Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult
Sept. 3, 2011
Mike Lofgren has been working for 28 years as a congressional aide, on the Republican side, earning more than $100,000 a year every year since at least 2001. He worked as Repub staff on both the House and Senate Budget Committees. He is a serious insider who knows how things work and where the bodies are buried.
He recently retired and has decided to say what he has learned about the two parties and it’s amazing. His confession, titled “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult,” was published over the weekend.
Read the entire confession HERE
Re: Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
Are people waking up despite the 24/7 RepubliKlan noise machine funded by millions $$$$$ of secret money permited by SCOTUS "Citizens United" ruling ?......or is the destruction of the economic foundation of the American middle class waking people up to the lunacy of republiklan policies which serve only the interest of the fraction of 1% top elites.
Once Voters Really Understand The RepubliKlan Agenda, They Reject It
by Susie Madrak
November 9th 2011
Apparently it's not too late. Even rank-and-file Republican voters have rejected some of the most extreme Republican laws in yesterday's elections. A clearly chastened Ohio Gov. John Kasich, ringleader for the extreme ALEC agenda, had to concede defeat as Senate Bill 5, legislation to decimate collective bargaining by state employees, went down in flames.
In the state of Mississippi, voters decided zygotes did not meet the legal definition of personhood -- or even corporations. (Helped along by the fact that even Haley Barbour said the wording was too vague, so it may resurface.)
In Maine, voters retained same-day voter registration, despite attempts to repeal it by their Tea party governor and his minions.
Democrats took just about every position that wasn't nailed down in Connecticut municipal elections.
Iowa Dems held the State Senate tonight, which means marriage equality in Iowa is safe.
Arizona recall voters took down wingnut Senate President Russell Pearce.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky takes a second term.
The anti-teacher Michigan Republican State Rep. Paul Scott is successfully recalled
The RepubliKlan Party is.
• Unapologetically Racist
• Anti-Sex Education
• Anti- Immigrant
• Anti- Minimum Wage
• Anti-Abortion Rights (republiklans were silent when Dr. George Tiller was murdered)
• Anti-Consumer Protection (pro-tort reform)
• Anti-Regulating The Banksters (want to repeal Dodd-Frank)
• Anti-Social Security Insurance (want to end it & send the existing money to Wall street)
• Anti-Medicare (want to send Grandma into the clutches of the "Health Care Mafia" with a coupon)
• Anti-Unemployment Insurance
• Anti-Education Standards (republiklans want to close the Dept. of Education)
• Anti-W.I.C. (republiklan congress recently cut money for Women Infants & Children program)
• Anti- Environmental Conservation Laws (want to close the EPA)
• Anti-Food Saftey Inspections (republiklan congress recently cut US food saftey budget)
• Anti-Progressive Taxation (raising the 15% tax Billionaires pay)
• Anti-Banning the Death Penalty (273 innocent people released from Death Row since 1989)
• Anti- Restoring Habeas corpus
• Anti-Separation Of Church & State (republiklans want to mandate Christian prayer in schools)
• Anti- Government Funding of Scientific Research (stem cell research)
• Anti-Feminism (woman should be submissive to men; it's in the bible)
• Anti-Affirmative Action
• Anti-Department of Labor (republiklans believe overtime pay should be abolished)
• Anti-Small Business Administration (want to abolish it)
• Anti- Government Spending To Fix Crumbling Infrastructure
• Anti-Substantially Increasing Foreign Aid (republiklan congress just cut food aid to Africa)
• Anti-Government Student College Tuition Grants (republiklans want to dramatically cut PELL grants)
• Anti-ANY Gun Control
• Anti- Non-Christian Religion Tolerance
• Anti- Universal Health Care
• Anti- Unemployment Insurance
• Anti- Ban Against Torture
• Anti- ANY Cut In Military Spending
• Anti- Pay Increase For US Soldiers
• Anti- Increase in Veterans Benefits (republiklans want to convert military pensions into 401K's)
• Anti- Equalizing Penalty for Crack/ Powder Cocaine Conviction
Re: Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
The oligarch owned slave-bitches who masquerade as todays RepubliKlan politicians have reached unprecedented heights of doctrinaire buffoonery as they incessantly prescribe policy solutions that solely serve the interests of the 1⁄10th of One-Percent; completely disregarding the other 99% of the nation.
SCOTUS Citizens United ruling has allowed Billions of overt & secret money to come into the political system creating a system where unlimited access to pools of money becomes the ‘steroids’ & ‘Viagra’ easily accessible to any politician willing to ignore demonstrable facts, discount the will of their constituents, and become a slave-bitch of the oligarchs that provide the filthy lucre.
The “corporate media” has been complicit in sustaining this crime against the nation by refusing to tell the people that one of our two major political parties has completely descended into a group of ignorant high-paid prostitutes, willing to perform any act; even illegal acts, if the price $$$$$$ is right. The other major political party isn’t too far behind.
How The GOP Became The Party Of The Rich
by Tim Dickinson
November 31, 2011
The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation's balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. "We're going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share," he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, "sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary – and that's crazy."
Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response. "Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver," he demands, "or less?"
The crowd, sounding every bit like the protesters from Occupy Wall Street, roars back: "MORE!"
The year was 1985. The president was Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Today's Republican Party may revere Reagan as the patron saint of low taxation. But the party of Reagan – which understood that higher taxes on the rich are sometimes required to cure ruinous deficits – is dead and gone. Instead, the modern GOP has undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us.
Modern-day Republicans have become, quite simply, the Party of the One Percent – the Party of the Rich.
"The Republican Party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility," says David Stockman, who served as budget director under Reagan. "They're on an anti-tax jihad – one that benefits the prosperous classes."
The staggering economic inequality that has led Americans across the country to take to the streets in protest is no accident. It has been fueled to a large extent by the GOP's all-out war on behalf of the rich. Since Republicans rededicated themselves to slashing taxes for the wealthy in 1997, the average annual income of the 400 richest Americans has more than tripled, to $345 million – while their share of the tax burden has plunged by 40 percent. Today, a billionaire in the top 400 pays less than 17 percent of his income in taxes – five percentage points less than a bus driver earning $26,000 a year. "Most Americans got none of the growth of the preceding dozen years," says Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. "All the gains went to the top percentage points."
The GOP campaign to aid the wealthy has left America unable to raise the money needed to pay its bills. "The Republican Party went on a tax-cutting rampage and a spending spree," says Rhode Island governor and former GOP senator Lincoln Chafee, pointing to two deficit-financed wars and an unpaid-for prescription-drug entitlement. "It tanked the economy." Tax receipts as a percent of the total economy have fallen to levels not seen since before the Korean War – nearly 20 percent below the historical average. "Taxes are ridiculously low!" says Bruce Bartlett, an architect of Reagan's 1981 tax cut. "And yet the mantra of the Republican Party is 'Tax cuts raise growth.' So – where's the fucking growth?"
Republicans talk about job creation, about preserving family farms and defending small businesses, and reforming Medicare and Social Security. But almost without exception, every proposal put forth by GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates is intended to preserve or expand tax privileges for the wealthiest Americans. And most of their plans, which are presented as common-sense measures that will aid all Americans, would actually result in higher taxes for middle-class taxpayers and the poor. With 14 million Americans out of work, and with one in seven families turning to food stamps simply to feed their children, Republicans have responded to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression by slashing inheritance taxes, extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and endorsing a tax amnesty for big corporations that have hidden billions in profits in offshore tax havens. They also wrecked the nation's credit rating by rejecting a debt-ceiling deal that would have slashed future deficits by $4 trillion – simply because one-quarter of the money would have come from closing tax loopholes on the rich.
The intransigence over the debt ceiling enraged Republican stalwarts. George Voinovich, the former GOP senator from Ohio, likens his party's new guard to arsonists whose attitude is: "We're going to get what we want or the country can go to hell." Even an architect of the Bush tax cuts, economist Glenn Hubbard, tells Rolling Stone that there should have been a "revenue contribution" to the debt-ceiling deal, "structured to fall mainly on the well-to-do." Instead, the GOP strong-armed America into sacrificing $1 trillion in vital government services – including education, health care and defense – all to safeguard tax breaks for oil companies, yacht owners and hedge-fund managers. The party's leaders were triumphant: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even bragged that America's creditworthiness had been a "hostage that's worth ransoming."
It's the kind of thinking that only money can buy. "It's a vicious circle," says Stiglitz. "The rich are using their money to secure tax provisions to let them get richer still. Rather than investing in new technology or R&D, the rich get a better return by investing in Washington."
It's difficult to imagine today, but taxing the rich wasn't always a major flash point of American political life. From the end of World War II to the eve of the Reagan administration, the parties fought over social spending – Democrats pushing for more, Republicans demanding less. But once the budget was fixed, both parties saw taxes as an otherwise uninteresting mechanism to raise the money required to pay the bills. Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford each fought for higher taxes, while the biggest tax cut was secured by John F. Kennedy, whose across-the-board tax reductions were actually opposed by the majority of Republicans in the House. The distribution of the tax burden wasn't really up for debate: Even after the Kennedy cuts, the top tax rate stood at 70 percent – double its current level. Steeply progressive taxation paid for the postwar investments in infrastructure, science and education that enabled the average American family to get ahead.
That only changed in the late 1970s, when high inflation drove up wages and pushed the middle class into higher tax brackets. Harnessing the widespread anger, Reagan put it to work on behalf of the rich. In a move that GOP Majority Leader Howard Baker called a "riverboat gamble," Reagan sold the country on an "across-the-board" tax cut that brought the top rate down to 50 percent. According to supply-side economists, the wealthy would use their tax break to spur investment, and the economy would boom. And if it didn't – well, to Reagan's cadre of small-government conservatives, the resulting red ink could be a win-win. "We started talking about just cutting taxes and saying, 'Screw the deficit,'" Bartlett recalls. "We had this idea that if you lowered revenues, the concern about the deficit would be channeled into spending cuts."
It was the birth of what is now known as "Starve the Beast" – a conscious strategy by conservatives to force cuts in federal spending by bankrupting the country.
READ: Two Santa Clauses - How The Republican Party Has Conned America for Thirty Years
As conceived by the right-wing intellectual Irving Kristol in 1980, the plan called for Republicans to create a "fiscal problem" by slashing taxes – and then foist the pain of reimposing fiscal discipline onto future Democratic administrations who, in Kristol's words, would be forced to "tidy up afterward."
There was only one problem: The Reagan tax cuts spiked the federal deficit to a dangerous level, even as the country remained mired in a deep recession. Republican leaders in Congress immediately moved to reverse themselves and feed the beast. "It was not a Democrat who led the effort in 1982 to undo about a third of the Reagan tax cuts," recalls Robert Greenstein, president of the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It was Bob Dole." Even Reagan embraced the tax hike, Stockman says, "because he believed that, at some point, you have to pay the bills."
For the remainder of his time in office, Reagan repeatedly raised taxes to bring down unwieldy deficits. In 1983, he hiked gas and payroll taxes. In 1984, he raised revenue by closing tax loopholes for businesses. The tax reform of 1986 lowered the top rate for the wealthy to just 28 percent – but that cut for high earners was paid for by closing tax loopholes that resulted in the largest corporate tax hike in history. Reagan also raised revenues by abolishing special favors for the investor class: He boosted taxes on capital gains by 40 percent to align them with the taxes paid on wages. Today, Reagan may be lionized as a tax abolitionist, says Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator and friend of the president, but that's not true to his record. "Reagan raised taxes 11 times in eight years!"
But Reagan wound up sowing the seed of our current gridlock when he gave his blessing to what Simpson calls a "nefarious organization" – Americans for Tax Reform. Headed by Grover Norquist, a man Stockman blasts as a "fiscal terrorist," the group originally set out to prevent Congress from backsliding on the 1986 tax reforms. But Norquist's instrument for enforcement – an anti-tax pledge signed by GOP lawmakers – quickly evolved into a powerful weapon designed to shift the tax burden away from the rich. George H.W. Bush won the GOP presidential nomination in 1988 in large part because he signed Norquist's "no taxes" pledge. Once in office, however, Bush moved to bring down the soaring federal deficit by hiking the top tax rate to 31 percent and adding surtaxes for yachts, jets and luxury sedans. "He had courage to take action when we needed it," says Paul O'Neill, who served as Treasury secretary under George W. Bush.
The tax hike helped the economy – and many credit it with setting up the great economic expansion of the 1990s. But it cost Bush his job in the 1992 election – a defeat that only served to strengthen Norquist's standing among GOP insurgents. "The story of Bush losing," Norquist says now, "is a reminder to politicians that this is a pledge you don't break." What was once just another campaign promise, rejected by a fiscal conservative like Bob Dole, was transformed into a political blood oath – a litmus test of true Republicanism that few candidates dare refuse.
After taking office, Clinton immediately seized the mantle of fiscal discipline from Republicans. Rather than simply trimming the federal deficit, as his GOP predecessors had done, he set out to balance the budget and begin paying down the national debt. To do so, he hiked the top tax bracket to nearly 40 percent and boosted the corporate tax rate to 35 percent. "It cost him both houses of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections," says Chafee, the former GOP senator. "But taming the deficit led to the best economy America's ever had." Following the tax hikes of 1993, the economy grew at a brisk clip of 3.2 percent, creating more than 11 million jobs. Average wages ticked up, and stocks soared by 78 percent. By the spring of 1997, the federal budget was headed into the black.
But Newt Gingrich and the anti-tax revolutionaries who seized control of Congress in 1994 responded by going for the Full Norquist. In a stunning departure from America's long-standing tax policy, Republicans moved to eliminate taxes on investment income and to abolish the inheritance tax. Under the final plan they enacted, capital gains taxes were sliced to 20 percent. Far from creating an across-the-board benefit, 62 cents of every tax dollar cut went directly to the top one percent of income earners. "The capital gains cut alone gave the top 400 taxpayers a bigger tax cut than all the Bush tax cuts combined," says David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich – and Cheat Everybody Else.
The cuts also juiced irrational exuberance on Wall Street. Giving a huge tax advantage to investment income inflated the dot-com bubble, observed Stiglitz, "by making speculation more attractive." And by eliminating capital gains taxes on home sales, the cuts fueled the housing bubble: A study by the Federal Reserve estimated that the tax giveaways boosted housing transactions by 17 percent through 2007.
The most revealing aspect of the tax cuts, however, came from a simple mistake. In a major blow to the inheritance tax – America's most progressive form of taxation – the GOP cuts nearly doubled the amount that the rich could pass on to their heirs tax-free. From now on, the first $1 million would be exempt from federal taxes – unless your estate was worth more than $17 million. In those rare cases, the superwealthy would have to pay taxes on their entire inheritance.
Then something strange happened. Due to a "drafting error," the final bill failed to include the exception for the superwealthy. Everyone in both parties agreed that it had been a mistake. But instead of fixing the error, Republicans blocked a pro forma correction to the law – meaning that even the wealthiest estates would pay no taxes on the first $1 million. The move effectively secured an $880 million tax cut for the rich – one that Congress never intended, and never voted for. Ari Fleischer, the then-spokesman for Rep. Bill Archer of the House Ways and Means Committee, exulted over the undemocratic tax cut for the wealthy. "When a mistake works against the government and for the taxpayers," he explained, "we're in no rush to correct it."
Republicans, abetted by conservative Democrats, passed the tax cuts with a veto-proof majority, and Clinton signed them into law. But for the remainder of his term, Clinton repeatedly blocked Republican demands for further cuts. "He vetoed one tax cut after another," says Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice. In 1999, in a triumph for fiscal sanity, Clinton rejected a massive $792 billion cut to inheritance and investment taxes. The mood during the veto ceremony in the Rose Garden was festive. A five-piece band played "Summertime," and the living was easy. Unemployment stood at 4.2 percent, and stocks were booming. "Our hard-won prosperity gives us the chance to invest our surplus to meet the long-term challenges of America," Clinton declared. The Republican tax cuts, he warned with eerie prescience, would return America to a period of "deficit upon deficit" that culminated in "the worst recession since the Great Depression."
Then came the election of George W. Bush, the first president of the Party of the Rich.
Within months of taking office, Bush delivered a tax break to the rich that trumps anything he accomplished through the actual tax code. "The most important thing the Bush administration did in the whole area of taxes," says Johnston, "was to kill tax harmonization."
"Tax harmonization" was economic jargon for a joint project by the world's developed countries to shut down offshore tax havens in places like the Cayman Islands. At the time, such illicit havens were costing U.S. taxpayers $70 billion a year. For Republicans, going after big-time tax evaders should have been as American as apple pie. As Reagan once said of such cheats: "When they do not pay their taxes, someone else does – you and me."
But for Bush and other leaders of the Party of the Rich, blocking corporations from hiding their money overseas wasn't an act of patriotism – it was tyranny. Rep. Dick Armey, the GOP majority leader, railed against tax harmonization as an effort to create a "global network of tax police." One of Bush's biggest donors, Enron, was using a network of nearly 900 offshore tax hideaways to pay no corporate taxes – while reporting massive profits that later turned out to be fraudulent. In one of his first acts as president, Bush "basically vetoed the initiative," says Stiglitz.
The veto spurred a cavalcade of corporations – including stalwart American firms like Stanley Works – to pursue phony "headquarters" in Bermuda and other lax-tax nations. The move not only encouraged some of the world's richest companies to avoid paying any U.S. taxes, it let them book overseas-"expenses" that qualified them for lucrative tax deductions. In one of the most notorious cases, GE filed for a $3 billion tax rebate in 2009, despite boasting profits of more than $14 billion.
But Bush wasn't content to simply make the world safe for corporate tax evaders: He also pushed to deliver $1.6 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals. On paper, at least, the federal government looked like it would soon be rolling in cash. Assuming the economy continued to grow as it had under Clinton, the Congressional Budget Office forecast a federal surplus of $5.6 trillion by 2011. Nearly half that bounty was already spoken for – the government needed some $3 trillion to shore up Social Security and Medicare – but that still left $2 trillion to play with.
Still, those numbers were only a projection. "It's certainly not money in the bank," Fed chairman Alan Greenspan warned incoming Treasury Secretary O'Neill over breakfast at the Federal Reserve. Yet there was no such note of caution in the White House. The month after Bush took office, the president's then-budget director, Mitch Daniels, suggested in an internal memo that $5.6 trillion was likely too small a figure. Daniels concluded that Bush's plan was "so fiscally conservative" that even after cutting $1.6 trillion in taxes, fixing Social Security and setting aside $900 billion in a contingency fund, the government would still have enough money left over to retire $2 trillion in debt.
"Everybody for a good while accepted that the surpluses were real," insists Daniels, now the governor of Indiana. When pressed, however, he also concedes that by the time Bush took office, "the economy was already unraveling." Indeed, a wave of layoffs at the end of 2000 prompted Dick Cheney to warn, "We may well be on the front edge of a recession here."
The conflicting forecasts – one of sunshine and surplus, the other of gloom and contraction – should have set off alarm bells in the White House. But instead of rethinking the prudence of its massive giveaway to the rich, the Bush team dreamed up a new rationale for cutting taxes: to provide a needed jolt to the economy. "It's a fair thing to say that the stimulus argument was added in the spring of '01, when it had not been there before," Daniels says.
The stimulus argument was lousy economics. The previous two decades, after all, had demonstrated that "trickle-down" tax cuts don't juice the economy – they create bubbles and balloon deficits. Proponents pointed to Reagan's original tax cut in 1981, claiming it had spurred economic growth. But that is nothing more than "urban legend," Stockman says. The economy "did recover after 1982," he says, "but mainly because the Federal Reserve defeated inflation."
In fact, Stockman insists, Bush's tax cuts for the rich represent a bastardization of Reaganism. "The Republican Party originally said that prosperity comes from the private sector," he says. "But today's Republicans have become Chamber of Commerce Keynesians – using tax policy as a way of stimulating, boosting, prodding the economy." The Party of the Rich, in essence, was offering up a twisted version of New Deal policies that laissez-faire Republicans like Reagan had long opposed.
Spinning the tax giveaways as a stimulus plan did serve one useful function: It helped obscure the true purpose of the Bush tax plan. In an internal memo written just days after the inauguration, O'Neill advised Bush that he had a "great opportunity" for quick action on his tax cuts if he framed the choice for Congress as tax cut vs. recession. "We can get this argument on our ground," O'Neill wrote, "and stop the drumbeat about a tax cut for the rich."
With no patience for the specifics of tax policy, Bush deputized Vice President Dick Cheney to push through his tax cut for the rich. Once a deficit hawk who confessed that he was "not convinced that the Reagan tax cuts worked," Cheney had emerged from his tenure as CEO of Halliburton as a leading advocate for rewarding big corporations and their executives – even as GOP moderates warned that Bush's tax cut would foreclose needed investments in education and infrastructure. "The vice president had no interest in what I had to say," recalls Chafee. "He ran the show right from the beginning, and he suffered no compromise."
As the economy worsened, even the president's Treasury secretary grew concerned about the tax cuts. O'Neill pushed Bush to include a trigger mechanism that would rein in the cuts if the projected surpluses failed to materialize. "The trigger was a good idea – having the foresight that if things turned bad, we wouldn't have to reverse course in a difficult time," O'Neill says now. "But there was never any serious interest in it" from the Bush administration.
To Chafee, the opposition to a trigger mechanism seemed to offer a clue about the real goal of the tax cuts: They were designed not to boost the economy, but to force the kind of spending cuts championed by Grover Norquist and other small-government activists. His suspicion that the starve-the-beast crowd was driving the cuts was confirmed, he says, by a conversation he had while walking the Senate corridors with Trent Lott, then the GOP majority leader.
"What's going on here?" Chafee asked. Why not safeguard the economy by adopting a trigger mechanism?
Lott turned to Chafee. "We're going to strangle the spending," he said. On the stump, Bush hyped the benefits of his plan by emphasizing how much in taxes it would save a single waitress. But the real action was at the top rung of the income ladder. Over 10 years, the bottom fifth of income earners could expect to pocket an extra $744. That waitress might be left with enough cash to change out the clutch on her Corolla. The top one percent, meanwhile, would receive more than $340,000 on average – enough to buy his and hers Bentleys.
To mask such glaring inequality, Republicans inaugurated the tax cut with an across-the-board rebate. The waitress would get a $300 check, along with everyone else from Warren Buffett on down. But in reality, the tax cuts were backloaded with benefits for the wealthy. In the first year of the deal, the top one percent would pocket just seven percent of the tax cuts – but by the time the cuts were set to expire in 2010, the rich would be reaping more than half of the windfall. What's more, the cuts were nefariously designed so that small-business owners and upper-middle-class professionals – primarily those earning between $200,000 and $500,000 a year – would see as much as three-quarters of their tax break eroded by the Alternative Minimum Tax, a levy Congress originally intended to keep rich people from cheating on their taxes.
Every year since the Bush tax cuts were approved, Congress has passed a multibillion "patch" to prevent this politically potent group of professionals from being denied their tax breaks. But at the time, Cheney used the money "saved" by the AMT claw-back to finance another favor exclusively for the rich: a series of cuts to the estate tax culminating in a one-year abolition, set to take effect in 2010. Rejecting a less costly bargain proposed by Democrats that would have provided a permanent escape from estate taxes for all but the richest of the rich, Republicans instead demanded a more expensive plan catering to the wealthiest 0.25 percent of all estates.
In May 2001, Republicans in the House voted in lock step to approve the Bush tax cuts, which cleared the Senate with the support of 45 Republicans and 12 conservative Democrats.
But then reality intervened. The bursting of the dot-com bubble, followed by the attacks of September 11th, tipped the economy headlong into recession. Rather than reversing course, however, Republicans rallied around another tax giveaway for the rich. That October, a bill passed by the House – and endorsed by Bush – not only called for eliminating a law requiring that tax-dodging corporations pay at least something in taxes, it ordered rebate checks to be cut to corporate giants for their past taxes. Under the bill, 16 companies of the Fortune 500 would have each received $100 million or more – including $1.4 billion for IBM, $671 million for GE and $254 million for Enron. Democrats in the Senate ultimately sank the bill, producing a stimulus package that extended unemployment benefits for the middle class and awarded tax incentives to corporations for new investments.
But Republicans kept their eyes on the prize. The following year, after the GOP regained control of the Senate and expanded its majority in the House, Cheney immediately pushed forward with an even deeper tax cut for the wealthy that O'Neill today describes as "an atrocity."
"We won the midterms," the vice president told O'Neill at the time. "This is our due."
By that point, any economic rationale for cutting taxes had vanished. September 11th, the recession and the 2001 tax cuts had plunged the nation $158 billion into the red. The mirage of the $5.6 trillion surplus had vanished – replaced with a forecast that America would rack up some $3 trillion in debt by 2012. But rather than put the brakes on tax cuts, as a trigger mechanism might have done, Cheney was determined to accelerate them, so the rich would get their money even sooner. To further reward the wealthiest, Cheney also wanted to slash taxes on capital gains and corporate dividends, with half of the money going to the top one percent.
To secure the new tax cuts, however, Cheney would first have to overcome opposition not only from Alan Greenspan, but from some of Bush's top advisers. The Fed chair had personally presented Cheney with a 20-page econometric analysis showing that soaring deficits caused by the tax cuts would sink long-term growth. Instead of communicating Greenspan's alarm to Bush, Cheney tasked a deputy named Cesar Conda to draft a memo disputing the study. Conda, a former tax lobbyist, blithely dismissed the projections of the Fed's senior economist as "completely wrong."
In November 2002, at a meeting in the White House, the president and his top economic advisers packed tightly around a mahogany table in the Roosevelt Room. With the administration's own forecasts showing that the economy had already regained its footing, one after another of Bush's deputies sounded the alarm about the dangers of a new tax cut. "This burns a big hole in the budget," deputy chief of staff Josh Bolten told the president. "The budget hole is getting deeper," added Daniels, "and we are projecting deficits all the way to the end of your second term." O'Neill warned the president that a "tax cut that benefits mostly wealthy investors" could imperil the budding prosperity. "With the economy already improving, this could cause an unnecessary boost," he said. "That's how you get a bubble." Entertaining the chorus of doubters, Bush himself voiced qualms about more cuts for the rich. "Won't the top-rate people benefit the most?" he asked. "Didn't we already give them a break at the top?"
But Cheney was having none of it. When O'Neill warned Bush that America was headed for a "fiscal crisis," the vice president, sitting at the Treasury secretary's right elbow, dismissed him midsentence by citing the ultimate champion of Republican tax cuts: "Ronald Reagan proved that deficits don't matter, Paul."
A true student of Reagan would have understood that 2002 was the moment for a tax increase. When his 1981 tax cut overshot the mark, Reagan had put aside ideology and raised taxes, putting the needs of the country above the desires of the wealthy. Bush's father had also raised taxes to avoid passing massive deficits on to future generations. Moreover, the Bush administration had already committed the country to a costly war in Afghanistan, and was on the brink of invading Iraq. Historically, Republican and Democratic administrations alike had met the financial burdens of war by raising taxes. But this was a new Republican Party, one determined to aid the rich even as it sent the military budget soaring. As House Majority Leader Tom DeLay would soon declare, "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes."
After the meeting, Cheney set out to remove anyone who stood in the way of the new tax giveaway. He phoned O'Neill and demanded the Treasury secretary's resignation. He also dispensed with economic adviser Larry Lindsey, whose frank assessment of the possible costs of the Iraq War had threatened to derail the tax cut.
Budget-conscious Republicans in Congress who opposed the tax cuts could not be disposed of – but they could be strong-armed. Voinovich and Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who refused to go along with cuts of more than $350 billion, were summoned to the White House for a meeting with Bush and Cheney. "The president wanted nearly a trillion dollars when he started with us," recalls Voinovich. "They were working on us: We need more, we need more." The senators held out for a smaller bill – though in hindsight, Voinovich says, there shouldn't have been any tax cuts. "Just think where we'd be if we'd gone along with what the president wanted," he says, laughing bitterly. "Where would we be today? Oh, my God."
In the end, Cheney's voice was the only one that mattered. In April 2003, when the bill reached the floor, the Senate deadlocked 50-50. The vice president cast the deciding "aye" that moved the tax cut into law. The benefits were even more tilted to the rich than the first Bush tax cuts. When fully phased in, 53 percent of the new cuts went to the top one percent. Those making $10 million or more pocketed an average of $1 million a year – twice the haul they made from the earlier cuts, and every cent of it borrowed. "It was a deficit-financed tax cut," concedes Hubbard, who chaired Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.
The deal privileged gambling on stocks over working for a living: The tax rate the richest pay on their long-term capital gains was slashed by 25 percent, while their rate on dividends fell by almost 60 percent. The move not only fueled speculation of Wall Street, it further widened the considerable gap between rich and poor. "It was a very destructive combination to have a national economic policy that stimulated debt-financed capital gains and then taxed the windfall at the lowest rate imaginable," says Stockman. "That contributed, clearly, to the growing imbalance in household income and wealth."
But Republicans didn't stop there. The following year, they passed the little-noticed American Jobs Creation Act. Named in the same Orwellian fashion as Bush's "Clear Skies" and "Healthy Forests" initiatives, the 2004 law allowed corporations to bring home billions in profits they had stockpiled in offshore tax havens – the very flight of capital that Bush had blessed by torpedoing tax harmonization three years earlier. Under the tax amnesty, corporations repatriated $300 billion in profits they had stashed offshore. But instead of paying the nominal corporate tax rate of 35 percent, they were taxed at just 5.25 percent.
The title of the bill notwithstanding, corporations invested almost none of their windfall in new factories or other measures to create the 500,000 jobs that Republicans had promised. In fact, many companies that received the biggest tax break actually slashed jobs. Hewlett-Packard laid off 14,500 workers – one pink slip for every $1 million in profits it shipped back home from overseas. All told, according to an analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research, up to 92 percent of the "jobs creation" money was handed out to top executives and shareholders in a frenzy of dividend payments and stock buybacks. And thanks to the GOP's cut on investment income the previous year, wealthy individuals who pocketed the offshore profits paid the same rate on their bonanza, 15 percent, that a waitress at a diner might pay on her tips.
When Democrats regained control of both the House and Senate in 2006, they temporarily halted the GOP's binge of borrowing from the Treasury to give tax cuts to the wealthy. But that didn't stop Republicans from finding other ways to aid the rich. As the economy collapsed in 2008, the Bush administration used the crisis to provide a stealth handout to the nation's banks – even those at no risk of failing. Under the TARP bailout, overseen by Treasury secretary and former Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson, taxpayers were forced to give banks $254 billion for assets worth just $176 billion – a handout of $78 billion to the financial sector, including $2.5 billion for Paulson's cronies at Goldman. "Paulson pushed the money into the hands of the banks – no strings attached, no accountability, no transparency," Elizabeth Warren, then-chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, told Rolling Stone last year.
As with the offshore profits, the banks used the money to line the pockets of executives and investors – while doing little to speed the recovery of Main Street. "We gave an enormous subsidy to these financial institutions, and they have not returned it to the American people," said Warren. "The administration could have said, 'All right, take this and multiply it throughout the economy.' But Paulson never made that a condition of taking the money."
Taken together, the Bush years exposed the bankruptcy behind the theory that tax cuts for the rich will spur economic growth. "Let the rich get richer and everybody will benefit?" says Stiglitz. "That, empirically, is wrong. It's a philosophy of trickle-down economics that's belied by the facts." Bush and Cheney proved once and for all that tax cuts for the wealthy produce only two things: "lower growth and greater inequality."
The GOP's frenzied handouts to the rich during the Bush era coincided with the weakest economic expansion since World War II – and the only one in modern American history in which the wages of working families actually fell and poverty increased. And what little expansion there was under Bush culminated in the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. "The wreckage was left by Dick Cheney, Grover Norquist and the gang," says Chafee. "This was their doing."
By driving the economy into the ditch, Republicans left the next president little choice but to drive up deficits in the short term by launching a massive campaign of federal spending to ward off a global depression. But even the $787 billion stimulus engineered by President Obama was hamstrung by his predecessor's ongoing giveaway to the wealthy: Republicans insisted that nearly 10 percent of every stimulus dollar be devoted to financing the annual "patch" to the Alternative Minimum Tax – the off-budget legacy of Bush's tax cuts for the rich. This was a $70 billion handout that inflated the cost of the stimulus package without stimulating anything – other than the paychecks of wealthy Americans.
From the outset of the Obama presidency, in fact, Republicans have engaged in a calculated, across-the-board campaign to protect the tax privileges of the wealthiest Americans. Their objective was made explicit by Rep. Eric Cantor during the height of the stimulus debate: "No Tax Increases to Pay for Spending" declared one bullet point on Cantor's website. "House Republicans are insisting that any stimulus package include a provision precluding any tax increases, now or in the future, to pay for this new spending." Having racked up the largest deficits in American history, Republicans suddenly found it expedient to return to their old-school rhetoric of deficit-bashing. "Under Bush, they had a story about deficits not mattering," says Michael Ettlinger, who directs economic policy at the Center for American Progress. "Then, all of a sudden Obama becomes president, and deficits matter again."
The battle reached a fever pitch over health care reform. To truly understand the depth of the GOP's entrenched opposition to Obamacare, it's crucial to understand how the reform is financed: The single largest source of funds comes from increasing Medicare taxes on the wealthy – including new taxes on investment income. According to the Tax Policy Center, Americans who make more than $1 million a year will pay an extra $37,381 in annual taxes under the plan. The top 400 taxpayers would contribute even more: an average of $11 million each.
Rarely in American history has a tax so effectively targeted the top one percent. "It took Republicans about four months to figure out how much they hated it," says McIntyre, president of Citizens for Tax Justice. Republican rage over the president's health care plan has far less to do with the size of government or the merits of the individual mandate than the blow to the investor class. If Obamacare remains in place and the Bush cuts for the wealthy expire as planned, top earners will be paying a tax of 23.8 percent on capital gains – more than they have at any time since Clinton cut the capital gains tax in 1997. Health care reform, griped The Wall Street Journal, was nothing but a "sneaky way" for Democrats to wage a "war on 'the rich.'"
A key element of the GOP's war on the poor was cemented by the surprise election of Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate in January 2010. As a candidate, Brown had made his high-mileage GMC pickup truck the star of his campaign commercials. "I love this old truck," he said. "It's brought me closer to the people." But Brown's real allegiance was to his wealthy donors: the billionaire Koch brothers, who bankrolled the Tea Party, and the financial interests who made a last-minute investment of more than $450,000 to propel Brown into office.
As soon as he was sworn in, Brown set about hollowing out the so-called Volcker Rule, which was designed to bar big financial institutions from using their own money to make risky, speculative bets on the market. By agreeing to provide Democrats with the crucial 60th vote on finance reform, Brown secured an exemption from the trading ban for mutual funds and insurers – a move directly benefiting Massachusetts-based financial giants like Fidelity and MassMutual. Brown also insisted that the Wall Street giants who caused the financial collapse – banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase – be allowed to continue using taxpayer-subsidized capital to gamble on hedge funds and private-equity deals. Former Fed chair Paul Volcker was furious: "Allowing a bank to invest in a speculative fund," he said, "goes against the very intent of the bill."
But Brown wasn't done. At the 11th hour, he forced Democrats to spike a tax on big banks and hedge funds that was designed to generate $19 billion to pay for the costs of financial reform. As a result, consumers and small banks had to pick up the tab. Brown, meanwhile, was richly rewarded for his efforts on behalf of Wall Street: During a three-week period at the height of negotiations, he raked in $140,000 in campaign cash from big financial firms, including Fidelity and MassMutual, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
When Republicans won back control of the House in last year's midterm elections, they followed Brown's lead and moved swiftly to betray their Tea Party backers by running up more deficits on behalf of the rich. Within days of the election, Republicans not only secured a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, they also enabled America's richest scions to inherit millions of dollars without paying a dime in taxes. All told, the GOP's two favors for the party's biggest donors were secured in a lame-duck bargain that adds another $858 billion to the debt – an amount greater than the original stimulus plan the Republicans opposed so bitterly.
First, the GOP filibustered a Democrat-led effort to extend the Bush tax cuts on only the first $250,000 of income. The party leadership's hard-line stance – supported by barely a third of all voters – turned $90 billion over to the wealthiest Americans. It also set a precedent for further extensions that would cost nearly $1 trillion over the next decade. At the same time, the GOP drove through a deal that actually raised taxes for couples who make less than $40,000 a year – and then turned much of the extra cash over to couples who earn more than $200,000. Obama agreed to this massive transfer of wealth in order to retain the Bush tax cuts for the middle class – but the only other significant thing he got in return was a one-year extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
But even the GOP's big payday for the wealthy pales in comparison to the handout that Republicans secured by gutting the estate tax. With the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the inheritance tax was set to snap back to its Clinton-era standard: exempting the first $1 million of all estates from taxation, and stepping up the tax rate on the wealthiest estates to 55 percent. Instead, Obama agreed to raise the exemption to $5 million and lower the top tax rate to 35 percent – an apparent horse trade demanded by the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, who then allowed the president's nuclear-stockpile treaty with Russia to move forward in the Senate.
Shockingly, the deal actually sweetened the bargain the super-rich had received in 2009, enabling the heirs to the richest 0.25 percent of estates to pocket an extra $23 billion they would have otherwise owed in taxes under Bush. In fact, under the terms Kyl demanded, the federal government will spend more to eliminate or cut taxes for 100,000 rich people than it will to extend unemployment benefits for 7 million Americans.
In a little-noticed detail, the two-year deal also created a loophole that allows the wealthiest couples to pass on $10 million to a child today – while they're still living – without paying a penny of tax. That means the rich can offload their wealth to their children before it increases in value – evading higher estate taxes in the future. "In the next two years," one tax attorney crowed to The Wall Street Journal, "wealthy people have an unprecedented opportunity to push a lot of the value of their assets out of the estate-tax system." According to tax historians, the new rules create the most generous tax environment for wealth transfers for the super-rich since 1931.
And that was just the beginning of the budget-busting handouts the GOP demanded for the rich. In April, Republicans in the House passed a budget that would have slashed income taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans to just 25 percent – a $3 trillion giveaway that would have been financed by doubling out-of-pocket expenses for future retirees on Medicare. Top Republicans like Cantor have also pushed for a replay of the American Jobs Creation Act – endorsing a new tax amnesty that would allow corporate giants like Apple and Pfizer to bring home $1.4 trillion in offshore profits that would be taxed at just 5.25 percent – a favor for the wealthy that would generate another $79 billion in deficits. "At the same time they're talking about these big deficit problems, running around saying, 'We're broke,' they're contemplating one of the most egregious tax giveaways in recent memory," says Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The potential windfall gains are beyond enormous – and the lion's share would go to shareholders of these big corporations and their executives."
Never mind that the previous tax amnesty in 2004 created virtually no new jobs, as corporate executives eagerly pocketed the windfall for themselves: Republicans are once again claiming that the tax amnesty will enable corporations to spend their repatriated wealth putting Americans back to work. Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential front-runner, promises that the flood of corporate cash will generate "hundreds of thousands if not millions – of good, permanent, private-sector jobs." That flies in the face of basic economics, given that corporate America is already sitting on hundreds of billions in domestic cash reserves. What the tax amnesty would do, however, is boost stock prices. According to an analysis by JP Morgan, as much as two-thirds of the $1.4 trillion that would be brought back into the country would go to stock "buybacks and dividends" rather than "new factories, new jobs and new equipment," as Romney claims.
JP Morgan has a big stake in the debate – as do fellow bank-bailout beneficiaries Citigroup, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. Combined, the four financial giants have $87 billion in untaxed profits stockpiled offshore. That's similar to the combined offshore profits of drug giants Pfizer and Merck at $89 billion. Tech giants Cisco and Microsoft have more than $61 billion they'd like to bring home, while Big Oil companies Exxon and Chevron have $56 billion. The company with the most to gain, by far – with offshored reserves of $94 billion – is corporate America's most notorious tax scofflaw, GE.
Romney's rival for the GOP nomination, Rick Perry, has also endorsed the tax amnesty for giant corporations. But for Perry, the proposal doesn't go far enough on behalf of the rich. "Why not talk about how you are going to repatriate those dollars at a substantially lower rate than 35 percent?" Perry said recently, stumping in New Hampshire. "Like zero."
In September, Perry went even further, proposing a flat tax that would take a sharp bite out of the paychecks of the poorest Americans – while slashing taxes by more than 40 percent for the wealthiest. When confronted by a reporter over the fact that his plan would give millions to the rich, Perry replied: "I don't care about that." His plan is almost as regressive as Herman Cain's original 9-9-9 plan, which called for increasing taxes on 84 percent of Americans – squeezing $4,400 a year out of every middle-class couple to finance a $455,000 tax cut for millionaires. What's more, both Perry and Cain want to abolish the estate tax entirely and eliminate all taxes on capital gains. A similar plan by Michele Bachmann would enable 23,000 millionaires to pay no taxes at all – while allowing the top 400 earners to pocket nearly two-thirds of their income tax-free, and then pass those riches on to their heirs without paying a penny. "It's madness," says Stiglitz. "And it is dangerous to the fiscal order. The wealthy know very well how to convert normal income to capital gains income."
The Republican mania for rewarding the rich with tax cuts has become so warped that the normal rules of budgeting no longer seem to apply. Arguing for an extension of the Bush tax cuts, Sen. Kyl spelled out what could well serve as the Party of the Rich's credo: "You should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans." The same rule, of course, doesn't apply to spending for those in need: At the time he called for more borrowing on behalf of the rich, Kyl was also fighting to deny unemployment benefits to 5 million Americans. "Continuing to pay people unemployment compensation," he scoffed, "is a disincentive for them to seek new work."
In retrospect, the true victor of the midterm elections last year was not the Tea Party, or even Speaker of the House John Boehner. It was Grover Norquist.
"What has happened over the last two years is that Grover now has soldiers in the field," says Bartlett, the architect of the Reagan tax cuts. "These Tea Party people, in effect, take their orders from him." Indeed, a record 98 percent of House Republicans have now signed Norquist's anti-tax pledge – which includes a second, little-known provision that played a key role in the debt-ceiling debacle. In addition to vowing not to raise taxes, politicians who sign the pledge promise to use any revenue generated by ending a tax subsidy to immediately finance – that's right – more tax cuts.
Norquist insists the measure is necessary to force Congress to rein in spending. "I'm not focused on the deficit," he says. "The metric that matters is keeping spending down." But in the real world, the effect of Norquist's oath is to prevent the government from cutting the deficit by ending tax breaks to the rich. All told, tax breaks cost the government $1.2 trillion each year – far more than defense spending ($744 billion), Medicare and Medicaid ($719 billion) or Social Security ($701 billion). And most of the breaks – think of them as government subsidies delivered through the tax code – go to the wealthy. The richest one percent of Americans receive a 13.5 percent boost in their incomes from such subsidies – almost double the benefit the bottom 80 percent receives. Under Norquist's pledge, lawmakers are forbidden from ending any kind of tax break – mortgage deductions for luxury vacation homes, subsidies for giant oil companies, lower tax rates for private-equity millionaires – without using the money to pay for another tax cut. "If you can't get rid of tax expenditures – if old Grover is going to call that a 'tax increase' – it's not just ludicrous, it's deception," says Simpson, the former GOP senator.
Ludicrous or not, Norquist's intransigence on tax expenditures killed the "grand bargain" that President Obama proposed during the debt-ceiling standoff. In return for $1 trillion in cuts to social spending and national security, plus another $650 billion in reductions to entitlements like Medicare, Obama asked Republicans to get rid of $1.2 trillion in wasteful tax subsidies. "Democrats weren't talking about raising taxes – they were talking about eliminating tax expenditures, for God's sakes!" says Voinovich. "Many of them should have been eliminated a long time ago." But with so many Republicans committed to Norquist's anti-revenue pledge, Boehner was forced to walk away from the deal.
"Grover's got 'em terrified," says Simpson. "I always tell Republicans, 'Hell, Grover can't kill ya. He can't burn down your house. The only thing he can do to you is defeat you in re-election – and if re-election means more to you than your country, then you shouldn't be in the legislature.'"
The battle over the debt ceiling underscores the GOP's rapid evolution into the Party of the Rich. The budget savings projected from the compromise that Republicans wound up agreeing to – $2.1 trillion – won't even begin to pay for costs incurred by the Bush tax cuts. In their first decade alone, the cuts wound up depriving the Treasury of $2.5 trillion – with 38 percent of the money now going to the richest one percent of Americans. For all their talk of cutting the deficit in recent years, Republicans have spent far more of the public's money to subsidize the wealthy.
Indeed, since Republicans began their tax-cut binge in 1997, they have succeeded in making the rich much richer. While the average income for the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers has remained basically flat over the past 15 years, those in the top 0.01 percent have seen their incomes more than double, to $36 million a year. Translated into wages, that means most Americans have received a raise of $1.50 an hour since the GOP began cutting taxes during the Gingrich era. The most elite sliver of American society, meanwhile, saw their pay soar by $10,000 an hour.
America became a great nation with a prosperous middle class on the strength of a progressive tax code – one that demands the most of those who benefit most from our society. But the Party of the Rich has succeeded in breaking the back of that ideal. Today, says Johnston, "the tax system ceases to be progressive when you get to the very top of the wealthiest one percent." Above that marker, the richer you get, the lower your relative tax burden. "We have moved toward a plutocracy," Warren Buffett warned in a recent interview. "As people have gotten richer and richer, they have been favored by taxation – and have gotten richer to a greater degree."
Far from creating the trickle-down economics promised by Reagan, the policies pursued by the modern Republican Party are gusher up. Under the leadership of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the House's radicalized GOP caucus is pushing a predatory agenda for a new gilded age. Every move that Republicans make – whether it's to gut consumer protections, roll back environmental regulations, subsidize giant agribusinesses, abolish health care reform or just drill, baby, drill – is consistent with a single overarching agenda: to enrich the nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations, even if it requires borrowing from China, weakening national security, dismantling Medicare and taxing the middle class. With the nation still mired in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, Republicans have categorically rejected the one financial policy with a proven record of putting the country back on a more prosperous footing. "You hear the Republicans say that you don't dare raise taxes in a weak economy," says Stockman. "Ronald Reagan did – three times." Not even the downgrading of America's debt – which placed the world's only superpower on credit par with New Zealand and Belgium – has given GOP leaders cause to reconsider their pro-wealth jihad. In August, as the so-called Supercommittee began its work to complete the debt-ceiling deal by reducing future deficits by another $1.5 trillion, Cantor issued the Party of the Rich's marching orders, insisting that Republicans not buckle under the "tremendous pressure" to hike taxes and instead target spending cuts in "mandatory programs."
The composition of the committee offers little hope that Congress will hold the rich accountable for their share of the deficit burden. While Democrats appointed deal-oriented centrists like Sen. Max Baucus to the committee, Republicans stocked it with anti-revenue hard-liners, including Sens. Jon Kyl and Pat Toomey, who used to run the Club for Growth – an ally of Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. "Your wallet is safe," Norquist tweeted after the Republican roster was announced.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Norquist expresses pride that the GOP has been so thoroughly transformed since the days of Reagan. "It's a different Republican Party now," he says. Norquist even goes so far as to liken the kind of Republicans common in Reagan's day – those willing to raise taxes to strengthen the economy – to segregationists. The "modern Republican Party," he says, would no sooner recognize a revenue-raiser than the "modern Democratic Party would recognize George Wallace."
Norquist expresses no discomfort at the moral impact of his project – providing tax favors for the wealthy that are paid for by cutting services to those who truly need them. "I understand greed and envy," Norquist says. "The idea that somebody's making money and you want to steal some of it? That's an interesting idea. But it's not morality. It's certainly not justice."
Such extremist rhetoric – equating taxation with theft – is exactly the kind of talk that dismays old-line Republicans. Many of those who fought for years at the side of Ronald Reagan say they no longer recognize traditional GOP values in the new Republican Party. Fighting for the rich, after all, is not the same as championing the right.
"You can look up my record: On conservatism and taxes I was better than Jesse Helms," says Simpson, the former senator. "But whatever happened to common sense? People are going to look around in five or 10 years and say, 'Whatever happened to the things that made me comfortable? That made our streets and schools good things?' And they'll look, hopefully, at Grover Norquist. I can say to you with deepest sincerity: If this country and this legislature are in thrall to Grover Norquist, we haven't got a prayer."
The oligarchs plan for America is to have as many people as possible scrambling for survival as you see in the video below.
Last edited by muckraker10021; 06-21-2012 at 05:14 AM.
Re: Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
How most Germans view the RepubliKlan candidates.
The whole world is laughing.
The Republicans Farcical Candidates
A Club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses
They're ruining the reputation of the United States
The US Republican race is dominated by ignorance, lies and scandals. The current crop of candidates have shown such a basic lack of knowledge that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein. The Grand Old Party is ruining the entire country's reputation.
by Marc Pitzke
Decemeber 1, 2011
Africa is a country. In Libya, the Taliban reigns. Muslims are terrorists; most immigrants are criminal; all Occupy protesters are dirty. And women who feel sexually harassed -- well, they shouldn't make such a big deal about it.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the US Republicans. Or rather, to the twisted world of what they call their presidential campaigns. For months now, they've been traipsing around the country with their traveling circus, from one debate to the next, one scandal to another, putting themselves forward for what's still the most powerful job in the world.
As it turns out, there are no limits to how far they will stoop.
It's true that on the road to the White House all sorts of things can happen, and usually do. No campaign can avoid its share of slip-ups, blunders and embarrassments. Yet this time around, it's just not that funny anymore. In fact, it's utterly horrifying.
It's horrifying because these eight so-called, would-be candidates are eagerly ruining not only their own reputations and that of their party, the party of Lincoln lore. Worse: They're ruining the reputation of the United States.
They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They've shown such stark lack of knowledge -- political, economic, geographic, historical -- that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.
"When did the GOP lose touch with reality?" wonders Bush's former speechwriter David Frum in New York Magazine. In the New York Times, Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan's former chief-of-staff, called this campaign season a "reality show," while Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan confidante Peggy Noonan even spoke of a "freakshow."
That may be the most appropriate description.
Tough times demand tough and smart minds. But all these dopes have to offer are ramblings that insult the intelligence of all Americans -- no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or neither of the above. Yet just like any freakshow, this one would be unthinkable without a stage (in this case, the media, strangling itself with all its misunderstood "political correctness" and "objectivity") and an audience (the party base, which this year seems to have suffered a political lobotomy).
And so the farce continues. The more mind-boggling its incarnations, the happier the US media are to cheer first one clown and then the next, elevating and then eliminating "frontrunners" in reliable news cycles of about 45 days.
Take Herman Cain, "businessman." He sat out the first wave of sexual harassment claims against him by offering a peculiar argument: Most ladies he had encountered in his life, he said, had not complained.
In the most recent twist, a woman accused Cain of having carried on a 13-year affair with her. That, too, he tried to casually wave off, but now, under pressure, he says he wants to "reassess" his campaign.
If Cain indeed drops out, the campaign would lose its biggest caricature: He has been the most factually challenged of all these jesters.
As CEO of the "Godfather's" pizza chain, Cain killed jobs -- but now poses as the job-creator-in-chief. Meanwhile, he seems to lack basic economic know-how, let alone a rudimentary grasp of politics or geography. Libya confounds him. He does not believe that China is a nuclear power. And all other, slightly more complicated questions get a stock answer: "Nine-nine-nine!" Remember? That's Cain's tax reduction plan that would actually raise taxes for 84 percent of Americans.
Has any of that disrupted Cain's popularity in the media or with his fan base? Far from it. Since Oct. 1, he has collected more than $9 million in campaign donations. Enough to plow through another onslaught of denouements.
No Shortage of Chutzpah
Then there's Newt Gingrich, the current favorite. He's a political dinosaur, dishonored and discredited. Or so we thought. Yet just because he studied history and speaks in more complex sentences than his rivals, the US media now reflexively hails him as a "Man of Ideas" (The Washington Post) -- even though most of these ideas are lousy if not downright offensive, such as firing unionized school janitors, so poor children could do their jobs.
Pompous and blustering, Gingrich gets away with this humdinger as well as with selling himself as a Washington outsider -- despite having made millions of dollars as a lobbyist in Washington. At least the man's got chutzpah.
The hypocrisy doesn't end here. Gingrich claims moral authority on issues such as the "sanctity of marriage," yet he's been divorced twice. He sprang the divorce on his first wife while she was sick with cancer. (His supporters' excuse: It's been 31 years, and she's still alive.) He cheated on his second wife just as he was pressing ahead with Bill Clinton's impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky affair, unaware of the irony. The woman he cheated with, by the way, was one of his House aides and 23 years his junior -- and is now his perpetually smiling third wife.
Americans have a short memory. They forget, too, that Gingrich was driven out of Congress in disgrace, the first speaker of the house to be disciplined for ethical wrongdoing. Or that he consistently flirts with racism when he speaks of Barack Obama. Or that he enjoyed a $500,000 credit line at Tiffany's just as his campaign was financially in the toilet and he ranted about the national debt. Chutzpah, indeed.
Yet the US media rewards him with a daily kowtow. And the Republicans reward him too, by having put him on top in the latest polls. Mr. Hypocrisy, the bearer of his party's hope.
"I think he's doing well just because he's thinking," former President Clinton told the conservative online magazine NewsMax. "People are hungry for ideas that make some sense." Sense? Apparently it's not just the Republicans who have lost their minds here.
The Eternal Runner-Up
And what about the other candidates? Rick Perry's blunders are legendary. His "oops" moment in South Carolina. His frequently slurred speech, as if he was drunk. His TV commercials putting words in Obama's mouth that he didn't say (such as, "Americans are 'lazy'"). His preposterous claim that as governor of Texas he created 1 million jobs, when the total was really just about 100,000. But what's one digit? Elsewhere, Perry would have long ago been disqualified. But not here in the US.
Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann has fallen off the wagon, although she's still tolerated as if she's a serious contender. Ron Paul's fan club gets the more excited, the more puzzling his comments get. Jon Huntsman, the only one who occasionally makes some sort of sense, has been relegated to the poll doldrums ever since he showed sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.
Which leaves Mitt Romney, the eternal flip-flopper and runner-up, who by now is almost guaranteed to clinch the nomination, even though no one in his party seems to like or want him. He stiffly delivers his talking points, which may or may not contradict his previous positions. After all, he's been practicing this since 2008, when he failed to snag the nomination from John McCain. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
As an investor, Romney once raked in millions and, like Cain, killed jobs along the way. So now he says he's the economy's savior. To prove that, he has presented an economic plan that the usually quite conservative business magazine Forbes has labeled "dangerous," asking incredulously, "About Mitt Romney, the Republicans can't be serious." Apparently they're not, but he is, running TV spots against Obama already, teeming with falsehoods.
Good for Ratings
What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. "A starting point for a chronicle of American decline," was how David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, described the current Republican race.
The Tea Party would take issue with that assessment. They cheer the loudest for the worst, only to see them fail, as expected, one by one. Which goes to show that this "movement," sponsored by Fox News, has never been interested in the actual business of governing or in the intelligence and intellect that requires. They are only interested in marketing themselves, for ratings and dollars.
So the US elections are a reality show after all, a pseudo-political counterpart to the Paris Hiltons, Kim Kardashians and all the "American Idol" and "X Factor" contestants littering today's TV. The cruder, the dumber, the more bizarre and outlandish -- the more lucrative. Especially for Fox News, whose viewers were recently determined by Fairleigh Dickinson University to be far less informed than people who don't watch TV news at all.
Maybe that's the solution: Just ignore it all, until election day. Good luck with that -- this docudrama with its soap-opera twists is way too enthralling. The latest rumor du jour involves a certain candidate who long ago seemed to have disappeared from the radar. Now she may be back, or so it is said, to bring order into this chaos. Never mind that her name is synonymous with chaos: Sarah Palin.
Re: Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
Let’s just say it:
The Republicans Are The Problem
by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
April 27 2012
Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, was recently captured on video asserting that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. Of course, it’s not unusual for some renegade lawmaker from either side of the aisle to say something outrageous. What made West’s comment — right out of the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950s — so striking was the almost complete lack of condemnation from Republican congressional leaders or other major party figures, including the remaining presidential candidates.
It’s not that the GOP leadership agrees with West; it is that such extreme remarks and views are now taken for granted.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.
The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base. Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy. While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.
What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South. They included the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.
From the day he entered Congress in 1979, Gingrich had a strategy to create a Republican majority in the House: convincing voters that the institution was so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority. It took him 16 years, but by bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders; provoking them into overreactions that enraged Republicans and united them to vote against Democratic initiatives; exploiting scandals to create even more public disgust with politicians; and then recruiting GOP candidates around the country to run against Washington, Democrats and Congress, Gingrich accomplished his goal.
Ironically, after becoming speaker, Gingrich wanted to enhance Congress’s reputation and was content to compromise with President Bill Clinton when it served his interests. But the forces Gingrich unleashed destroyed whatever comity existed across party lines, activated an extreme and virulently anti-Washington base — most recently represented by tea party activists — and helped drive moderate Republicans out of Congress. (Some of his progeny, elected in the early 1990s, moved to the Senate and polarized its culture in the same way.)
Norquist, meanwhile, founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 and rolled out his Taxpayer Protection Pledge the following year. The pledge, which binds its signers to never support a tax increase (that includes closing tax loopholes), had been signed as of last year by 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators, according to ATR. The Norquist tax pledge has led to other pledges, on issues such as climate change, that create additional litmus tests that box in moderates and make cross-party coalitions nearly impossible. For Republicans concerned about a primary challenge from the right, the failure to sign such pledges is simply too risky.
Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.
In the third and now fourth years of the Obama presidency, divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen in our time in Washington, with partisan divides even leading last year to America’s first credit downgrade.
On financial stabilization and economic recovery, on deficits and debt, on climate change and health-care reform, Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices.
Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology. In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth — thus fulfilling Norquist’s pledge — while ignoring contrary considerations.
The results can border on the absurd: In early 2009, several of the eight Republican co-sponsors of a bipartisan health-care reform plan dropped their support; by early 2010, the others had turned on their own proposal so that there would be zero GOP backing for any bill that came within a mile of Obama’s reform initiative. As one co-sponsor, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein: “I liked it because it was bipartisan. I wouldn’t have voted for it.”
And seven Republican co-sponsors of a Senate resolution to create a debt-reduction panel voted in January 2010 against their own resolution, solely to keep it from getting to the 60-vote threshold Republicans demanded and thus denying the president a seeming victory.
This attitude filters down far deeper than the party leadership. Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock.
Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures.
No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference is striking.
The GOP’s evolution has become too much for some longtime Republicans. Former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraskacalled his party “irresponsible” in an interview with the Financial Times in August, at the height of the debt-ceiling battle. “I think the Republican Party is captive to political movements that are very ideological, that are very narrow,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much intolerance as I see today in American politics.”
And Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, wrote an anguished diatribe last year about why he was ending his career on the Hill after nearly three decades. “The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe,” he wrote on the Truthout Web site.
Shortly before Rep. West went off the rails with his accusations of communism in the Democratic Party, political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have long tracked historical trends in political polarization, said their studies of congressional votes found that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP.
If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.
In the House, some of the remaining centrist and conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats have been targeted for extinction by redistricting, while even ardent tea party Republicans, such as freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee (Miss.), have faced primary challenges from the right for being too accommodationist. And Mitt Romney’s rhetoric and positions offer no indication that he would govern differently if his party captures the White House and both chambers of Congress.
We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.
Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?
Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine. The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be. Report individual senators’ abusive use of holds and identify every time the minority party uses a filibuster to kill a bill or nomination with majority support.
Look ahead to the likely consequences of voters’ choices in the November elections. How would the candidates govern? What could they accomplish? What differences can people expect from a unified Republican or Democratic government, or one divided between the parties?
In the end, while the press can make certain political choices understandable, it is up to voters to decide. If they can punish ideological extremism at the polls and look skeptically upon candidates who profess to reject all dialogue and bargaining with opponents, then an insurgent outlier party will have some impetus to return to the center. Otherwise, our politics will get worse before it gets better.
Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which will be available Tuesday
Re: Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
Why I Gave Up On Being a RepubliKlan
by Michael Stafford | June 12 2012
I’m a life-long Republican. My political affiliation has been woven intrinsically into the very fabric of my being.
When I was young, Ronald Reagan bestrode the world like a colossus. I grew up watching the Cold War end-game play out as Reagan faced down the Soviet Union- which really was evil- and helped break the long night of communist repression in Eastern Europe. He was my hero.
Indeed, my first political act was passionately lobbying my fourth-grade classmates to vote for Reagan over Walter Mondale in a mock election in 1984. As an adult, I continued to be a rock-solid Republican- I helped run my law school’s chapter of the Federalist Society and its Republican club. And after the election of President Obama in 2008, I served as an officer in my state Republican Party. For the next two years, I devoted substantial amounts of my time, my talent, and my treasure to supporting local candidates running for office and to building the Party organization.
Today, however, I am a registered Republican no longer.
I came to the decision to leave the GOP not with a heavy heart, but with a broken one.
I reached this point through a long series of awakenings and realizations- a path marked by literally years of wrestling with, and finally accepting, the political implications of a number of difficult truths. It involved ever-increasing levels of cognitive dissonance, as I tried to square my experiences, concerns, and knowledge, with my continued loyalty to the GOP.
As a local GOP official after President Obama’s election, I had a front-row seat as it became infected by a dangerous and virulent form of political rabies.
In the grip of this contagion, the Republican Party has come unhinged. Its fevered hallucinations involve threats from imaginary communists and socialists who, seemingly, lurk around every corner. Climate change- a reality recognized by every single significant scientific body and academy in the world- is a liberal conspiracy conjured up by Al Gore and other leftists who want to destroy America. Large numbers of Republicans- the notorious birthers- believe that the President was not born in the United States. Even worse, few figures in the GOP have the courage to confront them.
Republican economic policies are also indefensible. The GOP constantly claims that its opponents are engaged in “class warfare,” but this is an exercise in projection. In Republican proposals, the wealthy win, and the rest of us lose- one only has to look at Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget to see that.
As Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have written, “the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” Its reckless behavior helps drive the political dysfunction crippling our nation.
In the end, it offers a dystopian vision of our future- a harsher, crueler and more merciless America starkly divided between the riders, and the ridden.
From the moment the Tea Party emerged on the scene, I had a premonition that I would eventually have to leave the GOP. But my mind conjured innumerable reasons for delay- for putting off the day of reckoning in the desperate hope that some game-changing miracle would occur, such as a victory by Governor Jon Huntsman in the Republican presidential primary.
But no miracle happened. Among all the difficult truths I’ve had to face, perhaps none has been harder than the realization that I, and those dissidents like me, are unrepresentative outliers far removed from, and largely unable to influence, the main currents of opinion within the GOP.
Ultimately, leaving the GOP was necessary in order to maintain my own integrity. Leaving is also a public act of personal protest. I am under no illusions about its broader significance- it will have no impact on the trajectory of the political narrative in this nation. But that does not make it futile. On the contrary, as the shadows lengthen, such minor individual acts of defiance and dissent are more critical now than ever before.
Perhaps, one day, a reformed and responsible Republican Party will reemerge.
But until then, the GOP and I have reached a parting of the ways. In the poignant words of “Kathleen Mavourneen,” an old Irish ballad: “It may be for years, and it may be forever”
Re: Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
For those who read, here is a 3,500 word, trenchant analysis by a insider, unveiling the inner workings of todays RepubliKlan cult
Revenge of the Reality-Based Community
My life on the Republican right—and how I saw it all go wrong.
by BRUCE BARTLETT • November 26, 2012
I know that it’s unattractive and bad form to say “I told you so” when one’s advice was ignored yet ultimately proved correct. But in the wake of the Republican election debacle, it’s essential that conservatives undertake a clear-eyed assessment of who on their side was right and who was wrong. Those who were wrong should be purged and ignored; those who were right, especially those who inflicted maximum discomfort on movement conservatives in being right, ought to get credit for it and become regular reading for them once again.
I’m not going to beat around the bush and pretend I don’t have a vested interest here. Frankly, I think I’m at ground zero in the saga of Republicans closing their eyes to any facts or evidence that conflict with their dogma. Rather than listen to me, they threw me under a bus. To this day, I don’t think they understand that my motives were to help them avoid the permanent decline that now seems inevitable.
For more than 30 years, I was very comfortable within the conservative wing of the Republican Party. I still recall supporting Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater as a schoolchild. As a student, I was a member of Young Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom at the height of the Vietnam War, when conservatives on college campuses mostly kept their heads down.
In graduate school, I wrote a master’s thesis on how Franklin Roosevelt covered up his responsibility for the Pearl Harbor attack—long a right-wing obsession. My first real job out of graduate school was working for Ron Paul the first time he was elected to Congress in a special election in 1976. (He lost that same year and came back two years later.) In those days, he was the only Tea Party-type Republican in Congress.
After Paul’s defeat, I went to work for Congressman Jack Kemp and helped draft the famous Kemp-Roth tax bill, which Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1981. I made important contributions to the development of supply-side economics and detailed my research in a 1981 book, Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
After Reagan’s victory, I chose to stay on Capitol Hill, where I was staff director for the Joint Economic Committee and thought I would have more impact. I left to work for Jude Wanniski’s consulting company in 1984, but missed Washington and came back the following year. Jude was, of course, the founding father of supply-side economics, the man who discovered the economists Robert Mundell and Arthur Laffer and made them famous.
I went to work for the Heritage Foundation, but left in 1987 to join the White House staff. I was recruited by Gary Bauer, who was Reagan’s principal domestic policy adviser. Gary remains well known among religious conservatives. Late in the administration I moved over to the Treasury Department, where I remained throughout the George H.W. Bush administration.
Afterwards I worked for the Cato Institute and the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank based in Dallas. I wrote regularly for the Wall Street Journal editorial page, National Review, and other conservative publications. For 12 years I wrote a syndicated column that ran in the Washington Times, Investor’s Business Daily, the New York Sun, and other conservative newspapers.
I supported George W. Bush in 2000, and many close friends served in high-level administration positions. I was especially close to the Council of Economic Advisers and often wrote columns based on input and suggestions from its chairmen, all of whom were friends of mine. Once I even briefed Vice President Dick Cheney on the economy.
But as the Bush 43 administration progressed, I developed an increasingly uneasy feeling about its direction. Its tax policy was incoherent, and it had an extremely lackadaisical attitude toward spending. In November 2003, I had an intellectual crisis.
All during the summer of that year, an expansion of Medicare to pay for prescription drugs for seniors was under discussion. I thought this was a dreadful idea since Medicare was already broke, but I understood that it was very popular politically. I talked myself into believing that Karl Rove was so smart that he had concocted an extremely clever plan—Bush would endorse the new benefit but do nothing to bring competing House and Senate versions of the legislation together. That way he could get credit for supporting a popular new spending program, but it would never actually be enacted.
I was shocked beyond belief when it turned out that Bush really wanted a massive, budget-busting new entitlement program after all, apparently to buy himself re-election in 2004. He put all the pressure the White House could muster on House Republicans to vote for Medicare Part D and even suppressed internal administration estimates that it would cost far more than Congress believed. After holding the vote open for an unprecedented three hours, with Bush himself awakened in the middle of the night to apply pressure, the House Republican leadership was successful in ramming the legislation through after a few cowardly conservatives switched their votes.
It’s worth remembering that Paul Ryan, among other so-called fiscal hawks, voted for this irresponsible, unfunded expansion of government.
Suddenly, I felt adrift, politically and intellectually. I now saw many things I had long had misgivings about, such as all the Republican pork-barrel projects that Bush refused to veto, in sharper relief. They were no longer exceptions to conservative governance but its core during the Bush 43 years.
I began writing columns that were highly critical of Bush’s policies and those of Republicans in Congress—all based on solid conservative principles. In other words, I was criticizing them from the inside, from the right.
In 2004 I got to know the journalist Ron Suskind, whose book The Price of Loyalty I had praised in a column. He and I shared an interest in trying to figure out what made Bush tick. Neither of us ever figured it out.
A couple of weeks before the 2004 election, Suskind wrote a long article  for the New York Times Magazine that quoted some of my comments to him that were highly critical of Bush and the drift of Republican policy. The article is best remembered for his quote from an anonymous White House official dismissing critics like me for being “the reality-based community.”
The day after the article appeared, my boss called to chew me out, saying that Karl Rove had called him personally to complain about it. I promised to be more circumspect in the future.
Interestingly, a couple of days after the Suskind article appeared, I happened to be at a reception for some right-wing organization that many of my think tank friends were also attending. I assumed I would get a lot of grief for my comments in the Suskind article and was surprised when there was none at all.
Finally, I started asking people about it. Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.
I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends’ view of the Times’ philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking? This was my first exposure to what has been called “epistemic closure”  among conservatives—living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.
My growing alienation from the right created problems for me and my employer. I was read the riot act and told to lay off Bush because my criticism was threatening contributions from right-wing millionaires in Dallas, many of whom were close personal friends of his. I decided to stick to writing columns on topics where I didn’t have to take issue with Republican policies and to channel my concerns into a book.
I naïvely thought that a conservative critique of Bush when he was unable to run for reelection would be welcomed on the right since it would do no electoral harm. I also thought that once past the election, conservatives would turn on Bush to ensure that the 2008 Republican nomination would go to someone who would not make his mistakes.
As I wrote the book, however, my utter disdain for Bush grew, as I recalled forgotten screw-ups and researched topics that hadn’t crossed my radar screen. I grew to totally despise the man for his stupidity, cockiness, arrogance, ignorance, and general cluelessness. I also lost any respect for conservatives who continued to glorify Bush as the second coming of Ronald Reagan and as a man they would gladly follow to the gates of hell. This was either gross, willful ignorance or total insanity, I thought.
My book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, was published in February 2006. I had been summarily fired by the think tank I worked for back in October 2005. Although the book was then only in manuscript, my boss falsely claimed that it was already costing the organization contributions. He never detailed, nor has anyone, any factual or analytical error in the book.
Among the interesting reactions to my book is that I was banned from Fox News. My publicist was told that orders had come down from on high that it was to receive no publicity whatsoever, not even attacks. Whoever gave that order was smart; attacks from the right would have sold books. Being ignored was poison for sales.
I later learned that the order to ignore me extended throughout Rupert Murdoch’s empire. For example, I stopped being quoted in the Wall Street Journal.* Awhile back, a reporter who left the Journal confirmed to me that the paper had given her orders not to mention me. Other dissident conservatives, such as David Frum and Andrew Sullivan, have told me that they are banned from Fox as well. More epistemic closure.
Seeing the demographic trends toward an increasingly nonwhite electorate, which were obvious in easily available census projections, I decided to write a book about how Republicans could deal with it. I concluded that the anti-immigrant attitude among the Republican base was too severe for the party to reach out meaningfully to the fast-growing Latino community. Recall that Bush’s proposal for immigration reform was soundly rejected by his own party.
If Republicans had no hope of attracting Latino votes, what other nonwhite group could they attract? Maybe the time had come for them to make a major play for the black vote. I thought that blacks and Latinos were natural political and economic competitors, and I saw in poll data that blacks were receptive to a hardline position on illegal immigration. I also knew that many blacks felt ignored by Democrats, who simply took their votes for granted—as Republicans did for 60 years after the Civil War.
If Republicans could only increase their share of the black vote from 10 percent, which it had been since Goldwater, to the 30 percent level that Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed, it would have major electoral ramifications.
The best way to get Republicans to read a book about reaching out for the black vote, I thought, was to detail the Democratic Party’s long history of maltreatment of blacks. After all, the party was based in the South for 100 years after the war, and all of the ugly racism we associate with that region was enacted and enforced by Democratic politicians. I was surprised that such a book didn’t already exist.
I thought knowing the Democratic Party’s pre-1964 history of racism, which is indisputable, would give Republicans a story to tell when they went before black groups to solicit votes. I thought it would also make Republicans more sympathetic to the problems of the black community, many of which are historical in their origins. Analyses by economists and sociologists show that historical racism still holds back African-Americans even though it has diminished radically since the 1960s.
So I wrote Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past. Unfortunately, it was published the day Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses. But I still held out hope that Hillary Clinton, who was pandering to the white working class in unsubtle racial terms, would capture the Democratic nomination. The anger among blacks at having the nomination effectively stolen from Obama would make them highly receptive to GOP outreach, I believed. I even met with John McCain’s staff about this.
As we know, McCain took a sharp right turn after Obama won the Democratic nomination. The Arizona senator abandoned any pretense of being a moderate or “maverick” and spent the campaign pandering to the Republican Party’s lowest common denominator. His decision to put the grossly unqualified Sarah Palin on his ticket was nothing short of irresponsible. Perhaps more importantly, it didn’t work, and Obama won easily.
After the failure of my race book, I turned my attention again to economics. I had written an op-ed  for the New York Times in 2007 suggesting that it was time to retire “supply-side economics” as a school of thought. Having been deeply involved in its development, I felt that everything important the supply-siders had to say had now been fully incorporated into mainstream economics. All that was left was nutty stuff like the Laffer Curve that alienated academic economists who were otherwise sympathetic to the supply-side view. I said the supply-siders should declare victory and go home.
I decided to write a book elaborating my argument. I thought I had a nice thesis to put forward. All successful schools of economic thought follow a progression of being outsiders and revolutionaries, achieving success when economic circumstances cannot be explained by orthodox theory, acceptance for the dissidents, followed by inevitable failure when new circumstances arise that don’t fit the model, leading to the rise of a fresh school of thought. It was basically a Thomas Kuhnian view of economic theory.
I thought I had two perfect examples that fit my model of the rise and fall of economic ideas: Keynesian economics and supply-side economics. I thought at first I knew enough about the former to say what I wanted to say, but eventually I found the research I had previously done to be wanting. It was based too much on what academics thought and not enough on how Keynesian ideas penetrated the policymaking community.
I hit upon the idea of ignoring the academic journals and looking instead at what economists like John Maynard Keynes, Irving Fisher, and others said in newspaper interviews and articles for popular publications. Recently computerized databases made such investigation far easier than it previously had been.
After careful research along these lines, I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion. It didn’t affect the argument in my book, which was only about the rise and fall of ideas. The fact that Keynesian ideas were correct as well as popular simply made my thesis stronger.
I finished the book just as the economy was collapsing in the fall of 2008. This created another intellectual crisis for me. Having just finished a careful study of the 1930s, it was immediately obvious to me that the economy was suffering from the very same problem, a lack of aggregate demand. We needed Keynesian policies again, which completely ruined my nice rise-and-fall thesis. Keynesian ideas had arisen from the intellectual grave.
The book needed to be rethought and rewritten from scratch in light of new developments. Unfortunately, my publisher insisted on publishing it on schedule. I tried to repair the damage as best I could, but in the end the book was a mishmash of competing ideas with no clear narrative. It sold poorly.
On the plus side, I think I had a very clear understanding of the economic crisis from day one. I even wrote another op-ed  for the New York Times in December 2008 advocating a Keynesian cure that holds up very well in light of history. Annoyingly, however, I found myself joined at the hip to Paul Krugman, whose analysis was identical to my own. I had previously viewed Krugman as an intellectual enemy and attacked him rather colorfully in an old column that he still remembers.
For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman. The blind hatred for him on the right simply pushed me further away from my old allies and comrades.
The final line for me to cross in complete alienation from the right was my recognition that Obama is not a leftist. In fact, he’s barely a liberal—and only because the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that moderate Republicans from the past are now considered hardcore leftists by right-wing standards today. Viewed in historical context, I see Obama as actually being on the center-right.
At this point, I lost every last friend I had on the right. Some have been known to pass me in silence at the supermarket or even to cross the street when they see me coming. People who were as close to me as brothers and sisters have disowned me.
I think they believe they are just disciplining me, hoping I will admit error and ask for forgiveness. They clearly don’t know me very well. My attitude is that anyone who puts politics above friendship is not someone I care to have in my life.
So here we are, post-election 2012. All the stupidity and closed-mindedness that right-wingers have displayed over the last 10 years has come back to haunt them. It is now widely understood that the nation may be center-left after all, not center-right as conservatives thought. Overwhelming losses by Republicans to all the nation’s nonwhite voters have created a Democratic coalition that will govern the nation for the foreseeable future.
Tellingly, a key reason for Obama’s victory, according to exit polls, is none other than George W. Bush, whom 60 percent of voters primarily blame for the nation’s economic woes—an extraordinary fact when he has been out of office for four years. Even though they didn’t read my Impostor book, voters still absorbed its message.
Although the approach I suggested in my race book was ill-timed, the underlying theory is more true than ever. If Republicans can’t bring blacks into their coalition, they are finished at the presidential level, given the rapid rise of the Latino population. Perhaps after 2016, they may be willing to put my strategy into operation.
The economy continues to conform to textbook Keynesianism. We still need more aggregate demand, and the Republican idea that tax cuts for the rich will save us becomes more ridiculous by the day. People will long remember Mitt Romney’s politically tone-deaf attack on half the nation’s population for being losers, leeches, and moochers because he accurately articulated the right-wing worldview.
At least a few conservatives now recognize that Republicans suffer for epistemic closure. They were genuinely shocked at Romney’s loss because they ignored every poll not produced by a right-wing pollster such as Rasmussen or approved by right-wing pundits such as the perpetually wrong Dick Morris. Living in the Fox News cocoon, most Republicans had no clue that they were losing or that their ideas were both stupid and politically unpopular.
I am disinclined to think that Republicans are yet ready for a serious questioning of their philosophy or strategy. They comfort themselves with the fact that they held the House (due to gerrymandering) and think that just improving their get-out-the-vote system and throwing a few bones to the Latino community will fix their problem. There appears to be no recognition that their defects are far, far deeper and will require serious introspection and rethinking of how Republicans can win going forward. The alternative is permanent loss of the White House and probably the Senate as well, which means they can only temporarily block Democratic initiatives and never advance their own.
I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.
Bruce Bartlett is the author of The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform—Why We Need It and What It Will Take.
*Gerald Seib, Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, has contacted me to say that it is flatly untrue that Journal reporters are prohibited from quoting me. I take him at his word and do not doubt his sincerity.
Re: Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
For those who read articles longer than 700 words here is an article from a month ago that is a must read if you want to understand why todays RepubliKlan party is currently on the path to irrelevance. This slide to oblivion could be arrested if voices like Chris Christie or Colin Powell are heeded and the party moves sharply to the center. Reading this article, and watching John Boehners dysfunctional gerrymanded republiklan majority in the house engage in fratricide; it is unlikely they will listen to voices from the 'reality based' world. If you start reading this article you won't stop as the republiklan participants quoted in the article stupefyingly reject reality and cling to a 1950's version of America that is NOT coming back.
Steaming past Guantánamo, en route to the Cayman Islands, a boatload of Republicans ponder the plight of a party at sea.
by Joe Hagan | December 23, 2012
The whole thing was white, and broken, that much was clear. A week after the presidential election, when the dreams of Republicans were dashed with President Barack Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney, we were snorkeling in the blue waters of the Caribbean. In the distance was a shipwreck. “You could make out the pieces of it,” said Ralph Reed, the right-wing political operator who had bolstered the Evangelical Christian vote for Romney. “It was deep and murky.”
Jonah Goldberg, the National Review contributor and author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, also bore witness to the once-great vessel that foundered off the coast of Fantasy Island and was now sunken and covered in white barnacles. “I saw the silhouette of it,” he says.
But what, exactly, were we looking at? It was Friday, November 16. We were in Honduras, gazing at a wreck off a resort called Fantasy Island, near Mahogany Bay. Through my goggles, I watched Reed, in white swim trunks and black flippers, flap his way down through the extravagantly blue waters to the old sunken barge, part of the $64.95 Shore Excursion available to passengers aboard the m.s. Nieuw Amsterdam, an 86,000-ton cruise ship owned by Holland America Line. It was day five of the National Review magazine’s Post Election Cruise 2012, and the GOP’s recent problems were, mercifully, about 760 nautical miles away. The cruise, featuring the star columnists of William Buckley’s 57-year-old conservative biweekly, had been planned long in advance, and everybody had believed it would be a victory party. An *e-mail from the magazine’s publisher arrived a few days before we embarked: “Do not despair or fret. At least not next week.”
Onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam, no one could follow his advice. “Who sent Obama here to destroy America?” a fiftysomething woman asked me one evening over dinner, as if it were a perfectly reasonable question. And here onboard the cruise ship, it was. If the Nieuw Amsterdam was a kind of ark of American alienation, at least it was an eminently comfortable one. The ship was a country unto itself, eleven stories high, 936 feet fore to aft, with eleven bars, six restaurants, two swimming pools, five hot tubs, a large café, and a library. There was the endless buffet on the Lido deck, slot machines and craps in the casino, an Asian lounge singer who did a mean “Copacabana,” a discothèque and a chamber-music cocktail lounge, cigars and Cognac by the pool, gift shops, and a full-service spa.
We departed Ft. Lauderdale on a Sunday, November 11, and began steaming to the southeast, headed for Half Moon Cay, a Bahaman beach resort owned by the cruise line, and thence southward, deeper into the Caribbean.
The cruise began with a cocktail mixer on the midship deck, Champagne glasses glowing in the pool lights. The crowd was noticeably older, a retirement crowd in *vacation-wardrobe colors, with flashes of the idiosyncratic: a one-eyed man in retro Yves Saint Laurent glasses and a sixtysomething blonde in gold-lamé pants. Ralph Reed, resplendent in a blazer and billowing pleated pants, held court among his fans. “I did my job!” I overheard him say.
Many onboard could recall a time when Buckley himself had cruised alongside them, in the nineties, but his ghost now seemed far away, a benevolent but faded spirit. Most of the roughly 600 National Review cruisers, who’d signed up for what was billed as the “conservative cruise of a lifetime,” were in their prime during the Reagan years—the greatest days to be a conservative. Nostalgia and loss hung in the air, with much talk of endings, both personal and national. To sum up his feelings about the election, John Wohlstetter, a national-security author in his mid-sixties who had met Buckley several times (“utterly gracious, and he listened”), recalled the words of a long-*forgotten liberal lamenting a loss: “The people have spoken, the bastards.”
After drinks, we moved to the Manhattan Dining Room, an elegant two-story restaurant at the ship’s stern, where we would meet each evening, tabled with a different assortment of cruisers, sometimes hosted by writers and pundits from the National Review. Kevin Hassett, a former economic adviser to Mitt Romney, hosted my table of eight that night, arriving in a bright-green golf shirt and rimless glasses. He announced that this would be a “family” conversation in which he was the moderator.
“Minorities came out like crazy,” said Hassett, sighing. “White people didn’t get to the polls. There are far more African-*Americans voting than they expected.”
“In Tampa,” noted Bobbie, a petite woman from Vero Beach, Florida, “they had lots and lots of lines.”
Hassett, with an oddly cheerful, Oh-What-My-Country-Has-Done-Now mien, predicted economic doom under Obama, the most likely scenario being another Great Depression, which would make 2008 look like a joyride.
That prompted a tall, extremely tanned blonde named Kay, from Old Greenwich, Connecticut, to ask Hassett, the co-*author of the 1999 book Dow 36,000, “So what do we do with our money?”
He recommended investing in real estate in another country, maybe in Central America somewhere. A woman to Kay’s right wrinkled her nose: How about a Western country? “Okay, if Europe is what you want, go to Poland,” he said optimistically. “Go to Krakow, buy a house for $50,000, and it’s going to be like Paris in a few years.”
As we drained the Pinot Noir, Hassett gave his audience the insider’s view of the Romney campaign, describing how its election-monitoring software crashed on November 6 and Obama was probably behind it, “because those guys are so evil.”
The table grumbled in assent.
“The thing we have to understand is, these are people who don’t have any morals,” said Hassett. “They’ll do anything. I’m one of their No. 1 targets. I mean, they really want me bad.”
“Well, you’re safe on this ship!” said Bobbie boldly.
Then Hassett pivoted to the liberal media. “I actually think that Goebbels was more critical of Hitler than the New York Times is of Obama,” said Hassett, tucking into a piece of strudel. “I was in the middle of the fight against the propaganda, and I have stories like you wouldn’t believe. These people are so evil. They’re basically Fascists. It’s unbelievable.”
The audience seemed to listen raptly to this soliloquy—who aboard would argue?—but underneath there were currents of dissension. At breakfast the next day, I ran into Kay from Old Greenwich. Tall and stern, legal thriller clutched to her breast, she narrowed her eyes and complained that Kevin Hassett was too controlling of the conversation the night before and lacked social graces.
We arrived the next morning at Half Moon Cay, a small private island 100 miles south of Nassau that promised Jet-Skiing, parasailing, snorkeling, and a glass-bottomed boat. But it was to remain a mysterious green lump on the horizon: The seas were too rough for passengers to get into the tenders needed to go ashore. “Nature was not on our side,” announced Captain Vincent Smit over the intercom.
Instead, the cruisers milled around the cafeteria, lounged by the pool with their Grishams and Balduccis, or surfed the Internet in the Crow’s Nest lounge, a privilege that cost $1.25 a minute.
Then, at 3 p.m., the group gathered into the Showroom at Sea, a three-tiered amphitheater decorated in a bright-red Art Deco style, for the first of several sessions deconstructing the loss. Onstage were Reed, now in lime-green pants embroidered with pink swordfish and navy polo shirt with white piping on the collar; and Scott Rasmussen, the pollster who consistently overrated Romney’s chances of winning the election. Rasmussen blasted the assembled Republicans with one crushing statistic after another. The exit poll data, he said, “create a negative brand image of the Republican Party as a party that only cares about white people.”
The audience murmured unhappily.
“And that image is hurting among the youth,” he continued. “It is hurting across the culture. It is something that has to be addressed across the party. It has to be addressed. You can’t just wish it away.”
Reed expanded on the theme. “You can’t run and win a national election in an electorate that is becoming decreasingly white and increasingly minority and lose 80 percent of the minority vote,” he said. “That math just doesn’t add up.”
Rasmussen offered some friendly advice about approaching minorities. “You show them that you really care, you talk to them as grown-ups on a range of issues, you get them involved,” he suggested, “and you accept the fact that it’s a long-term investment. And you accept that you can learn as much from them as you can teach them.”
This was harsh medicine to reluctant patients, and afterward some of them made their discomfort known. “That depressed me!” one woman said. To my right, a man snapped, “That’s bullshit!”
The man was Bing West, former assistant secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, a former Marine and a National Review contributor.
West, mocking Rasmussen, said: “If you stupid Republicans weren’t so goddamn bigoted you would have won the election!”
His wife, Betsy, who bears a resemblance to Nancy Reagan, patted him on the back and apologized on his behalf, saying, “I don’t know why he said that. He’s usually not like that.”
After a coffee break, we reconvened for a panel titled “Econ 1: The State of the Economy.” A large National Review placard hanging onstage swayed back and forth as the boat rocked. A moderator asked the four guests if they saw any signs of optimism in America’s economic future. There were no takers. Hassett said the national debt was like a monkey on America’s back, except there weren’t enough steroids to create a monkey that big. The debt, like an evil monolith, seemed to shadow the brows of everyone there, precisely quantifying their apocalyptic fears. America, by rejecting them, had rejected math itself, they felt, and therefore reason, and therefore reality. Their emotions, in casual conversation, in dinner patter, and in the panel discussions, ranged from sputtering anger to resigned fatalism, often in the space of minutes. As a 91-year-old from California (and nine-time National Review cruiser) told me as he lounged with a spy novel, “I think we’re going to go into the toilet, and I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop it. We haven’t seen anything yet as far as the recession is concerned … Heck of a thing to look forward to!”
After dinner was a program called the “Light Side of the Right Side.” A frenetic, tightly wound man named James Lileks, a National Review columnist from Minnesota, warmed up the crowd with one-liners: “If we can put a man on the moon, we can put 50 million Democrats up there as well!”
Rob Long, a conservative Hollywood TV writer behind a TNT show called *Sullivan & Son, said the party has to accept that it’s been living in a fantasy world. “It’s like The Matrix,” he said. “You can continue to live in the dream world, or you can take the pill and we can unplug you and you can see that things are actually kind of bad.”
Conservatives, they felt, needed their own cultural voice—a Letterman, a Leno, an SNL, a 30 Rock—to compete with the overwhelming liberal dominance of the culture. As the Republican image stood today, said Lileks, “we’re the stupid people, we’re the yokels, we’re the dumb, we’re the racists, we’re the hicks, we’re against everything that’s hip and cool.”
Jonah Goldberg attempted a note of optimism, garnering hearty applause when he said conservative ideas were “still salable because, A, they’re correct. Two plus two is four. You have to believe that we’re going to be proven right by reality.”
In response, the moderator recounted the litany of dreary statistics from Reed and Rasmussen earlier that day. “So therefore we should give up and burn our passports and stay on this boat forever?” said Goldberg with real exasperation.
The crowd erupted in cheers.
We were circling Cuba. Kay from Old Greenwich was doing the backstroke in the Lido pool as cumulus clouds hung over the hazy green hills on the horizon line. A fat guy in sandals wandered by wearing a CLUB GITMO T-shirt. Steel-drum music was percolating through hidden speakers, and the Caribbean was so surreally blue it looked like a giant toilet-bowl puck had been thrown in to color it.
After two days, I was finding the *National Review cruisers to be generally courteous and warm, old-fashioned and good-mannered, and responsive to good manners, too. In prolonged conversation, none felt it appropriate to ask what I did for a living. When I did reveal I was from New York Magazine—from the bluest city in the country—I was first met with quizzical stares but then cordial acceptance. The non-Beltway cruisers were particularly curious about the man they would come to refer to as “the mole.” A few took the opportunity to grouse to me about their liberal children, who seemed to bring them genuine disappointment and confusion. Others simply enjoyed talking to somebody under 50. I would come to enjoy my conversations with a 90-year-old named Dick from Connecticut, a veteran of World War II, who would call me to his poolside table for help on the New York Times crossword. “A Palestinian political party that’s not Hamas or Hezbollah,” Dick asked.
“That’s it!” he wheezed. “I always joke that it rhymes with fatwa!”
At other times, things got a little too old-fashioned for comfort. I met a man near the railing who was there as a caregiver for a 70-year-old National Review cruiser from Palm Desert, California. He was gay and seemingly liberal and had come on the cruise only to push his boss around in a wheelchair. As he smoked a cigarette, he recounted a conversation the two had about the ship’s largely Indonesian and Filipino staff.
BOSS: You notice none of the workers are white.
CAREGIVER: Except the managers upstairs.
BOSS: Well, that’s the way it should be.
There were, to be fair, two black *National Review cruisers, approximately three Indian-Americans, and two *Korean-Americans. The latter were John Yoo, the former Bush Administration lawyer who helped formulate its theory on torture, and his mom. “My mother is a geriatric psychiatrist,” he noted during a panel, eliciting a burst of laughter from the silver-haired crowd before he could finish the punch line. “I thought after the election this could be really good for the family business.”
In person, Yoo was charming and funny, widely praised by his co-cruisers for having tangled successfully with Jon Stewart during his sit-down on The Daily Show three years ago. Yoo worried that the Republicans were too quick to blame each other, saying, “This is all out of Lord of the Flies and Karl Rove is Piggy and we’re supposed to all chase him around with spikes and throw him on a fire?”
After a break for cookies came the 4 p.m. panel, “The Media: How Deep in the Tank?” Lileks, the energetic Minnesotan, was apoplectic that the mainstream media castigated Michele Bachmann for suggesting without evidence that Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin’s had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Eventually, the subject turned to the right’s need to get outside its own media bubble, which had helped fan the fiction that it was going to win the election. Michael Walsh, a conservative writer, said Fox News was “incredibly tiresome” and needed to boot Sean Hannity. During the Q&A, a woman asked about her favorite on-air personality, Mike Huckabee. “He reminds me of Elmer Gantry,” said Walsh, referring to the con man played by Burt Lancaster in the 1960 film. “I don’t take anything he says seriously. He’s another person who should be off Fox, by the way.”
“I disagree with that!” a woman next to me yelled, storming down the aisle with her hand in the air. “Excuse me! Excuse me! I disagree with that!”
Just as she was going for the microphone to amplify her complaints, the panel moderator looked at his watch and declared: “I hate to end this party, but we have to be out of here, thank you very much!”
The last event before cocktails and dinner was a lecture by Deroy Murdock, the only black National Review speaker. It was a curious outlier on the agenda, titled “How the Music of Memphis and Motown Helped Bury Jim Crow,” and set in a smaller, more intimate venue midship. Murdock was wearing a red satin dinner jacket and a black bow tie, presumably to look like a Motown singer. About 50 people attended, sitting on white leather lounge chairs, and there was a Rolling Stones tongue logo on a screen behind him as he cued up “Brown Sugar” on the sound system.
Murdock got the all-white crowd clapping along, including the venerable neoconservative intellectuals Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, who smiled broadly.
“Brown Sugar! / How come it tastes so good?”
When the music faded, Murdock, in a studious tone, read from his prepared notes: “It’s only rock and roll, but we like it!”
In his reading of racism in America, Murdock highlighted Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who he said promoted segregation in 1936. “He, of course, went on to great fame and fortune afterward,” he observed.
The Democrats, explained Murdock, have been “very active in keeping black people down” from 1860 to … 2012. “Go ahead and applaud if you agree with that,” said Murdock.
The audience sat up and clapped hard.
Land ho! There were multiple Shore Excursions available to cruisers in the port of Ocho Rios, Jamaica, though many older cruisers I spoke with wouldn’t go ashore because of horror stories they’d heard about violence and robbery. For the intrepid there was the outing to a waterfall ($79.95), or lunch on an old Colonial plantation (“A Taste of Jamaica,” $99.95). A lot of people went for the plantation, which cruisers later described as rundown and serving bad food. “Jamaica is a dump!” complained Veronique Rodman, a spokeswoman for the American Enterprise Institute.
“It’s only good if you’re at a resort,” added the wife of one of the National Review columnists.
That night, Cal Thomas, a USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor, was the host of my table of eight. At an earlier panel, he’d suggested that his audience “starve the beast” of government by refusing to pay income taxes; but now his stage fire had waned, and he looked bored, peering around our table with half-lids, his hound-dog face propped in his hand. I sat next to a retired surgeon from California named Duane, who heralded the Dinesh D’Souza film 2016: Obama’s America as the definitive truth regarding Obama’s anti-Colonialist background, which now portended America’s inevitable slide into socialism. Thomas liked the movie but dismissed its impact on the election, saying it had preached to the converted and had “sourcing problems” besides. But Duane, who has thick glasses and a closely shorn flat-top, was undeterred, insisting it was relevant. “I disagree!” he spat.
This was a phenomenon that was common on the cruise—the conservative pundits and columnists from the National Review attempting to gently disinter their followers from unhelpful conservative propaganda. For people who believe in the truth of works like Dreams From My Real Father, a conspiracy-*theory documentary that argues that Obama’s real father was a communist propagandist who turned Obama into a socialist Manchurian Candidate, this could be difficult work.
As Thomas downed the rest of his drink, Duane said the only way out of the current quagmire is a “revolution,” citing the famous Thomas Jefferson line about watering the tree of liberty with blood from “time to time.”
What kind of revolution did he have in mind?
Duane’s eyes crinkled into a big smile. “You ever heard of guns?”
His wife sat up: “How do you like the veal?”
“It’s awful,” Duane growled, poking at it. “I can’t hardly chew it.”
The first thing you see when you step onto the dock on Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands, is a two-story Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffett’s chain restaurant, decorated in neon parrots.
The night before, I’d been invited to lunch with John O’Sullivan, a British columnist for the National Review who is white-haired and speaks in a compellingly slow and erudite Queen’s English, often about the dangers of “Islamists.” He lives in Alabama with his wife, Melissa, who has the lilting accent and winsome charm of a southern socialite. She asked me with genuine concern about the problem of Muslims owning all the taxi medallions in New York City. “How the hell did that happen?” she asked.
With six other cruisers, we ventured to a restaurant called Grand Old House, recommended to O’Sullivan by Richard Rahn, the supply-side economist who helped bolster the Caymans as a tax haven for people like Mitt Romney. It’s a Colonial-style restaurant that might make a good set for a movie about nineteenth-century plantation owners: a view of the Caribbean through white columns, complete with rattan furniture and slow-moving ceiling fans carved into the shape of palm leaves.
Over tuna tartare and caviar and a bottle of 2008 Byron Chardonnay, O’Sullivan, wearing a pink oxford and Wayfarers perched on the tip of his nose, discussed issues as diverse as modern slavery, Hispanic Catholicism, male prison rape, and the preservation of “the Anglosphere,” which he defined as the former British colonies “who use English as their common means of communication.”
During a discussion of Iran, a tall, jovial foreign-policy columnist named John Thomson was shouted down by everyone at the table for calling Barack Obama “an intelligent man.” “He’s not with us,” whispered a woman named Nancy from Key Biscayne.
I casually mentioned that the phrase “Anglosphere” was perhaps unfortunate given the right’s image problem as a majority white party. O’Sullivan agreed they might need a different word.
“We haven’t done our marketing that well,” conceded Thomson. “That was Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney messaged whiteness. That was one of his greatest failings. ‘I’m a white Anglo-Saxon.’ ”
Melissa O’Sullivan, the Alabaman wife of John, wasn’t buying the idea that Republicans had alienated minorities. “We’ve invited them to join us!” she insisted.
Susan from Princeton granted that the Republican Party is “lily white and it’s a problem and it is messaging and Mitt Romney screwed up royally.”
But Ms. O’Sullivan again took umbrage. As everyone went silent, she recalled a conference she attended in Australia in which a liberal nun (who “didn’t even have the decency to wear a habit”) criticized America for its “inner-city racism.” Offended, Ms. O’Sullivan recounted what she wished she’d said to this nun:
“Pardon me, madam, but I have been in your country of Australia for ten days and the only Aborigines I’ve seen have been drunk on the street, and at least if we were in my country they would be serving the drinks at this conference!”
Ms. O’Sullivan then warned against watering down the purity of the conservative agenda to placate minorities or, as she put it, rather succinctly, “the bastardization of the product.”
Under the shade of some palm trees, Ralph Reed took off his shirt and fed an orange to a giant iguana.
Day five, Friday afternoon, and we were on a white-sand beach in Honduras, biding our time until a boat would take us offshore to snorkel over the shipwreck. Even Reed, among the youngest people on the cruise, was in a way a figure from an earlier time. Rob Long, the right-wing Hollywood writer, told me the night before, over cocktails on the midship deck, “I like Ralph Reed, but he’s done.”
“We lost,” Long continued during a long interview over coffee later that week. “We are losers.”
Which meant they must necessarily compromise. The C-word I heard nowhere else onboard during this cruise, except from Long, the self-appointed *Cassandra who told the crowd the night before that “our operatives are incompetent and we live in a dream world.”
“That’s what losers do, they compromise,” Long told me as Freddie Mercury belted out “Somebody to Love” over the cafeteria sound system.
On Saturday morning, I found myself in a hot tub with Dorothy from Utah. Late seventies, short hair, nice tan, sparkly blue eyes. Her husband collapsed in the heat in Jamaica, and she was monitoring him while he ate breakfast under an umbrella. Dorothy voted for Romney and was so devastated when he lost that she spent the day after the election praying for America.
It was hard to lose. And losing didn’t always bring out the best in people. They were struggling to comprehend the rejection, to understand how it had come to this. As talk turned to her family, Dorothy lamented the misfortunes of her oldest son, who she said was stolen from her by “the seventies,” which was her code for drugs. She had grown up in the early fifties and was utterly bewildered by the sixties, ill-equipped to navigate the cultural upheaval. At 58, her son was now divorced and unemployed, living in various campsites, and she didn’t know who to blame. I saw tears on her cheeks and I put my hand on her shoulder. “I’m afraid,” she told me. “Write that. We’re scared to death.”
Indeed, that sense of fear was everywhere on the ship, fear of an impending debt crisis that would crush all fortunes, fear that the Anglo majority was now marginal for the first time in their adult lives, fear that the country the cruisers once knew had fully given way to something more … diverse, foreign, incomprehensible.
A steady downpour started in the afternoon as we motored through steel-gray waters back to Florida. Tomorrow would be a new gray dawn in America. Up in the Crow’s Nest, the rain pelted on the windows as Jonah Goldberg, having just finished a panel about the scurrilous designs of the left, slumped on a couch, loosened his tie, and sighed. He had won $200 at the craps table with John Yoo last night, but now he was tired and ready to go home.
“This is a more downbeat bunch this year,” he said. “We lost in 2008, but it was almost boisterous and fun. This, a little less so. People were dyspeptic.
“Their conception of what the country is about, they really were sure the country would reject Barack Obama,” he continued. “I do think it hits them hard. The fear I have, why this election stung, I think, Obama has successfully *de-ratified some of the Reagan revolution in a way that Clinton never could and didn’t even try to. That’s what freaks people out, that feeling in their gut, either Obama has changed the country, or the country has sufficiently changed that they don’t have a problem with Obama. That’s what eats at people.”
It was the last of the cocktail mixers on the Lido deck. The National Review speakers, including Rich Lowry, the magazine’s editor, who flew into the Caymans to join the cruise halfway through, seemed relieved to have it end. “We don’t do this for fun,” he admitted.
On the leeward side of the Nieuw *Amsterdam, John Yoo stood next to his mother, Sook Hee Yoo, a small, elegant Korean woman in black-framed glasses. She described herself as nonpolitical, an objective observer. And she had a diagnosis.
“To protect the ego, you have a defense mechanism: denial and projection,” she told me as her son leaned in to hear over the party din. “You deny your problem, saying it’s your fault and not mine. Instead of projection, blaming other people, we have to think of a positive solution. But I didn’t hear that yet.”
“They are still grieving,” she concluded as her son winced and began to break in, fearing she’d gone too far. “I hope not for more than six months. The grieving process should only be six months. If it goes on for more than six months, it could go into a major depression.”
Re: Reflections of a RepubliKlan Operative Who Left the Cult- Sept. 2011
With Barack Obama sworn in for a second term—the first president in either party since Ronald Reagan to be elected twice with popular majorities—the GOP is in jeopardy, the gravest since 1964, of ceasing to be a national party. The civil rights pageantry of the inauguration—Abraham Lincoln's Bible and Martin Luther King's, Justice Sonia Sotomayor's swearing in of Joe Biden, Beyoncé's slinky glamor, the verses read by the gay Cuban poet Richard Blanco—seemed not just an assertion of Democratic solidarity, but also a reminder of the GOP's ever-narrowing identity and of how long it has been in the making.
"Who needs Manhattan when we can get the electoral votes of eleven Southern states?" Kevin Phillips, the prophet of "the emerging Republican majority," asked in 1968, when he was piecing together Richard Nixon's electoral map. The eleven states, he meant, of the Old Confederacy. "Put those together with the Farm Belt and the Rocky Mountains, and we don't need the big cities. We don't even want them. Sure, Hubert [Humphrey] will carry Riverside Drive in November. La-de-dah. What will he do in Oklahoma?"
Forty-five years later, the GOP safely has Oklahoma, and Dixie, too. But Phillips's Sunbelt strategy was built for a different time, and a different America. Many have noted Mitt Romney's failure to collect a single vote in 91 precincts in New York City and 59 precincts in Philadelphia. More telling is his defeat in eleven more of the nation's 15 largest cities. Not just Chicago and Columbus, but also Indianapolis, San Diego, Houston, even Dallas—this last a reason the GOP fears that, within a generation Texas will become a swing state. Remove Texas from the vast, lightly populated Republican expanse west of the Mississippi, and the remaining 13 states yield fewer electoral votes than the West Coast triad of California, Oregon, and Washington. If those trends continue, the GOP could find itself unable to count on a single state that has as many as 20 electoral votes.
It won't do to blame it all on Romney. No doubt he was a weak candidate, but he was the best the party could muster, as the GOP's leaders insisted till the end, many of them convinced he would win, possibly in a landslide. Neither can Romney be blamed for the party's whiter-shade-of-pale legislative Rotary Club: the four Republicans among the record 20 women in the Senate, the absence of Republicans among the 42 African Americans in the House (and the GOP's absence as well among the six new members who are openly gay or lesbian). These are remarkable totals in a two-party system, and they reflect not only a failure of strategy or "outreach," but also a history of long-standing indifference, at times outright hostility, to the nation's diverse constituencies—blacks, women, Latinos, Asians, gays.
But that history, with its repeated instances of racialist political strategy dating back many decades, only partially accounts for the party's electoral woes. The true problem, as yet unaddressed by any Republican standard-bearer, originates in the ideology of modern conservatism. When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun's ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.
This is the politics of nullification, the doctrine, nearly as old as the republic itself, which holds that the states, singly or in concert, can defy federal actions by declaring them invalid or simply ignoring them. We hear the echoes of nullification in the venting of anti-government passions and also in campaigns to "starve government," curtail voter registration, repeal legislation, delegitimize presidents. There is a strong sectionalist bias in these efforts. They flourish in just the places Kevin Phillips identified as Republican strongholds—Plains, Mountain, but mainly Southern states, where change invites suspicion, especially when it seems invasive, and government is seen as an intrusive force. Yet those same resisters—most glaringly, Tea Partiers—cherish the entitlements and benefits provided by "Big Government." Their objections come when outsider groups ask for consideration, too. Even recent immigrants to this country sense the "hidden hand" of Calhoun's style of dissent, the extended lineage of rearguard politics, with its aggrieved call, heard so often today, "to take back America"—that is, to take America back to the "better" place it used to be. Today's conservatives have fully embraced this tradition, enshrining it as their own "Lost cause," redolent with the moral consolations of noble defeat.
In the 1950s, when the civil rights movement began, Republicans helped lead it. The president during this period, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was skeptical about intervening on behalf of black equality and, in his first campaign, courted segregationist officials like James F. Byrnes and Harry F. Byrd. But Eisenhower also "advocated the end of segregation in the armed forces and the District of Columbia and urged the lifting of black voter restrictions," Robert Fredrick Burk writes in The Eisenhower Administration and Black Civil Rights. It was Eisenhower, too, who appointed another Republican, his vanquished rival Earl Warren, to the Supreme Court, resulting in the Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed legalized segregation—a bolder step than many in either party were ready for when it came in 1954.
Yet the Eisenhower campaign also saw potential advantages in Brown—and a possible route, through the nation's cities, to recapturing the House, which they had lost in 1954. "GOP strategists regard this election as a period of maximum opportunity in their dream of shattering the Roosevelt coalition and regaining the allegiance of the Negroes," James Reston wrote in The New York Times. In 1956, the GOP improved its totals in black precincts by double digits in New York and Chicago, and made gains below the Mason-Dixon Line. Overall, Eisenhower received between 35 and 40 percent of the black vote, about 5 percentage points more than he did in 1952.
In late 1955, the Eisenhower administration began drafting a civil rights bill, with voting rights at its core. Its passage through Congress took almost two years, with intense debate on a provision authorizing federal judges to enforce voter rights from the bench, instead of leaving each case up to local (often all-white) juries. It was killed by Southern Democrats, who formed an alliance that included Senator John F. Kennedy, an avowed liberal eager to appease the Dixie senators who denied him the vice presidential nomination in 1956 and might thwart his presidential plans for 1960. The weakened bill that passed, in September 1957, established the federal Civil Rights Commission and added a Civil Rights Division to the Justice Department—far short of what many hoped for, yet "incomparably the most significant domestic action of any Congress in this century," according to The New York Timeseditorial page. Not one Republican senator voted against it. All 18 No's came from Democrats. "White southerners viewed the bill as Republican legislation," Joseph Crespino writes in his recent book, Strom Thurmond's America.
Then, within weeks, an authentic crisis arose. Arkansas's governor, Orval Faubus, defied a federal court order to desegregate Little Rock's Central High School, bringing in the National Guard to surround the school and block a group of black pupils from entering, while a shrieking mob threatened violence. Unable to compromise with Faubus, Eisenhower federalized the Guardsmen and also sent in 1,000 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division. For the first time since Reconstruction, U.S. government troops, armed with bayonets, "occupied" a state in the old Confederacy.
A Republican president and his party now stood at the forefront of civil rights in America. Yet within a few years, this advantage would be lost and the party would be defined thereafter by its resistance to civil rights. Why did this happen? The reason was a historical coincidence: Just as the civil rights movement became a national concern, movement conservatism was being born.
A cherished myth today, at least on the right, is that National Review (NR)arrived at a moment of widespread hostility toward conservatism. In fact, the opposite was true. Two brutally disruptive decades, the 1930s and 1940s, a time of extremist ideology and world war, had given way to the infant nuclear age and with it a universal longing for a politics of consolidation and stability. "In the thirties it was socialism that many American intellectuals adopted as their paper money. ... [I]n the fifties it seems that notes on conservatism are being printed in inflationary quantities," the British political theorist Bernard Crick wrote in July 1955. The "notes" included ambitious books by the "New Conservatives" Russell Kirk, Peter Viereck, and Clinton Rossiter, as well as important work by Leo Strauss (on "natural right") and the French conservative Bertrand de Jouvenel (on "power"). For most of these writers, conservatism was more a matter of disposition—a belief in order, tradition, the revival of humanist values—than of developing or sharpening a political program.
Some of the right's heroes supported civil rights—for instance, William Knowland, the Senate minority leader who had marshaled the GOP votes for the 1957 bill. NR's favorite politician, Knowland wrote the lead article—an attack on the Geneva summits—in its first issue, published in November 1955. And NReditors diligently promoted him for the presidency. For Knowland, beingboth anti-communist and pro–civil rights made sense, part of the "hearts and minds" campaign the United States was waging in the Third World. Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, had both warned that Little Rock would feed Soviet propaganda mills.
But the intellectuals at NR interpreted all this differently. William F. Buckley Jr. had strong libertarian leanings, as did many of his colleagues. Some had come to NRby way of its predecessor The Freeman, "a fortnightly for individualists." This seemed fertile ground for making the case that Southern blacks were being denied the rudimentary means for self-advancement owing to a state-contrived caste system. Buckley, in fact, supported the first important modern civil rights protest—the Montgomery bus boycott—on the principle that blacks were "exercising, in legitimate fashion, their right to protest whatever laws or customs they deem offensive." Buckley and NRwould make the same argument in defense of the student-led boycotts and sit-ins of 1960, "a wholly defensible—we go so far as to say wholly commendable—form of protest [and] a form of social assertiveness which we must understand, and can sympathize with."
This alone was a breakthrough of sorts. Both Buckley's parents came from the South, and he and his nine siblings were raised with "culturally Southern" attitudes. The family and its servants, some of them black, wintered in Camden, South Carolina, on an estate that had once belonged to Mary Chesnut, the great Civil War diarist. Buckley's father, in particular, was an ardent segregationist and was convinced blacks were inferior. Conscious of these attitudes, and of their prevalence on the right, Buckley avoided contact with racist organizations and counseled others to do the same. He also closely guarded NR's reputation. He was incensed when a Q&A with Richard Russell, the Georgia senator leading the fight against civil rights, which read like "a fanatical and highly subjective polemic against miscegenation," made it into print. And when Strom Thurmond, a friend of Buckley's father, jointly praised NRand The American Mercury—a right-wing monthly that included articles like "Quotations from the American Jewish Yearbook" and "Rothschilds and Rockefellers: Dedicated Monopolists"—Buckley beseeched him not to lump the two publications together, since the Mercuryhad"degenerated into an irresponsible anti-Semitic sheet and has considerably embarrassed conservatives who were once associated with it."
And yet when it came to discussing the concrete realities of race in America, NR had almost nothing to say, and the little NR said did not differ much from what was appearing in the Mercury. Other small-circulation journals, including The New Republic and The Nation, sent reporters to the South, commissioned articles from Southern journalists, and combed the local press, black and white, for up-to-date information on school desegregation campaigns, sit-in strikes, and protests. But none of these were covered or even seriously discussed in the country's most ambitious and high-minded conservative journal.
Its editors were instead clarifying and reiterating two objectives, rolling back both communism abroad and the New Deal at home. Every federal action that hinted of "statism"—Brown, Little Rock, even civil rights legislation—freshly imperiled liberty, even if undertaken on behalf of those who were plainly being denied it in the South. It was a new civil war, a struggle not "between the states" or even between the states and the federal government, but rather between autonomous individuals and a homogenizing liberalism. While many saw the government moving cautiously on civil rights—with the Supreme Court, Congress, and the executive each addressing issues as they emerged—NR's editors saw an interlocking pattern of state-enforced dogma.
"'Integration' and 'Communization' are, after all, pretty closely synonymous," one of the magazine's most eminent contributors, Richard Weaver, a Southern agrarian perched at the University of Chicago, wrote in July 1957, when the civil rights bill was being debated. From this perspective, the Little Rock Nine, far from personifying the hopes of a community, were instead the "pawns and guinea pigs" of liberal social experimenters. The actual conflicts were almost irrelevant. "Segregated schooling, in terms of the larger issues involved, is about as important as Jenkin's Ear," Buckley wrote in 1956. And the judicial enforcement provision in the original 1957 Civil Rights Act, which some saw as a practical necessity, was for NR's editors a potential "extension of unchecked federal power ... without precedent in our history or in that of any Anglo-Saxon nation since the decline of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings."
The movement had a voice, however strident. What it lacked was an organizing principle. In America, there was just one place where rigorously conservative theory could be found: the South. In the antebellum period, it had yielded a surprisingly rich and rigorous school of political argument.
The most brilliant figure in this "reactionary enlightenment" was John C. Calhoun, the South Carolina political giant. Vice president under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, he became the great philosophical defender of the South. He led the protest against the protective "Tariff of Abominations," which favored the industrial North over the agrarian South. Later, when the states divided bitterly over the issue of expanding slavery into the new western territories, he helped spur the conflict that led to the Civil War. Calhoun, "the Great Nullifier," was "Lincoln's deepest and most intransigent opponent," John Burt writes in his new book, Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism,"and it was with Calhoun that the issue was joined whether the United States is to be a liberal society, offering civil rights and possibly even political rights to all persons by virtue of their being human, or a merely republican society, offering procedural equality only to a handful of elite players."
Calhoun's innovation was to develop a radical theory of minority-interest democracy based on his mastery of the Constitution's quirky arithmetic, which often subordinated the will of the many to the settled prejudices of the few. At the time of the constitutional convention, the total population of the Union, as reported by the most recent census, was just under 3.5 million; yet, Calhoun pointed out, the four smallest states, "with a population of only 241,490, something more than the fourteenth part of the whole, could have defeated the ratification." In other words, "numerical" or "absolute majorities" were severely limited in the actions they could take—or impose on others—especially on questions that put sectional interests at odds with the "General Government." One of Calhoun's classic arguments, the Fort Hill Address (1831)—written at and named for his home—defended South Carolina's "Ordinance of Nullification" of the tariff on the principle that the Union was a confederation of equally sovereign states, each in effect its own nation, its autonomy codified in the Tenth Amendment. And since the Constitution was itself "a compact, to which each state is a party . . . the several States, or parties, have a right to judge of its infractions" and to exercise it through the "right of interposition" (a term he got from James Madison). "Be it called what it may—State-right, veto, nullification, or by any other name [it is] the fundamental principle of our system. ... [O]n its recognition depend the stability and safety of our political institutions." In sum, each state was free to override the federal government, because local and sectional imperatives outweighed national ones.
Today, Calhoun is often described as a kind of crank—and with some reason. He called slavery "a positive good" and ridiculed the Declaration's "all men are created equal." ("Taking the proposition literally ... there is not a word of truth in it.") But in the early cold war years, when so many intellectuals, left and right, rebelled against the numbing dictates of consensus and conformism, there was a Calhoun revival. He became "the philosophic darling of students of American political thought," Louis Hartz wrote in The Liberal Tradition in America, published in 1955. A liberal like the historian Richard Hofstadter was stimulated by his bold theories on class and labor ("the Marx of the master class"), and conservatives were drawn to his protest against encroaching big government. Calhoun, Russell Kirk wrote in The Conservative Mind(1953), was "the most resolute enemy of national consolidation and of omnicompetent democratic majorities" and had valiantly uncovered "the forbidding problem of the rights of individuals and groups menaced by the will of overbearing majorities." The Calhoun apostle James J. Kilpatrick, the editor of The Richmond News Leader, wrote a defense of segregation, The Sovereign States (1957), that had an epigraph from the Fort Hill Address and exhaustively catalogued examples of "interposition" dating back to the origins of the Republic. Kilpatrick repeated the exercise in an attack on the Little Rock intervention, published in NR.
For NR, Calhoun was the Ur-theorist of a burgeoning but outnumbered conservative movement, "the principal philosopher of the losing side," whose championing of the Tenth Amendment "may have the effect of shaking inchoate states-righters out of their opportunistic stupor" and give rise to a new politics.
In his most notorious editorial, "Why the South Must Prevail," Buckley drew on Calhoun's championing of the "concurrent voice" to defend voting restrictions since "the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically," even if it meant violating the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Buckley repeated the argument in his book Up From Liberalism(1959), suggesting that African Americans needed to be properly educated and trained before they were brought up to the level of the enfranchised whites who were holding them down. And just as Calhoun had defended the "positive good" of slavery, so Buckley defended Jim Crow as being born of "custom and tradition ... a whole set of deeply-rooted folkways and mores." As long as the South did "not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class," segregation was acceptable.
These early writings would be forgotten had they not formed the ideology that shaped a generation of conservative politicians, including Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Goldwater, the movement's first national leader, "was by no means the obvious man for the job," Rick Perlstein notes in his book Before the Storm. "He had gone to the 1952 convention as an Eisenhower delegate, had voted for a higher minimum wage and to extend Social Security, and had voted for the 1957 and 1960 civil rights bills." But then, partly under the influence of NR, Goldwater had become more ideological, a champion of states' rights, which he defended in terms that echoed the nullifying passions of the antebellum period. In 1959, he electrified an audience in Greenville, South Carolina, when he said the Brown decision, because it was "not based on law," ought "not be enforced by arms"—an overt reference to Little Rock. Goldwater's manifesto, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), written by Buckley's brother-in-law (and NRcolumnist) L. Brent Bozell, had chapters on both states' rights and civil rights, elevating the first above the second whenever they came into conflict: "I therefore support all efforts by the States, excluding violence of course, to preserve their rightful powers over education."
In July 1963, Goldwater joined with Dixie senators in attacking the Pentagon's newly announced policy of shunning segregated businesses located near military bases in the South. A year later, he joined the Dixie contingent again when he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed with a large bipartisan majority, including 27 out of 33 Senate Republicans. "It is at least conceivable that Goldwater would have welcomed an opportunity to vote with the majority," Richard Rovere wrote, in puzzlement, after the bill was passed. "But for Goldwater the opportunity had been all but foreclosed by Brent Bozell—or some other hand guided by the 'guiding hand'—in The Conscience of a Conservative. In that book, Goldwater allowed himself to be committed to a states'-rights position that Jefferson Davis could hardly have found acceptable."
By this time, Goldwater stood on the verge of the Republican presidential nomination, thanks to the work of campaign strategist F. Clifton White and NR's publisher, William A. Rusher. Together, they plotted a new Southern route to electoral victory—not by explicit race-baiting (which could be left to hard-core racist Democrats), but by high-minded appeals to affluent whites "in the southern cities and suburbs, where the tides of social change are tending to run fastest," as Rusher wrote in NR. The politics of defiance, tinged with nullification, might hold the seeds of an eventual majority.
But Goldwater was only one herald of a new racially driven politics in 1964. Another was the Democrat George Wallace, the Alabama governor who had become the voice of a white-supremacist populism. With his cry of "segregation now; segregation tomorrow; segregation forever" and his promise of "rebel" protest against "communistic amalgamation," Wallace entered Democratic primaries in Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin, and did shockingly well, especially in cities where there were inter-ethnic conflicts over schools and "fair housing," and where Wallace's promise to stand tall against what even liberals were calling "the Negro revolution" spoke directly to the anxieties of Northerners. When he ran again in 1968, this time on a third-party ticket (shades of Thurmond's Dixiecrats), he burnished his appeal with the "constitutional" language so favored by nullifiers and adopted by later GOP insurgencies.
Wallace captured five Southern states in 1968, and 13.5 percent of the popular vote, meaning Kevin Phillips's majority was an election away. Yet he presciently saw where it would come from: defecting Democrats. Whites "will desert their party in droves the minute it becomes a black party," he predicted. "Wallace is helping, too—in the long run." The axis of the realignment, based on the politics of nullification, was settling into place. "[W]atch us in [nineteen] seventy-two. Our tabulations and techniques will be perfected by then; we'll have four years to work on them, and all the resources of the federal government. I'd hate to be the opponent in that race." It was George McGovern, who absorbed one of the worst drubbings in history.
With this, Calhounism went into remission. Nixon, like Eisenhower before him, was neither nullifier nor rearguardist. True, he had appeased the right—energetically campaigning for Goldwater in 1964 when liberal Republicans had renounced him. But Nixon was an ambidextrous courter of all sections and factions. He nominated Southern judges to the Supreme Court and at the same time urged Northern unions to recruit black workers. Yet nullification didn't die. It found its new target in Nixon's policy innovations, which seemed to be advancing liberal heresy. Nixon's urban adviser, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, went so far as to say Nixon's intention was not to undo but outdothe Great Society. To an ideologue like Rusher, the GOP itself was now the enemy. Nixon had betrayed conservatives, operating from inside an establishment eager "to 'pay off' their minority-group allies with all sorts of cultural and economic goodies," including "posts in a burgeoning bureaucracy, admissions quotas in elite universities, welfare benefits of assorted kinds, quotas in the job market, etc." Rusher proposed a third party, suggesting as its tribune Ronald Reagan, who had a history of sympathy for Southern nullifiers. Early in his career, he had shared the stage with Faubus and other segregationists, and in 1980, he flew directly from the nominating convention to Philadelphia, Mississippi—where three civil rights workers had been slain in 1964. Reagan dismissed the sitting chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights,Arthur Flemming, who warned that the Reagan administration's handling of school desegregation cases reflected the doctrine of "separate but equal." There was a protest as well from state agencies. The chairmen of 33 of them signed a letter warning that Reagan had created a "dangerous deterioration in the Federal enforcement of civil rights."
The largest targets in these years were affirmative action programs. They had begun under Nixon with the support of some conservatives, including Buckley, who favored "preferential hiring" by businesses. So did Garry Wills. When he was at NR in the '60s, he had urged Goldwater to advocate such programs even if "some conservatives have cynically borrowed the very egalitarian professions they normally condemn in order to support a faceless 'equality' among those seeking jobs." The attack came from others on the right, the rising faction of neoconservatives, who denounced "affirmative discrimination." Liberal policymakers formed a "new class" of social engineers who had devised a "spoils system" that rigged "outcomes" and stigmatized and perhaps even harmed those who advanced through the system. This argument coincided with a new literature that revived the doctrine of black inferiority, genetic or cultural, and dominated the race debate in the 1980s and 1990s. But efforts by the Reagan administration to roll back affirmative action failed. And later attempts did, too. In 1995, Bob Dole, the GOP Senate leader, introduced legislation to end all federal affirmative action programs, only to drop the issue from his presidential campaign once polls showed that, while voters disliked "quotas" and "preferences," they supported the broader principle of inclusion and diversity, especially when they realized its beneficiaries included not only blacks but also women. Latinos, another growing population, were enjoying the advantages, too.
This was a conservative strategy built for an earlier moment, when a party could prosper by exploiting the anxieties of white America. But many now were adjusting to the reality of a diverse society, multicultural and multiracial. Modernity could not be nullified. Some Republicans recognized this. George W. Bush, for one. Conservatives who were dismayed by Romney's dismal showing with Latinos (27 percent) remember the 40 percent share of the Latino vote Bush won in 2004 and suggest that a more humane immigration policy might close the gap. But Bush's success with Hispanic voters grew out of an established record of sympathy dating back to his Texas governorship, when he proposed an innovative tax plan, including a levy on "professional partnerships" (doctors, lawyers, accountants, and more) that would have increased financing for the state's poorest (in most cases Latino) school districts. The plan was squelched by his own party, just as Bush's attempt at an amnesty program was squelched by it in 2007.
Bush, of course, was unable to build the "permanent Republican majority" envisioned by Karl Rove. Yet, it is startling how little he managed to move the rhetoric and worldview of his party, which remains largely stuck where it was a generation ago or longer. Romney seldom addressed black audiences during the campaign. When he did venture into the inner city, meeting with teachers and administrators at a charter school in Philadelphia, he suggested they instruct students in the virtues of "getting married and having families where there's a mom and a dad together. ... That's critical down the road for those that are already in a setting where they don't have two parents." Paul Ryan said much the same thing: "The best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity ... to help teach people good discipline, good character."
Character, he presumably meant, like that exhibited by Republican delegates in Tampa, who thrilled to the refrain "We built it"—with the identity of the "we" all too visible to TV audiences—just as the inimical "they" were being targeted by a spurious campaign to pass voter-identification laws, a throwback to Jim Crow. Romney's disparagements of the "47 percent" and his postmortem assessment that Obama won because of the "gifts" he had lavished on blacks, young people, and women also repeat the dogma of an earlier time.
This remains the perspective of the American right, only today the minority of "concurrent voices" speak in the bitter tones of denial, as modernization and egalitarianism go forward. In retreat, the nullifying spirit has been revived as a form of governance—or, more accurately, anti-governance. Its stronghold is the Tea Party–inflected House of Representatives, whose nullifiers would plunge us all over the "fiscal cliff." We see it too in continuing challenges to "Obamacare," even after it was validated by the Roberts Court. And we see it as well in Senator Rand Paul's promise to "nullify anything the president does" to impose new gun controls. Each is presented not as a practical attempt to find a better answer, but as a "Constitutional" demand for restoration of the nation to its hallowed prior self. It is not a coincidence that the resurgence of nullification is happening while our first African American president is in office.
"American politics," Wills wrote in 1975, "is the South's revenge for the Civil War." He was referring to the rise of Southern and Sunbelt figures—the later ones would include Jimmy Carter, Reagan, Bill Clinton, and the two Bushes—whose dominance of presidential politics ended only with Obama's election in 2008. However, the two parties dealt with race differently. Carter and Clinton had pro–civil rights histories and directly courted black voters. But as the GOP continued remolding itself into a Southern party—led in the '90s by the Georgian Newt Gingrich and by the Texans Dick Armey and Tom DeLay—it resorted to an overtly nullifying politics: The rise of the Senate veto as a routine obstructionist tool, Jesse Helms's warning that Clinton "better have a bodyguard" if he ever traveled to North Carolina, the first protracted clashes over the debt ceiling, Gingrich's threat to withhold disaster relief, the government shutdown, Clinton's impeachment despite public disapproval of the trial. All this, moreover, seemed to reflect, or at least parallel, extremism in the wider culture often saturated in racism: Let's not forget Minutemen and Aryan Nation militias, nor the "anti-government" terrorist Timothy McVeigh, whom the FBI linked to white supremacists. The war on government—and against agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—had become a metaphor for the broader "culture wars," one reason that the GOP's dwindling base is now at odds with the "absolute majority" on issues like gun control and same-sex marriage.
Reformers in the GOP insist that this course can be reversed with more intensive outreach efforts, better recruitment of minority candidates, and an immigration compromise. And a new cast of GOP leaders—Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio—have become national favorites. But each remains tethered to movement ideology. At the recent National Review Institute conference in Washington, Cruz even urged a "partial government shutdown," recalling the glory years of the '90s, but downplaying its destructive outcome.
Denial has always been the basis of a nullifying politics. Calhoun, too, knew he was on the losing side. The arithmetic he studied most closely was the growing tally of new free territories. Eventually, they would become states, and there would be sufficient "absolute" numbers in Congress to abolish slavery. A century later, history pushed forward again. Nonetheless, conservatives, giving birth to their movement, chose to ignore these realities and to side with "the South."
Race will always be a complex issue in America. There is no total cleansing of an original sin. But the old polarizing politics is a spent force. The image of the "angry black man" still purveyed by sensationalists such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D'Souza is anachronistic today, when blacks and even Muslims, the most conspicuous of "outsider" groups, profess optimism about America and their place in it. A politics of frustration and rage remains, but it is most evident within the GOP's dwindling base—its insurgents and anti-government crusaders, its "middle-aged white guys." They now form the party's one solid bloc, its agitated concurrent voice, struggling not only against the facts of demography, but also with the country's developing ideas of democracy and governance. We are left with the profound historical irony that the party of Lincoln—of the Gettysburg Address, with its reiteration of the Declaration's assertion of equality and its vision of a "new birth of freedom"—has found sustenance in Lincoln's principal intellectual and moral antagonist. It has become the party of Calhoun.