This is like over 24 hour old news, but it contains some major hypocrisies or delusions which conservatives keep repeating and claiming they believe – Jonathan Bernstein writes, Catch of the Day
To Rachel Maddow. The liberal talk show host went off on a diatribe against Politifact after it rated “Mostly True” a claim by Marco Rubio that “The majority of Americans are conservatives.”
There are a few ways to look at this. Politifact concentrated on self-identification polling, which shows far more American self-identify as conservative than as liberal, and decided that the plurality lead for “conservative” in those polls is at least close to Rubio’s “majority” claim. At a narrowly literal level — and that’s not a crazy level for Politifact to use in many cases — that’s not an unreasonable position. And yet the political difference between a nation in which a group makes up over 50% of the electorate and one in which that group is at around 40% is quite significant.
One could look at it another way, which is to get beyond self-identification to go to whether people believe in conservative concepts or not. But then it gets very tricky, as can be seen easily in from the speech Politifact was fact-checking. Rubio actually said: The majority of Americans are conservatives — they believe in things like the Constitution. I know that’s weird to some people…” Politifact ignored that context of Rubio’s comment, turning it into a narrow question of self-identification. But that’s not actually what Rubio was saying. He’s making a political claim that believing in the Constitution makes one a conservative. But that’s, on the surface false — virtually all Americans, liberals included, believe in the Constitution. Or it’s false in a different way: if Rubio is going to say that believing in the Constitution means believing in a particular interpretation of the Constitution, then those who do so may all be conservatives, but now we’re talking about a very small group of Americans who are well-versed in the controversies about Constitutional interpretation.
For as long as I can remember and add it what I know of past escapades by the conservative via research on the conservative movement – television reports, books, newspaper articles and opinion columns, direct mail ( still important even in the age of the internet), phone bank appeals and pranks by Republicans – they have made demonizing the very words liberal and liberalism a major part of their disinformation campaign for decades. If you frame the question simply in terms of conservative versus liberal in terms of self identification, many people, even though they largely support liberal public policy, identify as conservative. The general trends of public beliefs are amazing and frustrating. There was the recent investigative piece by the NYT that looked at conservatives who use, depend on and yet feel embarrassed about using public programs that they need to get them through hard times. With that recent example in mind of the kind of mental juggling and denial of which individual conservatives are capable we have one of the new generation of conservatives, one of the future wunderkins of right-wing nuttery say that a conservative is someone who believes in the U.S. Constitution. I could easily do a 48 hour blogging marathon listing all the ways in conservatives have betrayed the Constitution in just the last 12 years. They have used the flag as fish wrap for their anti-Constitutional actions, as is their standard operating procedure. Just because the average kool-aid drinking conservative sycophant feels those things have been constitutional does not make it so. Since I can’t do the marathon, let’s just go with two examples. One has shaped recent news and the other is recent, though part of a trend.
Citizens United was a SOTUS decision concerning campaign finance law made in January 2010. Ari Berman, The Politics of the Super Rich
At a time when it’s become a cliché to say that Occupy Wall Street has changed the nation’s political conversation — drawing long overdue attention to the struggles of the 99% — electoral politics and the 2012 presidential election have become almost exclusively defined by the 1%. Or, to be more precise, the .0000063%. Those are the 196 individual donors who have provided nearly 80% of the money raised by super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each.
These political action committees, spawned by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision in January 2010, can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, or unions for the purpose of supporting or opposing a political candidate. In theory, super PACs are legally prohibited from coordinating directly with a candidate, though in practice they’re just a murkier extension of political campaigns, performing all the functions of a traditional campaign without any of the corresponding accountability.
If 2008 was the year of the small donor, when many political pundits (myself included) predicted that the fusion of grassroots organizing and cyber-activism would transform how campaigns were run, then 2012 is “the year of the big donor,” when a candidate is only as good as the amount of money in his super PAC. “In this campaign, every candidate needs his own billionaires,” wrote Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.
“This really is the selling of America,” claims former presidential candidate and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. “We’ve been sold out by five justices thanks to the Citizens United decision.” In truth, our democracy was sold to the highest bidder long ago, but in the 2012 election the explosion of super PACs has shifted the public’s focus to the staggering inequality in our political system, just as the Occupy movement shined a light on the gross inequity of the economy. The two, of course, go hand in hand.
“We’re going to beat money power with people power,” Newt Gingrich said after losing to Mitt Romney in Florida as January ended. The walking embodiment of the lobbying-industrial complex, Gingrich made that statement even though his candidacy is being propped up by a super PAC funded by two $5 million donations from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. It might have been more amusing if the GOP presidential primary weren’t a case study of a contest long on money and short on participation.
The Wesleyan Media Project recently reported a 1600% increase in interest-group-sponsored TV ads in this cycle as compared to the 2008 primaries. Florida has proven the battle royal of the super PACs thus far. There, the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, outspent the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, five to one. In the last week of the campaign alone, Romney and his allies ran 13,000 TV ads in Florida, compared to only 200 for Gingrich. Ninety-two percent of the ads were negative in nature, with two-thirds attacking Gingrich, who, ironically enough, had been a fervent advocate of the Citizens United decision.
With the exception of Ron Paul’s underdog candidacy and Rick Santorum’s upset victory in Iowa — where he spent almost no money but visited all of the state’s 99 counties — the Republican candidates and their allied super PACs have all but abandoned retail campaigning and grassroots politicking. They have chosen instead to spend their war chests on TV.
The results can already be seen in the first primaries and caucuses: an onslaught of money and a demobilized electorate. It’s undoubtedly no coincidence that, when compared with 2008, turnout was down 25% in Florida, and that, this time around, fewer Republicans have shown up in every state that’s voted so far, except for South Carolina. According to political scientists Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar, negative TV ads contribute to “a political implosion of apathy and withdrawal.” New York Times columnist Tim Egan has labeled the post-Citizens United era “your democracy on meth.”
The .01 Percent Primary
More than 300 super PACs are now registered with the Federal Election Commission. The one financed by the greatest number of small donors belongs to Stephen Colbert, who’s turned his TV show into a brilliant commentary on the deformed super PAC landscape. Colbert’s satirical super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, has raised $1 million from 31,595 people, including 1,600 people who gave $1 each. Consider this a rare show of people power in 2012.
Otherwise the super PACs on both sides of the aisle are financed by the 1% of the 1%. Romney’s Restore Our Future Super PAC, founded by the general counsel of his 2008 campaign, has led the herd, raising $30 million, 98% from donors who gave $25,000 or more. Ten million dollars came from just 10 donors who gave $1 million each. These included three hedge-fund managers and Houston Republican Bob Perry, the main funder behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004, whose scurrilous ads did such an effective job of destroying John Kerry’s electoral prospects. Sixty-five percent of the funds that poured into Romney’s super PAC in the second half of 2011 came from the finance, insurance and real estate sector, otherwise known as the people who brought you the economic meltdown of 2007-2008.
Romney’s campaign has raised twice as much as his super PAC, which is more than you can say for Rick Santorum, whose super PAC — Red, White & Blue — has raised and spent more than the candidate himself. Forty percent of the $2 million that has so far gone into Red, White & Blue came from just one man, Foster Friess, a conservative hedge-fund billionaire and Christian evangelical from Wyoming.
In the wake of Santorum’s upset victories in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri on February 7th, Friess told the New York Times that he’d recruited $1 million for Santorum’s super PAC from another (unnamed) donor and upped his own giving, though he wouldn’t say by how much. We won’t find out until the next campaign disclosure filing in three months, by which time the GOP primary will almost certainly be decided.
For now, Gingrich’s sugar daddy Adelson has pledged to stay with his flagging campaign, but he’s also signaled that if the former Speaker of the House goes down, he’ll be ready to donate even more super PAC money to a Romney presidential bid. And keep in mind that there’s nothing in the post-Citizens United law to stop a donor like Adelson, hell-bent on preventing the Obama administration from standing in the way of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, from giving $100 million, or for that matter, however much he likes.
Before Citizens United, the maximum amount one person could give to a candidate was $2,500; for a political action committee, $5,000; for a political party committee, $30,800. Now, the sky’s the limit for a super PAC, and even more disturbingly, any donor can give an unlimited contribution to a 501c4 — outfits defined by the IRS as “civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare,” and to make matters worse, that contribution will remain eternally secret. In this way, American politics is descending further into the darkness, with 501c4s quickly gaining influence as “shadow super PACs.”
A recent analysis by the Washington Post found that, at a cost of $24 million, 40% of the TV ads in the presidential race so far came from these tax-exempt “social welfare” groups. The Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads, a leading conservative super PAC attacking Democratic candidates and the Obama administration, also runs a 501c4 called Crossroads GPS. It’s raised twice as much money as its sister group, all from donations whose sources will remain hidden from American voters. Serving as a secret slush fund for billionaires evidently now qualifies as social welfare.
It has been said – by conservatives of course – that they are Constitutional fundamentalists – if a law, a concept of law is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution than they’re against it. Conservatives see no implicit intent in the context of individual amendments, several amendments take together – say like the 4,5 and 66th amendments to gather do not, in the minds of conservatives like right-wing icon Robert Bork, add up to a right to privacy. So little wonder that conservatives see no implicit rights in the Constitution as a whole. They do not see it as a document that advocates both in substance and tone, an egalitarian approach to political campaign fiance law or any other law for that matter. As with most of conservative dogma there is an obvious flaw in their now institutionalized interpretation of campaign finance law by way of Citizens United. If, like Rubio, you are a strict constructionists about the Constitution, where is that passage which say that corporations are people and thus have all the rights as an individual citizen. When it is noted that conservative is not a real political system of beliefs, but rather more a movement based on ultra nationalism, that is not hyperbole. There is no close examination no such thing as conservatism or conservative political theory in the way that there are literally libraries full of liberal political theory. One of the reason conservatives have all their think tanks, PACs, organizations media outlets churning out disinformation on what seems like a 24/7 basis, is that it does not really stand for anything. Rad through some of the bigger right-wing conservative sites and blogs. One of the most overwhelming and sad facts about them is how substanceless they are – even the supposed ground breaking sites run by Andrew Brietbart – they all feature constant appeals to fear – someone or something is out to destroy the American way of life. They are filled with spin – everything a non-conservative does it twisted into the hollow outrage of the day. They claim to stand for capitalism and the right of the individual to achieve their potential – at the same time they worship the elite and policies hat benefit the elite at the expense of everyone elses’ ability to achieve middle-class status no matter how hard they work.
As we all know or are told repeatedly from cradle to grave – conservatives are all about freedom. It is general thought that the crown jewel or corner stone of said freedom is the right to vote, or in modern terms with suffrage in mind – one person, one vote. The constitution does give states some leeway in how they carry out procedural matters and local representations. Though again there is a clear enough implication to non-conservatives that the Constitution considers legally elected representatives to have certain powers and right to office until removed legally by those same voters. Michigan’s Hostile Takeover
When the city of Pontiac, Michigan, shut down its fire department last Christmas Eve, city councilman Kermit Williams learned about it in the morning paper. “Nobody reports to me anymore,” Williams says. “It just gets reported in the press.” This was just the latest in a series of radical changes in the city, where elected officials such as Williams have been replaced by a single person with unprecedented control over the city’s operation and budget.
Gov. Rick Snyder put Louis Schimmel in charge of Pontiac last September, invoking Public Act 4, a recent law that lets the governor name appointees to take over financially troubled cities and enact drastic austerity measures. Under the law, passed last March, these emergency managers can nullify labor contracts, privatize public services, sell off city property, and even dismiss elected officials.
Schimmel got to work quickly, firing the city clerk, city attorney, and director of public works and outsourcing several city departments. City fire fighters were told that they would be fired if their department was not absorbed by Waterford Township’s. Schimmel has proposed putting nearly every city property up for sale, including city hall, the police station, fire stations, water-pumping stations, the library, the golf course, and two cemeteries.
Williams and his six colleagues on city council have been stripped of their salary and official powers. “Nearly the whole city has been privatized,” he laments.
Michigan’s emergency-manager law is the centerpiece of the fiscal program enacted by state Republicans after they took over the Legislature and governor’s mansion in early 2011. The law’s supporters say it allows for a more efficient and nimble response to the budget crisis confronting local governments in the wake of the housing crash and near collapse of the auto industry. Critics are seeking to block and repeal what they call an illegal power grab meant to usurp local governments and break up public-sector unions.
“We haven’t seen anything this severe anywhere else in the country,” says Charles Monaco, a spokesman for the Progressive States Network, a New York-based advocacy group. “There’s been nothing in other states where a budget measure overturns the democratic vote.” Williams says emergency managers are able to enact draconian policies that would cost most city officials their jobs: “They couldn’t get elected if they tried.”
Benton Harbor, Ecorse, and Flint are also currently under emergency management. In Flint, the emergency manager has promised to restructure collective bargaining agreements with the city’s police and firefighters unions. Benton Harbor’s emergency manager banned elected officials from appearing at city meetings without his consent. Detroit, which is facing a more than $150 million budget shortfall, could be next: Mayor Dave Bing has proposed laying off 1,000 city workers and wrung concessions from public-sector unions in hopes of preventing Gov. Snyder from appointing an emergency manager.
Schimmel has pursued the most aggressive turnaround plan in the state. He says he’s simply doing what elected officials have been unable to do: execute a plan for balancing the city’s books quickly and efficiently. He’s not there yet: The city of 60,000 is projecting a $9 million deficit for 2012. “One thing we can’t do is print money,” Schimmel says. “We’re always chasing the dropping knife, fixing something here and losing revenue somewhere else.”
With an indefinite term and a city salary of $150,000, Schimmel doesn’t answer to anyone but the governor, at whose pleasure he serves. The city council can no longer make decisions but still calls meetings, which are routinely packed with angry residents. Asked by radio station WJR if the emergency-manager law hands power over to a “dictator,” Schimmel sighed, “I guess I’m the tyrant in Pontiac, then, if that’s the way it is.”
Emergency managers aren’t new in Michigan, which has been in dire financial straits for decades. Public Act 4 (officially titled the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act) beefed up a 1990 law that brought in state-appointed managers to several cities in the 2000s, without much success at stemming the flow of population, jobs, and tax revenue. Pontiac has been under some form of state-appointed management since 2009. Schimmel’s predecessor laid off dozens of police officers, hired the county sheriff to patrol the city, and dismissed Mayor Leon Jukowski (whom Schimmel has rehired as a consultant paid at half his previous $104,000 salary). During that time, Pontiac’s credit rating had dropped from B to triple-C. “They aren’t creating revenue,” Williams says of the managers. “You can’t just cut your way out of a deficit.”
Pontiac is not Schimmel’s first clean-up job. In 2000, he was named the emergency manager of Hamtramck, where he served for six years. In 1986, a judge appointed him to oversee Ecorse’s finances after the city landed in state receivership; he stepped in and privatized city services. Today, the city is back in debt, and back under state management. Schimmel concedes that the privatization strategy can backfire, but he blames inept local government. “If you don’t have an overseer of the contractor, privatization can be much more expensive than in-house services,” he explains.
Schimmel is also a former adjunct scholar and director of municipal finance at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank that shares his enthusiasm for privatizing public services. The center has received funding from the foundations of conservative billionaire Charles Koch, the Walton family, and Dick DeVos, the former CEO of Amway who ran as a Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006.
So conservatives are not big on respecting the freedom of voters to decide who to represent them and run their government. It also seems there is another monumental hole in what could laughably be called conservative philosophy. In every federal election cycle conservatives try to run on the don’t let them Washington D.C. polticans run your lives – the more local control the better. yet here we have the state executive removing the very local governance the people voted for. Those appointed managers are selling or trying to sell off public property and services. I’m not against privatizing as an ideological issue if someone does a cost-benefit analysis and tax payers do indeed come out ahead both in terms of costs cutting or getting good quality privatized services in return – with the caveat that those private service providers are also responsive to the people. Thus far privatization is not the magic cure all conservative and right-wing libertarians claim – The privatization trap – From schools to prisons, outsourcing government’s works typically ends with cronyism, waste and unaccountability. I know from the daily conservative noise machine that liberals and progressives don’t know nuttin’ bout private enterprise, but lets take a brief look at the general concept. The way many local government services or federal as well, are provided is by hiring employees directly. A very short chain. Employer and employee. Let’s privatize and solve all our problems. Yo have the local government, the new middle-man, the private corporation that provides police or road maintenance and you have the tax payer or customer. In Realityville the second scenario adds another layer of bureaucracy and costs. In addition to making accountability for non-service or bad service more difficult – the people are not voters anymore, they’re just customers with complaints. One way to cut costs in that plan is to pay your employees low wages and no benefits. This has the effect of making what were or almost were middle-class jobs, jobs of the working poor. Conservatives do go on and on about responsibility. Anyone who lived through the Regan or Bush years knows that in practice conservatives and conservative policies are wormholes down which responsibility and accountability disappears.
What’s actually public about these responsibilities disappears from the conversation. Privatization assumes that cost quantifying solutions are more fundamental to government than any discussion of ethics or values. The move away from democratic accountability is particularly worrisome because in many of these fields, the ultimate motivator of private markets, the profit motive, is in direct conflict with the public administration. The basic values, concepts and institutions of liberal democracy — political participation, elections, equal distribution of individual liberties, checks on concentrated power — do not work towards economic competitiveness.
The ideology that the government is just one among many providers of goods and services is a seductive one in this age of markets. But the government isn’t simply just another agent in the market, and firms that are empowered to carry out the role of the state can be as abusive as the worst bureaucracy.
We need new arguments for the government, with all its strengths and weaknesses, to be allowed to do its jobs knowing that it won’t always be perfect. The alternative is government by cronyism, delegated marketplace winners exploiting what works about markets with none of the normal checks we expect on a functioning democracy.