Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The spiral of fanaticism in the Republican Party, fueled by big money

I don't know who said it first, but I got it from Digby. "It" is that when Republicans lose elections, they respond by trying to become more Republican. When the Democrats lose elections, they respond the same way - by trying to become more Republican.

Those related phenemena have created a destructive cycle that will not be broken in any way that our Pod Pundit worshipers of Holy Centrism are willing to imagine. Charlie Pierce today writes in What Happened In Texas Is a Running Off the Rails Esquire Politics Blog 08/01/2012, including a clever reference to Jack Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech:

There are those innocent souls who believe that the current raging extremism that is driving the Republican party will run its course, like a fever, and then the party will take to its bed and return to cool reason, and to its role as an honest partner in the business of governing the Republic. Well, lass' sie nach Texas kommen, kids. They are going to continue to slake their thirst with salt water, and the rest of us are going to have to live with the delusions that follow. What happened in Texas was in every sense a "runoff." Something's gotten into the water supply for all of us.
Pierce writes of the Tea Party, which is really just the current marketing branding of the Republican voting base, "The Tea Party now has morphed into a movement made up solely of three elements: corporate money, television hucksters, and suckers."

And speaking of Digby, she recently posted about one big piece of how that "corporate money" factor works in Institutionalizing the buying of elections Hullabaloo 07/30/2012. She links to the cover story of the current Bloomberg Businessweek by Paul Barrett, Karl Rove: He's Back, Big Time 07/26/2012.


Digby includes a brief Jane Mayer video clarifying a point about our current campaign-finance mess and Digby explains:

I don't think most people know that Super PACs must disclose their donors. Perhaps what's more interesting is that Super PAC donors don't seem to mind having their names associated with the Super PAC. It's as if they want people to know they are buying political influence. Those people are a different breed of millionaire.

But they aren't alone, they are just the most obvious. The 501c4s that Jane Mayer talks about really are secretive and they are powerful.
The Barrett article is largely a Karl Rove puff piece, and is a good example of the problem with the current incarnation of Businessweek. Their quality has improved since the first months of Bloomberg's ownership. This issue contains some really good articles. But the Barrett piece is more along the lines of the stock business articles praising the brilliant CEO, largely using the company's own spin. In this case, Rove standing in for the CEO, and the company being his unofficial shadow "holding company" operation (my words, not Barrett's) for his legally independent political financing operations.

But I agree with Digby that this one is particularly interesting, not least because it gives so much of Rove's preferred spin. And Barrett does include some more substantial reporting as well. On the spin side, Barrett gives prominent play to Rove's the-Democrats-started-it message on the origin of the legal vehicles on which Rove is currently relying in his campaign-financing operation. As Digby explains - and Barrett doesn't:

Rove explains that Democrats were the first to seriously use this vehicle, which is true, but liberal donors lost interest after 2004 and the 2008 Obama campaign actively discouraged them. The Republicans are nothing if not quick studies in the art of pumping vast sums of money into the system and they always know how to institutionalize it.
Would it have been too much for Barrett to contact someone who knows about this stuff and get a straightforward explanation like that?

I don't mean to imply that Barrett is doing hack work, he's not. After first noting Rove's the-mean-Democrats-started-it whine, Barrett writes:

[Rove's] Crossroads operation is way out in front this election cycle. Along with the billionaire Koch brothers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other conservative allies, the Crossroads-led offensive is collectively poised to spend more than $1 billion on the 2012 elections, according to Republican operatives. That’s roughly twice—repeat: twice — what Democrats expect to spend by means of their super PACs and social welfare groups.
Social welfare groups, you say? Well, yes, as Barrett explains:

In the strange realm of campaign finance, the Internal Revenue Service classifies [Rove's] Crossroads GPS as a nonprofit, nonpolitical "social welfare" organization — a 501(c)(4) in tax code parlance — that does not have to identify its backers. Crossroads GPS channels money into "issue" advertisements, which implicitly, but not very subtly, attack Obama and other Democrats. Perhaps you’ve seen one on cable television: "It wasn't supposed to be this way," a mournful-sounding female narrator intoned in one weeklong, $8 million campaign GPS ran in mid-July in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and six other hotly contested states. "Over three years with crushing unemployment; American manufacturing shrinking again," the ad continued. "President Obama’s plan: spend more. He’s added over $4 billion in debt every day. The economy is slowing, but our debt keeps growing."

To maintain its supporters' anonymity, a social welfare group like GPS must not have a "primary purpose" of a political nature, and it cannot coordinate strategy with candidates. In an election season, however, only a very naïve or obtuse viewer would miss the point of the organization’s prolific ads. [my emphasis]
Barret also discusses ways in which the independence that SuperPACs and "social welfare organizations" are legally required to keep from the formal campaign is largely a fiction. Instead of money being dropped off in public places in discreet paper bags, the campaigns now just have to quietly pass signals to the unofficial campaign organizations on what to do, maintaining only the most formal plausible deniability. (And anyone like me and like most of us not steeped in the details of campaign law could easily wonder whether the campaigns are even making that much effort to pretend that they are following the law.)

These trends are stronger in the Republican Party, but are also dominant among the Democrats. These financing vehicles could potentially be used to turn the formal Party organizations into little more that shell organizations. When Andrew Jackson and his supporters talked about the Money Power, they were referring in particular to the Bank of the United States of that time, though the Jacksonians were happy to be "uncivil" enough to use it in more general class terms as well. Barrett's articles shows a large example of how today's Money Power, aka, the One Percent, are currently going about purchasing the Congress, the Presidency and (less directly) the federal courts.

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