Friday, October 29, 2010

A Short and Clear Guide to What a Midterm Vote Really Means

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

It seems that Tea Party-dominated Republicans are going to make gains in the midterm elections on Tuesday. Prognosticators from Nate Silver to the Huffington Post are forecasting the likelihood of a GOP takeover of the House and a very closely divided Senate.

The president's party traditionally loses seats in the next midterm election, and with unemployment pushing double digits, it is not surprising that Republicans are faring well (despite the fact that the current economic problems resulted from the policies of a Republican president and Republican congress). But there are two factors that make this midterm election especially vexing for those of us who think a Tea Party/Republican surge is bad for the country: Much of the anti-Democratic sentiment is based on lies about health care (Sharron Angle is still pushing the death panel lie) and stimulus, and the Republicans' gains are being fueled by a post-Citizens United flood of corporate money. (Democratic candidates actually had more money in donations than their Republican counterparts this election season, but cash from interest groups backed by people like Karl Rove has swamped the Democrats, flooding the airwaves with attack ads.)

So, with the midterms days away, I wanted to make it crystal clear what this election is really about. When you pull a lever on Tuesday, you may think you are voting for one candidate or against another, but, in the big picture, the vote won't be for a person. Instead, whether you like it or not, you will be voting based on these opposing principles:

1) What is best for corporations and the wealthiest one percent v. what is best for the vast majority of Americans. Wealthy donors like the Koch brothers aren't pouring millions of dollars into this election because they won't be benefited by the results (nor because Republicans won't be indebted to them). Tea Party/Republican candidates have supported a massive tax cut for the wealthy, even if it adds to the deficit. They have also promised millions of dollars in spending cuts, even as they won't identify what programs they would cut. Suffice it to say that the spending reductions won't hurt the Koch brothers, but they will hurt lower- and middle-class Americans.

Before voting, ask yourself this simple question: Do you want to support and affirm the flood of money going to Republican candidates from the likes of Rove, the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce, none of whom rank what is best for the majority of Americans high on their list of priorities?

So if you vote for a GOP candidate, and he or she wins, you will get a politician who is looking out for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, but not for the rest of us. (I discussed this issue in more depth here.)

2) Extremism v. mainstream American policies. This is not your father's Republican party running on Tuesday. This new GOP has been taken over by the Tea Party, whose out-of-the-mainstream views are so far to the right, they are simply un-American. Many of them want to abolish the Department of Education and believe that basic, long-running, established, essential programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance are unconstitutional. (I ran down the views of 10 high-profile Tea Party/Republican hopefuls here.) They are prone to outrageous statements, like Angle claiming that Muslim law is taking hold in American cities, Ken Buck supporting banning IUDs and birth control pills, and Christine O'Donnell lying about the president's student loan program. They have talked of repealing the 14th and 17th Amendments.

In short, this is not just about deficits, taxes and spending. If the real policies of the Tea Party/Republicans were actually enacted, a vast majority of Americans would be outraged.

3) Going back to the policies of George W. Bush v. not going back to the policies of George W. Bush. The Democrats have had less than two years to try and dig the country out of the hole left to them by Bush. While it is not fair to think that the economic mess could be fixed quickly (especially in the face of all-out obstructionism by the GOP), it is absolutely fair, in light of the current sagging economy, for the opposition to offer another option, an alternative way to put people back to work. Only, the GOP is not doing that.

What is the Tea Party/Republican plan to jump-start the economy? Tax cuts for the rich and less government regulation. Sound familiar? It should, because these were the two hallmarks of the Busch economic policy, which led to slow job growth (compared to the decade before), the largest income disparity between the wealthy and middle class since the Great Depression, and, eventually, a full-on recession. (Remember, even though the stock market plunge that accompanied the financial crisis wiped out big chunks of Americans' retirement accounts, Bush still believes that not privatizing Social Security was his biggest failure as president. The ignorance and myopia of that statement is astounding, especially given the epic failure of his economic and foreign policies.)

The Bush economic policies were clinically effective in redirecting money from the lower- and middle-classes to the wealthy. A vote for the Tea Party/Republicans on Tuesday is a vote to re-institute those policies.

4) Ignorance and inexperience v. intelligence and ability. I admit to being a fan of 1970s punk music, which relished the musicians' lack of technical proficiency. But while I'm fine with a less-than-talented guitarist hammering out chords in a rock and roll song (replacing technical skill with passion), I expect more from the people who run our government. The current crop of Tea Party/Republicans seem to revel in ignorance the way the punk guitarists flaunted their lack of ability. They toss out words like "elitist" in an effort to make a virtue of their lack of knowledge and/or education. We all got a laugh when O'Donnell revealed in a debate that she didn't know what was in the First Amendment, but it is outrageous that someone running for the U.S. Senate doesn't have that basic knowledge at her disposal

Similarly, Wisconsin Republican senate candidate Ron Johnson has an ad that demonizes senators for being lawyers, which means that he is complaining that the members of a law-making body are experts on the law.

Don't fall for the spin. Intelligence, education, knowledge and competence are good qualities, contrary to what the Tea Party/Republicans would have you think. (It's amazing such a statement even has to be written.)

The Bush years were a lesson in the perils of willful ignorance. With so many problems facing the country, we can't afford to let the ignorant and incompetent try and fix things.

In the end, the midterm elections on Tuesday are really about four basic questions:

1) Do you support corporations and the wealthiest one percent over the rest of us?

2) Do you support far-right policies that are way out of the American mainstream?

3) Do you want to go back to the economic policies of George W. Bush?

4) Do you support ignorance and lack of qualification?

If you answer "yes" to these questions, then, by all means, cast your ballot for Tea Party/Republicans. But if you believe in what's best for all of us, and you want to reject extremism, ignorance, Bush's economic policies, and the takeover of our elections by Rove, the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce, than you might not want to vote for the GOP.

Voter anger may be justified, but on Wednesday morning, we will have to live with the votes cast on Tuesday. And we will all be better off if those votes don't come for the Tea Party-dominated GOP.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Tea Party All-Stars: The Worst of Extreme GOP Midterm Candidates

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

Noted football coach Bill Parcells once said, "You are what your record says you are."

Parcells' quote jumped into my mind when I was thinking about the slate of Tea Party-influenced Republicans running in November. I feel like we've become immune to the stories about the extreme and, sometimes, downright delusional things they've said, since they've come in a steady stream over the past several months. But if you step back and look at the group as a whole (or at least some of the leading Tea Party favorites), you can get a real sense of what the Republican Party is offering voters in November.

In short, I thought it would be useful to give a rundown of some of the madness.

Establishment Republicans can call these folks outliers (although they rally around them, in most cases, once they have the GOP nomination in hand). But, as Parcells said, they are what their records say they are. This is the modern Tea Party-dominated Republican Party, like it or not.

To be clear, I'm not talking about one-off scandals here. This has nothing to do with David Vitter consorting with prostitutes or Ohio Republican House of Representatives candidate Rich Iott glorifying Nazi S.S. officers by engaging in reenactments. And I'm not talking about innuendo or gossip. What I am arguing is that if you look at the words and positions associated with many members of this year's GOP slate, they are either far out of the American mainstream or patently unqualified for office (or both).

So in honor of the baseball post-season (and the surprising first-round sweep victory of my beloved New York Yankees), I present to you the starting lineup for the GOP Tea Party All-Star Team.

1. Leading off is the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate from Delaware, Christine O'Donnell. We know she confessed to dabbling in witchcraft and only decided not to become a Hare Krishna because she didn't want to give up meatballs, but these silly (and entertaining) stories are the least of it. Far more important are her delusions (like that the Chinese government was plotting to take over the United States or that scientists are developing "mice with fully functioning human brains"), as well as her far-out-of-the-mainstream policies and beliefs (ranging from the near comical, like her idea that masturbation is adultery, to the deadly dangerous, like her statements that homosexuals engage in an "unhealthy life style" and that AIDS education is "a platform for the homosexual community to recruit adolescents," to the extreme, like her lies about the president's student loan program and her opposition to abortion even in the case of rape). And while I acknowledge that her repeated exaggerations about her education (also here) kind of fall under the category of scandal, it does highlight her lack of educational achievement. (If believing that graduating from top-notch schools is a good thing makes me an elitist, as the Sarah Palin-types seem to believe, then I am proud to be an elitist, at least in their terms, anyway. In what civilized country is education considered a bad thing?)

And, of course, there is O'Donnell's record of financial irresponsibility, including defaulting on her mortgage and her alleged use of campaign funds to pay her rent.

With her lethal combination of ignorance, out-of-the-mainstream positions, and delusional beliefs, O'Donnell is a formidable lead-off hitter for the GOP Tea Party All-Stars.

2. For the number two position in the lineup, we turn to Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson. Johnson has portrayed himself as a level-headed businessman who can create jobs, especially in the onslaught of television ads he has foisted on the state. But a scratch below the surface shows his worthiness for the GOP Tea Party All-Star squad.

Johnson has called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," blamed climate change on sunspots, called dismantling Social Security and Medicare a "starting point," and is "open" to abolishing the Federal Reserve.

Johnson's extreme business-first, the-people-last approach to the world was on display in his decision to testify against a state child abuse protection bill in January. Why would anyone have a problem with legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil actions related to child abuse? Well, Johnson wasn't happy with the provision that included corporations. Johnson's first concern wasn't the victims of abuse, but how it would affect businesses. He testified, "I think it is extremely important to consider the economic havoc." Johnson proposes massive federal spending cuts, but he refuses to identify which programs he would cut: "I'm not going to get in the game here and, you know, start naming specific things to be attacked about, quite honestly." And if you want some good old-fashioned hypocrisy to go with his extreme, out-of-the-mainstream policy positions, how about this: Johnson has campaigned against subsidies for businesses, but he has used prison labor at his factories, with the state picking up the health care costs of the prisoners.

And let's remember, the Tea Party-affiliated Rock River Patriots in Wisconsin declined to endorse Johnson because they were unimpressed with his knowledge of the Constitution. When the Tea Party calls you ignorant, it's a sign you've earned a starting spot on the GOP Tea Party All-Stars.

3. A team's best hitter usually hits third, so for the GOP Tea Party All-Stars, that position has to be filled by Nevada Republican U.S. senate candidate Sharron Angle. With her numbers falling, Angle has had to reassure voters that she's changed her mind and no longer favors privatizing Veterans Affairs and getting rid of Social Security, and no longer considers unemployment benefits akin to welfare.

Like the best number-three hitters, Angle is consistent and dependable, in that you know another out-of-the-mainstream and possibly-crazy pronouncement is just around the corner. Sometimes, she appears truly delusional, like when she said Muslim law is taking hold in American cities, or that there are "domestic enemies" in Congress, or that Harry Reid helped child molesters get Viagra, or when she campaigned against black football jerseys (because the color was "evil"). Other times, she is heartless, like when she made fun of health coverage for autism (using air quotes to describe the condition), or when she said she would have voted against federal aid for those affected by Hurrican Katrina (a measure that unanimously passed the Senate).

Angle is so extreme that a Nevada Republican, Bill Raggio, who has served 38 years in the state senate, endorsed Harry Reid over Angle, the first time he has ever supported a Democrat. Raggio had this to say about Angle:

"What is difficult to overlook is her record of being totally ineffective as a four-term assemblywomen, her inability or unwillingness to work with others, even within her own party, and her extreme positions on issues such as Medicare, social security, education, veterans affairs and many others."

Ineffective and extreme. Sounds like a spot-on description of Angle and the reason she is in the heart of the lineup of the GOP Tea Party All-Stars.

4. The clean-up hitter is Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky. Paul got in the game early when he had to backtrack after criticizing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Like many Tea Partiers, he supports the elimination of the Department of Education. He called Medicare "intergenerational welfare," and even after high-profile mining accidents, he accused President Obama of "forcing the EPA down our throats." Paul polished his rich-focused bona fides by defending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, saying you can't "punish the rich." And let us not forget that he allegedly, while in college, blindfolded a female acquaintance, tied her up, and instructed her to smoke marijuana and worship the "Aqua Buddha." (It has been dismissed as a college prank among buddies, except the victim stopped being friends with Paul after the incident. To me, this story is revealing in that it gives a glimpse into where Paul is coming from with his wealthy-focused policy positions, namely a privileged, sheltered world where college boys think nothing of pulling a stunt like this one.)

5. Giving solid protection to Paul in the GOP Tea Party All-Stars lineup is Alaska extremist and (former?) friend of Sarah Palin Joe Miller, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate. Miller's views are far out of the American mainstream, and his lack of understanding of the U.S. Constitution (he seems to think that virtually everything is unconstitutional, contrary to well-settled law in these areas) must, I can only guess, leave his former professors at Yale Law School shaking their heads in disbelief. He thinks that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional (but that didn't stop his wife from collecting them several years ago), and he also believes that the minimum wage, hate crime laws, and the health care reform legislation (even as he admits benefiting from Medicaid and other state programs ... see a trend here?) are unconstitutional, too. He wants to shut down the Department of Education and "transition" out of Social Security, and he doesn't believe in man-made global warming. He is also so rabidly anti-choice, he doesn't even support a woman's right to an abortion in cases of rape and incest.

And what's with the so-called fiscally responsible Tea Partiers who are irresponsible with their own fiances? Miller apparently has between $35,000 and $80,000 in credit card debt.

6. Providing some pop towards the bottom of the order is Ken Buck, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Buck's specialty is taking out-of-the-mainstream positions, and then backtracking on them in an effort to look less extreme to his state's voters. Since securing the Republican nomination, he flip-flopped on his support of repealing the 17th Amendment (which allows citizens to elect U.S. senators, rather than have them appointed by state legislatures), as well as on his promise to introduce anti-abortion legislation and vote against confirming pro-choice judges. Buck has also done a 180-degree turn on his support of privatizing Social Security and Medicare (as well as questioning Social Security's constitutionality), banning IUDs and birth control pills, and shutting down the Department of Education (a Tea Party favorite), as well as his support for a consumption tax to replace the income tax. Buck's reversals have been reflected in changes to his website, which toned down his earlier stated views on Afghanistan, abortion (he had advocated for a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn) and immigration, among other issues.

So the voters of Colorado have a choice to make: Do they believe the way out-of-the-mainstream views Buck espoused before securing the nomination, or the slightly less far-out positions he is taking now? Either way, the people of Colorado have an all-star on their hands, at least on the GOP Tea Party All-Stars squad.

7. Proving the GOP Tea Party All-Stars have a deep lineup of extreme wingnuts, the squad can roll out a potent platoon of governor candidates in the seventh position: Carl Paladino (New York) and Dan Maes (Colorado).

When he is not threatening New York Post editors (the Post!) or sending out shockingly offensive racist emails, Palladino, a Tea Party favorite, is almost as reliable a source for bizarre and out-of-the-mainstream behavior as O'Donnell and Angle. He bashes gays, recently saying he doesn't want "to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option." While he's pumped $3.8 million of his own money into his campaign, nearly $2 million has gone to his own companies. And while he seems to hold the predictably far-right positions of Tea Party candidates (like opposing abortion even in the cases of rape and incest), Paladino's extreme views add a wacky element, revealing his dedication to the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the population. He has called for welfare recipients to be forced into work camps (housed in converted prisons), where they will be taught, among other things, personal hygiene (so much for small government). Similarly, he wants to send children in failing schools to state boarding schools, where they would be housed with kids removed from their homes by social services. And Paladino, who fathered a daughter out of wedlock while married (but didn't tell his wife about it until years later), nevertheless made wild accusations about his opponent's marital infidelities.

He is such an out-of-the-mainstream candidate, the vice chairman of New York's Conservative Party resigned over the decision to give the party's line to Paladino.

You may think Paladino is as extreme and bizarre as a gubernatorial candidate can get, but I invite you to take a look at Dan Maes. In what may be the most fun of the many paranoid, delusional charges leveled by Tea Partiers, Maes accused his opponent, the current mayor of Denver, of "converting" the city "into a United Nations community" by ... wait for it ... encouraging citizens to ride their bicycles. That's right, he says while it may look harmless on the surface, the mayor's plan "is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed." Believe it or not, there's more. After bragging about his stint as a police officer in Kansas and claiming he was let go after battling corruption, Maes released documents to substantiate his claims, only they showed that he was fired for leaking information about an investigation to a relative of a suspect. After these and other missteps, Colorado Republicans tried to get him to leave the race, but he refused. That might be bad news for the GOP, but it's enough to earn Maes a spot in the starting lineup of the GOP Tea Party All-Stars.

8. Linda McMahon, the Republican running for Chris Dodd's U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, may not really be a Tea Party candidate (it's hard to know what McMahon stands for, since she is especially good at evading specific policy positions), but some elements of her candidacy put her comfortably on the GOP Tea Party All-Stars.

McMahon sounded an awful lot like a Tea Party candidate when she had to backtrack from her position endorsing lowering the minimum wage. And while this story is more funny than disturbing (and also, admittedly, old news), continuing the Tea Party theme of financial irresponsibility, McMahon filed for bankruptcy in 1976 after investing in an Evel Knievel stunt that went awry.

To be honest, the reason I included McMahon on the list isn't her policy positions, which, as I noted, are hard to discern. Rather, she belongs here under the part of the equation related to her fitness for office. McMahon proudly campaigns that she is a successful businesswoman, so I think it's fair to look at her business, the professional wrestling conglomerate the WWE. If Connecticut residents are looking for a senator who will help keep jobs in the state, they should be wary of the WWE's policy of manufacturing many of its licensed toys in China and Pakistan.

But to me, the element of the WWE that renders McMahon unfit for office is that she presides over a business that is morally repugnant. The WWE's wrestling scripts rely on misogyny, homophobia and damaging stereotypes to generate entertainment. Even worse, on her watch, she has, at best, turned a blind eye to rampant steroid use that, combined with the violent beatings the wrestlers sustain to their bodies, has left too many of them disabled and, in worst case scenarios, suicidal and/or homicidal when their WWE careers are over. As ESPN's Bill Simmons once wrote:

"These guys destroy their bodies, then their hearts give out and they die. Google the phrase 'dead wrestlers,' and your computer will start to smoke like an overtaxed car engine."

Simmons is right. Lists of WWE veterans who met an untimely end are freely available on the Web. This page lists about 20 WWE wrestlers who have died young (under 50, with most under 45) in just the last 10 years. And there are whole sites dedicated to the topic, like this one.

McMahon may not be a Tea Party favorite, but like O'Donnell and Angle, she forces you to ask the simple question, "Is this the best person the Republicans can offer?"

9. Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Florida, bats in the ninth and final spot, demonstrating that even at the bottom of the lineup, there are still plenty of way-out-of-the-mainstream Tea Partiers to choose from. In a sign of how far to the right the GOP has moved, popular Republican governor Charlie Christ had to run as an independent after poll numbers showed he would not be able to secure his own party's nomination to run for the U.S. Senate. Rubio's positions fit neatly into the Tea Party fold. He signed a pledge supporting the privatization of Social Security, calling the program "generational theft." He said he would have voted to oppose the extension of unemployment benefits enacted by Congress earlier this year. He had to backtrack on his earlier claim that extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich would pay for themselves (but he still supports extending them anyway). And he flip-flopped on the Arizona immigration bill, now supporting it and even backing deporting children who have grown up in the U.S. to countries that are completely alien to them.

These are 10 of the candidates the Republicans are offering up to Americans in November. And each one of them, in their own way, is shockingly unfit for the office they seek. The GOP establishment might want you to believe that these candidates are wingnuts, not representative of the Republican Party. But they're wrong. The way things are now, these candidates are the Republican Party.

As Coach Parcells said, you are what your record says you are. And the Republican record says that their slate is filled with out-of-the-mainstream, clearly unqualified, Tea Party-influenced candidates.