Wingnuts

Exclusive: Congressional Ethics Probe Adds to Michele Bachmann’s Political Woes – The Daily Beast

The Hindenburg. The Titanic. Michele Bachmann.

Eighteen months ago, the Minnesota House member was considered an unlikely but undeniable Republican rising star, winning the Iowa straw poll that unofficially begins the primary season. Today, she is embroiled in a litany of legal proceedings related to her rolling disaster of a presidential campaign—including an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into campaign improprieties that has not previously been reported.

The Daily Beast has learned that federal investigators are now interviewing former Bachmann campaign staffers nationwide about alleged intentional campaign-finance violations. The investigators are working on behalf of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which probes reported improprieties by House members and their staffs and then can refer cases to the House Ethics Committee. Read More…

The Westboro Defectors Speak: Phelps Granddaughters Embrace Tolerance – The Daily Beast

On Thursday afternoon Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. They’d been inside only a few minutes when they saw a photo of their family.

There, as part of the permanent exhibit, was an image of their grandmother and sister at the murder trial of Matthew Shepard’s killers, holding the signs for which the Westboro Baptist Church has become infamous: “God Hates Fags,” “AIDS Cures Gays,” and “Matt in Hell.”

This was once their way of life. Now 27, Megan had been taken to protests since age 5; her younger sister Grace had been attending since birth—all as part of the Kansas ministry founded by their grandfather. Read More…

Paranoia on Patriots’ Day – The Daily Beast

The paranoid style in American politics is alive and well.

It was thriving on both sides of the Potomac Monday at separate Second Amendment rallies offering a cast of characters including militia members, a fundamentalist Mormon family, a sheriff, a Patrick Henry re-enactor and a pistol-packing transsexual.

What connected them all is a belief that our constitutional republic is being undermined by the Obama administration. As one typical rallying cry vented: “It’s not about guns—it’s about freedom!” And they let their freak flag fly.

At the Virginia rally, the armed participants were almost outnumbered by the press, creating a militia petting-zoo atmosphere. Foreign and domestic reporters fell all over themselves to interview what they saw as self-appointed members of the lunatic fringe.

This crowd didn’t need signs; they had assault rifles to get their primary point across. Earnest members of the crowd discussed conspiracies ranging from JFK to 9/11 to Timothy McVeigh, all ending up with guns protecting us from global government. But there was a specific irony undercutting their intensity—namely that President Obama, who attendees say is threatening their Second Amendment rights, signed the law which made this first armed rally in a national park possible. Read More…

Scaife v. Clinton and the Dangers of Demonization – The Daily Beast

Richard Mellon Scaife—paymaster of the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’—died July 4. But he died counting Clinton a friend who had ‘served the American people most ably.’

On July 4th, Richard Mellon Scaife died. The Pittsburgh publishing magnate was considered a conservative hero and scourge of liberals, largely because of his role funding the infamous “Arkansas Project” that pumped up anti-Clinton anxieties and ultimately led to the president’s impeachment.

When Hillary Clinton spoke of “the vast right-wing conspiracy” targeting her family in the 1990s, in large part she was referring to the cottage industry of Clinton haters briefly bankrolled by Mr. Scaife. Read More…

A Brief History of Wingnuts in America; From George Washington to Woodstock – The Daily Beast

In this exclusive excerpt from the new edition of ‘Wingnuts,’ author John Avlon reminds us that paranoid extremism is nothing new in American politics.

If you’re disgusted by the unhinged hyper-partisanship that distorts our political debates beyond reason, here’s some good news—we’ve overcome these forces before.

American political history has been marked by periodic eruptions of the “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that Richard Hofstadter famously characterized as “the paranoid style in American politics.” Wingnuts have masqueraded under different names and causes at different times, but they have always been committed to an “us against them” framing of domestic debates while inflaming group hatred in the name of politics and alleged principle. They prey on fear and ignorance.

Survey Wingnut rhetoric through the ages and the usual suspects keep surfacing: appeals to religious suspicion; ethnic and racial divisions; foreign subversion of sovereignty; and perhaps the oldest conspiracy theory of them all—accusing the president of the United States of being a tyrant and a dictator bent on destroying the Constitution.

Even our most beloved and broadly unifying figures were not immune from Wingnuts’ attacks in their time.

When George Washington served as the shaky young republic’s first president, newspapers such as the Aurora (edited by Benjamin Franklin’s grandson) obsessively attacked him, calling on Washington to resign the office while declaring that, “the mask of political hypocrisy has been alike worn by Caesar, a Cromwell and a Washington.” Washington’s onetime ally Thomas Paine turned on him in vicious fashion after the Jay Treaty of neutrality with Great Britain, writing, “The world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an imposter; whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any.”

Pamphlets published by early partisan opponents such as William Duane denounced Washington’s “tyrannical act,” “Machiavellian policy,” and “monarchical privilege.” The former commander of the Continental Army was unaccustomed to being attacked with such impunity, and he proved to be surprisingly thin-skinned, complaining in his last letter to Thomas Jefferson that he was being slandered “in such an exaggerated, and indecent terms as scarcely be applied to a Nero; a notorious defaulter; or even to a common pickpocket.”

Washington’s presidential successor, John Adams, served amid accelerated partisan attacks in the press that divided the parties between alleged allegiances to England or revolutionary-era France. Overreaction predictably followed: In 1798, Congress passed the Alien Act, which empowered the president to arrest foreigners involved “in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government.” Then came the infamous Sedition Act, cracking down on freedom of the press and threatening to fine or imprison individuals who “unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government.” By the election of 1800, a backlash was in full swing, with Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican allies on the offensive, claiming that, “Mr. Adams and his Federalists wish to sap the Republic by fraud, destroy it by force, and elect an English monarchy in its place.”

In turn, Jefferson was accused of being a violent radical who wanted to bring the French guillotine to America—an “infidel” and a “howling atheist.” The New England Palladium newspaper proclaimed: “Should the infidel Jefferson be elected to the Presidency, the seal of death is that moment set on our holy religion, our churches will be prostrated, and some infamous prostitute, under the title of goddess of reason, will preside in the sanctuaries now devoted to the worship of the most High.” The Federalist Gazette of the United States framed the election this way: “The only question to be asked by every American, laying his hand on his heart, is ‘shall I continue in allegiance to God—and a religious president; or impiously declare for Jefferson—and no God!” After Jefferson’s inauguration—in which he declared “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle”—his opponents pushed for impeachment, arguing that the “self exalted tyrant shall be hurled head long from his political zenith to dwell with Jacobins and devils in the pit.”

Conspiracy theories would make their initial mark with such targets as the Freemasons, inspiring an early third party. But the obsession with religious difference that first attached itself to the freethinking Jefferson would manifest itself more thoroughly when combined with fears over early Catholic immigration.

In 1852, anti-Catholic anxieties gave rise to the Know-Nothing movement—so named because members were supposed to deny all knowledge of the secret society when asked by saying, “I know nothing.” Their apparent embrace of ignorance did not appear ironic until decades later. Instead, the Know-Nothings were briefly a force to be reckoned with. Their mission was not subtle: The movement’s newspaper, the American Organ explained that the group’s goal was “to resist the insidious policy of the Church of Rome and other foreign influences against the institutions of our country, by placing [in] all offices none but native-born Protestant citizens.” Transforming into a Nativist political party called the American Party, it quickly gained influence by partly filling the void left by the implosion of the Whigs. Within two years, the American Party was ascendant, successfully electing governors in nine states, eight senators and 104 members of the House.

The rapid rise of flag-waving bigotry to political prominence provoked an anguished letter from Abraham Lincoln to his friend Joshua Speed: ‘How can any one who abhors the oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? … As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘All men are created equal.’ We now practically read it: ‘All men are created equal except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings gain control, it will read: ‘All men are created equal except Negroes, foreigners, and Catholics!’”

Lincoln’s election in 1860 as the first Republican president provoked even more furor. Southern Democrats took the outcome of the election as their cue to spark secession, with Jefferson Davis claiming his Confederates were “upholding the true doctrines of the Federal Constitution” while allies similarly twisted the Bible by conjuring up faith-based defenses of slavery.

The now near-sainted figure many see as America’s greatest president was hated and disrespected by many contemporaries, called a dictator and worse. “Confederates called Lincoln a ‘tyrant,’ a ‘fiend,’ and a ‘monster’,” recounts Don E. Fehrenbacher in his essay “The Anti-Lincoln Tradition.” “In speeches, sermons, and songs, in books, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides, they also portrayed him as a simpleton, a buffoon, a drunkard, a libertine, a physical coward, and a pornographic story-teller.” Another attack on Lincoln was telling in light of future national evolutions—accusations that our sixteenth president was an advocate of “miscegenation,” reflecting his own satirically alleged heritage as “King Abraham Africanus the First.”

Abuse of Lincoln was not limited to the Confederate states. In a drunken speech on the Senate floor, Delaware’s Democratic senator Willard Saulsbury declared, “I never did see or converse with such a weak and imbecile a man; the weakest man I ever knew in high place. If I wanted to paint a despot, a man perfectly regardless of every constitutional right of the people, I would paint the hideous ape-like form of Abraham Lincoln.” A copperhead Wisconsin newspaper editor named Marcus M. Pomeroy wrote that Lincoln was “but the fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism” and a “worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero.” With the election of 1864 looming, Pomeroy wrote, “The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer. … And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

Months later, John Wilkes Booth did just that, albeit with a pistol, while shouting, “Sic semper tyrannis”—the Virginia state motto, “Thus always to tyrants.”

In the backlash to Reconstruction after the Civil War, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were born. Formed by Confederate veterans, members of this terrorist organization fancied themselves noble defenders of a Southern way of life under siege by occupying forces. But the KKK actually reached its apex of influence during the 1920s. Parading under the American flag in marches on Washington and preaching law and order against a backdrop of foreign-associated anarchist bombings that claimed dozens of lives, they also advocated for “100 percent Americanism” in response to the unprecedented wave of immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe. This twentieth-century incarnation of the Klan attracted several million members, and its reach extended far beyond the borders of the former Confederacy, with some of its largest klaverns in Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.

As always, its leaders paid lip service to lofty ideals to obscure the ugly base alloys. The KKK’s imperial wizard, William Joseph Simmons, declared his faith in “the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man,” while simultaneously circulating a statement proclaiming: “We exclude Jews because they do not believe in the Christian religion. We exclude Catholics because they owe allegiance to an institution that is foreign to the Government of the United States. To assure the supremacy of the white race, we believe in the exclusion of the yellow race and in the disenfranchisement of the Negro.”

Later in the decade, another imperial wizard named Hiram W. Evans took a less strictly racial view of the Klan’s mission, instead pitting “the great mass of Americans of the old pioneer stock” against “intellectually mongrelized ‘Liberals.’” “We are a movement,” Evans wrote, “of the plain people, very weak in the matter of culture, intellectual support, and trained leadership. We are demanding, and we expect to win, a return of power into the hands of the everyday, not highly cultured, not overly intellectualized, but entirely unspoiled and not de-Americanized, average citizen of the old stock.” It was a message of rural real Americans against liberal urban interlopers that repeatedly resurfaces in our politics.

The Roaring Twenties also saw heated debates over evolution, most infamously the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which pitted William Jennings Bryan against Clarence Darrow in a Tennessee courtroom, a drama captured in Inherit the Wind and H. L. Mencken’s courtroom dispatches. Bryan, a three-time populist Democrat presidential candidate and Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state, was the era’s premier spokesman for religious fundamentalism. In 1924, Bryan declared, “All the ills from which America suffers can be traced back to the teaching of evolution. It would be better to destroy every other book ever written, and save just the first three verses of Genesis.” The basic debate between creationism and evolution remains in play decades later.

Demagogues always do well during economic downturns, and the Great Depression was a workers’ paradise for Wingnuts on all sides. Louisiana populist Huey Long grabbed power across his home state in the name of making “every man a king” and was planning to run for president against Franklin D. Roosevelt from the left before being gunned down at the mammoth state capitol building he had constructed. One of Long’s disciples and a founder of the “Share Our Wealth Society” was a preacher named Gerald L. K. Smith. He swung from the left to the right, first forming the isolationist America First Party and then the Christian Nationalist ticket to run for president while proclaiming the virtues of anti-Semitism in the pages of his newspaper, The Cross and the Flag.

At the same time, domestic Communist Party members tried to present their ideology as “20th Century Americanism” even while genocide was systematically carried out in the Soviet Union. Father Charles Coughlin, the radio priest, drew massive audiences with his attacks on the always-popular targets of plutocrats and international bankers (“the sands of intrigue and of evil machinations have filtered through the hour glass of their control”), while stridently advocating isolationism in the face of Nazi expansion. Coughlin called for “100 percent for Americanism—in an America that still stands by the traditions of our forefathers—traditions of liberty, traditions of godliness, traditions upon which we must establish a sane Christian nationalism.”

The New Deal and its excesses proved to be a flashpoint for ideological debates that occasionally came unhinged. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst directed his papers nationwide to print exposés on the radicalism of the New Deal and its alleged infiltration by Communists. When pressed by FDR’s White House for an apology, Hearst offered only this front-page editorial: “Let me say that I have not stated at any time whether the President willingly or unwillingly received the support of the Karl Marx Socialists, the Frankfurter radicals, communists and anarchists…which constitute the bulk of his following,” Hearst wrote. “I have simply said and shown that he does receive the support of these enemies of the American system of government, and that he has done his best to deserve the support of all such disturbing and destructive elements.”

After World War II, anxiety turned more toward the Cold War threat of communism. Heated opposition to the establishment of the United Nations echoed the hostility to the League of Nations a generation earlier (“it seeks to destroy Nationalism, Patriotism, and Christianity”), this time unsuccessfully. While the left wing tried to extend wartime alliances with misty hymns to “Uncle Joe” Stalin and backed the labor-fueled Progressive Party candidacy of onetime FDR vice president Henry Wallace, anti-Communist Democrats blasted their dangerous naïveté, most memorably Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote that Progressives “cannot believe that ugly facts underlie fair words. However they look at it, the USSR keeps coming through as a kind of enlarged Brook Farm community, complete with folk dancing in native costumes, joyous work in the fields and progressive kindergartens. Nothing in their system has prepared them for Stalin.”

Meanwhile, the right-wing hunt for the “enemy within” took on new urgency in Washington. Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunts offered a textbook look at Wingnut logic, laid out in this June 1951 speech accusing Harry Truman’s secretary of state, George Marshall, of consciously aiding and abetting Communist gains globally:

“How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this Government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men. Who constitutes the highest circles of this conspiracy? About that we cannot be sure. What is the objective of the great conspiracy? I think it is clear from what has occurred and is now occurring: to diminish the United States in world affairs, to weaken us militarily, to confuse our spirit with talk of surrender in the Far East and to impair our will to resist evil. To what end? To the end that we shall be contained, frustrated and finally: fall victim to Soviet intrigue from within and Russian military might from without.”

This epic rant boasts all the Wingnut heraldry—the unveiling of a great conspiracy by evil imposters to weaken America from within, diluting our stock, sapping our resolve, and making us vulnerable to enemies who are hell-bent on destroying our way of life. And of course the sinister conspiracy goes straight to the top of the opposing party in power, in this case George C. Marshall, the general who did more than any other to prepare America to win World War II and subsequently secure the peace. Because McCarthy eventually imploded (as all Wingnuts do), it is tempting to dismiss him as a grubby, loudmouthed bully whose bark was worse than his bite. But in his heyday, no public poll showed him with less than 34 percent support among the American public.

McCarthy’s mantle was picked up by groups such as the John Birch Society, whose founder Robert Welch fully embraced whacked-out theories of Red subversion and attacked President Eisenhower as “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy.” Arguing that “Moscow and Washington are, and for many years have been, but two hands of one body controlled by one brain,” Welch warned of a secret plan to create a worldwide police state controlled by the Kremlin. He built out his network through such policy initiatives as “Get the US out of the UN,” and “No to Gun Control,” as well as such satellite single-issue groups as the Movement to Restore Decency. Anyone considered insufficiently anti-Communist was deemed a “comsymp”—short for Communist sympathizer. The godfather of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr., denounced the Birchers as “damaging to the cause of anti-communism” in the pages of his National Review magazine. Conservative author Russell Kirk noted: “Cry wolf often enough and everyone takes you for an imbecile or a knave, when after all there are wolves in this world.” Bob Dylan even took the Birchers to task in his folk tune “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues.” The discredited organization still endures today, having moved its headquarters to Joe McCarthy’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Old anti-Catholic riffs reemerged during the 1960 campaign as John F. Kennedy aimed for the presidency. In Texas, the Baptist convention passed a resolution “cautioning members against voting for a Roman Catholic candidate”—buoyed by the old argument that a Catholic president would put loyalty to the pope ahead of loyalty to the United States. Just weeks after his election, a virulently anti-Catholic retired postal worker tried to assassinate JFK in Florida.

Kennedy’s tentative embrace of civil rights caused him to be hated by some in the South. When James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi, he was escorted by three hundred federal troops, while more than 2,000 students protested, chanting, “Two, four, one, three, we hate Kennedy.” A movie theater in Georgia showing the film PT 109 decorated its marquee with this message: “See how the Japs almost got Kennedy.” The once-brilliant newspaper columnist turned bitter Bircher, Westbrook Pegler, openly fantasized about Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1965, writing “Some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.”

Throughout the civil rights era, the twin accusations of communism and anti-constitutionalism were used to delay progress and discredit activists—including Martin Luther King Jr. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called King “the most notorious liar in the country.” In At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965–1968, Taylor Branch details how Hoover “cultivated King as the fearsome dark symbol of the latest 20th century threat to tranquility on Main Street America—succeeding immigrants, Depression gangsters, Nazis and communists.”

While Southern society rallied against King under the auspices of the White Citizens Councils, there were roadside billboards scattered throughout the South purporting to show King at a Communist training camp. Alabama governor George Wallace told the New York Times in 1963 that, “President [Kennedy] wants us to surrender this state to Martin Luther King and his group of pro-Communists who have instituted these demonstrations.” But even an avowed segregationist like Wallace indignantly denied that he was racist, saying, “I never made a statement in my political career that reflects on a man’s race. … My only interest is in the restoration of local government.”

States’ rights were the rationale; defense of the Constitution the ennobling ideal. And so when South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond (the 1948 presidential candidate for the pro-segregation Dixiecrat ticket) argued against the Voting Rights Act on behalf of a caucus of Southern senators who called themselves “Constitutional Democrats,” he pulled out all the rationalizing rhetoric, arguing that “the Negro is almost a favored class of citizen in America” and making the case that the 14th Amendment had questionable legitimacy because it was passed during Reconstruction. After the Civil Rights Act passed, Thurmond declared that the day marked the “final resting place of the Constitution and the rule of the law, for it is here that we will have been buried with shovels of emotion under piles of expediency in the year of our Lord, 1965.”

The late 1960s proved to be the most civically unstable since the 1860s. Culture wars erupted as nonviolent protests were replaced by race riots, and peaceful antiwar activists were eclipsed by hundreds of shootings, arsons, and bombings attributed to left-wing radical groups like the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers. The backlash brought Richard Nixon and the Republicans into the White House on a message of law and order that would twist into the horrific abuse of power scandals surrounding Watergate, further decreasing trust in government. The scars of the era’s excesses would be carried forward by the baby boomers’ fractious political debates—pitting crew cuts against the longhairs—well into the opening years of the twenty-first century.

In the long journey from frontier expansion to landing on the moon, there are clear common undercurrents to the paranoid politics advanced by the Wingnuts during different eras in America.

There is always the divisive drumbeat of ‘us against them’—the demagogue’s favorite formula. There is always an emotional appeal to an idealized past, targeted to people who feel besieged by cultural change, paired with the promise of a well-deserved return to power after years of resentment. And there is always the sale of special knowledge, pulling the curtain back on a monstrous conspiracy that will prove once and for all that your political opponents are not just misguided, but evil. The result is not only vindication, but also the self-serving sense that only you can save the republic.

Against this backdrop it’s easy to see the patterns in our recent history, where the angry impulse to delegitimize duly elected presidents of the United States leads to irrational hatreds and cynical posturing. But for some folks, there is a temptation to look at this twisted American history and then use it to rationalize away the unhinged excesses of our own times. The more self-congratulatory among them might be tempted to compare their feuds favorably to the founding fathers’ ugliest partisan fights, providing both benediction and absolution for any hate they might hurl at opponents.

But that self-serving spin obscures the real lesson: Today’s unhinged hyper-partisans are not likely to look any better or wiser in the rearview mirror than the Wingnuts of our past. Instead, they will be at best a stale and bitter punchline of our times and then fade, unloved, into obscurity.

Excerpted from the newly revised edition of Wingnuts, by John Avlon, published by Beast Books. Copyright 2014.

Hatriot Politics Created the Las Vegas Killers – The Daily Beast

Jerad and Amanda Miller, the Wingnuts whose killing spree left two policemen, a civilian, and themselves dead, were inspired by fright-wing radio hosts and militia movement groups.

The obsessively anti-government Hatriot movement moved from cultivating conspiracy theories to real killing on Sunday in Las Vegas.

The Wingnut Bonnie and Clyde duo, Jerad and Amanda Miller, stormed into CiCi’s Pizza and shot two metro cops, Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo, at close range while shouting “This is a revolution!” They flung the Tea Party’s favorite coiled snake Gadsden flag and a swastika on the still-warm corpses and then moved to a nearby Walmart to murder a shopper before turning the guns on themselves. Read More…

Hate—and Hitler—in the Heartland – The Daily Beast

The man accused of shooting three at Jewish centers in Kansas has a long résumé as a neo-Nazi and KKK grand wizard who once created a points system for murder.

The sole suspect in a shooting that left three dead at two Jewish community centers outside Kansas City on Sunday is a former Ku Klux Klan “grand dragon,” neo-Nazi, and ex-con named Frazier Glenn Miller.

The 73-year-old was caught by TV cameras yelling “Heil Hitler” from the back seat of a police car after he was apprehended in the parking lot of a local elementary school. Rabbi Herbert Mandl, chaplain for the Overland Park Police Department, said the gunman asked people whether they were Jewish before he opened fire. Two of the victims, named by grieving family members as Dr. William Lewis Corporon and his grandson Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, were not Jewish, however–they were members of the nearby United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. Read More…

Shutdown Crisis: We Need a Hostage Negotiator – The Daily Beast

With the government shutdown entering its second week and debt ceiling default less than two weeks away, polarization has turned poisonous and confusion reigns on Capitol Hill.

“It actually reminds me of a prison siege,” says Christopher Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, as he surveys the dysfunctional congressional deadlock. “The opposition isn’t particularly organized. The smart move is to pick among the leadership on the other side who is the most reasonable. Then you empower them by talking with them and granting some sort of small concession. And they suddenly gain a lot of influence on their side.”

Yes, it’s come to this: Washington’s shutdown stalemate looks like a hostage crisis to high-stakes negotiators. And in their eyes, the inmates are running the asylum. Read More…

The Suicidal Shutdown: Hyper-Partisan Fever Rules the Government – The Daily Beast

It was darkly appropriate that Congressman John Culberson (R-TX) rallied his conservative colleagues on Saturday to vote for a government shutdown by saying “Like 9/11, Let’s Roll!” Because this legislative plane is headed defiantly nose-down into the ground.

Decency, practicality, and perspective have deserted some of the folks working under the same Capitol Dome that the heroic passengers on Flight 93 saved from destruction. A decade ago, congressional conservatives might have been offended at the casual misuse of 9/11-imagery for hyper-partisan purposes. Today, nothing’s shocking in the obsessive opposition to President Obama and the healthcare law that began its life as a Republican alternative to Hillarycare in the 1990s. Any red meat rallying cry will do. Read More…

Michele Bachmann Is Done: Her Hostage Tape to Reality – The Daily Beast

Our long national nightmare is over.

Well, that’s overstating it. But the congresswoman who represented the worst of modern American politics more than she ever tried to represent her Minnesota constituents has announced that she will not run for reelection.

Michele Bachmann is done. Read More…

The High Cost of Rush: Talker Bleeds Millions From His Carriers as Toxic Talk Slumps, Cumulus Seems Set to Part Ways With Rush Limbaugh – The Daily Beast

“We’ve had a tough go of it this last year,” Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey said Tuesday morning. “The facts are indisputable regarding the impact certain things have had on ad dollars.”

Dickey told analysts on the earnings call that his radio empire’s revenue was down $5.6 million in the first quarter of 2013 on top of a boatload of debt. Why? Parse the weasel words (“the impact of certain things”) and you’ll see that Dickey is blaming one man for the precipitous decline of right-wing talk radio’s profitability: Rush Limbaugh.

El Rushbo is still a giant in the industry, but the impact of slamming Sandra Fluke on his radio show one year ago persists—with some $2.4 million in losses attributed by Dickey to declines in the “syndicated-talk segment.” Read More…

False Flags, Sharia Law, and Gun Grabs: GOP Lawmakers Embrace The Crazy – The Daily Beast

A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.

“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”

She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing is Staged Terror Attack.

Tremblay’s post, though, stood out from the wave of post-attack crazy because of her day job: she is a New Hampshire state legislator. Read More…

Georgia Is Celebrating Confederate Heritage and History Month? Really? – The Daily Beast

I thought it was an April Fools’ joke.

There in my inbox on the morning of April 1 was an email from something called Ray McBerry Enterprises announcing the official start of “Confederate Heritage and History Month” in Georgia.

Apparently, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue signed the annual celebration into law in 2009, joining six other Southern states in official monthlong “celebrations.” My folks live next door in South Carolina, and I’m a bit of a Civil War nerd, so there’s no inherent shock in the impulse to recognize local history, however painful the legacy.

But what did shock me was this quote from the press release: “So much is portrayed by Hollywood today that Georgia and the South were evil; when, in reality, the South was the most peaceful, rural, and Christian part of America before war and Reconstruction destroyed the pastoral way of life here.” Read More…

Palin’s SarahPAC Embarrassment: Consultants Are Cashing In – The Daily Beast

Sarah Palin attempted to relaunch her political career and her political action committee, SarahPAC, on Thursday with a Web video called “Loaded for Bear,” which presented the former Alaska governor as the new kingmaker for conservative populists in the GOP.

The video riffed off her speech at CPAC, in which Palin railed against “the big consultants, the big money men, and the big bad media.” But there’s an irony alert ahead: the current stated purpose of SarahPAC is to raise money ahead of the 2014 election—most of which will be spent on conservative consultants.

Don’t believe me? Well, this is a perfect time to page through SarahPAC’s Federal Election Commission filings, which—helpfully enough—were just released yesterday. Read More…

Palin’s SarahPAC Embarrassment: Consultants Are Cashing In – The Daily Beast

The ex-governor and VP pick railed against political consultants at CPAC. But her latest FEC filings show they took millions of dollars from her in the last election cycle.

She’s baaaack.

Sarah Palin attempted to relaunch her political career and her political action committee, SarahPAC, on Thursday with a Web video called “Loaded for Bear,” which presented the former Alaska governor as the new kingmaker for conservative populists in the GOP.

The video riffed off her speech at CPAC, in which Palin railed against “the big consultants, the big money men, and the big bad media.” But there’s an irony alert ahead: the current stated purpose of SarahPAC is to raise money ahead of the 2014 election—most of which will be spent on conservative consultants. Read More…

Tea party’s anti-Rove ‘Nazi ad’ – CNN.com

You would click on the link, and there you’d find the Tea Party Patriots’ mailer, calling for liberty and asking for money, decrying “big-government Republicans” and “leftist Obama Democrats” alike.

But the real target of this particular pitch was none other than Karl Rove himself, the “architect” of George W. Bush’s two White House wins, accused in the ad of trying to “crush the Tea Party movement.”

And he was depicted as a Nazi. Read More…

NRA’s enemies list: Most of America – CNN.com

Question: What do George Clooney, Chaka Khan, the American Medical Association, Bon Jovi and C. Everett Koop have in common?

Answer: They are among the 500 names on the National Rifle Association’s absurd new “enemies list.”

Richard Nixon would be embarrassed to find that his once sinister form of score-keeping has been revived so promiscuously by the NRA. But there is some redeeming social value here: The list illustrates an organization that has become hermetically sealed from society at large, so caught up in conservative debates that it has forgotten how to connect with Main Street America. Read More…

Republican Conspiracy Nuts on Obama’s Skeet-Shooting Picture – The Daily Beast

The Obama years have been a boom time for conspiracy theories and associated catchphrases.

During the first term, the “birthers” dominated this sad and sordid landscape, but in recent weeks we’ve seen the rapid rise and fall of the “Benghazi flu” and now—oh so briefly—“Skeet-Gate.”

Blink and you could have missed it. “Skeet-Gate” was the far-right-wing reaction to an interview in last week’s relaunched New Republic in which the president was asked whether he’d ever shot a gun. He replied, “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time.” Read More…

Glenn Beck Attempts a Laughable Makeover as a Libertarian – The Daily Beast

Glenn Beck is rebranding himself as–get this–the alternative to “far-right, far-left” polarized debates on cable news, dominated by people “yelling at each other.”

“We’re not going to play in that crazy space as a network,” he announced earnestly.

The irony meter just died. Hypocrisy and chutzpah had a child.

This is, after all, the man who rode to riches by screaming louder and crazier than anyone else in the collective conservative nervous breakdown known as Obama Derangement Syndrome circa 2009 and 2010. Here are just a few of his unhinged greatest hits, lest we forget: Read More…

Mosque Money Shocker – The Daily Beast

Developers of the controversial Park51 Islamic community center and mosque located two blocks from ground zero earlier this month applied for roughly $5 million in federal grant money set aside for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan after the attacks of September 11, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

The audacious move stands to reignite the embers of a divisive debate that dominated headlines surrounding the ninth anniversary of the attacks this fall, say people vested in the issue.

The application was submitted under a “community and cultural enhancement” grant program administered by the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation (LMDC), which oversaw the $20 billion in federal aid allocated in the wake of 9/11 and is currently doling out millions in remaining taxpayer funds for community development. The redevelopment board declined to comment on the application (as did officials from Park51), citing the continuing and confidential process of determining the grant winners.

While news of the application has not previously been made public, developer Sharif El-Gamal outlined it in closed-door meetings, according to two individuals he spoke with directly. The thirtysomething, Brooklyn-born El-Gamal is motivated more by real estate ambition—one of these sources describes him as aspiring to be the next Donald Trump—than Islamic theology or ideology.

Park51’s developers clearly have a legal right to apply for the grant. A list of Frequently Asked Questions that accompanied the application specifically states that religious organizations can make funding requests for capital projects “as long as the request is for a facility or portion of a facility that is dedicated to non-religious activities or uses.” According to an individual familiar with the Park51 application, it requests funds to cover a number of cultural, educational and community development aspects of the proposed 13-story building—but the prayer room is excluded from the grant application.

But the question on whether they could have is trumped by the question of whether they should have.

But the question on whether they could have is trumped by the question of whether they should have. The stated aim of the Park51 developers is to provide a community center for lower Manhattan’s 4,000 Muslim residents. Their own website explained that they understood the need to “appeal to the undecided, and change the conversation about Muslims in America.” It’s pretty clear that this play for federal dollars will generate none of that, starting with the lack of disclosure or community consultation before developers submitted their application, which was due November 5.

“If Imam Feisal and his retinue want know why they’re not trusted, here’s yet another reason,” says Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam and director of the Moral Courage Project at NYU, when I asked her about the grant proposal. “The New Yorkers I speak with have questions about Park51. Requesting money from public coffers without engaging the public shows a staggering lack of empathy—especially from a man who says he’s all about dialogue.”

As a witness to the 9/11 attacks and someone who currently lives in the revived neighborhood, I can tell you that anger over the Park51 project was more intense outside the community than within it.

After all, the local community board approved the Park51 development in two separate votes—and the right of the project to proceed was honorably affirmed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg against a torrent of criticism this fall. Politicians across the country tried to turn the development into a partisan political football, including notable ads from Florida’s Governor-elect Rick Scott (“ Obama’s Mosque”) and the newly elected North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Renee Elmers.

But attempts to turn the mosque into a campaign issue in New York were strikingly unsuccessful (think Rick Lazio). And after a series of protests and counterprotests surrounding the building site on Park Place, the issue has receded. New Yorkers live with diversity every day—we understand how essential it is to embrace our fellow citizens who are Muslim while never forgetting the terrorists who attacked us. Reasonable people who recognize the Islamic community center’s right to develop on private property, however, will object to their use of public funds to do so.

Part of the strangeness of the application is that it blows past the suggested range of $100,000 to $1 million that these grants are supposed to fall to within (I’m told the entire pool for this round of cultural funding will come in under $20 million). According to the two sources knowledgeable about the thinking behind the proposal, the strategy behind the $5 million ballpark was trying to yield a higher figure in the end.

But the project likely doesn’t qualify for a grant in the first place. Specifically, the grant criteria mandate a demonstration of a project’s financial feasibility, based on benchmarks set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The government will help complete development projects—but it does not provide seed capital. And in their last public financial statement, Park51 was found to have less than $20,000 in the bank for a project with a slated cost of $100 million.

“Any solicitation for LMDC funds would have to meet the HUD criteria for eligibility,” explains Julie Menin, an LMDC board member and the chairperson of New York’s Community Board 1, which includes the World Trade Center site.

It will be interesting to see how the LMDC deals with the appropriateness of this application, especially given its stated commitment to “an open, inclusive, and transparent planning process in which the public has a central role in shaping the future of Lower Manhattan.” After all, among its advisory councils are representatives of the victim’s families, who are unlikely to be sympathetic to the subject.

President Obama came under fire this fall for alternately asserting the mosque’s right to exist and then subsequently questioning the wisdom of the project. He was essentially right, and this new chapter in the Park51 saga shows that wisdom is the essential component missing from this development.

In the end, Park51’s application is likely to be unsuccessful financially while mobilizing a new round of opposition. It’s a lose-lose proposition put forward by a tone-deaf organization that seems determined to alienate allies and embolden opponents.

Conspiracy Peddler Alex Jones Melts Down – The Daily Beast

Most Americans got their first taste of Alex Jones’s brand of crazy last night on Piers Morgan Tonight, when the CNN host confronted this particular critic, who in turn called the CNN host “a hatchet man of the new world order,” raved that “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!” and warned of “foreigners” and “mega-banks” trying to disarm Americans as part of a master plan to institute “world tyranny.”

Unedited and in person, Jones comes off even more unhinged than on primetime or in his role as a conspiracy entrepreneur on his syndicated radio show and at InfoWars.com. Jones was booked by Morgan because he started a petition, much promoted on the Drudge Report, to have the British host deported. Read More…

Right Wing Needs to Stop Crazy Explanations for Newtown Slaughter – The Daily Beast

It’s definitely not too soon to condemn this craziness.

The visceral shock of the Newtown school slaughter has provoked a reassessment on gun laws among many on the right—including Joe Scarborough and Rupert Murdoch.

But there are still those on the far right who, when confronted with the killing of classrooms full of 6-year-olds, reached for alternate explanations that could preserve their ideological purity and avoid common sense.

These are not just fringe figures but elected officials and other leaders of the Tea-vangelist wing of the GOP. Read More…

Don’t Fear the Gover – Republicans Wisely Break with Grover Norquist – CNN.com

Who’s afraid of Grover Norquist?

Fewer and fewer Republicans, thankfully.

In recent days, the declarations of independence from Norquist’s absolutist anti-tax pledge have been coming fast and furious.

Add Southern Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Lindsey Graham to the growing list, along with Reps. Peter King, Steve LaTourette and Scott Rigell.

Chambliss kicked off the most recent outbreak of common sense by telling a Georgia TV station, “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.” He added, “If we do it (Norquist’s) way, then we’ll continue in debt.” Read More…

Mourdock’s Rape Remark and Extremism – CNN.com

Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock believes that rapes resulting in pregnancy are “something that God intends to happen.”

Do you?

It’s a relevant question as we enter the last two weeks of this election, because Mourdock’s comments are not isolated.

The statement comes from the same rigid ideology behind conservative Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s musings in August, when he said women’s bodies have the ability to “shut down” pregnancies that result from what he called “legitimate rape.” Read More…

Free Speech, Civility Collide on the New York Subways – The Daily Beast

This Monday, 10 subway stations throughout New York City will be adorned with this welcoming message: “In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” It is paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the funding vehicle for anti-Islamist activist Pamela Geller.

The ads have been posted at the order of a judge after one year of legal wrangling with the MTA. U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Englemayer concluded that when “as a reasonable person would, the AFDI ad plainly depicts Muslims… as savages.” Read More…

Video Defaming Prophet Mohammed is a Con Job That Pits Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims Against Freedom – The Telepgraph

More than 100 years ago, Mark Twain said: “A lie will go round the round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”

The world received a chilling 21st century update of that aphorism last week, as a plot that would have stretched credibility in a satire unfolded across the globe, leaving embassies attacked and an American ambassador dead, and sending shockwaves through a US presidential election just 51 days away.

At issue was an amateurish 13-minute series of video clips – part high-school play and part porn production, it seems too much to call it a “movie” – posted on YouTube. Read More…

US Election 2012: Why Mitt Still Needs to Polish His Sales Pitch – The Telegraph

The Republican Convention in Tampa ended after three days of frenzied networking and made-for-television speeches, all against a backdrop of American flags.

This is now Mitt Romney’s Republican Party, even if it is more unified by intense dislike of President Obama than love for their nominee. The cavalcade of speakers was designed to present an inclusive Republican vision while reaffirming the party’s core positions.

Watching the show-flow from inside the arena on the final night offered a look at the strategy Team Romney believes will win back the White House. Read More…

GOP Policy Is the Scandal, Not Just Akin’s Comments – CNN.com

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

These were the words that got Rep. Todd Akin kicked to the curb by Republicans, ranging from Mitt Romney to Karl Rove to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who pronounced the comments “biologically stupid” and “bizarre” to Erin Burnett on “OutFront” on Monday night.

It’s good to see conservatives stand up for sound science. But beneath the well-deserved thrashing Akin received, I get the sense that political self-interest is driving this debate more than concerns about policy or principle. The problem seems to be less what Akin said than the way he said it. Read More…

Disavowal of Mark Clayton Shows Democrats’ Disarray in Tennessee – The Daily Beast

Something really strange happened in Tennessee last week. Democrats elected a fright-wing conspiracy theorist named Mark Clayton to be their U.S. Senate candidate—and the state party prompted disavowed him.

It’s fair to say that if this were a Republican Senate nominee, there would be wide public outcry. Instead, there’s just awkward silence.

Clayton is a fringe figure, someone whose beliefs span talk about the new world order, an alleged NAFTA superhighway, and FEMA prison camps. He also is vice president of an organization that calls itself Public Advocate of the United States, which pushes an extreme social-conservative agenda with such a negative obsession with gay rights that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it a hate group. Clayton’s political self-brand isn’t exactly making a broad comeback within the southern Democratic Party. So how did this happen? Read More…

Is It Still Too Soon to Talk Gun Control? – CNN.com

The bodies of the victims are being buried. The court case will continue, without cameras. The horror in Aurora has faded from the front page in favor of Olympic coverage.

So it is worth asking, 10 days after the largest mass shooting in American history, whether it is still too soon to start a conversation about reasonable gun restrictions. What actions could we take to make such slaughters more difficult to perpetrate?

Because if it is true, as the National Rifle Association says, that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” then it’s equally irrefutable that people with guns kill people.

Here is the toll, beyond the 12 dead and 59 wounded in Aurora. More than 180 people killed in mass shootings in the past five years, including the 32 people who died in the April, 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. And dwarfing that total are the 10,000 Americans murdered by gunshots every year. Read More…

Is Israel-Bashing, Dictator-Backing Charles Barron Heading To Washington? – The Daily Beast

New York City Councilman Charles Barron is the real-life embodiment of the paranoid right-wing fantasy about President Obama: a former Black Panther, a backer of wealth redistribution, and an outspoken admirer of leftist dictators worldwide.

But now Barron has risen from a controversial local curiosity, best known for inflammatory statements like calling Thomas Jefferson a pedophile, to the verge of becoming a national newsmaker. He’s running for Congress and threatening to upset the party favorite, comparatively centrist Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, in next Tuesday’s primary that will effectively decide the next representative of a safely Democratic district snaking through Brooklyn. Read More…

Hyper-Partisanship Dragging Down Nation – CNN.com

It’s not your imagination: Our politics are more polarized than at any point in recent history.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey from the indispensable Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. And if you needed more evidence of the passionate and sometimes poisonous polarization afflicting our nation, you didn’t have to look further than the crowds in Wisconsin on Tuesday night after the recall attempt.

Here’s the real wake-up call: Americans are more divided about partisan politics right now than they are about race, class, gender and age. That’s right: Forget the original sin of slavery and the longstanding fights over civil rights — those old divisions now seem small compared with perceptions of whether a person is a Republican or Democrat.

Welcome to the new bigotry, where a person’s partisan identification is a source of prejudice, seen as a reflection of fundamentally different values, representative of an alien America. Read More…

Where’s the Outrage Over Republican’s ‘Communist’ Claim? – CNN.com

“I have here in my hand a list of 205 communists …”

The ghost of Joe McCarthy’s ulcerous accusations hung over a disturbingly casual comment this past week by U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Florida.

When asked by a constituent at a town hall, “What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists?”

“That’s a fair question,” West replied. “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.”

Keep in mind that this is the man Sarah Palin recently recommended be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee.

And not only did West not apologize — or receive significant criticism from his fellow Republicans — his revealing response was to raise funds off it. Read More…

Rush Limbaugh Scandal Proves Contagious for Talk-Radio Advertisers – The Daily Beast

Rush Limbaugh made the right-wing talk-radio industry, and he just might break it.

Because now the fallout from the “slut” slurs against Sandra Fluke is extending to the entire political shock-jock genre.

Premiere Networks, which distributes Limbaugh as well as a host of other right-wing talkers, sent an email out to its affiliates early Friday listing 98 large corporations that have requested their ads appear only on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).”

Read More…

Despite Sandra Fluke Apology, Rush Limbaugh Advertisers Sign Off – The Daily Beast

If you want to know why Rush is freaking out over the Sandra Fluke fallout, follow the money.

Being too extreme has never been a problem for el Rushbo. Appeals to conscience and individual kindness weren’t going to provoke an apology alone. His email offering an initial apology after several days of attacking Fluke came because advertisers were heading to the exits. And the exodus hasn’t stopped.

On Monday, AOL and Allstate were among the major brands giving Rush the kiss-off, joining nine other national sponsors to date. Some local advertisers are starting to bail on el Rushbo as well, including Hadeed Carpet and Thompson Creek Windows in Washington, D.C. Toward the end of the day, Hawaii’s KPUA became the first station to cancel his show. Read More…

Celebrity Gossip Is Making Us Stupid – The Daily Beast

Bread and circuses were what Romans leaders used to subdue citizens for hundreds of years before their civilization’s fall. We have celebrity gossip.

It is greedily consumed and takes on the dimensions of real news – banner headlines, magazine covers and lead stories, with dependably high click-through rates. It is all artificial urgency, fiction parading as fact. And it’s making us stupid. Read More…

Tea Party for the Left? – The Daily Beast

We are living in a time of decentralized populist political movements, fueled by economic anxiety and magnified by social media.

As Occupy Wall Street spread into satellite protests this past week, there was an understandable impulse to impose an established narrative, asking whether this was the mirror image of the Tea Party protests. Read More…

Ugly to Compare Terrorists with Tea Party – CNN.com

The cycle of incitement continued this week as Democrats frustrated with the debt-ceiling deal equated the tea party with terrorists, just weeks before the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

It is an ugly and unacceptable comparison, especially coming — as it did — on the heels of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords triumphant return to Congress after being shot in Tucson in January.

The instinct to raise funds off fear-mongering was also deployed in record time, as GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann — no stranger herself to the politics of incitement — fired off an e-mail which read: “The Democrats have stooped to a new low. This afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly led a congressional meeting where tea party members were labeled as ‘terrorists.’ ” Read More…

The Right-Wing Talk-Radio Flameout- The Daily Beast

There’s new evidence to suggest a demand for something different than hyper-partisanship in the world of talk radio and political media.

It’s not just the sunset of the Glenn Beck Show on Fox or the dispatch of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC to CurrentTV. It’s the shuttering of a pioneering conservative radio station and data showing the demographic decline of Rush Limbaugh.

In contrast, growing numbers of listeners are tuning in to independent voices who can be honest brokers in debates and don’t just angrily parrot talking points.

Read More…

Colbert vs. Kyl and spread of ‘misinformation’ – CNN

CNN contributor John Avlon says Colbert is right to lampoon politicians who spread falsehoods.

Glenn Beck: Farewell to a Fearmonger – The Daily Beast

The nightly nervous breakdown will not be televised.

Glenn Beck is going off the air on Fox News.

It is a remarkable reversal of fortune for a man who one year ago was banking $32 million annually, teaching Americans how to fear-monger for fun and profit.

But with his ratings down nearly 50 percent and advertisers abandoning the show, Beck’s apocalyptic shtick has been getting rancid fast.

Glenn Beck was the boy who cried wolf, constantly ratcheting up the rhetoric to get attention, and ultimately becoming a parody of himself.

Read More…

Is Right-Wing Talk Dying? – The Daily Beast

Here’s another sign that the tide might be turning against the Wingnuts—Glenn Beck’s TV ratings are down 50 percent and major market radio stations are dropping him.

That’s not all—a look at radio ratings shows that hyper-partisan talk has been declining or flat-lining between ‘09 and ‘10, despite the intensity of the election year. There’s a demand for something different—smart, un-predictable, non-partisan news is gaining market share because it stands out from the pack. And leading industry analysts say there is a market for more independent voices.

“There are a lot of program directors whose radio ‘spider-sense’ is tingling,” says Randall Bloomquist, a long-time radio executive and president of Talk Frontier Media. “They’re thinking ‘this conservative thing is kind of running its course. We’re saying the same things from morning ’til night and yes, we’ve got a very loyal core audience—but if we ever want to grow, if we want to expand, we’ve got to be doing more than 18 hours a day of ‘Obama is a socialist.’” Read More…

The End of the Wingnuts? – The Daily Beast

Keith Olbermann’s abrupt signoff last night just might signify a break in the hyperpartisan media fever that has afflicted America for the past few years.

Because beneath the rumors of palace intrigue and difficult behavior stands a stark fact: Keith Olbermann’s ratings were down over the past 12 months, especially among the coveted, non-shut-in, 25-to-54 demographic. He’s not the only one—Glenn Beck’s ratings have eroded, along with his advertisers. Sarah Palin’s approval ratings have also similarly plummeted during her foray into the murky world where politics meets reality TV.

The American people are smart. They’ve gotten sick of the predictable hyperpartisan talking points and canned anger. This is Paddy Chayefsky’s revenge—Howard Beale’s appeal became real over the past years. But we’ve slowly come to our senses and flipped around the catchphrase, saying “you’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” Read More…

My War With Rush Limbaugh – The Daily Beast

According to Rush Limbaugh, I’m a hard-core liberal, no different than Michael Moore who paid the bail for “the serial rapist Julian Assange.” Also, I’m not willing to admit who the terrorists are, and I’m helping to kill Christmas.

It’s all because I co-founded a new group that launched this week called No Labels. We’re Republicans, Democrats and Independents—dedicated to confronting the culture of hyper-partisanship that is distorting our debates and stopping our nation from solving the serious challenges we face.

This idea is threatening to professional polarizers like El Rushbo—which is why he devoted an hour of his show this week to attacking us. In particular, he took personal aim at co-founders Mark McKinnon (a Republican Bush/McCain adviser and fellow Daily Beast columnist), Kiki McLean (a Texas Democrat and Clinton administration alum) and myself. In the process, he again proved the need for No Labels. Read More…

The Obama Haters Book Club – The Daily Beast

Hating President Obama has become its own industry—and here’s a new stat to prove it: To date, there have been at least 46 anti-Obama books published. I’m not talking about thoughtful criticisms of his policies, but hyperbolic denunciations, distortions, or outright demonizations of the president. These screeds cannot help but have an impact on the typically low-turnout, high-intensity midterm elections that will take place Tuesday.

It’s also evidence that the proliferation of Obama Derangement Syndrome has out-paced Bush Derangement Syndrome—big time. At this point in Bush’s presidency there were only five anti-W books (a total no doubt depressed by the national unity that emerged in the wake of 9/11). It took Bush until November of 2004—the culmination of his contentious re-election campaign—to hit 46. Read More…

Left-Wing Crazies Take Their Turn – The Daily Beast

“We as one nation must stand together, must fight the forces of evil, the conservatives in this country across the board,” bellowed Ed Schultz, emcee of the One Nation Working Together rally on the Washington Mall Saturday. “The conservative voices of America, they are holding you down. They don’t believe in your freedom…. They talk about the Constitution, but they don’t want to live by it. They don’t believe in your freedom…. They talk about the founding fathers, but they want discrimination.”

The stated intention of the One Nation rally was to promote an “antidote” rather than just a left-wing “alternative to the Tea Party,” according to NAACP President Benjamin Jealous. The reality fell far short of that unifying goal.

Instead, the rally offered a snapshot of the fragile coalition that is the contemporary far left—a dizzying array of activist organizations and identity politics, with financial muscle provided by the labor unions who bused their members in. Read More…

Jon Stewart Has the Right Idea – CNN.com

Are you tired of the extremes dominating the debate? Angry about hyperpartisans hijacking American politics? Well, Jon Stewart has a rally for you and me.

The Rally to Restore Sanity is slated for October 30, the weekend before Election Day, on the Washington Mall.

This isn’t a concealed campaign rally for either party. It’s a counterprotest against the rising tide of conformity that causes hyperpartisans to demonize people with whom they disagree. It’s the anti-demagogue Saturday on the mall; people taking to the streets and yelling, “Be reasonable!”
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Here’s how Stewart described it on “The Daily Show”: “We live in troubled times, with real people who have real problems. … Problems that have real but imperfect solutions, that I believe 70 to 80 percent of our population could agree to try, and ultimately live with. Unfortunately, the conversation and the process is controlled by the other 15 to 20 percent.

“You may know them as the people who believe that Obama is a secret Muslim planning a socialist takeover of America … or that George Bush let 9/11 happen to help pad Dick Cheney’s Halliburton stock portfolio. You’ve seen their signs: ‘Obama is Hitler’; ‘Bush is Hitler’… But why don’t we hear from the 70 to 80 percenters? Well, most likely because you have sh*t to do.” Read More…

The Media Hijackers – The Daily Beast

How does a fringe preacher go from 50 congregants to the front page of 50 newspapers overnight?

Just say you’re going to burn the Quran. It took little more for the “Reverend” Terry Jones and his ironically named Dove World Outreach Center to go from obscure even in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida, to instant international infamy. But this twisted celebrity came at a cost: violent protests in Afghanistan and beyond. Generals, Cabinet secretaries and even the president were reduced to reasoning with an essentially unreasonable and insignificant man. Read More…

John Avlon Interview About Wingnuts – CUNY City Talk

Doug Muzzio sits down with John Avlon, senior political columnist at the Daily Beast and author of “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.” He is also a regular commentator on CNN. John has served as chief speechwriter for Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor at the “New York Sun.” The book looks at the outbreak of extremism in the opening years of the Obama administration and how we can move past the fear-mongers and the extremists on both sides to take back our country.

Wingnuts Excerpt-Bush Derangement Syndrome

Before the right-wing fringe lost their minds about Obama, the left turned a similar trick.
We saw this destructive dynamic at work during the previous administration, when far-left protests erupted into Bush Derangement Syndrome, comparing the president to Hitler and calling for impeachment. Obama haters always eventually say the same thing: “They started it.” The prevalence of Bush Derangement Syndrome on the left gave the right the green light to escalate. Coinage credit goes to conservative columnist and trained psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer, who in 2003 had diagnosed Bush Derangement Syndrome as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush.”

It began with the left’s belief that Bush was an illegitimate president, rooted in the bitterly contested results of the 2000 election. He’d lost the popular vote and won with an assist from the Supreme Court. Fresh from the Florida recount—where 97,000 leftist protest votes for Ralph Nader helped deliver the Sunshine State to George W. Bush by a 537-vote margin—Inauguration Day protesters wielded “Hail to the Thief” signs and chanted “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Bush and Cheney go away!” “We want Bush out of D.C.” and “You’re not our president.”

“Right now, I could kill George Bush, no problem.”Bush Derangement Syndrome, though, was slower to boil than Obama Derangement Syndrome. In the wake of 9/11, the far left’s insatiable appetite for moral equivalency made little impact, but, of course, the blame-America-first crowd did their best. Two weeks after the attacks, nearly 10,000 assembled for a protest in Washington, inevitably titled the Anti-War and Anti-Racist Rally, to imbibe Wingnut wisdom from such as the Reverend Graylan Hagler, senior minister of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C (“Today we do not stand with any terrorists, whether it is the United States or foreign terrorists” ) or Stephanie Simard from the Women’s Fight Back Union (“Millions of women and children around the world wake up to this kind of terror every single day. And this terror is made in the United States. … Bush’s program is anti-women, anti-gay, and anti a lot of us.”) I wonder how she would have liked the Taliban by comparison.

• More From John Avlon: Getting Hit with the Hitler Card
The Iraq war proved a potent recruitment tool. Michael Moore’s 2004 film Fahrenheit 9/11 mixed provocative footage of Bush’s missteps and malapropisms along with a full range of conspiracy theories concerning the Bush family’s ties to the Saudi royal family and the bin Laden family, documenting a case of blood for oil. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2006, the movie Death of a President, a mockumentary of sorts, purported to follow the investigation of the unsolved assassination of George W. Bush and the subsequent expansion of the Patriot Act by President Dick Cheney. It won the International Critics Prize at the Toronto Film Festival.

The left-Wingnut netroots paraded their Bush hate, such as this post at the leading left-wing political Web site Daily Kos: “I know hate is a strong word. But I do hate the man. I hate him.” Groups like Code Pink staged “die-ins,” screamed during congressional hearings, protested military recruitment stations and attempted citizen’s arrests of administration officials. A collection of memorable signs from the anti-Bush protests gives you a sense of the derangement: “Bush = Satan,” “Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush,” “Hang Bush for War Crimes,” “End the Illegal Occupation in the White House,” “Bush is the Disease, Death is the Cure,” “Bush is the only Dope worth Shooting,” “Death to Extremist Christian Terrorist Pig Bush,” and “Kill Terrorists, Bomb There [sic] House, Kill Bush, Bomb His F—in House.” The “s” in Bush’s name was routinely turned into a swastika on protest posters and the tell-tale tiny mustache drawn upon his image.

But Bush-as-Hitler comparisons did not just gain currency on protest placards – this was Café Society stuff. The 2005 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, British playwright Harold Pinter, penned a statement saying, “The Bush administration is the most dangerous force that has ever existed. It is more dangerous than Nazi Germany because of the range and depth of its activities and intentions worldwide.” Liberal author and one-time Al Gore clothing consultant Naomi Wolf offered comparisons of the Bush administration to the Nazi regime in her book The End of America (an assertion benignly recounted in an interview on NPR titled “Naomi Wolf Likens Bush to Hitler”). MSNBC Countdown host Keith Olbermann called Bush a fascist on air, while Moveon.org took heat for an online advertising contest where two contributors offered Bush = Hitler comparisons.

Legendary singer, civil rights leader and Hollywood elder statesman Harry Belafonte traveled to visit Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and announced: “No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people … support your revolution.” Antiwar protester and mother of fallen soldier Cindy Sheehan became a brief media sensation for camping out near Bush’s Crawford ranch—a status not considerably diminished when she followed Belafonte’s lead by calling President Bush “a bigger terrorist than Osama bin Laden.”

When Nobel Peace Prize Winner Betty Williams of Northern Ireland gave the keynote speech to the International Women’s Peace Conference in Dallas, she said, “Right now, I could kill George Bush, no problem. No, I don’t mean that. I mean—how could you nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that.” She chuckled a bit in her confessional Irish brogue, and members of the audience laughed. Not that Dallas has any history with presidential assassinations.

Democrats didn’t seem allergic to these outbursts, they seemed instead subtly to encourage them for partisan gain—just as they accuse Republicans of doing now. Bush Derangement Syndrome was so widespread on the left—and Bush so broadly unpopular by the end of his term—that it failed to inspire much mainstream media outrage. It wasn’t considered news.

But after one Bush-bashing protest in September 2005, Fox News host Sean Hannity had an admirable if unusual moment of clarity: “The president was called every name in the book—from a terrorist to the Führer,” he said, shaking his head, and then turned his attention to one of the protest’s liberal organizers. “If you really believe what you’re saying, you need to distance yourself from the extremists that are running this thing.”

It was good advice—then and now.

John Avlon’s new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.