2012 Republican primary

Wisconsin: GOP Presidential Primary Shows Where the Energy Isn't

In yesterday's primary election in Wisconsin -- a major defining event in the long, often ugly GOP presidential contest -- less Wisconsin voters turned out to vote in the Republican primary (under 720,000) than signed the petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker (roughly 1 million). The actual turnout fell short of what it was projected to be by a whopping 12 points.

From AP:

Turnout in Wisconsin's presidential primary election was just over 23 percent, falling short of predictions it would be 35 percent.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, just over 1 million people voted in the presidential primary. That was the only race statewide, although President Barack Obama had no opposition.

About 719,000 people voted on the Republican side and about 290,000 voted on the Democratic side.
That equates to about 23.2 percent of the state's 4.3 million eligible voters.

The Government Accountability Board had predicted 35 percent turnout, the same as it was in the 2008 presidential primary when Obama and Hillary Clinton were battling it out. The board also factored in high interest in numerous local elections around the state.
 

PFAW

Super-PAC Tuesday

Ten states are holding primaries and caucuses today, earning March 6th the title of “Super Tuesday.” Participants will show up, cast their vote, and hopefully feel good for participating in the democratic process and fulfilling their civic duty.

But thanks to Citizens United, and the Super PACs that flawed decision gave rise to, the voters are not the stars of this show. An outpouring of cash from a few extremely wealthy donors has dramatically altered the campaign landscape, altering the balance of influence from individual donors and grassroots donors to rich special interests and corporations.

As illustrated above by Dave Granlund, tonight’s contests should really be called Super-PAC Tuesday. NPR reports that in the ten states up for grabs, Super PACs have spent a whopping $12 million for ads:

Leading the way is Restore Our Future, the superPAC that backs former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. According to Federal Election Commission numbers, Restore Our Future has spent $6.9 million on the Super Tuesday states.

"The groups have clearly taken the lead in advertising for the whole Republican primary. They're very much taking the lead in advertising for Super Tuesday. It's mostly the 'Restore Our Future show,' followed by Winning Our Future, which is the Gingrich group, and Red, White and Blue, which is the Santorum group," says Ken Goldstein, who tracks political ad spending for Kantar Media CMAG.

Red, White and Blue has spent some $1.3 million on Super Tuesday, and has been running an ad in Ohio that goes after Romney for his alleged similarities to the man all Republicans want to defeat in November: President Obama.

These ads supposedly (and unconvincingly) act independently from a candidate’s official campaign, meaning that candidates are unaccountable for their content. But as Katrina vanden Huevel points out in today’s Washington Post, these superPACs reach “barely a legal fiction,” populated as they are with former staff and fundraisers for the candidates they “independently” support.  And this is in addition to the spending by 501 c-4 organizations the sources for which do not even have to be disclosed.

This is not what democracy looks like. We have to end unfettered political spending in our elections system – and solutions like the DISCLOSE Act and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United are gaining steam. $12 million worth of ads on Super-PAC Tuesday alone should convince everyone that enough is enough.

PFAW

Romney Adds Ashcroft to List of Extreme Advisers

More mainstays of the Republican establishment announced their endorsement of Mitt Romney over the weekend. However, it’s not just the current faces of the party like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Tom Coburn who have tipped their hats; Romney is also registering the support of ghosts of GOP past: Bush Administration attorney general John Ashcroft.

Romney is apparently trying to court as many extremists to his campaign as possible – the addition of Ashcroft dovetails closely with the fringe views of his legal adviser, the rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

As attorney general, Ashcroft oversaw a relentless assault on Americans’ civil liberties. He approved warrantless wiretapping, secret military tribunals, racial profiling, aggressively implemented the PATRIOT Act, and created the “enemy combatant” status in an attempt to justify ignoring the Constitution in order to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects without charges.

Many of Ashcroft’s longstanding views still sit squarely with current GOP priorities:

  • He singlehandedly sabotaged confirmation of judicial nominees he didn’t like and has helped pack the federal courts with extreme Right-Wing judges;
  • He perpetuates the War on Women and has sought to amend the Constitution and pass legislation that would eliminate a women’s right an abortion, even for rape and incest victims, and supported making common birth control methods illegal;
  • He opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, designed to protect vulnerable groups of Americans who have long experienced overt discrimination for reasons having nothing to do with their job qualifications; 
  • He opposed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would have amended federal law to recognize hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender and disability;
  • He opposed school desegregation in Missouri;
  • He disregards the separation of church and state by helping funnel government funds to religious organizations that discriminate based on religion and led daily prayer and Bible study sessions at the Justice Department;
  • He helped rig the vote by investigating Republican claims of voter fraud while ignoring charges of voter disenfranchisement.

Ashcroft’s own words perfectly sum up his policy positions:

“There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions. If ever there was a time to unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism, it is now.” --April 10, 1998

If Mitt Romney shares Ashcroft’s extremist sentiments, he will be unable to unite the country should he win the nomination. Ashcroft’s open hostility to the Bill of Rights has no place in this campaign.

However, singing lessons are always welcome.

 

 

The full video is here.

PFAW

Blinded by the Hate: The Real Problem With Judge Cebull's Email

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Earlier this week a Great Falls Tribune reporter found something startling in his inbox: a shockingly racist and misogynistic email forwarded from the most powerful federal judge in Montana, which "joked" that the president of the United States was the product of his mother having sex with a dog. The story soon became national news, with groups like ours calling on Judge Richard Cebull to resign. Cebull quickly apologized to the president and submitted himself to a formal ethics review, somewhat quelling the story. But the story is about more than one judge doing something wildly inappropriate and deeply disturbing. It's about a conservative movement in which the bile and animosity directed at the president -- and even his family -- are so poisonous that even someone who should know better easily confuses political criticism and sick personal attack. Come on: going after the president's late mother? Attempting to explain his email forward, Judge Cebull told the reporter, John S. Adams,

The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. Is sent it out because it's anti-Obama.

Judge Cebull is hardly alone in using the old "I'm not racist, but..." line. In fact, his email was the result of an entire movement built on "I'm not racist, but..." logic that equates disagreement with and dislike of the president with broad-based, racially charged smears. These smears, tacitly embraced by the GOP establishment, are more than personal shots at the president -- they're attacks on the millions of Americans who make up our growing and changing country. Mainstream conservatives have genuine objections to President Obama's priorities and policies. But since he started running for president, a parallel movement has sprung up trying to paint Obama as an outsider and an imposter -- in unmistakably racially charged terms. Too often, the two movements have intersected. The effort to paint Obama as a threatening foreigner sprung up around the right-wing fringe in the run-up to the 2008 election with the typically muddled conspiracy theory that painted him as both a secret Muslim and a member of an America-hating church. They soon coalesced in the birther movement, which even today is championed by a strong coalition of state legislators and a certain bombastic Arizona sheriff. But the birther movement, the "secret Muslim" meme and the idea that the president of the United States somehow hates his own country are no longer confined to the less visible right-wing fringe. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, until recently a frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, continually hammers on the president's otherness, most notably criticizing his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Rick Santorum flatly claims that Obama does not have the Christian faith that he professes, and eagerly courted the endorsement of birther leader Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And before they dropped out, Rick Perry and Herman Cain couldn't resist flirting with birtherism. But perhaps more than either of these fringe-candidates-turned-frontrunners, Mitt Romney has been catering to the strain of conservatism that deliberately confuses policy disagreements with racially-charged personal animosity. Romney went in front of TV cameras to smilingly accept the endorsement of Donald Trump, whose own failed presidential campaign was based on demanding the president's readily available birth certificate. And Gov. Romney continually attacks Obama -- falsely -- for going around the world "apologizing for America." Judge Cebull needs to take responsibility for his own actions. And if the GOP has any aspirations of providing real leadership to this country, it needs to jettison the deeply personal vitriol being direct against Barack Obama and start talking about real issues. When a federal judge has seen so much racially-charged propaganda against the president of the United States that he can claim not to know the difference between genuine disagreement and offensive personal smears, something in our discourse has gone terribly awry.

PFAW

Republicans Debate Who is Least in Favor of Emergency Care for Rape Victims

In case we needed any more evidence that the former mainstream of the GOP has gone completely off the deep end, Republican presidential candidates spent several minutes at last night’s CNN debate discussing which of them is least in favor of allowing rape victims to have access to emergency contraception. Watch:

The exchange came at the heels of a week that was chock-full of shockingly regressive Republican attacks on women. PFAW’s Marge Baker summed last week up in the Huffington Post:

Just this week, we have seen not just the stunning spectacle of major presidential candidates coming out against birth control coverage, but Republicans in the Senate holding up domestic violence protections because they protect too many people; a potential vice presidential candidate pick poised to sign a law requiring women to receive medically unnecessary vaginal probes without their consent; a leading presidential candidate claiming that "emotions" will get in the way of women serving in combat; and a House committee holding a hearing on birth control access -- with a panel consisting entirely of men.

And that’s not to mention billionaire Santorum supporter Foster Friess’s saying he didn’t see why birth control was expensive because, “Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly."

The GOP candidates’ exchange over emergency contraception for rape victims took this tone-deafness to a new level of insensitivity. Does Mitt Romney really think he’ll appeal to female voters by attacking not just contraception but emergency care for rape victims?

It looks like not. TPM reports that since Romney started attacking birth control, he’s “suffered a precipitous drop in support among women voters.”

You don’t say.
 

PFAW

Just How Many Americans is Mitt Romney “Not Concerned” With?

Mitt Romney told Soledad O’Brien this morning:


“I’m not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there,” Romney told CNN. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”


The trouble is, he’s running to be the president of a country where 46.2 million people are living below the poverty line – the highest level in nearly two decades. America is an aspirational culture – we assume that if we fall on hard times, we won’t have to stay that way. We like to think of ourselves as middle class, whether we’re struggling or exceptionally fortunate. But the reality is that the social safety net is now catching more Americans than it ever has.

And Romney is not, as he claims, concerned with keeping the safety net intact. A Center for American Progress analysis of his economic plan, for instance, found that his proposed budget cuts would necessarily result in draconian cuts to social services. Meanwhile, his tax plan would raise taxes on millions of middle class and low income families while handing an average of $150,000 to millionaires.

Romney’s trying to use the classic right-wing strategy of building resentment toward a faceless “poor” who rely on social services. But to the millions of Americans who have seen themselves or friends and family slip from middle class stability during the recession, his words might just ring hollow.
 

PFAW

Revisionist History & 'The Food Stamp President': Celebrating MLK Day with the GOP Candidates

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

The GOP presidential candidates had every right to hold a debate in South Carolina on Martin Luther King Day, Jr. Day this week, but maybe, out of a sense of self-preservation, they should have thought twice about the timing. What could have been an opportunity for the candidates to express their support for the myriad advances of the Civil Rights movement and to address the real challenges that remain instead turned into a mess of racially-charged attacks on African Americans, immigrants and the poor.

he fact that the disgraceful show took place on a day dedicated to celebrating the Civil Rights movement threw into sharp relief the narrow cultural corner into which the GOP has painted itself.

The trouble for the GOP's civil rights celebrations started early in the day. Mitt Romney spent the day campaigning in South Carolina with Kris Kobach , the prominent anti-immigrant activist who, after a stint at a nativist hate group, so-called "FAIR", helped write draconian anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama. Romney has praised Kobach's record, calling him "a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country." (Romney's choice of company should perhaps come as no surprise. Another prominent endorser who now heads the candidate's legal policy team, former Judge Robert Bork, has said the Civil Rights Act was built on "a principle of unsurpassed ugliness.")

Meanwhile, the leaders of the South Carolina GOP, including Gov. Nikki Haley, had lunch with right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton , who "led the crowd through a timeline demonstrating the role Democrats of the day played in perpetuating the existence of slavery in the United States." Telling a selective history of American racism is something of a specialty for Barton, a former Texas GOP operative. In his video "Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White," Barton attempts to tie the modern Democratic party to slavery, lynching and the Ku Klux Klan - while conveniently ignoring the GOP's "southern strategy" and the party realignment spurred by the Civil Rights movement, which led to many of the Democrats that he referred to becoming Republican. One can only imagine the dubious history lesson the governor and her allies were treated to before moving on to watch the night's debate.

But the GOP's offensive daytime holiday activities could not match the evening's event. Texas Gov. Rick Perry started things off by dusting off the racially charged rhetoric of the segregated south to attack the Voting Rights Act . Under the act, the Justice Department has the power to review voting law changes in states with a history of disenfranchising minorities. Perry called the DOJ's review of Texas' voter ID law an "assault" and said the rejection of a similar law in South Carolina, the home of Fort Sumter, had led the state to be "at war with the federal government." He was met with loud cheers from the audience and a big smile from Gov. Haley.

Never to be outdone, former House speaker Newt Gingrich stepped up the attack on African Americans. Asked by moderator Juan Williams about his previous dubbing of President Obama as the "food stamp president" and his insistence that he would "talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps," Gingrich dug in his heels , to the delight of the audience. "Can't you see that this is viewed, at a minimum as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?" asked Williams. "No, I don't see that," Gingrich replied, to roaring applause, before repeating his call for low-income children to be put to work as janitors in their schools.

And those were just the lowlights. Romney, in response to a trick question from Rick Santorum, declared his opposition to extending voting rights to convicted felons, an issue that disproportionately affects the African American community. Later, he repeated his promise to veto the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to build meaningful lives in the United States.

I can't presume to know what Dr. King would think of the way the GOP presidential candidates celebrated his birthday, but I can't imagine he would have enjoyed the party. Almost fifty years after the March on Washington, the leaders of a major political party are trying to curb voting rights, drinking in revisionist American history, and shamelessly exploiting racial tensions for political gain.

Martin Luther King Day isn't just a celebration of the great strides made by a previous generation -- it's a call to action for those who want to preserve and protect the values that Dr. King preached. The spectacle in South Carolina was a powerful reminder that despite how far we have come, we have a long way to go to realize Dr. King's dream.

PFAW

Perry Attacks Voting Rights Act on MLK Day

At yesterday’s Martin Luther King Day GOP debate in South Carolina, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that South Carolina is “at war with the federal government” and that Texas is “under assault” because of disputes over the states’ voter ID laws.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave the Justice Department the power to review voting law changes in states that have a history of disenfranchising minority voters. In December, the Department rejected South Carolina’s law, finding that it unfairly targeted minority voters, who are 20 percent more likely than whites to lack the required ID. Texas’ voter ID law is still under review.

The unmistakable historical echoes of Perry’s comments were disturbing, even more so because they were made on a day dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement. Yesterday, People For the American Way’s director of African American religious affairs, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, wrote in the Huffington Post that many of the voting rights struggles of the Civil Rights era are still alive today:


But since 2008, our right to vote has been under an unprecedented attack. Shortly after the election, over half of Republican voters said that the presidential election had been stolen for Barack Obama by ACORN, an organization that worked to register new voters -- including many African Americans. In response to this myth, promoted by the right-wing media and politicians, state legislatures across the country have been trying to make it harder to register to vote. The most common form this takes is Voter ID laws, which, under the guise of preventing the over-hyped problem of "voter fraud," in fact keep millions of voters from the polls. These laws, which are on the books or being considered in 41 states, target voters who don't have certain types of government ID -- overwhelmingly the young, the elderly and persons of color.


What is even more discouraging than the faulty basis of these restrictive laws is where they come from. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group funded by large corporations that writes legislation for state legislators, is pushing these voter ID laws to states around the country. Why do big business interests care about restricting voting rights? Because voting is the only way those of us without millions of dollars to spend on elections can make our voices, and the issues we care about, heard.


PFAW Foundation released an extensive report last year on right-wing efforts to chip away at the voting rights of minorities, young people and the poor.
 

PFAW

Does Romney Think that 60% of Americans Are Jealous of Him?

In an interview with Matt Lauer this morning, Mitt Romney repeated three times his claim that widespread concern about income inequality is motivated by “envy.”

It’s a pretty bold assertion, given that as recently as November, 60 percent of Americans supported government efforts to address historically high income inequality. And it’s especially bold coming from the mouth of a multi-hundred-millionaire in a time of 8.5% unemployment – especially a multi-hundred-millionaire who made his fortune helping large corporations lay off workers and outsource jobs.

Until fairly recently, Republicans had united behind the vapid phrase “class warfare” to describe efforts to require the wealthiest to pay their fair share in taxes and companies to abide by reasonable regulations. But in the heat of the New Hampshire primary, both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry tapped into the widespread anger about the slash-and-burn capitalism that got Romney where he is today.

In his New Hampshire victory speech last night, Romney accused his rivals of being “desperate” and putting “free enterprise on trial.” But perhaps they were just quicker to realize that dismissing the economic concerns of a majority of Americans as “envy” might not be the smartest move.

 

PFAW

Romney and Huckabee Bash Super PACs, but Will They Work to End Their Influence?

A little over a year ago, in September 2010, Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking the DISCLOSE Act, a measure that would have added some transparency to the new campaign finance free-for-all unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Citizens United allowed outside interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates for office. The DISCLOSE Act was an attempt to make sure that the sources of that money, at least, were made public.

After the DISCLOSE Act failed, however, a new creature in American politics began to grow: Super PACs, organizations that can spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a candidate without revealing where that money comes from. Super PACS and undisclosed money played a big role in the 2010 elections, which we documented in our report Citizens Blindsided: Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy. Undisclosed spending promises to be an unavoidable force in 2012, as well. In the lead-up to today’s Iowa caucuses alone, outside groups have spent an estimated $12.5 million in support of or opposing presidential candidates. A Super PAC run by former aides to Mitt Romney is widely credited for helping to take down Newt Gingrich in the weeks leading up to the caucuses.

But as Super PACs begin to take over elections, some prominent Republicans are beginning to sour on them. Mitt Romney, who has been the biggest beneficiary of Super PAC cash so far in the GOP primaries, has called their rise a “disaster.” Today, Mike Huckabee, who recently teamed up with Citizens United itself for a film promoting “fetal personhood” laws, called the rise of unaccountable Super PACs “One of the worst things that ever happened in American politics.”

It’s easy for Romney to bash Super PACs while continuing to benefit from their largesse and for Huckabee to do the same while working with the group largely responsible for their new influence. But will Republican leaders like Romney and Huckabee actually support greater disclosure laws, like the DISCLOSE Act, that would bring Super PACs out into the open?

The fight in Iowa has exposed the significant role that undisclosed and unaccountable money will play in the leadup to 2012. The Republican candidates and leaders like Hucakbee should be asked if they like the new status quo, and if not what they would do  to change it.
 

PFAW

Romney’s New Campaign Finance Position is “More Radical than Citizens United”

On MSNBC this morning, Mitt Romney seemed to endorse doing away with all limits on direct contributions to political campaigns. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent caught the quote:

“I think the Supreme Court’s decision was following their interpretation of the campaign finance laws that were written by Congress. My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign. They must report it immediately. And the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that’s just a bad idea.”

Clean elections advocates are, unsurprisingly, aghast:


“This is more radical than Citizens United,” David Donnelly of Public Campaign Action Fund told me when I asked for his reaction. “It means that if he is president he will appoint Supreme Court justices that will eviscerate any ability to regulate campaign finance.”


While Citizens United allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money running ads for or against candidates for office, corporations are still banned from giving money directly to candidates (and limits on individuals' direct campaign contributions remain intact for now). Citizens United unleashed a flood of corporate money into politics. Romney’s plan wouldn’t fix that – instead it would make candidates even more beholden to corporate interests.

Incidentally, this is yet another issue where Romney has come full circle since running for Senate in 1994. At the time, Romney came out strongly for campaign contribution and spending limits, saying, “To get that kind of money, you’ve got to cozy up as an incumbent to all of the special interest groups who can go out and raise money for you from their members. And that kind of relationship has an influence on the way you’re going to vote….I don’t like the influence of money, whether it’s business, labor, I do not like that kind of influence":

PFAW

Mitt Romney, Still a Man of the Corporations

In an ad earlier this month, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of failing to create any job during his stints as a community organizer and law professor. Romney, the ad claims, “created thousands of jobs” in his career at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

The picture, of course, is murkier. As the New York Times and others have found, the corporate takeovers that Romney oversaw in his role at Bain Capital often created great amounts of wealth for investors while resulting in the large numbers of layoffs. In one takeover the Times examined, Romney’s handiwork led a company’s sales to double while it transferred thousands of jobs overseas. In another, investigated by the Los Angeles Times, Bain partners raked in about $50 million from a company that soon went bankrupt, costing 700 people their jobs.

One of Romney’s colleagues during this time told the LA Times, "I never thought of what I do for a living as job creation. The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors."

It turns out that Romney (who once joked that he was “unemployed” on the campaign trail) is still reaping some pretty sweet benefits from Bain’s work restructuring companies. A new report from the New York Times finds that when Romney left Bain in 1999, he cut a deal to continue receiving “share of some of Bain’s profits”:


While Bain’s deals typically yielded enormous profits for its investors and partners, several have led to serious financial problems — and sizable layoffs — at companies it acquired.


The 2000 purchase of KB Toys, then one of the country’s largest toy retailers, became one of the most contentious.


As in most Bain deals, the partnership put up a small fraction of the money — in this case $18 million — and borrowed the rest of the $302 million purchase price. Just 16 months later, the toy company borrowed more to pay Bain and its investors an $85 million dividend.


That gave Mr. Romney and the other partners a quick 370 percent return on their money. But it also left the toy company with a heavy debt burden. Before long, the company began closing stores around the country and laid off 3,400 workers. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004.


Two more recent deals have also led to spiraling debt loads and layoffs. Since Bain and another private equity firm led a buyout in 2008 of Clear Channel Communications, the company has struggled under nearly $20 billion in debt and has cut 2,500 jobs.


Sensata Technologies, a European company that makes sensors and controls used by the auto and aerospace industries, prospered after a Bain-led buyout in 2006, but the firm also laid off several hundred American workers. Most of the jobs were moved overseas, and the federal Labor Department spent at least $780,000 to retrain some people who lost their jobs.


In itself, there’s no problem with Romney receiving investment income from his old company. But he is running ads claiming that he is a job creator, even as he brings in income from deals that may result in massive layoffs. And he’s claiming to be a champion of the middle class while pushing a tax policy that benefits people like him who bring in millions of dollars a year in investment income at the expense of those working paycheck to paycheck.

This summer, Romney defended massive corporate tax breaks, insisting, “Corporations are people.” He, apparently, is one of those people.

See the ad we ran in New Hampshire, highlighting his remark:


 

PFAW

Whose Opinion of the Courts Matters to the GOP?

During last night's GOP presidential debate, Newt Gingrich perhaps unintentionally but perfectly encapsulated his party's distorted vision of the role of the judiciary in our constitutional structure. It came when Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked the candidates whether Congress should eliminate courts that issue decisions it does not approve or. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, a key part of the exchange went as follows:

GINGRICH: Sure. I'd ask, first of all, have they studied Jefferson, who in 1802 abolished 18 out of 35 federal judges? Eighteen out of 35 were abolished.

KELLY: Something that was highly criticized.

GINGRICH: Not by anybody in power in 1802. [emphasis added]

Putting aside the question of historical accuracy, note that Gingrich did not say "not by anyone in 1802." He was careful to limit the people whose criticism he deemed relevant to those who were in power in 1802.

One reason we have courts is to prevent those in power from using their official authority to harm those out of power – the tyranny of the majority. If the majority uses their control of government to pass laws harmful to minorities, you don't expect them to criticize their own actions. The criticism would come from those out of power who are their victims – the same people who courts are intended to protect.

That no other candidate found Gingrich's limited framing objectionable says volumes about their dangerously distorted vision of the role of courts in our society.

PFAW

Mitt Romney is Right

There was one remark in last night’s GOP debate that we here at PFAW whole-heartedly agreed with. Asked about his view on judicial appointments, Mitt Romney said:

Let me note that the key thing I think the president is going to do, is going to be with the longest legacy. It's going to be appointing Supreme Court and justices throughout the judicial system. As many as half the justices in the next four years are going to be appointed by the next president.

Judicial nominees will indeed be the most lasting legacy of the next president. And that’s why we can’t afford to hand over those decisions to Mitt Romney.

At last night’s debate, Romney joined his fellow candidates in praising Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative base. Under these justices, the Court has moved farther to the right than it has in decades, consistently privileging big corporations over individual Americans. When Romney declared this summer that “corporations are people, my friend,” he was summarizing, and approving of, the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

But it’s not just that Romney wants more Alitos and Thomases on the Supreme Court. Romney sent a signal that he would move the federal courts even farther to the right than they are today when he took on Robert Bork as his campaign’s chief legal advisor. Bork’s conservativism is so extreme that a bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected him for the Supreme Court in 1987. He was against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He thought it was just fine to criminalize homosexuality. He was a professed fan of censorship. And since then, he has become even more extreme in his defense of corporate power and dismissal of individual rights. But not, apparently, too extreme for Mitt Romney.

Romney is absolutely right that appointing judges will be “the key thing” the next president will do. And it’s exactly the reason why he shouldn’t be president.
 

PFAW

Video: Peter Montgomery on the Marriage of the Religious Right and the Corporate Right

The Al Jazeera program Fault Lines takes an in-depth look this week at the increasingly close relationship between the Religious Right and the Corporate Right, and how it’s playing out in the Republican presidential race in Iowa.

Among those interviewed are former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Michelle Bachmann’s Iowa co-chair Tamara Scott, Cornerstone Church pastor Cary Gordon….and People For the American Way’s own Peter Montgomery.

Peter concludes:

Over the past few decades, the Religious Right won the fight to turn the Republican Party into an anti-abortion, anti-choice party. They won that. They have won the fight to turn the party almost entirely into an anti-gay party. They are winning the fight to turn the party into an anti-environmental party, an anti-regulatory party. And now they are winning the fight to make it an anti-tax party: no tax increases no matter what, no matter how dire the economic situation the country’s in. It’s the corporate agenda pretty much whole-hog.

Watch it above.
 

PFAW

Tuesday's Biggest Loser: The New, New Mitt Romney

The new, new Mitt Romney has been doing everything he can to fit in. But on Tuesday, he faced a big setback: he found out that he had been trying too hard to fit in with the wrong crowd.

Mitt was having a hard time figuring out which side to pick in two statewide referendums that pit the most extreme interests of the Republican party against the common sense interests of American voters. In Ohio, he endorsed a bill that took a sledgehammer to workers' rights, then couldn't decide if he would oppose its repeal, then finally decided he was for the anti-worker bill all along. On Tuesday, Ohio voters killed the bill by a whopping 61-39 percent margin.

The former governor performed an almost unbelievable flip-flop on a proposed referendum in Mississippi, which would have defined "personhood" as beginning at the moment of fertilization - thereby banning not only all abortions regardless of circumstances, but also hormonal birth control, in vitro fertilization and the treatment of ectopic pregnancies. Asked about such "personhood" bills by Mike Huckabee, Romney said he "absolutely" supported them. Asked by a participant at a town hall meeting whether he really supported banning hormonal birth control, Romney hedged the question. Finally, the day after Mississippi resoundingly rejected the restrictive amendment, surprise! Romney's campaign came out to clarify that he was on the side of the majority after all, that he had never supported personhood, and thought these decisions should be left up to the states anyway.

Got that? Pick the one of those three positions that work best for you.

The GOP's radical shift to the right in recent years has caused Mitt Romney to do whatever it takes to get with the right Right crowd. In his endless quest for electability, Romney has followed Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and the rest of the Radical GOP off a cliff - and appears not to have noticed that the rest of America has stayed behind.

What Romney might not have counted on is that American voters, unlike him, know when a line has been crossed. While the GOP establishment steadfastly supported Ohio's anti-worker law, voters rejected the policy across party lines. Protecting the fundamental right to collective bargaining wasn't a partisan issue - it was an issue of core values.

Similarly, Mississippi voters rejected the "personhood" amendment by a decisive 16-point margin. Banning birth control and life-saving procedures for pregnant women was a line that Romney easily crossed, but it is one which voters in one of the most conservative states in the nation would not.

Romney must have felt a similar unpleasant jolt when voters in Arizona unseated state senate president Russell Pearce, the author of the state's devastating anti-immigrant reforms. Whoops-- Mitt Romney had already moved his position on immigration to the right of Rick Perry.

We can only expect that Romney will keep radically reversing all of his earlier positions on every important issue. That is until it is time to start changing them back again for the general election. Is anyone, no matter what their politics, going to buy that?

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

PFAW

Letter to the New York Times: The GOP's War on the Courts

This letter to the editor from PFAW's Marge Baker was published in today's New York Times:

Re “G.O.P. Field Stoking Anger at U.S. Courts” (front page, Oct. 24):

Extreme anti-judiciary measures like those proposed by Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, as well as Mitt Romney’s choice of the ultra-conservative failed Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork to head his legal team, are chilling reminders of the stakes of the 2012 presidential election.

But these are not far-off threats. The G.O.P. has already found a simple and immediate way to wage war on the federal judiciary: by obstructing the confirmation of new judges.

There are about 100 vacancies in federal courts throughout the country, a third of which are in districts so hard pressed that they have been designated “judicial emergencies.”

In spite of this, Senate Republicans have been confirming nominees at a record sluggish pace. The Senate is currently sitting on 23 nominees, virtually all of whom have strong bipartisan support. It simply defies reason that nominees who have received absolutely no opposition from either party are sometimes forced to wait months for a simple up-or-down confirmation vote.

A functioning independent judiciary is at the foundation of our democracy. But the religious right has often been wary of the judiciary’s power to act as a bulwark against efforts to crumble the wall of separation between church and state and to deny rights to women, gay people, religious minorities, workers and consumers. Unable to pass extreme measures like the ones being proposed by presidential candidates, the right has settled instead for quietly kneecapping the courts.

MARGE BAKER
Exec. V.P. for Policy and Program
People for the American Way
Washington, Oct. 24, 2011

PFAW