and liberal state that already had a fairly high rate of health insurance." And there's another reason why "the Massachusetts experience might not prove an apt guide to the national experience":
Although the Massachusetts reforms are architecturally similar to the Affordable Care Act, they didn't have to contend with a political party working relentlessly to undermine their implementation.
And in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and everywhere else where Republicans are working relentlessly to undermine the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, millions of their constituents will suffer. While blue states like California, Maryland, New York and Oregon running their own insurance exchanges and accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid will provide their residents greater coverage and lower premiums, the tragedy that is red state health care will needlessly continue.
Continue, that is, until constituents in Republican states demand the same access to and quality of health care they see their cousins enjoying in Democratic states. Starting next year, Americans will know who to blame for trying to deny them health care and who to credit for making reform possible. As Bill Kristol fretted two decades ago, that triumph will cement the Democrats' brand "as the generous protector of middle-class interests."