Why I’m calling it *gulp* for Michele Bachmann

Yep. Monday night belonged to Michele Bachmann.

Let’s be clear: If history is any indication, the Republicans are not going to nominate “a maverick” for president. The party has its share of them at the state and Congressional levels, but I’m talking about a presidential nominee who’s a true outsider in the McGovern sense.

That was always Pat Buchanan’s problem. It was where Jack Kemp hit a glass political ceiling. Reagan was the maverick when he lost in 1976. So was McCain in 2000.

Bachmann faces the same challenge. But she stepped up, met it head-on, and exceeded expectations on Monday. Exceeding expectations are what debates are about. Her strong performance should light a fire under Gov. Rick Perry, who increasingly seems like he is considering a run himself.

The other big winner was Romney, who comes from the other wing of the GOP –  the one where the nominees traditionally live. The big loser, of course, was Pawlenty, who grabbed media attention on the Sunday talk shows with his buzzword “Obamaney Care” and flubbed miserably on Monday, when he had a chance to keep up the momentum on a true national stage.

Pawlenty wrote a book called Courage To Stand, but he didn’t have enough courage to stand by that claim, much less plant it firmly on Romney’s forehead when the two were face to face. It was more than a missed opportunity; it was an affirmative mistake that reinforced his milquetoast image.

Romney walked on stage Monday at St. Anselm College as the frontrunner, and Pawlenty’s fumble let him leave largely unscathed. Romney showed cool in a cool medium and came across presidential. His campaign experience was evident.

But this group is far to the political right of the 2008 GOP field, and that is Bachmann territory. Being ultraconservative helps in this early phase. Down the stretch Republicans are going to think increasingly about who can beat Obama. They are going to ask who can appeal to independents and conservative Democrats. That is Romney’s biggest asset, and he lucked out because the others chose to use this first debate to introduce themselves in a positive light rather than to attack him.

The key thing Bachmann did was move out of Sarah Palin’s shadow. She showed news savvy by announcing she had filed her papers and was an official candidate. She showed political savvy by being the first one in the first debate to swiftly and firmly promise to eliminate the Obama health care program. It made the rest of the group, who scampered to restate their own similar positions, look like they were following her lead.

Bachmann carefully introduced herself in terms of her real work as a member of Congress, but her most impressive moment – the one where she showed real message savvy – was when she tied health reform in a negative way directly to the issue Obama is trying to seize: jobs. She cited a study that shows it’s a job killer. An 800,000-job killer. It was a political twofer and a signal she is ready to campaign at a sophisticated level.

Bachmann’s biggest job right now is to convince political insiders who know her as a bomb thrower that she is more than a “movement candidate.” If she is serious, she can’t be the GOP’s Dennis Kucinich. She clearly is the candidate that the Tea Party is most comfortable with and, like it or not, that means she has a real Republican constituency.

Perry (and Palin) are Bachmann’s strongest competition for those voters, but both are still playing coy. Perry doesn’t have the national exposure Palin has, so he can’t wait as long as Palin can to enter the race. If he is serious, Bachman’s strong showing was bad news for him.

Ron Paul has a constituency, but nobody believes he is going to get the nomination. Romney has a national base of supporters left over from four years ago. The rest of that group is hoping for the type of “catch fire” opportunity Pawlenty flubbed.

I worked on Ann Richards’ campaign in 1994, when many Texas Democrats didn’t take George W. Bush seriously until it was too late. I watched Al Gore and national Democrats make the same smug mistake six years later. I’d never vote for Bachmann, but in terms of making the most of a specific campaign moment, I’m not afraid to give her kudos for an impressive job on Monday night. Perry’s advisers should do the same.

Media Deference to the Extreme Right

Paul Krugman asks a good question. Why did the media treat America’s extreme right-wing so gingerly, as benign as a corner ice cream shop, as nothing unusual? It’s not a new phenomenon. The extremists have had control of the GOP stage for a long time. The media just refused to acknowledge it.

Somehow…the radicalism of Texas Republicans wasn’t a story in 2000, an election year in which George W. Bush of Texas, soon to become president, was widely portrayed as a moderate.

There is something mesmerizing and cobra-like about physically or rhetorically violent right-wing extremists. I think they benefit from the same kind of public fascination with violent revenge movies.

There’s a common cultural myth that America is a right-leaning country, and that makes extremists on the right more acceptable than extremists on the left. I’m sure there must be some Trotskyites or Marxist dreamers somewhere in America. But they aren’t getting invited to CNN. Ann Coulter, as hateful as any pre-World War II political thug, gets her pick of the camera and the chair.

Without media support the extremists would be nowhere. FoxNews, of course, joined a few other corporate nutjobs and paid for the creation of the Tea Party. The media, of course, ignored this bought-and-paid-for aspect so it could legitimize what it wanted to legitimize: public outrage at…..at what?

Hardly matters what. The more circus-like, the better, and content can and is dismissed as easily as the two-headed baby in the carnival sideshow. It’s the crowd that counts.

Remember when hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest President Bush’s invasion of Iraq? The media focused on Bush’s dismissal of the movement as nothing but a focus group. But let a few thousand tea partiers misspell a few signs and walk around with their suspenders at their knees and the media tells us a serious new movement is alive and well.

Perhaps the most irksome habit of the media is to create a phenom — the Tea Party, or Sarah Palin, for instance — and then claim they are just covering that happened without them, while they were away. It’s total horseshit, of course. The media create the carnival and sell the tickets.

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Tea Partiers, Keep Your Damned Authoritarian Hands off of Thomas Jefferson

oklahoma-city-bombing-4I got an email from the conservative website, Texas Insider, pointing me to a blog by one Bernie Quigley. It’s all about how the Tea Party movement is all about the restoration of the power of individual states and the illegitimate power of the federal government. So much for interstate highways, the Post Office, and the military the secures all 50 states, not one or two. Whatever became of the National Anthem? Or the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States?

Speaking of the military, some Republican legislators in Oklahoma and that state’s Tea Partiers are calling for the creation of a state militia to go to war with the U.S. government. You can’t make this stuff up. And,  you’d think the citizens of the state victimized by a “volunteer militia” in the horrible 1995 Oklahoma City bombing would be just a wee bit skeptical about using their tax dollars to pay for  a, uh, “volunteer militia.”

Anyway, Mr. Quigley, after taking the broadest possible mud brush to the 1960s, complains about the broad brushing of the Tea Party movement. He does, however, have the good sense to note that the movement will fail if it continues to call for the creation of state-based armies to go to war with the rest of the country. Top notch thinking, Mr. Quigley.

You will enjoy E.J. Dionne’s masterful teacup-smashing analysis here.

What most irks me about the Tea Party — besides the thuggish racism and the constitutional ignorance — is its defense of the corporatist status quo and dis-empowerment of individuals and communities by, say, the insurance industry, which kowtows to neither state nor fed. I’m with the Tea Party on individual liberty, and I’m stronger than they seem to be on individual responsibility (I’m still waiting for the first Republican this millennium to accept responsibility for something, anything).

Continue reading “Tea Partiers, Keep Your Damned Authoritarian Hands off of Thomas Jefferson”

Some Notes On the Primary Election: Weak Tea

Levitt_Barney_BurntToastandWeakTea_web.U468a96fa79eb0While everyone’s talking about the extreme Right’s trashing of Kay Baily Hutchison and Rick Perry’s easy victory, other results seem to indicate the Tea Party is weak (if poisonous) tea indeed. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Glenn Beck extremists remain one of the most unhinged and dangerous political phenomena of my lifetime. Consider for a moment that the black-shirted nutjobs that are the John Birch Society. They are back and part of mainstream Republican politics. Hell, they are not even the most extreme.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:  the GOP consultants and lobbyists who empower these paranoid and dangerous extremists just to win elections (or, say, defeat health care reform) are cynical Dr. Frankensteins. I really wonder how they can explain it to their children.

In any case, voters kicked some of the extremists off the State Board of Education yesterday. Both Don McLeroy and Tincy Miller lost, and the Democrat who sometimes voted with the anti-science and anti-reason block didn’t even run. Tea Partiers didn’t succeed in any congressional challenges in the GOP primary, though they did defeat longtime East Texas Rep. Tommy Merritt and force another, Delwin Jones into a runoff.

The extremists did pad Perry’s margin of victory over Hutchison, but that’s about all. Hutchison ran a campaign just about as bad as oddball Democrat Farouk Shami, who got what, 13 percent of the vote? Perry’s been in office so long that just his appointees and their families and friends probably give him a healthy 20 percent head start! Continue reading “Some Notes On the Primary Election: Weak Tea”

Weak Tea

contradiction-300x252My former colleague Mark McKinnon (former because he abandoned Democrats and worked for Bush, McCain, Palin et al) has a piece in the Daily Beast calling the Tea Party Movement a true grassroots movement that could do for the Right what MoveOn does for progressives.

Much of the media and most Democrats are dismissive of what is truly a grassroots movement. But the Tea Party has shown remarkable energy in its short life span—dating back about a year ago, when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli went on a live-TV rant about mortgage policy and suggested a Chicago Tea Party.

Oh, the contradictions and inconsistencies! I am not dismissive of the TP movement. I am dismissive of the claim that it’s some kind of spontaneous and authentic grassroots movement, although I believe a few powerful folk are manipulating for their own ends the anxiety people feel about their lives and the world at large. From the beginning, the movement was funded by some of the richest men in America and pushed by the right wing propaganda network known as Fox News. I also believe that it bears a troubling resemblance to George Wallace’s American Party. Wallace’s segregationist party rose in reaction to the Civil Rights movement. The TP has emerged in reaction to the nation’s first African-American president.

Not all the tea partiers are racists, of course. Some just need others to blame for their own misfortunes. Some others feel powerless in a complex world. Many are misguided libertarians. I say misguided because they somehow believe the control and manipulation by unaccountable corporatists like David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries (who pay to put the tea in the teabags) is fine. Everything an elected government does is bad. Everything an untouchable giant corporation does is good. This leads to a bunch of people on Medicare protesting insurance reform because it might offer some other people Medicare.

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Republicans’ Tea Baggage: Texas Tea Party Candidates?

teahatWe continue to hear rumblings about the creation of a Texas Tea Party to compete with Republicans and Democrats. If the teabaggers were more than insignificant shills for Rick Perry, they would have already taken steps. We’re about to find out if they have the courage of their convictions.

A theoretical Tea Party out-polled Republicans and Democrats in a survey published last week. The NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll found 41 percent favored the Tea Party, 35 percent favored Democrats and 28 percent favored Republicans. Republican leaders, of course, created tea baggers, and now face a situation where many Texans see the Republicans as full of teabagging crazies, and the teabagging crazies see Republicans as weak sisters. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

Time is running out on the creation of a Tea Party in Texas. Under state law, the deadline for filing papers with the Secretary of State to create a new party (and name a party chairman) is January 2. That’s a Saturday, so the real deadline is December 31. Note that this falls before the January 4th candidate filing deadline. New Tea Party candidates have the same deadline as the new party. By law, it’s Saturday, Jan. 2. Consequently, the real deadline is New Years Eve,

They’ve got other minor hoops to jump through. If the Tea Party plans to field district-level candidates, the Party needs to file a list of county chairs in those counties in which district-level candidates will run. Since there would not be a primary, there is no filing fee. But the party will have to collect about 50,000 signatures after the Democratic and Republican primaries.

I think the teabaggers have hurt Repbulicans already. Few Texans want to belong to such a crazy club. Teabaggers are the Right’s Weather Underground. Few wanted to join that crazy bunch, either, and it hurt Democrats, despite the fact that no Democrats wanted any part of that 60s/70s fringe group. Nixonian Republicans painted all Democrats as disturbers of the peace. By embracing tea baggers, Perry and others have signaled Texans that they are just fine with secession talk and polarizing extremism.

It’d be more accurate to call teabaggers “Tea Baggage.”