Cynical Democratic leaders believe calling Republicans stupid, selfish racists is good for business. But how would they characterize their own supporters?
What do they think when they hear their voters and shih tzus in the media repeat their false claims with passionate intensity? When they hear them rattle off their script word-for-word – “The GOP is waging a war on women!” or “The IRS didn’t target conservative groups!” or “President Obama has bent over backward to work with Republicans!” – do they smirk and conclude that you can fool half the people all the time? Or do Democratic leaders smile at how skillfully their backers play their sulfurous game?
I’ve been wondering about this as Democratic leaders unleash their latest bogus strategy to retain their slippery grip on the Senate. Their dreams of running on the triumph of Obamacare or the booming economy have been dashed. Instead, like snake-eyed gamblers down to their last short stack at the craps table, they’re betting that railing against the corrupting influence of money on politics will turn into sevens and 11s come November.
The role of the bogeyman in this year’s election drama – performed admirably in years past by Lee Atwater, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and the tea party – is being played by the billionaire Koch brothers.
Sen. Harry Reid never misses an opportunity to call them “unpatriotic” for having the audacity to support his Republican opponents. Imperiled Democrats, including North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, are making them a cornerstone of their campaigns. And, like Pavlov’s dog at dinner time, Democratic voters and journalists have responded by making the Koch brothers the target of vacuous smears.
Perhaps the Koch brothers are greedy businessman looking to install Republican puppets into high office. Attacks on them might even seem principled if they also noted that Democrats’ strings have long been pulled by their wealthy supporters, especially the trial lawyers and unions. Fair-minded observers would also mention that Democrats receive Koch-like support from their own billionaire backers, including George Soros and the hedge fund manager Tom Steyer – whose donations help explain the latest delay in a decision on the Keystone pipeline.
They conveniently forget that it was Barack Obama who blew up the system of public financing of presidential campaigns in 2008. Instead they rail against the “right-wing” Supreme Court, whose 2010 Citizens United decision did indeed open the floodgates of outside spending. Missing from their incessant and often false denunciations – Justice Samuel Alito famously mouthed “not true” when President Obama mischaracterized the decision in a State of the Union address – is that the court based its ruling on a principle liberals claim to embrace: the First Amendment.
While preserving limits on direct contributions to candidates and parties, the court ruled that the government cannot prohibit corporations, associations and labor unions from advancing their views. Instead of using the case as a talking point, its opponents should discuss why the Koch brothers and Steyer shouldn’t have the same right as The New York Times Company, News Corp or McClatchy to make their case. Freedom of the press is one aspect of freedom of speech.
I agree with Democrats that these outside groups often fund dishonest TV ads. I share their disgust at a recent spot claiming N.C. Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson is sympathetic to child molesters. But where was their outrage when Obama supporters ran an ad in 2012 blaming Mitt Romney for a woman’s death from cancer?
Finally, Democratic attacks on big money ignore one of the primary reasons that well-heeled groups feel they must spend oodles of cash: the increasing scope and reach of big government. In modern politics, almost nothing is local. Sens. Hagan and Richard Burr may bring some patronage and pork back home, but they are chiefly votes for their party’s agendas. The names don’t matter, just the parties: Democratic or Republican? Why shouldn’t people in New York, Oklahoma or California try to influence North Carolina elections whose outcome will affect them directly?
You can’t have big government and small campaigns.
The real corruption in America – which only the much maligned tea party has confronted – is caused by the massive, vigorous state espoused by Democrats (and accepted to a great degree by mainstream Republicans). The federal government is a big money game of rules and regulations, tax breaks and subsidies that corporations must play by hiring legions of lawyers and lobbyists, many of whom cut their teeth working for the government. It is no accident that the DC metro has eight of the 11 richest counties in America.
I know why Democratic powerbrokers ignore these inconvenient truths – they want to retain power in a system that rewards them with power and treasure. But why do their supporters brush aside these facts? Are they as cynical as their party leaders? Or are they useful idiots?
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.