Fighting the Right

Explaining the Tea Party

It has been a challenge for many Americans – and many people watching from overseas – to understand the Tea Party’s willingness to cause the country so much harm in its zeal to repeal a law designed to extend access to health care and comprehensive health insurance to all Americans.  No doubt many books will be written on the subject, but for now, Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal has offered a concise history and analysis in “The Tea Party, the government shutdown, and Obamacare,” a policy brief published by The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society at Oxford. Rosenthal is the executive director of the Center for Right Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the co-editor of Steep: The Precipitous Rise of the Tea Party, which was published by the University of California last year.  

In just half a dozen pages, Rosenthal puts into historical and legal perspective the Tea Partiers’ recent rampage.  “Tea Party politicians and activists speak openly of this as a ‘last chance to save America.’ This is the context in which bringing economic ruin to the country can be contemplated.”

He reminds us that the Tea Party first built a head of steam by sending people to disrupt congressional town hall meetings on health care reform “with aggressive tactics that left many Congresspeople intimidated and shaken.” That approach, he says, “was, in effect, extra-parliamentary: it was attempting to prevent a legislative outcome that national elections did not sustain.”

Rosenthal argues that Tea Partiers bring to a reading of the Constitution the same approach that Christian fundamentalists bring to reading the Bible, resisting any interpretation that clashes with what they believe is the inerrant word. And he writes that the Tea Party blends populism with the free-market absolutism of the Koch Brothers, ideological descendants of those who objected to the New Deal.

What makes the Tea Party unique in the march of modern American conservatism is that the passions of the populist right, the uncompromising, expressive side of American conservatism, were brought to bear in the name of the doctrines of the fiscal absolutists. Suddenly, the zeal and the vitriol usually reserved for opposing abortion or the ‘gay agenda’ were being directed against Keynesian stimulus legislation, cap and trade climate legislation, economic regulation, taxation, and, above all, expansion of health insurance coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans.

Rosenthal traces the Tea Party’s fierce hostility to Obamacare to zero-sum thinking in American conservatism, not only for benefits from government (e.g. Obamacare must hurt people now on Medicare) but for liberty itself. As an example of that thinking he cites Robert Bork’s position that the Civil Rights Act reflected “unsurpassed ugliness” because it treated the black person’s right to be served as superior to the restaurant owner’s right to deny service. (We certainly see this zero-sum approach to liberty reflected in the insistence of Religious Right leaders that LGBT equality and religious liberty are inherently incompatible.)  Rosenthal sees this zero-sum attitude – “the Tea Party’s feeling that Obamacare means that something of theirs is being taken away and given to others” as “the defining element of a Tea Party constitutionalism.”

And it is the principle that translates the virulence, the fierce resistance of the Tea Party, into a legal theory. It is a principle that rationalizes the Tea Party’s willingness to threaten national financial ruin in the form of a government shutdown and a potential debt default if Obamacare, now being implemented as the law of the land, is not stopped.

Note: The Center for Right Wing Studies at the University of California Berkeley is home to People For the American Way’s library of original source materials on the history of the Religious Right, where it is accessible to researchers and journalists.

PFAW

Honoring Matthew Shepard means remembering all those silenced by hate

They and countless others, names familiar and not, lost their lives at the hands of hate. Their void is ours to fill. We must stand up. Think. Share. Act.
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Cuccinelli Fails at the Supreme Court

Cuccinelli's extremism costs him in court, as well as among voters.
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Put this toolkit to good use and call your Senators today, "pass ENDA now!"

The government may be shut down, but Congress is still on the job, and we need to show them that they need to get back to work not only on the budget but on all of the urgent issues that we care about.
PFAW

People For the American Way and McAuliffe Campaign to Launch Major Spanish-Language Ad Buy in VA

TV Ad Campaign Will Highlight Ken Cuccinelli's Discriminatory Agenda & Career-Long Record of Divisive Rhetoric 

People For the American Way and Terry McAuliffe's campaign for Virginia governor will launch a major partnership next week to highlight McAuliffe’s commitment to making Virginia open and welcoming to all and inform voters of his opponent Ken Cuccinelli’s record of driving a divisive and discriminatory agenda. The six-figure Spanish-language advertising campaign will include a series of TV ads running in the Washington, DC and Richmond media markets. The ad campaign will start on Monday and run through Election Day.

"Ken Cuccinelli has tried to cover up his extreme agenda on immigration, health care, women’s rights and gay rights, but his record speaks for itself," said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. "From sponsoring legislation while in the State Senate that would let companies fire employees for speaking Spanish, even during break times, to launching divisive rhetorical attacks against Latinos, Cuccinelli has shown that he's more focused on driving his extreme Tea Party agenda than doing what's best for all Virginians."

"As governor, I will be committed to increasing opportunities for all Virginians, because our Commonwealth is stronger when all who want to live, work, or raise a family here are able to," said Terry McAuliffe. "We need to be focused on keeping Virginia open and welcoming to all, which is why I will be proud to sign the Virginia DREAM Act as governor and work to increase access to quality education, good jobs and support for small business owners for all citizens of our great Commonwealth."

Latino voters play an increasingly critical role in Virginia’s politics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 8.2 percent of Virginia residents are of Hispanic or Latino descent. From 2000 to 2010, the number of eligible Latino voters in Virginia grew by 76 percent, outpacing all other groups in the electorate. 

The ad campaign is modeled after People For the American Way’s successful programs in 2012, aimed at increasing Latino turnout in key states. In 2012, People For the American Way undertook a comprehensive plan to get out the vote and communicate with Latino voters in Virginia and five other key swing states about Mitt Romney’s dangerous agenda, as well as the GOP’s extreme and offensive rhetoric about the Latino community. In Virginia, President Obama won the Latino vote by 32 points (64-33%). 

To learn more about the PFAW Latino advertising campaign’s history, please visit: http://www.pfaw.org/press-releases/2012/11/memo-pfaw-and-latino-vote

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PFAW

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

First introduced in 1994, ENDA has been introduced in every subsequent session of Congress except one, including its introduction this April by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate. Advocates in Congress and on the ground believe that the growing momentum surrounding LGBT equality should help ENDA move forward this year.
PFAW

Shutdown Isn't Symptom of Tea Party Ideology, It IS Tea Party Ideology

It's easy to wonder how a group of people hired to keep our country running could bungle it so terribly. That is, until you remember that many of those people were never interested in doing that job in the first place.
PFAW

The Scandal Cuccinelli Can't Dodge: His Extremist Positions

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wants to be the state's next Governor. But he has been dogged by an ethics scandal involving gifts he received from the head of a company that has sued the state. So last week, Cuccinelli tried to put the issue to rest by saying he'd contribute $18,000-the value of his questionable gifts-to a medical charity, saying, "I'm trying to wipe the slate clean here so we can focus on what's gonna matter in people's lives in Virginia in the next four years."

Of course, Cuccinelli's contribution doesn't magically wipe away questions about his character. And there's plenty of other evidence for Virginians to consider about the character of his record, and what four years of Cuccinelli as governor could do for -- or rather to -- the state.

Cuccinelli says his campaign is focused on jobs and the economy, but his extreme record as a state legislator and attorney general makes it clear that he considers himself commander-in-chief of the Religious Right's culture warriors.

He has bullied members of the Board of Health into adopting his anti-choice extremism. He has smeared and tried to defund Planned Parenthood. He even slams comprehensive sex education programs. As the Washington Post noted this week, he "was instrumental in ensuring that new regulations will result in the closure of many of the state's abortion clinics."

As a state senator, Cuccinelli was one of a handful of sponsors of an unconstitutional "personhood" bill that would have criminalized many common forms of contraception. Cuccinelli hasn't disavowed his support for "personhood" bills or their goal of making abortion illegal. But as a candidate for governor, he is trying to distance himself from the effects such legislation would have on women and families in Virginia. He claims that such legislation, which would grant legal rights to an egg at the moment it is fertilized by a sperm, wouldn't interfere with access to birth control. He is not telling the truth.

Here's another reminder of what kind of governor Cuccinelli would be: one of his first steps as Attorney General was to tell Virginia's public colleges and universities that they had to abandon policies against anti-gay discrimination. He reversed a legal opinion by his predecessor in order to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children. He refused to support repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law. He argues that consensual sex between gay adults is a detriment to society and should be illegal. As a state senator, he even opposed legislation that permitted private companies to voluntarily extend health benefits to employees' domestic partners.

Cuccinelli is also a champion of the Tea Party's anti-government extremism. He calls President Obama a tyrant. He filed suit against the Affordable Care Act five minutes after it was signed into law, a self-aggrandizing publicity stunt. He has falsely told people that under the law the government could send people to jail for not buying insurance. He even slams safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for making people dependent on government. 

There is seemingly no right-wing fringe to which Cuccinelli will not pander. He has used the power of his office to harass scientists in a climate-change-denying witch-hunt. He has called for a constitutional convention to rescind 14th amendment birthright citizenship. He said he was considering not getting his infant son a social security number because it was being used to track people. He flirted with birtherism.

And this week, he celebrated Constitution Day by appearing with right-wing radio host Mark Levin. Levin is an anti-union, anti-environmental-regulation, anti-public-education activist who rails against "establishment" Republicans and calls President Obama a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. In 2007, Levin's Landmark Legal Foundation nominated Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Cuccinelli is an example of the strong political coalition that has been made between right-wing Catholics like himself and conservative evangelicals, including Virginia-based powerhouses like Falwell-founded Liberty University and Pat Robertson's broadcasting empire. Cuccinelli has criticized people, like President Obama, who support marriage equality for thinking they "know better than God." And he says homosexual behavior is "intrinsically wrong" and destroys people's souls and shouldn't be allowed in a "natural law based country."

Cuccinelli has clearly aligned himself with the far right within the Catholic Church and, like Paul Ryan, opposes the Church's advocacy on behalf of anti-poverty programs. He hasslammed the Catholic bishops for advocating for government assistance for the poor, saying that has "created a culture of dependency on government, not God." He complained that the archdiocese of Arlington, Virginia included issues like poverty, hunger, and health care on a voting guide without making clear that they, in Cuccinelli's opinion, are clearly less important than abortion.

Cuccinelli has convinced the Religious Right that he's their guy. That's why Rick Santorum has endorsed him and the Family Research Council's PAC is helping him raise money. 

But if Ken Cuccinelli wants to convince Virginia voters that he's not going to govern as a right-wing culture warrior, he'll have to do more than trying to "wipe the slate clean" on his ethical standards. He'll have to erase from the public record his own extreme record. And that will be a lot harder than writing a check.

(also posted at Huffington Post)

PFAW

Voter suppression and intimidation reported in Colorado recall election

The recall effort began earlier this year as a grassroots protest and on Tuesday resulted in State Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and State Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo losing their seats.
PFAW

All Hands On Deck: Stop the NRA’s Colorado Senate Recall!

YOU can help defeat gun extremists' unprecedented power grab in Colorado.
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Right Wing Watch Telebriefing on Anti-Immigration Activists

Last week, People For the American Way issued its latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the stark choice presented to congressional Republicans: stand up for the comprehensive immigration reform supported by a strong majority of Americans, or stand with anti-immigrant extremists using lies and bigotry to derail it.

On Tuesday, we hosted a telebrieifing with PFAW members to discuss the report, the prospects for reform in the House of Representatives and how activists can help make a difference.

If you missed it, you can listen to the call here.

And, of course, take a look at the report itself, Congressional Republicans' Clear Choice on Immigration: Stand With Pro-Reform Majorities or Cave to Anti-Immigrant Extremists.

PFAW

Making History and Knowing our History

Events commemorating the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom are already under way in Washington, D.C.  If you live in the capital area or nearby, you may want to attend events at the Lincoln Memorial this Saturday, August 24th or next Wednesday, August 28th , or one of dozens of other events. The A. Philip Randolph Institute, for example is holding its 44th annual education conference and youth conference in honor of Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the organizers of the March who appeared on the cover of Life Magazine’s September 6, 1963 issue. You can find information about events here and here.

Whether or not you can get to Washington, you can catch major events on television. And you might want to get started tonight – Friday, August 23 – with the PBS re-broadcast of an award-winning documentary about author and advocate James Baldwin.  James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket will be shown on PBS stations as part of the American Masters program.  Broadcast times vary so check your local station’s listings. PBS will also host on interactive online screening at 5:00 pm eastern on August 28th.

Another important documentary, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, will also be shown on public television on August 28th.

For a reminder of why it’s important to know our history, and prevent it from being co-opted, see People For the American Way President Michael Keegan’s new Huffington Post op-ed, Don’t Let the Right Wing Co-opt King.

PFAW

New Poll Shows Overwhelming Opposition to Private School Vouchers

The annual PDK/Gallup poll records the highest level of opposition to private school vouchers in the survey's history.
PFAW

Pennsylvania’s Tea Party Governor at War with Public Schools

The Philadelphia school system, which is under state control, is facing a catastrophic opening...
PFAW

Keeping ALEC In The Spotlight

When the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council recently held its 40th annual meeting in Chicago, thousands -- including PFAW activists -- crashed the party.
PFAW

From the Archives: Ken Buck's Extreme Record

As you may have heard, 2010 Tea Party candidate Ken Buck has decided to throw his hat into the ring for the 2014 Senate race in Colorado. Unfortunately for him, no one has forgotten the extreme record that led voters to reject him last time around.

PFAW

Revisiting McConnell’s Obstruction and the 2014 Kentucky Senate Race

The 2014 elections are quickly heating up in Kentucky. Two weeks ago, Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin announced his plans to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary, setting off a round of vicious attack ads from McConnell’s campaign almost instantly.  Even more troublesome for McConnell though than Bevin’s primary challenge is the prospect of a general election fight with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who announced her candidacy in early July and who is expected to coast through the Democratic primary.  According to a poll released on July 31st, Grimes is leading McConnell by 2% in a potential head to head race, and is polling 15% higher amongst those who have heard of both candidates – McConnell, a longstanding incumbent, currently enjoys substantially higher name recognition.

Although Grimes and Bevin are polar opposites on the political spectrum, they both are in agreement on one thing: Senator Mitch McConnell is vulnerable.  Polling data released in April revealed that a full 54% of Kentuckians disapprove of McConnell’s job performance in the Senate, while only 36% approve.

Such numbers should not come as a surprise to any casual observer of the Senate.  McConnell is the king of gridlock, and has become the personification of DC dysfunction.  Kentuckians, like the rest of the country, have grown understandably fed up with his tactics.

Earlier this year, Public Campaign Action Fund explored McConnell’s obstruction in a report entitled, “Cashing in on Obstruction: How Mitch McConnell’s Abuse of the Filibuster and Other Senate Rules Benefits His Big Money Donors.” Among other findings, the report revealed that McConnell’s repeated and unprecedented use of the filibuster has benefitted the interests of his campaign backers.  The report’s case studies were particularly instructive.

In March of 2012, on the very day debate began on a bill that would have repealed Big Oil subsidies, McConnell received an astonishing $131,500 in campaign contributions from Texan oil donors.  Three days later, the bill was blocked by a filibuster.

In April of 2009, the House passed the “Helping Families Save Their Homes Act,” a bill that included a provision that would have granted bankruptcy judges more flexibility to modify mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure, and that would have cost the country’s biggest banks billions of dollars in profits.  That provision failed to receive the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and didn’t make it into the Senate version of the bill.  Over the course of his career, McConnell has received $8.7 million in campaign contributions from Wall Street interests.

In 2010 and 2012, despite overwhelming public support for providing transparency in election spending, McConnell led the charge against the DISCLOSE acts, bills that would have closed current loopholes in federal election law and brought Citizens United-empowered “dark money” groups to light.  Those groups – 501c4 non-profits and 501c6 trade associations – spent at a 5:1 ratio in favor of Republicans like Senator McConnell over Democrats in the 2012 election cycle.

In March of 2010, John J. “Jack” McConnell (no relation) was nominated to the District Court of Rhode Island, after successfully litigating against asbestos, tobacco, and lead paint interests on behalf of consumers.  Jack McConnell faced substantial opposition from trade associations that represent those interests, like the Chamber of Commerce, and from Senator McConnell, who, after filibustering the nomination and delaying the vote so that it took a full 420 days to be confirmed, stated for the record he resented Jack McConnell’s “persistent hostility to American job creators.” Senator McConnell has received, it should be noted, $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry alone.

McConnell’s career campaign contributions by sector
Source: Public Campaign Action Fund

Yet beyond obstructing the governing process to the benefit of his campaign backers, Senator McConnell has also pursued obstruction for the sake of gridlock itself.  As People For the American Way continues to report , McConnell’s treatment of judicial nominees has been particularly abominable.  The obstruction of Jack McConnell, a district court nominee, was not an aberration; it was part of a strategy of judicial obstruction that, under McConnell’s continued abuse of Senate rules, has become standard practice.  During the eight years that President George W. Bush was in office, only one federal district court nomination was filibustered, requiring the majority to file a cloture petition; so far under President Obama, Republicans have forced Democrats into 20 such filings for district court nominees. 

There’s a price to pay for unremittingly representing corporate interests, and for being the leader of an assault on the Senate’s functionality.  And the American public, and the state of Kentucky, are well of aware of who’s to blame.

PFAW

Confronting the GOP's Lies in the Border Debate

In a presentation last week at the offices of New Democrat Network, a Washington, D.C. think tank, political analyst Simon Rosenberg challenged the Republican resistance to comprehensive immigration reform. According to Rosenberg, the GOP’s arguments against legalization of undocumented immigrants are based on faulty numbers and false proselytizing. The GOP argues that the border is violent and therefore requires greater security and more border patrol officers. They criticize the track record of the Obama administration and argue that the president can’t be trusted to secure the border. They argue that once we reward those who have entered the country illegally with citizenship, the floodgates will open, and immigrants will flock from countries all across Latin America.

According to Rosenberg, the reality is just the opposite.

“The border is safer, the immigration system is better, and Mexico is modernizing and growing,” Rosenberg said. From 2004 to 2012, the number of border patrol agents on the ground has doubled. The yearly apprehension rate fell to only 19 apprehensions per agent in 2012, a dramatic decrease from the average rate of 306 per agent back in 1992. Rosenberg argued that the increasing number of patrol officers and the steadily declining apprehensions rate indicate that the current border patrol is more than capable of handling the border situation. While the Republicans are arguing for thousands more officers, the workload per officer is already reasonable.

Rosenberg also argued that the Obama administration has made great gains in improving the immigration system. The use of more targeted I-9 audits and the use of prosecutorial discretion to prioritize criminals for deportation are both notable gains that the White House and the Department of Homeland Security should take credit for.

Lastly, Rosenberg argued that Mexico’s own success in terms of GDP growth and increased trade with the U.S. bodes well for the future of the country. Increased cooperation with Mexico is yet another avenue for improving the immigration system.

Rosenberg’s closing message was clear. We have made great progress, but we need a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a reasonable path to citizenship. And if we have any hope of reaching a bipartisan agreement, the GOP’s lies need to be repudiated.

PFAW

In 2016, Remember This Week at the Supreme Court

It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act -- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence -- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.

But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.

It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act -- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well -- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.

We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia -- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric -- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.

Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.

As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

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