Thursday, August 22, 2013

Are The Rightists Smarter... Or Just More Motivated?


It's how the Bourbons saw themselves; it's how conservatives always see themselves, especially the plutocratic ones

Right after Obama was reelected, the Republican-controlled state government of North Carolina kicked an ALEC-initiated plan into high gear-- disenfranchising, to whatever extent they could, two of Obama's biggest constituencies, students and African-Americans. They've been spectacularly successful, just as other states controlled by right-wing governors and legislatures-- think Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and, basically, the whole Old Confederacy-- have also been able to enact ALEC-based initiatives to diminish democracy, a form of government always hated and feared by the political right.

Why have they been so successful, even as the Democrats won the presidency, expanded their hold on the Senate under the worst set of circumstances and even won back a handful of House seats, despite the systemic incompetence of the DCCC? Are the Republicans smarter then the Democrats? Thinking ahead and winning control of so many state legislatures on the eve of a national redistricting year says more about the Democrats being stupid than the Republicans being smart, but I think there's more to it. Money is a huge motivator and, for the Republicans, a widely and wildly embraced one. Democrats-- at least the real ones, not the "New" ones-- would rather embrace idealism. But does idealism move them the way the bottom line moves Republican and, more to the point, those who finance the Republicans? I'm afraid not.

Investigative journalist and author Lee Fang, closes his new book, The Machine, with this quote from from Thomas Jefferson from a letter Jefferson wrote to George Washington while the former was in France. Jefferson, Fang asserts, feared for this era.
As he spent time in France, admiring a country filled with rich traditions and seemingly forward-looking cultural attitudes, he noted that a powerful elite could harness all political power in even themost tranquil of nations. In a letter to George Washington, Jefferson wrote: “Though the day may be at some distance, beyond the reach of our lives perhaps, yet it will certainly come, when a single fiber left of this institution will produce an hereditary aristocracy, which will change the form of our governments from the best to the worst in the world.”
The Day of the Kochs... the day when North Carolina's democracy could be purchased by fascist-leaning oligarch Art Pope and when one of America's two parties-- and half the other one-- could be bought outright by the special interest corporations and the wealthy families that control them. Fang began the final chapter with abother quote, this one from Bill Moyers and Berbard Weisberger:
Like the Bourbon kings of France, the lords of unrestrained, amoral capitalism never forgot anything.They learned from their defeat how to organize new strategies and messages, furnish the money to back them, and recapture control of the nation’s life.
I'm afraid the Obama years were one big wasted opportunity for progressives. Obama was the wrong guy at the wrong time. He was never going to fight effectively for the kind of progressive agenda he never really believed in in the first place. His two terms have been a dead zone in American history, which is a real tragedy, given the potential for social and economic progress-- completely squandered other than for gays-- following the catastrophic finale to Bush's 8 years of unrestrained greed and avarice. And it would have been some fight-- even if Obama was willing to give it a shot... and not one he was guaranteed to win.
Many conservatives clamor loudly for more state power. Congressman Tom Price, the former Republican Study Committee chairman and a former ALEC member before going to Congress, declared, “Our Founding Fathers understood the danger of amassing broad powers in the federal government at the expense of individual liberty.” The influence of groups like ALEC and SPN, decentralization can be a backdoor attempt to make broad, industrywide regulations more difficult to enforce. An example would be the Republican alternative idea for health reform: allowing insurance plans to be purchased across state lines. This health policy would replicate the failures of credit card deregulation, which allows companies to flee to states with the fewest consumer regulations. Employer-based health insurance policies could shift at any moment to plans in states where policyholders have limited coverage options or could be dropped for any reason.

Despite the bluster about individual and states’ rights, these policies are always about corporate profits first. Indeed, ALEC proposals-- like the ALEC-drafted Independent External Review for Health Benefits Plans Act-- have sought to strip the right of patients even to file a lawsuit against an insurance company.

...Control of state governments has allowed conservatives to advance far right policies, even with President Obama in the White House... [T]he state-based conservative infrastructure fought proxy battles against reforms at the national level, and the network of state groups has grown significantly since Obama’s election. But the chance for state-level fronts to really show their worth came only two years after Obama’s election. When Republicans swept the 2010 midterm elections, they won unprecedented gains. By 2011, with GOP leadership in state capitals across the country, conservatives were ready to declare war. In ten states where Republicans made gains in 2010, restrictive voting laws were passed the following year.

While the right has sought to chip away at worker protections as part of a broader antilabor agenda, their primary motivation has been to defund and weaken Democrats for future elections. Ed Gillespie, the Republican strategist coordinating a $40 million fund to help elect more Republican state legislators in 2010, saw state government as the path forward. First, he reasoned that because of the 2010 census, control of state legislatures would be critical in terms of the redistricting process that happens every ten years. “This will be the last election before redistricting, and there are 18 state chambers that could go either way and affect between 25 and 32 U.S. House seats,” Gillespie told the National Review before the election. Haley Barber, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was just as candid, displaying the goal of redistricting prominently on the website for his group. With control of enough state chambers, Republicans hoped to gerrymander their way into power for at least ten years.

Gloating shortly after the midterm election, Karl Rove spoke to an audience of Marcellus Shale gas-drillers (commonly known as the “fracking” industry) in Pittsburgh. In classic Rove fashion, he emphasized the partisan ramifications of the election as just a new policy landscape. Republicans had swept state legislative offices across the country, meaning the GOP could now gerrymander themselves into a power for the next decade. “He who controls the pen draws the line,” Rove said, “and he who draws the line decides the outcome of most contests.”
Self-serving petty partisans like Steve Israel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz can handle Reince Priebus and whomever Boehner appoints to head the NRCC-- they're on the same low tactical level-- but you can't expect someone like Israel or Wasserman Schultz to go up a long-term thinker. Neither is even modestly equipped.
The second reason national GOP strategists focused on gaining state-level control was to defund labor unions, thus weakening the Democratic Party. Controlling state government would provide an opportunity for Republicans to decertify and break public employee unions-- one of the largest contributors to Democrats in elections. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees spent $12.4 million in federal elections in 2010, making it one of the top pro-Democratic spenders in the country outside the party committees. Taking out AFSCME and unions like the Service Employees International union would deprive Democrats of some of their greatest allies during elections.

To test the waters, Resurgent Republic, a polling nonprofit Gillespie had founded with Rove in 2009 to provide constant messaging advice for the conservative movement, began producing surveys about attitudes related to public employees. The polling found that direct attacks on public employees, like teachers, as overpaid, could be effective with voters. The analysis found that the public viewed teachers’ unions with “disdain.” Resurgent Republic circulated a memo claiming that an assault on public employees could “galvanize citizens” against “the new federal bureaucrat elite-- paid for by struggling private sector families.” Portraying public employees as leeches fed by taxpayer dollars could be a “tipping point” in the war on the labor movement, Gillespie and Rove argued.

...The critics of public-employee pay, particularly that of public teachers, exaggerated their claims. Several Republicans and right-wing commentators claimed teachers in [Wisconsin] made “double” the average of private sector employees, or that the average teacher is paid over $100,000. In reality, the average teacher salary in Wisconsin is about $51,264, according to PolitiFact, the nonpartisan fact-checking website.

The sustained focus on teacher and other public servant salaries obscured the true drivers of Wisconsin’s budget deficit. The budget gap could have been filled by simply closing an Internet sales tax loophole, getting rid of a special interest property tax exemption, and forcing Wisconsin corporations to pay their share of state corporate income taxes (many Wisconsin corporations, like many American companies, set up offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes). Rather than taking a pragmatic approach to ending the deficit, Walker’s budget included tens of millions in additional tax cuts. Moreover, ending collective bargaining rights alone does nothing to affect the budget. Wisconsin public employee unions voluntarily offered full concessions on pay and benefits. The Walker administration demand to end collective bargaining was only an effort to weaken progressive institutions, not fix the budget... The manufactured ou

...The net result is a second term that consists of fighting to retain the few achievements from the first, endless political squabbling over minor issues, and, ultimately, stalemate on the big issues that grip society, from climate change to America’s disappearing middle class. Republicans failed to deliver Mitt Romney to the presidency, but the conservative machine has largely triumphed in preventing the wave of progressive reform that seemed quite possible at the end of the Bush presidency or any permanent realignment toward liberalism.

One must marvel at the right, at least with the same respect given to an early venture capitalist whose savvy investment reaped an incredible return. Wealthy patrons and big business plowed money into stopping what seemed like an inevitable wave of progressive reforms, and were ultimately successful in many ways. Of course, it wasn’t just financial advantage. Smart decisions were made to duplicate and build upon the few tactical advantages built by Democrats over the years and to block progressive legislative items writ large. The resources of ideological billionaires teamed with the near-limitless corporate treasuries of Fortune 500 companies (and their K Street lobbyists) swallowed and defeated much of President Obama’s hopeful plans for America.

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