Astroturf Mobs Disrupting Town Hall Meetings

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Here’s the memo that Wolffe and Axelrod discuss in the video. It was leaked by a volunteer for FreedomWorks. Essentially, it’s a plan for manipulating stupid, fearful people to create the appearance of a huge, grassroots opposition to health care reform.

I had read news stories about mobs disrupting the town hall meetings of U.S. representatives, mostly Democrats. But this bit from Countdown last night was the first I’d heard that people were being bused around to disrupt the meetings. I’m not seeing much more about that this morning.

I surfed around this morning, and in a few news stories I found mention of a group called Americans for Prosperity doing at least some of this mob organizing. According to SourceWatch, AFP is an astroturf 501(c) organization established in 2003 and originally affiliated with Citizens for a Sound Economy. Citizens for a Sound Economy is a “think tank” established by the Koch Family Foundations, a major player in the right-wing think tank biz. Koch throws money at most of the big-name think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, Cato, and the Manhattan Institute.

Citizens for a Sound Economy? According to People for the American Way,

FreedomWorks was formed with the 2004 merger of Citizens for a Sound Economy, headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Empower America, co-founded by supply-side pioneer Jack Kemp, to push for lower taxes— especially on investment and inheritance— smaller safety-net programs, and fewer regulations on business and industry.

Essentially, in 2004 Citizens for a Sound Economy split into two groups, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, and the FreedomWorks part merged with Empower America.

SourceWatch says that FreedomWorks has been accused of being a “mouthpiece for hire,” taking on any cause it is paid to take on.

The smaller spinoff, AFP, does not disclose the identity of corporate donors (wanna bet there’s insurance company money involved?), but SourceWatch says AFP has received substantive grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.

Last year AFP sponsored a hot air balloon cross-country tour with the slogan, “Global Warming Alarmism: Lost Jobs, Higher Taxes, Less Freedom.” Before that, they campaigned to oppose smoke-free workplace bans and cigarette excise tax increases (during which time it was learned AFP was getting money from big tobacco companies). Now it’s organizing protests of Democratic representatives to oppose health care reform and also “cap and trade” energy reform. As part of this, it has begun a “patient’s first” bus tour.

One suspects AFP is an astroturf-organization-for-hire. Special interest groups and corporations can pay them to organize protests against whatever reform they are trying to stop. Interestingly, there may be a connection between AFP and the infamous Mike Castle-birther lunatics episode, according to Think Progress. In that case, it seems the mob was supposed to protest Rep. Castle’s vote in favor of “cap and trade,” and it went off script.

Apparently the meetings are getting frightening. The Associated Press reports that after a recent meeting Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., needed a police escort to get to his car. If this continues, sooner or later somebody is going to be hurt. I say in the interest of public safety, town hall meetings could be held on the Web.

Update: See also —

FreedomWorks Orchestrates ‘Grassroots’ Movements To Serve Dick Armey’s Corporate Clients

More details on the “bus the mob” effort from Think Progress.

Katrina in Slow Motion

Steven Pearlstein, business columnist for the New York Times Washington Post, writes,

Among the range of options for health-care reform, there’s one that is sure to raise your taxes, increase your out-of-pocket medical expenses, swell the federal deficit, leave more Americans without insurance and guarantee that wages will remain stagnant.

That’s the option of doing nothing, letting things continue to drift as they have for the past two decades as we continue to search in vain for the perfect plan that would let everyone have everything they want and preserve everything they already have while getting someone else to pay for it.

So the next time you hear someone throwing a hissy fit because health reform might raise taxes on some people, or steer people into managed care, or require small businesses to contribute $2 a day for each employee’s coverage, just remember to ask yourself: And that’s compared with what?

I’ve seen projected costs for the status quo that are much higher than the projected costs of what the Right derides as “Obamacare,” yet somehow the people one sees on cable news are not worked up into a lather about the status quo costs. Just the costs of reform.

Meanwhile, one in six adult Americans have no health insurance. That doesn’t tell us how many millions more have insurance policies that will fail them if they get sick. I read about the Blue Dogs in Congress and Democratic obstructionists like Max Baucus, dithering around and picking the President’s plan to death because they are afraid of political fallout, and I want to break heads.

It’s like New Orleans after Katrina, when people were waiting on roofs to be rescued and the Bush Administration was preoccupied with how the hurricane might be used for political advantage. The lives of millions of Americans are forfeit to the whims of the insurance industry, and Baucus worries about “bipartisanship.” There are parents who daily watch their children struggle with health impairment without proper treatment, and the Blue Dogs dither. People are stuck in dead-end jobs and even marriages because they’re afraid of losing health benefits. And the Republicans scream that a national health care plan would deprive people of “liberty.”

It’s Katrina in slow motion, and we’re all New Orleans.

Conserving Rightie Cognitive Resources

I remember many years ago being required to copyedit a study of white racists for a social-psychology journal. We’re talking out-and-out, unreconstructed racists, the kind of people who think watermelon on the White House lawn cartoons are funny. Somewhere among the p values and chi squares I picked up the finding that white racists sincerely believe that all other whites are as racist as they are, and if they don’t act that way they’re just being “politically correct” to conform.

The authors of this study also defined “bias” as a strategy for conserving cognitive resources, which I believe may have been the single most brilliant thing I ever read in a social psychology study. Not that I’ve read a lot of social psychology studies, mind you.

This past week, between the Senate Republicans’ performance in the Sotomayor hearings and the Pat Buchanan-Rachel Baddow exchange on MSNBC, there has been about as much unreconstructed racism on public display as I’ve seen since I moved out of the Ozarks. And when Pat Buchanan made the sexist conflation of Sonia Sotomayor with Harriet Miers one did wonder what century Uncle Pat had time-warped from.

And the thing that’s so glaringly obvious from watching all this is that the whole crew of bigots is utterly unconscious about it. They don’t perceive their biases as biases.

Frank Rich also makes the point that the troglodytes don’t realize the rest of White America doesn’t think the way they do.

The hearings were pure “Alice in Wonderland.” Reality was turned upside down. Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here. The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue.

At this point, the die hards of the Hard Right are reminding me of Joe McCarthy in the Army-McCarthy Hearings. McCarthy’s witch hunts against Communism had made him a hero to many Americans who only read about him in newspapers. But by 1954, the year the hearings were held, most Americans had a television set, and the Senate hearings looking into the Army’s accusations of McCarthy, and vice versa, riveted the nation. And when the nation saw the unvarnished, unedited McCarthy in action, they were shocked.

McCarthy appears to have had no idea how he was coming across on television. They hadn’t invented media consultants yet, I guess. After Joseph N. Welch’s famous “Have you left no sense of decency?” comment, and the audience in the gallery broke into applause, a stunned McCarthy turned to Roy Cohn and stammered, “What happened?”

The past few days we’ve seen a lot of unfiltered and unedited wingnutism. Between the Senate Republicans, the Stanford-Ensign-whoever else got caught recently debacles, and the right-wing freak shows known as “tea parties,” I think most of the country is ready to scream, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

The Default Norm

I’ve used the phrase “default norm” a number of times, so it was nice to see Michael Tomasky (or at least, the headline writer at Comment Is Free) pick it up. Maybe somebody’s reading The Mahablog?

Tomasky’s headline is “Because ‘white male’ equal default human ‘normal,’ see?” I regret I didn’t have time to watch the Sotomayor hearings yesterday, but from the commentaries and videos I take it that the Senate Republicans made thorough asses of themselves and might as well have grilled Sotomayor wearing Klan hoods.

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Craig Crawford asks, “Does the Republican senator [Lindsey Graham, in this case] think it is amusing that he and his party’s condescending tone toward the Hispanic woman was costing them ethnic votes with each passing hour of Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing?”

I wrote in an earlier post that the old white guys in the Senate consider white maledom to be the default norm, and that in their view “bias” is deviation from the default norm. You get that doubly from conservative old white men, who whine incessantly about “judicial activism,” which they define as judicial rulings based on the judge’s ideology instead of precedent and statutory law. However, one soon understands by paying attention to to the Right that the real definition of “judicial activism” is “any judicial opinion that doesn’t align with right-wing ideology.” If a judge narrowly applies statutory law and comes to a decision they don’t like, it’s “judicial activism.” However, if an opinion breaks all precedent and sits in an entirely different ball park from statutory law, it isn’t “judicial activism” if they agree with it.

Thus, as Dahlia Lithwick writes,

But even when Sotomayor is being questioned about her judicial record, the focus isn’t on her legal approach or process but on the outcomes. So when she talks about her Ricci decision, Jeff Sessions asks her why she didn’t apply affirmative action precedents that had no bearing in a case that was not an affirmative action case. When she speaks about Didden, her eminent domain case, Republican Chuck Grassley asks why she didn’t analyze the Kelo precedent in a case about timely filing. Nobody wants to hear how she got to a result. They want to know why she didn’t get to their result. Time and again she is hectored for deciding the narrow issues before her. It’s like a judicial-activism pep rally in here.

There’s another interesting dynamic going on here. The Los Angeles Times convened a panel of legal scholars to comment on the hearings. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, spoke for the rest of the panel when he said,

She repeated the slogan that “judges apply, not make the law.” Although I understand why this is said, I find it frustrating that nominees find it necessary to say something so clearly incorrect and that gives the public such a misleading picture of what the Supreme Court does. Every first-year law student knows that judges make law. In a common law system, like the United States, most of tort, contract, and property law is judge-made law. Everything the Supreme Court does makes law. To pick an example from a recent Supreme Court case, the Court would have made law whether it allowed or prohibited strip searching of a student suspected of having prescription strength ibuprofen. Whether the Court found a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, or rejected such a right, it would have made law.

But, you know, after weeks of hysterical shrieking from the Right about an off-the-cuff comment from Sotomayor on making law, she has to say she won’t make law. Everyone still has to tiptoe around the tender sensibilities of the Right, no matter how ridiculous they are.

Mike Madden writes that Sotomayor said, “I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging.”

Nevertheless, barely 10 minutes later, Sessions was asking her this: “Do you think there’s any circumstance in which a judge should allow their prejudices to impact their decision-making?” Sotomayor — who didn’t get to the point where she was virtually assured a seat on the Supreme Court by being born yesterday — knew how to answer that one. “Never their prejudices,” she told Sessions. But he kept at it. “Aren’t you saying there that you expect your background and — and heritage to influence your decision-making?” he asked. “That’s troubling me. That is not impartiality.”

This is rich:

The obvious point — that the background and heritage of old white guys influences their decision-making all the time, too — would not have been the politically sound one to make. So Sotomayor played it cool. “My record shows that at no point or time have I ever permitted my personal views or sympathies to influence an outcome of a case,” she said, and would wind up saying again and again, in more or less the same words, throughout the day. “In every case where I have identified a sympathy, I have articulated it and explained to the litigant why the law requires a different result. I do not permit my sympathies, personal views, or prejudices to influence the outcome of my cases.” A few hours later, Sessions flat-out told reporters he didn’t care what she’d said. “I don’t know — this is the confirmation process, so we got a statement from a day of the confirmation process that contradicts a decade or more of speeches.”

In other words, to Sessions, his biases against Sotomayor speak louder than what she actually said in the hearings. Madden continues,

That was more or less how the whole day went; Republicans hurled increasingly pointed questions at Sotomayor, the nominee calmly parried them, and the Republicans mostly ignored her.

This is old, familiar behavior to me, although not something I’ve had to deal with personally for several years. But I can remember in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a much younger woman and second-wave feminism was still new, I very often found that men projected opinions and qualities on to me that I did not possess. And it didn’t matter what I said about my opinions or myself. They knew what I thought and who I was because I was female, and those females are all alike. I could say, “I sincerely understand grass is green,” and they’d flash me a condescending smile and continue to lecture me why grass was green and not blue. Their biases overruled what I said. Happened all the time.

As I wrote in an earlier post, we all have biases. Generally being “fair” is not losing one’s biases, but perceiving one’s biases as biases. If you recognize your biases as biases, you are in a position to overrule them as the facts dictate. But if you are so unconscious of yourself that you don’t recognize your biases as biases, then your “thinking” generally amounts to casting around for support for your biases. Then you put the biases and the cobbled-together “support” together and call it “reason.”

The unconscious crew of Senate Republicans who grilled Sotomayor yesterday brought up her “wise Latina” remark several times. It must have struck a nerve. Several of them at various times have said that had they said something like that, it would have been the end of their careers.

We can see plainly from the hearings yesterday that they can put on public displays of flaming racism and still hang on to their jobs, but never mind. As Mo Dowd said, “After all, these guys have never needed to speak inspirational words to others like them, as Sotomayor has done. They’ve had codes, handshakes and clubs to do that.”

Meanwhile, a right-wing group called Committee for Justice has created an ad that ties Sotomayor to Bill Ayers and the support of terrorism. The group is trying to raise money to put the ad on television. If I had any money I’d send it to them. Let the world see the absurdity, I say.

Update: Rush Limbaugh said of Judge Sotomayor, “She doesn’t have any intellectual depth. She’s got a — she’s an angry woman, she’s a bigot. She’s a racist.” That’s got to be an all-time high-water mark of psychological projection.

The Drama Queen Exits, Stage Right

melodrama2Speculative reasons why Sarah Palin is resigning as governor of Alaska:

Mark Halperin has ten possible reasons she might have resigned, most of them focusing on a possible presidential bid.

Brad Friedman thinks some major scandal might be about to break that could involve indictments.

Update: Once again, some things snark themselves.

Some Things Snark Themselves

I wasn’t going to comment on Todd Purdum’s Vanity Fair piece on Sarah Palin, but then I caught this quote from the Purdum article from Michael Tomasky:

More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—”a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly.

When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig’s condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God’s, and signed it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”

Some things snark themselves.

Obama Derangement Syndrome

The President and Mrs. Obama went to New York City for a “date night,” dinner and a Broadway show. And the wingnuts are having a fit about it.

The Republican National Committee slammed the outing in an “RNC Research Piece”: “As President Obama prepares to wing into Manhattan’s theater district on Air Force One to take in a Broadway show, GM is preparing to file bankruptcy and families across America continue to struggle to pay their bills. … Have a great Saturday evening – even if you’re not jetting off somewhere at taxpayer expense. … PUTTING ON A SHOW: Obamas Wing Into The City For An Evening Out While Another Iconic American Company Prepares For Bankruptcy.”

Tbogg has a survey of Right Blogosphere reaction. My favorite is this one:

Obama also promised a middle class tax cut and healthcare reform, but obviously those can wait.

It wasn’t even an overnight trip, mind you. They flew back to Washington (which is a half hour trip, by air) after the show. They didn’t take Air Force One but instead flew in a smaller jet.

Let’s review:

George W. Bush took more vacations than any other President in U.S. history.

That’s 487 days at Camp David and 77 trips to Crawford, Texas, where he spent all or part of 490 days. I calculate that to be about two years and eight months.

I don’t know what the travel time is from the White House to Camp David — I assume just a few minutes — but I figure Crawford must be at least three hours one way by air, and I assume there’s no Crawford International Airport, so there’s motorcade time to figure in, also. Assuming a 6 hour two-way trip, times 77 trips, equals 462 hours, or more than 19 days days spent just flying back and forth to Crawford.

Bush was in Crawford when he blew off the memo “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.” as being too trivial for his attention. As I remember it, he was in Crawford during the great electricity blackout of 2003, and it was several hours before he addressed it. He was in Crawford while two wars were going on in the Mideast.

And need I say … Hurricane Katrina?

For a collection of outraged snark at the Endless Vacation that was the Bush Administration, see Source Watch. I think the only reason there wasn’t more outrage is that Bush was such a bad POTUS, most of the time it didn’t matter whether he was on vacation or not.

Even when he wasn’t officially on vacation, Bush wasn’t famous for staying put in the White House. Especially in his first term, when the War on Terror was still new and sparkly, as I remember he spent about half of his not-vacation time traveling to Republican Party fundraisers. The pattern was to schedule some “official” event like a ribbon-cutting or a speech in a particular city, where by some coincidence there happened to be a GOP fund-raider going on that very evening, so he could take Air Force One on Republican Party business without reimbursing taxpayers. (See, for example, “Taxpayer Mugging for Political Fundraising.”)

But that was not a problem, because, you know, IOKIYAR — It’s OK If You’re A Republican.

Update: A blogger who claims not to be a “sheeple” — I beg to differ — writes (emphasis original),

With the problems we’re facing with the recession and North Korea testing nuclear missiles you would think he would keep it a little on the down low and I don’t want to hear a peep from the loony left that Ron and Nancy Reagan were extravagant. Not a peep!

This blogger was pissed because yesterday the White House couldn’t yet provide expense account of the trip to New York. I don’t believe the Bush Administration ever presented an accounting of all the political trips George and Dick took at taxpayers’ expense. I could be wrong about that, but I googled for it and couldn’t find it. In the first Bush term they were not providing that information, and the Veep’s travel itinerary was something of a state secret at times. We don’t even know how much Dick traveled, never mind the cost.

You’ll like this one — the Broadway show the first couple saw was “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” It’s a play about African-American life. So this blogger writes,

By the way, note that the Obamas went to a ‘black’ show.

When does he ever pay homage to his white side?

I swear, it’s something like a moth-and-flame thing; they can’t help themselves.

Update: Steve Benen

Rumor has it, Obama occasionally eats and sleeps, too. The nerve. Doesn’t the president realize he has things to do?

Just Like Old Times

G. Gordon Liddy used the “M” word. It’s like the past 40 years of feminist activism never happened. Of course, for Pat “that woman” Buchanan, they really didn’t happen.

You’d think there’d never been a woman on the Supreme Court before. The reactions to the nominations of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were genteel compared to what’s being thrown at Sonia Sotomayor. As I remember it, Ginsburg’s judicial record at the time of her nomination was, arguably, more “liberal” than Sotomayor’s is now. Certainly when Ginsburg was nominated plenty of conservatives spoke against her confirmation. But (as I remember it) most of those objections were about Ginsburg’s support of Roe v. Wade, not her potentially fluctuating female hormones.

And the way the wingnuts continue to call Sotomayor an “affirmative action” pick is downright hallucinatory. Get this bit of dialog between Bill Bennett and Fred Barnes:

BARNES: I think you can make the case that she’s one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

Sotomayor was valedictorian of her high school class and went to Princeton on scholarship.

I doubt any of these same people called Clarence Thomas an “affirmative action pick,” although I found a biography of Thomas that says “Yale University Law School accepted Thomas through its affirmative action program.” To be fair, Thomas’s academic record was respectable enough that he would have been considered for admission regardless of race, I suspect. His academic record is less impressive than Sotomayor’s, however.

O’Connor’s nomination was a long time ago, and my memory of it is hazy. Being nominated by Ronald Reagan rather than a Democrat probably shielded her from the worst of what might have been thrown at the first woman nominee to the SCOTUS.

However, reactions from the Right to Sotomayor are so much more over the top than than they were to the nomination of Ginsburg, who is at least as liberal as Sotomayor, and I do wonder why. Tossing out some ideas —

  • Ginsburg is Jewish. Antisemitism really is a big no-no on much of the Right. Gotta support the state of Israel, you know.
  • Sotomayor is Latina. I think these days the Right is twitchier about Hispanics than they are about any other racial minority.
  • No leadership. There’s no authority on the Right who can order the worst of the hotheads to tone it down.
  • They’re out of power. Nothing fights harder than a wounded, cornered animal.

Anything else you can think of?

On the Right: Spittle and Spite

I’ve been watching Tom Tancredo on The Ed Show claiming that SCOTUS nominee Sonia Sonia Sotomayor is a racist. This claim is made based on this quote from Judge Sotomayor: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” (Thanks Jill Filipovic.)

Tancredo doesn’t get the quote right, of course. In his rendering of it, she just says that Latina women make better judges than white men. And he sat on the Ed Show television panel, bouncing and spitting in outrage, and screaming racist, racist, racist. I think that’s pretty much the plan.

The conventional wisdom seems to be forming that Sotomayor will be confirmed fairly easily. The right-wing interest groups will be screaming and spitting about her for the next several days, but the GOP itself (the CW says) doesn’t want to take her on for fear of further alienating Latino voters. They’re going to complain and call her a leftist, but they know her record is more moderate than some others President Obama might have nominated — or might yet nominate, if the Sotomayor nomination fails.