Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The RNC, the Church of the Savvy, and Where to Make Political Donations

March 4, 2010

I’m surprised that Ben Smith’s scoop at Politico hasn’t garnered more attention. It reports on the contents of a confidential Republican National Committee fund-raising document — here is an excerpt from the piece:

The most unusual section of the presentation is a set of six slides headed “RNC Marketing 101.” The presentation divides fundraising into two traditional categories, direct marketing and major donors, and lays out the details of how to approach each group.

The small donors who are the targets of direct marketing are described under the heading “Visceral Giving.” Their motivations are listed as “fear;” “Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration;” and “Reactionary.”

Major donors, by contrast, are treated in a column headed “Calculated Giving.”

Their motivations include: “Peer to Peer Pressure”; “access”; and “Ego-Driven.”

The slide also allows that donors may have more honorable motives, including “Patriotic Duty.”

As I note in a reaction now posted at The Daily Beast, this is the most telling revelation about how political elites think about voters since candidate Barack Obama’s comments about rural economic losers who cling to their guns and religion. Even so, the news is so unsurprising — of course this is how the RNC operates — that writing about it violates what Jay Rosen calls the church of savvy. For example, note this comment at The Daily Beast: “None of this surprises me in the least,” Rick Goldin says. “But the press will pounce on this ‘revelation’ (as if no one knew this was the strategy all along) and wear it out for the rest of this news cycle.”

This attitude is so frustrating. Yes, the story confirms something rather obvious to many of us — that the infrastructure of our political parties are run by a bunch of deliberately deceitful cynics whose actions are motivated by wrongheaded principles at best. Allegations like these, however, require evidence, and when it is presented by reporters it shouldn’t be ignored because it is supposedly obvious. Surely there are RNC donors out there who are quite surprised by this information! That’s one problem with the church of the savvy — its implicit assumption is that news should be written for other information junkies, as opposed to an ever-changing audience that ranges from occasionally informed citizen to Marc Ambinder.

All that said, here’s the beginning of my take:

The scoop is bad news for those of us who seek an alternative to President Obama’s domestic agenda: negative campaigns yield neither policy ideas nor a mandate to implement them, even when they are successful.

But certain pages from the controversial document may prove surprisingly helpful to conservative reformers and tea partiers alike, insofar as they confirm accurate critiques of the Republican establishment in Washington DC. These excerpts show that the RNC misleads its donors, ensconces itself in the trappings of the cultural elite, and treats the conservative base with striking condescension…

The lesson for folks on the right who make political contributions: give to a particular candidate, a trustworthy advocacy organization, or a specific cause in which you believe.

And starve the RNC.

As I note later, “Political parties can be useful guides for citizens who haven’t enough time or understanding to make independent judgments about every candidate or issue. Be that as it may, political donors unable to find a worthier organization than the RNC or the DNC are better off accepting that they’re insufficiently knowledgeable to contribute anywhere without getting hoodwinked. Why willingly fund the people most adept at deliberately exploiting your ignorance?”

Advertisements

Why I Write About Sarah Palin, and Other Critics Should Too

November 20, 2009

Damon Linker:

No one who cares about the health of American political culture can be pleased about the emptiness of the whole Palin phenomenon, let alone the prospect of such a cipher running for president. But how to respond? Most Palin critics (from the casual to the obsessive) have done what one would expect: they have hit back, pointing out her lies and deceptions, mocking her mediocrity and unsuitability for high office.

Criticism has its place, of course. And yet, on Palin I’ve come to favor a different approach—one that refuses to collude with the media-driven farce. To respond to an opponent, even harshly, even rudely, is to accord her a certain respect—to treat her as worthy of a response. But Palin is worthy of no such thing. She stands for nothing beyond her own self-promotion. She craves attention, and negative attention is a form of attention. Even ridicule can be a form of flattery. Better to bow out, to decline the provocation, since responding to her perpetuates and legitimates the illusion that she’s a serious player in our nation’s politics. I, for one, refuse to play that silly little game. And I wish more of her critics felt the same way. Instead of wasting their analytical and polemical talents on the topic, they could work to change the subject to something more substantive and deny Palin what she most greedily craves: the spotlight.

Sarah Palin exits her tour bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 18 (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

Sarah Palin exits her tour bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 18 (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

Though I find myself wanting to be persuaded by this argument — and despite wanting to read Damon Linker on 6 dozen topics before I’d even suggest that he write about Sarah Palin — I think the arguments he presents here are flawed. Many of Ms. Palin’s critics aren’t “responding” to her, they are making arguments about how fellow citizens judge her. Political discourse overflows with examples of responding to folks who deserve no respect. Were critics of Joseph McCarthy saying anything by criticizing him except that he had power and abused it? Ms. Palin isn’t a sitting senator, or a despicable McCarthyite, but whether critics write about her or not, she will remain a force in present political debates. Her words, disseminated through right-leaning media and her 1 million Facebook followers, are as influential as anyone on the right. And she is a possible presidential nominee for the Republicans in 2012, something that might not bother a liberal like Mr. Linker, since she’d almost surely lose, but that does bother someone like me, who’d love to back a viable, responsible Republican alternative to Barack Obama, a president with whom I have substantial disagreements.

Ms. Palin’s political critics can no more deny her the spotlight than they can stop her appearances on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, or demand that Oprah’s producers ignore her, or remove the book displays at Barnes and Noble. Insofar as unfair criticisms of Ms. Palin cause Americans who’d otherwise tune her out to rally around, critics can diminish her influence by refraining from wrongheaded attacks and unfair arguments. But denying her the spotlight wouldn’t be within our power even if we could all coordinate our actions, which we can’t.

Do I think that we should obsess over Ms. Palin? I do not. Mr. Linker alludes to her staunchest critic, my former colleague Andrew Sullivan. When he decided that The Daily Dish would go silent for a day to delve into Going Rogue, I wished that he hadn’t — I admire the impulse to pull back from immediately publishing on complicated matters where you’ve got a deep emotional investment, in favor of gathering and analyzing facts and hashing things out with colleagues who dissent from your own viewpoints, but I want to read The Dish’s take on Iran, see reader accounts of their health care experiences, get links to exceptional arguments elsewhere in the blogosphere, etc. There are all sorts of issues that matter more than a former Alaska governor’s quixotic attempt to… well, what she’s doing is a subject for a different post.

As one of the opinion journalists who has written about Ms. Palin in the past, and plans to do so again in the future, I do want to make a case for my approach, and explain why I don’t merely ignore her. The column I’ve filed this last go ’round is a piece at The Daily Beast that is written partly in response to Matthew Continetti’s stream of recent articles about how Ms. Palin might actually turn things around and win the presidency in 2012. His advice — to sum up two lengthy articles in a few words — is that she adopt a free market friendly populism, and do various things to burnish her image as a serious voice on various issues of domestic policy.

Though I object to political books that tell people presently unqualified for higher office how they might achieve it, I recognize that Mr. Continetti is an elegant writer whose intelligence and persuasive abilities aren’t to be underestimated. He is the leading intellect offering his advice to Ms. Palin. What I found striking, both in his articles and general discussion about Ms. Palin’s chances in 2012, is that the former Alaska governor’s defenders aren’t troubled by her utter lack of foreign policy experience — or to be precise, they aren’t sufficiently concerned to advise that boning up on foreign policy be included in her preparation for a 2012 run. This seems to me unusual as a matter of political advice. Would Americans be comfortable with Ms. Palin as Commander in Chief given her current dearth of experience or serious thought on foreign policy? It also reflects a peculiar irresponsibility among her backers, who are touting the political future of a woman who is utterly unprepared to shape our foreign policy, guard our homeland security, or lead our military.

As a voter, I tend to privilege foreign policy above all other matters in presidential elections. It just strikes me as the most important thing. Certainly it is a major responsibility of the office. So as I watched the debate over Sarah Palin’s political future take place, with neither side (and no one I saw in the media) pointing out what I regard as her biggest failing as a potential candidate, or even acknowledging that foreign policy preparedness is a relevant metric — I thought, hey, Ms. Palin’s supporters and journalists like Mr. Continetti who are offering her advice should be called out on this apparent failure to grapple with foreign policy. Hence this column.

It did pretty good traffic judging by the number of comments.

Hopefully, its impact on public discourse is to persuade some readers, “Wow, Ms. Palin’s foreign policy problem really is being ignored here.” I hope it undermines the case being made by her defenders by pointing out a glaring weakness, and makes it marginally less likely — obviously the effect of any one piece like this will be quite small — that she, or future politicians bereft of foreign policy bonifides, will be successful candidates for national office.

Against Glenn Beck

September 28, 2009

Surveying the blogosphere, you’d think that the most important question about Glenn Beck is whether he helps or hurts the conservative movement. How upsetting. This three part Salon profile is easily the richest portrait we have of Mr. Beck’s career. It shows him to be a pompous opportunist perfectly willing to transgress against truth, morality and good taste in his quest for ratings. One scene details a rivalry he had during his days as a Top 40 disc jockey. The host at the competing station, an old friend and colleague named Bruce Kelly, suffered a personal tragedy. Mr. Beck responded by calling his wife on the air, and asking if she’d in fact had a miscarriage. When she replied yes, Mr. Beck joked that his rival couldn’t do anything right — not even have a baby.

Perhaps Mr. Beck is no longer as depraved — his biography includes a recovery from drug addiction and conversion to the Mormon religion. In any case, he remains demonstrably willing to engage in the most farcical sensationalism imaginable for the sake of ratings. This is a man who pretended to pour gasoline over a guest’s body as he brandished a book of matches beside him, who regularly employs the affectation of tears, who deliberately cultivates the mannerisms of an unstable loon, and who most recently pretended to throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water. All this on a show that prominent conservatives are defending!

Any halfway sensible person should be able to see that giving a man like that a national platform is the height of cynical, irresponsible broadcasting — the cable “news” equivalent of those Fox reality tv shows that pander to the worst impulses of the American public, and that conservatives know enough to denounce, despite their high ratings, for the corrosive effect they have on national culture. Mr. Beck is so awful “because he theatrically combines and conflates performances of ultimate sincerity with performances of ultimate sarcasm,” James Poulos writes. It is indisputable, anyway, that Mr. Beck employs misleading hyperbole, farcical sensationalism, and paranoid rhetoric on a nightly basis (afterward proving himself unable to offer even a semi-coherent defense of his own provocations).

Yet Jonah Goldberg defends him because “he’s fundamentally a libertarian populist. He’s not clamoring for the government to do more, he’s clamoring for the government to do less.” Ah, well. If he happens to hold or advance some of the same political tenets as you do, who cares if he lies or debases the culture or makes a mockery of public discourse?

David Horowitz is even more explicit.

Glenn Beck is daily providing a school for millions of Americans in the nature and agendas and networks of the left – something that your fine books do not do, and Mark Levin’s fine books do not do, and Pete Wehner’s volumes of blogs and speeches and position papers – all admirable in my estimation, also do not do. How are conservatives going to meet the challenge of the left if they don’t understand what it is, how it operates and what it intends? And who else is giving courses in this subject at the moment?

Now I have to confess my own vested interest in this. Because the fact is that I have been attempting to do this from a much smaller platform than Beck’s for many years. Five years ago I put an encyclopedia of the left on the web called Discover the Networks. It details the chief groups, individuals and funders of the left and maps their agendas and networks. Since I put it up five years ago, 20 million people have visited the site, many of whom have written articles and even books from its information. So far as I can tell, this site has never been mentioned by you or Wehner or Mark Levin or National Review or the Weekly Standard or the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. But it has been read by and profoundly influenced the producers and anchors at Fox News. Among these no one has used it so systematically and relentlessly and to such great effect as Glenn Beck…

Intellectuals like us have a role to play, but if you want to influence masses and affect real politics, you need someone who has the talent to command a mass audience and the dedication to put the information on the radar. Beck has done that with the most important intelligence of all: knowledge of the enemy.

So that’s why I’m defending Glenn Beck the broadcaster. I’ve devoted twenty frustrating years to revealing who the left is and what they do, while conservatives have continued to pretend that leftists are simply confused liberals. No they’re not. They’re malicious, and calculating and devious, and smart. And Glenn Beck is helping Republicans and those conservatives who will listen to understand that.

On reading Mr. Beck’s defenders, I can’t help but think that their judgment and integrity are being corroded by politics. The ideological battle between conservatives and liberals has become for them the most important struggle in American life — in order to win it, they are willing to defend and count as allies anyone in their insular world who advances the appropriate side in what they regard as a two-sided battle for the country’s soul. The most honest among them are explicit in arguing that their ends justify whatever rhetorical means it takes to achieve them. Even worse, they are using this total political warfare as a litmus test — temperament and political philosophy are insufficient to be a conservative in their minds, because they’ve redefined the term such that it demands loyalty to a political coalition and even the particular tactics it employs.

That the tactics are ill-conceived are grounds on which they’ll engage debate (even if they don’t see they’re on the wrong side of it), but if the tactics are merely abhorrent they’ll apparently abide them. These conservatives are neither evil nor tyrannical, but they are adopting less extreme, less harmful versions of the same approach to politics that characterized French and Communists revolutionaries. It is therefore no surprise that Comrade Beck is now being turned on by Comrade Limbaugh and Comrade Levin (the one among the trio who actually believes most of what he says), men who were content to hold their heavy fire through all manner of madness, but can’t abide the heretical Glenn Beck statement that the United States would be in worse shape under a President McCain than it is under President Obama. Even assuming that Mr. Beck is wrong, it is absurd to count that as the most objectionable aspect of his farcical stardom!

Can conservatives please agree that American society is best served if its citizens object to bad behavior even when it is committed by someone on their own side in a political battle? Can those liberals who are still defending ACORN please agree to the same proposition? Can we all agree that, a few outliers aside, people on the other side are well-intentioned, and not evil? The American republic is robust, and has survived acrimony far beyond anything we’re experiencing today, but surviving and flourishing aren’t the same things. Apologias for obviously bad behavior exact a cost. Let’s stop them.