Hey Republicans, I’m Here for Ya.

NEW SLAUGHTERGod help me, but I almost feel sorry for them.

Last week the local GOP (or some variation thereof) held a panel up in a godforsaken suburb to get its collective head around the party’s very long list of problems. Needless to say, the presence of an incesstantly ranting, kvetching Tea Party blogger, one of Michele Bachmann’s “top” aides, a prospective Amy Klobuchar-fighter who couldn’t even beat Kurt Bills in the 2o12 primaries, Norm Coleman’s money man and a few others guaranteed nothing would be decided, other than that the Republican party both here in Minnesota and nationally will continue to be a farcical mess.

But we already knew that.

What that panel of the GOP’s best and brightest, all things being relative, needed was … me. As in a calm, rational, thoroughly biased voice saying, “Kids, let me tell it to you straight … .”

Oddly, I wasn’t invited. But since today we’re reading about Karl Rove’s latest strategy to reform the Republican “brand”, by (again) sucking millions of dollars from his Rolodex of robber baron chumps, it seems a good time to lay an effective solution out from a “reality based” perspective.

1: My good friend Sarah Janecek is right. (And I mean it about the “friend” part. Sarah is good peeps, her mid-range Republican delusions withstanding). If the GOP can’t agree on anything else, just get back to arguing about and campaigning on money. Everybody likes money. A lot of people think they understand how it works. Some of them are actually naive enough that they believe the same tax structures that prop up Wall St. banks and Bain Capital-like equity investors are also working for them. Never mind disabusing them of the reality of that one — that’s what liberals are for — just talk about money, which is another way of saying, “Lose the truly fruitcake social animus talk and the crowd that wants to hear it.” If it means a third-party challenge, that’s the hit you take when you’re in “rebuilding” mode.

2: Some how, some way, re-calibrate your primary system to block out the nut jobs. This shouldn’t be so tough, really. You’re Republicans for chrissake! What does representative democracy have to do with you? Just because the talk radio-stoked zealots swarm your caucus nights and stick you with the likes of Bachmann, Mary Franson, Cindy Pugh, Steve Drazkowski, Mike Parry, Allen Quist, etc., etc., and etc. some more, doesn’t mean you have to roll over and take it. Put up a damned fight! Rig the process. Or better yet, get rid of caucuses entirely, ditto your Tod Browning-like convention and push everything to the primary itself. If Rove, the Koch brothers and the other purses want to get serious about “reforming” your brand, let them slide cash to your sane(r) candidates.

3: Of course, both items #1 and #2 require that you actually take Bobby Jindal’s advice (which essentially echoes a popular line of thought from snickering liberals like me for the past 20 years or so) and “stop being stupid“. Within your bubble, where serious thinking wears the face of knee-jerk pandering/inciting bloggers, “top aides” for the most flagrantly uninformed, verbally reckless member of Congress and talk radio jocks, it’s easy to lose touch with what the 21st century is doing to Realityville, i.e. the actual world on the other side.

Just because I’m a great guy, here’s a quick rundown of your pet hot-button issues, stuff you’ve regarded as “essential to true conservatism” so long they’ve flattened bad enough in two consecutive presidential elections you’re now holding public forums to figure out what ran you over.

Immigration. (Get on board now and slap down the troglodyte factor shrieking “amnesty” just because Rush Limbaugh says so).

Women’s issues. (I hate to break it to you, but there are a lot of women of child-bearing age who look at your star chambers of silver-haired, Cotton Mather-style men and say to themselves, “You have got to be kidding me.” On the boy-girl thing, it ain’t 1950 anymore.)

Guns. (Go ahead, oppose the assault weapons ban on the ground that women home alone need a modern weapon with real stopping power when the ATF/CIA/FBI knocks down their door. You’ll look and sound like paranoid bag men for the NRA/gun manufacturers. But at least concede the universal background check. Unless of course you do think psychotics deserve “constitutional protection” just like you and me. Or at least me.)

Science. (It’s another word for reality. Your brand is in the toilet because it is 90% substance-free “branding” rhetoric and 10% response to facts. Human-caused climate change is an indisputable fact. Stem cell research holds untold possibilities for improving the human condition. At least get out of the damned way.)

Religion. (A private matter. Not something you inflict on anyone else for any reason, no matter what your well-remunerated mega-church pastors are telling you at your weekly hi-tech snake-handling sessions. Put another way — get out of voters’ personal lives. Or at least ask yourselves why you can’t?)

4: Get new leaders. The witches’ brew of talk jocks, bloggers and self-serving con men (Rove, Romney) have not and are not doing you any favors. You guys love dynasties. Even if you don’t want him to run for anything, take more advice from Jeb Bush than Eric Cantor, any/all of the Tea Party Patriot “spokesmen” (most paid off via Citizens United cash anyway), Pat Robertson, Jim DeMint, Jim Inhofe. Or, if you can’t stomach Bush, try Chris Christie. At least he’s savvy enough to know he’d get laughed out of the Bada Bing if he ever talked about “legitimate rape”.

5: And finally, actually do something. Drive some kind of legislation that is unequivocally beneficial to middle class voters. Your brand today is pretty much all about opposition. The only things you appear to care about are transparent sops to the Bain Capitals of the world (a money issue I admit, but one you can finesse with the usual bullshit) and the fears of aging white men. You may have missed this part in your “Marketing 5.0” seminars, but the key to successful marketing is to first … have a quality product.

The Conscious Strategy of “Legitimate Rape”.

The first thing that crossed my alleged mind when I heard about Todd Akin’s shall we say, remarkable abuse of biological science, common decency and common sense, was that “This is no surprise to the crowd that put him where he is.”

No one rises to the party nomination for U.S. Senator without being thoroughly vetted, not so much by “average voters” as by well-connected, usually deep-pocketed party elders … and their minders in the national party. Particularly in Missouri this  year.

As has been exhaustively repeated the incumbent Democrat, Claire McCaskill, is pretty much a sitting duck. All the Republicans really had to do is put up someone who bathed regularly and knew the difference between a fork and a spoon to guarantee a win … and take a giant step closer to making Mitch McConnell Majority Leader.

Maybe Akin performs his ablutions regularly, but the fundamentals of what is real and what is — as The Great and Wonderful Austin said in the previous post — medieval religious hysteria kind of escape him. He’s a modern troglodyte, but by strategic design he has plenty of company.

The like of Todd Akin is very much what today’s modern Republican elders, overseers, party professionals and strategists are regularly endorsing and financing.. I’m certain Akin saying what he believes in his out-loud voice disappointed them, but it sure as hell didn’t surprise them, if for no other reason than what Akin believes about gynecological function is essentially no different from what, I strongly suspect, dozens of other “true conservatives” currently taking up space in Congress also believe.

Do the names of Steve King, Louie Gohmert, Bob Aderholt, Jeff Flake, John Boozman, Brian Bilbray, Gary Miller, Sand Adams, Allan West, Paul Broun, Raul Labrador, Joe Walsh, Dan Burton … and Michele Bachmann to name just a few, mean anything to you? While most know better than to say — out loud and on TV — what Akin said, what do you think those deep thinkers discuss privately when it comes to “legitimate” or, (equally absurd and offensive) “forcible rape”?

It as been pointed out that the Tea Party’s intellectual leader, Paul Ryan, co-authored with the bumbling Mr. Akin, the short-lived legislation deploying the term “forcible rape”, (as opposed to, I don’t know, the kind where the woman touches up her lipstick and gives the drunken thug her best “come hither” look). Ryan’s purpose in exploiting that term — i.e. pandering to the most superstitious, know-nothing instincts of his base — was to blunt an imagined scheme by Planned Parenthood to qualify all teen pregnancies as statutory rape … and have taxpayers pay for abortions.

It’s a “moral” thing with this crowd, you understand. Not that they’ve added anything to the prosecution of the characters who melted down the world economy.

With Karl Rove pulling his money out of Mr. Akin’s campaign, I see no way the pathetic doof survives. But the modern GOP has a deep well of like-minded “talent”. The party hierarchy has actively recruited and sponsored a small army of mini Torquemadas, people of often astonishing ignorance but reliable recklessness who can be counted on to advance the hierarchy’s primary objective — reduced tax rates for themselves — while creating no end of collateral damage along the way.

The lesson the party minders will take away from Mr. Akin’s “lapse” is a fresh set of talking points of “what to never say in public”.


Harry Reid Plays The Lying Game

Like most, I doubt that Harry Reid actually has the goods on Mitt Romney’s taxes. He of course says a source at Romney’s Bain Capital told him Mittens didn’t pay a dime’s worth of taxes for a decade. While a multi-multi-millionaire like Romney avoiding all federal taxation is far from improbable — just look at General Electric — the issue is whether Reid actually knows this, or whether, as most think, he’s bluffing to force Romney to release the tax forms and prove him wrong.

Now, old Harry many not be many things, among them a silky slick media operator. The guy is more dogged than artful. But he must have decided he’ll risk the hit if Romney ever does release his tax information — for a decade, not just an estimate for the past quarter — and proves that, yes, by god, he did pay as much in total taxes as a Target check-out clerk. So take that Harry, you slimy liar!

But of course the controversy over Reid’s claim — which he has shamelessly repeated — is that it is proof of the rancid gutter politics regularly practiced by liberals (Harry Reid raging liberal … ) against righteous defenders of America’s moral core, which is to say entrepreneurial, job-creating patriots like Romney and Karl Rove and … well, you know the suspect line-up as well as I do. Even Jon Stewart ripped Reid, as has every conservative blogger who hasn’t had their electricity turned off for non-payment.

Stewart and other non-echo chamber ideologues were disappointed that so prominent a figure in the dwindling adult caucus of Congress had descended to the same level of well, lying your ass off for headlines and cash, as the … entire GOP presidential field and all their SuperPAC managers. “Liberals”, Stewart implied, are supposed to be playing a more noble game.

This dichotomy of standards is of course germane to us here at The Same Rowdy Crowd as we furiously make notes for Wednesday’s inaugural book club. (Scroll down for details). It will be a (polite and collegial) discussion of “It’s Even Worse Than It looks”, Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann’s unequivocating indictment of the reckless insurgent games today’s conservative movement regularly plays with the truth and the function of government. (Warning: Please arrive on time and with your cell phones off. The Great and Wonderful Austin will deduct full points for tardiness and texting during his lecture.)

The problem that Reid’s ploy creates for anyone who still has some respect for truth, is that it offers ideal cover for journalists — who, in tough economic times, have an aversion to over-playing “the truth thing”. With Reid most likely lying/bullshitting for tactical effect, journalists can exhale and repeat with great confidence that, “You see, both sides are doing it.”

A quick personal story. A few weeks ago an otherwise fine local TV station asked me to come out and regale their audience with my deep thoughts on a matter of grave importance. I forget now what the hook was, but the questioning went immediately to the poisonous atmosphere in politics today with both sides saying so many silly and terrible things about each other. Having been through the punditry thing a time or two I understood that my role was to play some kind of Solomonic Master of Balance, commiserating with the anchor about the squalid state of affairs, decrying the overall debasement of civil discourse and wringing hands over the unlikelihood of anything changing … at least until the asteroid strikes.

But I wasn’t into it that day, and I had just finished reading a chunk of Ornstein and Mann’s book. So, instead of the ritual commiseration, I suggested to the anchor that if journalists’ concern about the corrosive effect of so much lying on American life was as sincere as they made it seem, they held in their hands a fairly simple mitigator … which would be … the truth. Point being, instead of “reporting” the latest asinine tactical attack by one side or the other as though that was the beginning and end of the story, take on as a responsibility, and a journalistic standard, ascertaining what was true and reporting both the facts of any claim AND the name of the person or group filling the airwaves with flagrant falsehoods. I also added, for effect, that while it is true both sides engage in eye-rolling “untruth”, the fact is the modern Republican party engages in it far … far …more often and egregiously than liberals, and until an editorial decision is made to ID the worst perpetrators and make them own their deceits, nothing much is going to change.

The anchor’s response to this was to warn against a descent into “opinion journalism”. Mine to that was that it was the anti-thesis of “opinion” if it was factually accurate.

When the five-minute interview ended I told the young producer, “I’ll be interested to see how much of that makes the final cut”, and of course very little did. Post-editing, I was reduced to another concerned, commiserating hand-wringer lamenting the debased nature of America’s public dialogue. That being the narrative that fits most comfortably with commercial news.

Clint Eastwood: Squint-eyed liberal.

It was a bit loud at the father-son Super Bowl party my oldest son threw. But despite the din of clanking bottles, lips smacking on smoked ribs and bawdy references no mother should ever hear, I was startled to see Dirty Harry, former Republican mayor of Carmel, squint into the camera and tell 113 million fans that Detroit/America was bouncing back up off the mat and the world was going to hear “our engines roar” again.

Arthur Bryant super sauce dribbling off my chin, I thought, “Old Clint is making a pro bail-out statement of fact … the usual suspects aren’t going to like this.” And indeed they haven’t. The modern conservative intelligentsia, the “movement’s” deepest thinkers, talk radio jockeys, bloggers like Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity and empire-builder, Karl Rove — all rushed to their nearest microphone to denounce the ad, while being careful not to tar so noted, an old-school, crusty Republican icon as Clint Eastwood.

I am forever amazed at the morbid, faithless messaging of conservative tacticians. The image of America they sell is constantly one where change of any kind, even in the face of obvious failure, equals doom, often full-out apocalyptic doom. Pick an issue. Adequate health coverage for everyone = total government control of whether grannie lives or dies. Full disclosure of SuperPAC funding = socialist assault on the God-given Constitutional freedom to slide hundreds of millions of dollars to whomever without having to admit anything publicly, not to mention suffering the high likelihood that with public disclosure (something the rubes giving $50 have to accept) comes inevitable, harrowing harrassment. From who? From, take your pick, “jack booted union thugs”, Red Hat ladies and/or Occupy protestors who will call donors mean names from the streets beneath their Wall Street office towers.

But that’s their game. Fatalism, and selling the belief that nothing about a vibrant 21st century culture and economy can change without risking (hell, guaranteeing) collapse of everything we hold true and dear is quintessential politics uber alles, the only game and idea modern conservatives really have. (I await an example of an actual policy proposal from Mittens Romney). The status quo, a fossil fuel dependent economy and a massively lobbied tax system works for them, ergo it works for the Tea Party organizer living in a trailer in beautiful exurban Pahrump, Nevada. Everyone wins, by the operative cognoscenti winning most.

The irony of Clint Eastwood lending his Hollywood tough guy gravitas to the message, from Chrysler, which did work a few shots of its better, but still not great, cars into the spot is that he embodies in so many ways the Republican mind set of yore. Iconoclastic guys like Eastwood are the ones the Roves, Malkins, Hannitys and Limbaughs have muzzled and pushed aside in their fantastically lucrative drive to convince the fearful — those who see in Barack Obama “the face of the future they fear” — that health insurance and financial reform are the matches that light the fuse of the Mayan apocalypse.

You don’t turn to Eastwood (or Brad Pitt for that matter) for your deep thinking on socio-political matters. But the truth is anyone who has become successful in the snakepit business of Hollywood knows a thing or hundred about negotiating, collaboration, motivation and bouncing back from the occasional hammering.

Rove et al are rightfully afraid (that word again) that too many Americans will accept the meme that the auto industry bail-outs succeeded. Much as they continue to sell (mostly at rallies with their choir) that all the bail-outs, especially those that maintained a semblance of union authority, failed miserably. Old school characters like Eastwood, with commendable skepticism and disdain for political messaging of all stripes, prefer the more Darwinian approach to human resilience. Namely, that if something worked, it worked. Accept it gratefully and live to prosper.

In modern conservatism’s hyper-partisan fantasy land where the only viable truth is what destroys the opposition, there is no such thing as conceding any fact, even one that put legs back under the “salt of the earth” “real Americans” all their flag-waving messaging purports to care so much about. An outcome for the new school Republican party, which it sounds like ol’ Clint finds as tedious as your average hysterical lefty, is never successful unless and until the check is in the bank.





Go Mittens, Go.

Post-Iowa the factoid that flashed more red and brighter than every other was this: Turn-out was barely 5% greater than four years ago. Call me crazy but I can make the argument that the press and pundit corps — always in need of something to cover and gas on about — is far more interested in the GOP primary circus than the Republicans themselves. After over a year of visits and six solid months of freak show mania, not to mention the $10-plus million Mittens Romney and Rick Perry alone dropped on Iowa media, the so-called rank and file, (in actuality the semi- and totally batshit) couldn’t muster any more anger, rage and enthusiasm than 6000 more people — out of 608,000 registered Republicans. Call it a “record turn-out” if you’re into the whole hype thing. But the percentages tell a much different story.

Since last Tuesday we’ve heard (too much) about the “Rick Santorum surge”, a sudden frothing movement which in the end presents a very odd man as viable competition for Mittens and a credible candidate for … President of the United States.

Please. Neither Santorum nor anyone else is going to get anywhere close to Romney and the nomination. As Robert Reich blogged today, Romney is if nothing else, an avatar for Citizens United.  In a moment when the imbalance of wealth and influence is more vivid than any time in maybe 100 years the Republicans are moving inexorably toward another very odd guy — palpably twitchy in his own skin — who is the walking talking embodiment of “the 1%ers”. Taken further, if the Democrats want to frame the campaign as a referendum on how Republicans have responded to the beat-down of the middle-class over the past decade they could not have invented a candidate more perfect than my guy, Mittens. (My nephew in Denver uses “Mittens”. I like it. It suggests cossetting and protection against harsh elements … with a dash of parental supervision.)

You want a sense of how “odd”? Read this live-on-the-plane report from The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.

The divide between Santorum’s social conservative crowd and Romney’s “he might be able to beat Obama” crowd is stark … deep and wide. But the social conservatives, the anti-gay, you’ll-be-marrying-turtles, or going all “man on dog” and maybe polygamist to boot bunch has no standing in Romney’s Citizens United Super PAC wonderland. Santorum’s Biblically-directed tinfoil hat brigade wouldn’t even recognize Romney’s $500k per pop hedge fund Super PAC-ers as being of the same species … and vice versa.

This of course is old news. The inevitability of Romney has been established for months, despite all the bovine bloviation on cable TV. Likewise the stunning lack of enthusiasm for Mittens.

But as this thing gets serious (post the comedy candidates like Bachmann, Cain, Trump, Palin and, hell, Rick Perry) we are getting a much better feel for … the terms of the choice.

Despite three solid years of hyperbolic messaging not even the Republican base is convinced enough that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim anti-christ to drop everything and spend two hours with their like-minded neighbors voting to stop the apocalypse. More significantly, with the economy showing some actual green shoots (Mitch McConnell has to get back to D.C. and stamp that crap out ASAP!) in terms of manufacturing and employment, Obama has every good reason to double down on, as I say, a referendum on the Republican Congress … the Congress that out-nothinged the Do Nothing Congress of Harry Truman’s era … at a time when more middle class voters than ever expected it to do something … other than obstruct and play sophomoric procedural games.

I say again; clear, visible, bona fide support for the plight and interests of the middle class will be the crux of the choice. Who can make the most plausible case that they’ve done everything they can?

Romney, though not a member of Congress, is a Central Casting caricature of the class that owns Congress. I see Karl Rove is delighted to see Romney set up so well. Rove, now arguably the country’s premier Super PAC salesman has to regard a Romney presidency as a kind of restoration for him and the whole crowd of hedgie-cronies who installed and sock-puppeted George W. Bush for eight years.

This particular choice, Obama (with his billions for Super PAC) or Romney presumes that the Republican social conservatives will allow themselves to be stuffed back into their sound-proof kennels, as they are every election cycle when the Republican money machine has finished exploiting them. Given Rick Santorum’s absolute fealty to the K Street powers that restored him to an upright and lucrative position after being destroyed in his Pennsylvania reelection bid, I can’t see him playing spearchucker for a third party.

Ron Paul, 76 years old and figuring he’s riding the biggest wave he’s ever going to get, is a whole other story. The social conservatives appear to be leery of the geezerly old doctor. Legalize heroin!?  But he has enough semi-anarchic, pot-loving, middle class college kids willing to rattle cages for him that he might just say, “WTF? It’s now or never!” (Lacking Paul’s fans — 21% — the Iowa turn-out would have been a complete face-plant for the party.)

At which point the geezerly doctor will get a call from one of Mittens’ and Karl Rove’s hedge fund guys offering to pay off all his campaign debts if he changes his mind … for health reasons, you understand, or to spend more time with his family.

Why Didn’t McClellan Speak Up?

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s description of his role in the Bush Administration is illustrative of a fundamental fault line in the larger PR world.

One one side of the fault line, some PR practitioners and clients view PR people as serving a very passive, tactical role. They view PR people almost like transcriptionists, who dutifully record their bosses’ thoughts as is, adding only a dose of grammar and non-substantive word-smithing to make their thoughts sound a bit better before pulling all the tactical levers necessary to convey the bosses’ viewpoints to the world. These PR people are executive mouthpieces, not executive partners.

On the other side of the fault line, some PR practitioners and clients view PR people as playing a more active, strategic role. These strategic PR counselors don’t just put lipstick on the pig. They stand up and say, “Hey wait a minute, this is a pig and we need to change that because lipstick won’t hide its pigness.” And they say it in real time, not at memoir time. And they walk away if they are routinely ignored.

Scott McClellan apparently didn’t view himself as a strategic counselor to President Bush, or the Bush team didn’t grant him enough access to allow him to do play that role. For instance, from what I’ve heard in recent McClellan interviews, it doesn’t appear McClellan ever said anything like: “Mr. President, you need to be on the ground in New Orleans now, or you will look aloof and disengaged, and you deserve better.”

In fact, from what White House uber-puppeteer Karl Rove said yesterday, McClellan didn’t offer such advice because he wasn’t even in the critical decisionmaking meetings on the issue. In short, McClellan apparently was a mighty high priced transcriptionist, who only turned into a strategic counselor years later when he sat down to peck out his memoir.

– Loveland

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