Campaign finance questions emerge around Palin’s trip

MSNBC contributor Karen Finney has a piece in The Hill questioning the propriety of Sarah Palin’s use of SarahPAC money to pay for her and her family’s “vacation” around the east coast. The trip has been treated by the press the same way it has been treated by Palin’s growing campaign machine: like a political trip, replete with meet-and-greets, on-the-road pop-ins and photo ops with key Republican politicians at iconic locations. Of course, as Finney points out, Palin’s explanations of this as a family vacation fly in the face of what political contributions to her PAC can and should be used for. Finney writes:

Given that Palin has so emphatically stated that this personal family vacation is not related to any political purpose, is it criminally fraudulent — federally punishable as mail or wire fraud — if the PAC funds, reasonably contributed for political purposes, are unlawfully converted for personal use?

This is a great question and an incredibly reasonable one for reporters to ask.

Finney thinks Palin is showing poor judgement by using PAC money for a family vacation which is masquerading as a presidential campaign testing-the-water trip which is masquerading as a family vacation. I disagree. Palin can answer as she has already – by being deliberately obtuse while performing linguistic gymnastics in response to reporters questions. She can tell her supporters on Facebook and Twitter that these questions are simply the LAMEstream media out to silence her. And she can probably assume that neither the FEC nor the Department of Justice will investigate if she is illegally using PAC money for personal gain, despite the fact that John Edwards is about to be indicted for using unreported political contributions for personal gain. In a sense, Palin has no real reason to not be coy with her purposes and her accounting because she has generally immunized herself from scrutiny from the press and from Democrats (at least to the extent that she does not accept their frame – how voters take her is a different question).

Originally posted at AMERICAblog Elections: The Right’s Field

Is the presidency beneath Palin?

Benjy Sarlin at TPMDC has a post up about the fascinating effort by movement conservatives to spin the idea that the presidency is actually beneath Sarah Palin and being elected would be a waste of her time. This is a remarkable idea and it’s being floated by conservative media figures like Andrew Breitbart and Ann Coulter. Somehow appearing with fringe Republican groups, nodding along on Fox News and posting the occasional Facebook rant is more important than being the leader of the free world. On the one hand, this spin clearly seems to be an effort to proactively protect Palin’s relevance in the event that she either fails to win the GOP nomination or fails to win the White House. It can’t be such a loss if it’d be a step down for someone as iconic as Palin…right guys? Right?

But on the other hand, this narrative demonstrates a sickening lack of regard for the institution of the presidency and the American project. This goes well beyond conservatives wanting to shrink government to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. Breitbart and Coulter are pushing a narrative that says the office of the President of the United States of America is not worthy of a fellow Fox News contributor’s time. It is a public assault on patriotism and national service (what would Reagan say?). It is an attack on the Constitution and the vision of the Founding Fathers for three coequal branches of government (what will the tri-corner hat wearing, Gadsden flag-carrying Tea Partiers say?). That this spin is being put forth in order to hedge the relevance of a marginal political intellect who poses a limited grasp of anything beyond the politics of resentment just makes it even more reprehensible.

Cross posted at AMERICAblog Elections: The Right’s Field

Conventional Wisdom keeps solidifying against Palin

Jonathan Martin and John Harris write a Conventional Wisdom-defining piece at Politico about Sarah Palin’s penchant for playing the victim card and how it is a sign that she will not be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

Among those taking aim at Palin in recent interviews with POLITICO are George F. Will, the elder statesman of conservative columnists; Peter Wehner, a top strategist in George W. Bush’s White House, and Heather Mac Donald, a leading voice with the right-leaning Manhattan Institute.

But Palin’s skeptics said a successful presidential candidacy would need to be buoyed by genuine policy vision, not merely grievance. For now, however, Palin’s appeal is now largely rooted in the sympathy she’s gleaned from her loudly voiced resentments toward the left, the news media and the GOP establishment.

“The appeal of conservatism is supposed to be people taking responsibility for their own actions,” said Labash. “But if you close your eyes and listen to Palin and her most irate supporters constantly squawk or bellyache or Tweet about how unfair a ride she gets from evil moustache-twirling elites and RINO saboteurs, she sounds like a professional victimologist, the flip side of any lefty grievance group leader. She’s becoming Al Sharpton, Alaska edition. The only difference being, she wears naughty-librarian glasses instead of a James Brown ‘do.”

Let’s leave aside the amount of sexism and racism laced through Labash’s quote and notice that this is a damning critique of Palin that is echoed in more artful ways by both the left and right. Labash later describes Palin’s victimization routine in a more artful way: “cocked-fist self-pity.” This better reflects the Palin modus operandi. Add in the fact that she has not used one moment of her time in public life since the 2008 election to expand herself intellectually or adopt a policy to gain expertise on and you arrive at the analysis of the ultimate Beltway Conventional Wisdom maker, Mike Allen:

Playbook facts of life: Sarah Palin has shown no capacity to evolve, grow substantively, or expand her base of support. If she had spent her time studying education reform, like Jeb Bush – or developing a signature issue of any sort – a Palin candidacy would look much more promising. She resigned as governor in July, 2009 — a year and a half that has been squandered, used only to make money rather than to reintroduce herself to the American middle.

I’ve been saying for years that it’s pretty near impossible to identify Conventional Wisdom is, in fact, correct. But this may be a time when the Beltway prognosticators and reality in the rest of the country line up closely.

One thing that I wonder is if any of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates will start making similar attacks on Palin as we’re seeing from Beltway pundits and conservative opinion writers. Whoever does so first will likely enjoy a pretty heavy dose of Palin’s “cocked-first self-pity,” which may be the whole point for Palin. By drumming up her victimization schtick for two and a half years, any opponent will clearly know that a direct attack on her will not be taken lightly. Palin may not be performing well in primary polls, but does Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty really want to go head-to-head with Palin while the whole press is watching? I doubt it. The flip side of this, which Allen gets at, is that being a one-trick pony clearly hasn’t won Palin strong support with base voters yet. For her to become viable, she has to find a way to reach people that doesn’t include victimization. She has to offer up ideas, at least in so far as any of her opponents will offer up ideas (Personally I don’t think “cut taxes, bash workers” counts as an actual idea, but that’s just me).

Originally posted at AMERICAblog Elections: The Right’s Field

First Amendment Baiting

Sarah Palin’s statement on the assassinations in Arizona is days late and more than a few dollars short. Jonathan Singer notes:

It takes Palin nine paragraphs to condemn the violence. By contrast, Palin begins striking a defensive tone in just the fifth paragraph.

What more could we possibly expect than the master of making herself the center of the news cycle? Singer goes on:

The assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords that took the lives of six Americans was not about Sarah Palin. The debate that has ensued since has also not been about Palin, except for the extent to which the rhetoric she has used has been used to exemplify the type of over-the-top language Americans would like to see less of in the future. That Palin believes this makes her the center of the story, and moreover that she should release a defensive statement rather than one that calls on Americans to come together only reinforces the sense in many that she does not have what it takes to be a serious leader in this country.

While I certainly believe that Singer is right that Palin has proven her unworthiness as a leader in American politics with this crass, selfish statement, I think he’s missing an important point. Palin has, yet again, shown incredibly savvy. She makes things be about her when they are not about her. She appeals to the cheapest part of American civics, the side that thinks that the First Amendment means not only you can say whatever you want, but that you should be protected from criticism for whatever it is you say.

The statement included this outlandish line:

If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

Blood libel is a phrase with a very specific meaning. It refers to the anti-Semitic smear that Jews need blood – notably the blood of non-Jewish children – to bake matzos for Passover. Blood libel has historically been used to persecute Jews, including by Hitler in the lead-up to the Holocaust. Palin’s use of blood libel, according to a friend in email, “is an attempt to draw a connection between Hitler and the media. She basically said the media was behaving like Hitler.” Not surprisingly, many Jewish groups are condemning Palin’s use of the term today.

Palin’s statement also included this passage:

Just days before she was shot, Congresswoman Giffords read the First Amendment on the floor of the House. It was a beautiful moment and more than simply “symbolic,” as some claim, to have the Constitution read by our Congress. I am confident she knew that reading our sacred charter of liberty was more than just “symbolic.” But less than a week after Congresswoman Giffords reaffirmed our protected freedoms, another member of Congress announced that he would propose a law that would criminalize speech he found offensive.

I find it hard to believe that prompting a backlash against her use of blood libel isn’t a tidy way for Palin to turn around and say to her supporters, “See, they wanted me to say something about the shooting and now they’re trying to criminalize my speech.”

This isn’t to say groups shouldn’t continue to push back hard on blood libel. But rather, Palin should be criticized not just for using insensitive terms, but for being completely disingenuous. I don’t know if there is a term that is the First Amendment equivalent to race baiting, but Palin is certainly demonstrating a demand for one.


George Packer:

But it won’t do to dig up stray comments by Obama, Allen Grayson, or any other Democrat who used metaphors of combat over the past few years, and then try to claim some balance of responsibility in the implied violence of current American politics. (Most of the Obama quotes that appear in the comments were lame attempts to reassure his base that he can get mad and fight back, i.e., signs that he’s practically incapable of personal aggression in politics.) In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.

A Sneaky Teenager

What Jane said:

I won’t speculate on the role Palin played in motivating the actions of Jared Loughner — nobody can know that for sure, probably not even him. But the irresponsible nature of Palin’s actions speak for themselves, and don’t need the affirmation of outside events to qualify as alarming and foolhardy. You want to act recklessly? Fine, drive a race car. Put out oil fires. Climb the Himalayas. You do not have the maturity or the judgment to be President of the United States.

Further, Palin’s retreat into self-pity and victimization in the wake of the shooting demonstrates that she is utterly devoid of self-reflection, completely unable to acknowledge her failure to gauge the dangers inherent in the situation at the time, or learn from her mistakes. She acts like a sneaky teenager. She lies. She pushes others out there to take the hits for her, incapable of even acknowledging her role as a political leader who consciously exerts influence over how her followers should interpret and respond to events.

Assassination in Arizona

I haven’t posted earlier for two reasons – first, there’s still a lot of information and insight coming out of the investigation in Arizona. Second, the pace of rapid fire punditry was somewhat overwhelming. At a certain point, while people are still in surgery, I don’t really care to be arguing with conservatives on Twitter about the level of their leaders’ culpability for their persistently violent rhetoric in opposition to the Obama administration and Democratic policy pursuits.

The press and public figures may not be willing to admit it, but violence has been a hallmark of American politics since our country’s inception. While over the course of our history violence has been perpetrated to further political means by both sides of the political spectrum, over the last hundred years (at least) conservatives have been far more likely to use violence as a means of political expression. From the Oklahoma City bombing to the murder and lynching of countless civil rights activists (or random African-Americans) during the Civil Rights era, the American right has a real, terrifying history of using violence. It is this history that makes the comments by Republican figureheads like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle and Michele Bachmann so dangerous. The rhetoric exists in a historical context that is marred by violence.

In many regards, the violent rhetoric that we see realized in Tucson started with President Obama’s inauguration and the legislative process of reforming health care. The August 2009 recess was defined by the frequent disruptions of town hall discussions by Tea Party radicals. Many town halls were canceled because of threats made against legislators. The threats weren’t solely directed at people making policy – many organizations that supported the President and reform, including my own labor union – were inundated with threats of violence from conservatives.  One Glenn Beck viewer became so inspired by Beck’s smears of the non-profit Tides Foundation that he took up arms and drove to Oakland to try to kill them all, only to end up in a fire fight with the police.

A lot has been made that Rep. Gifford was one of the Democrats literally put in the crosshairs by Sarah Palin’s PAC. Gifford herself thought that it was provocative and dangerous, telling MSNBC “they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action.” Of course, Palin and her staff immediately tried to scrub references to the target map after the shooting. One spokesperson even went so far as to suggest the scope crosshairs were not even targets.

In fact, she said that the “target list” was not intended to allude to guns.

“We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights,” she said.

“It’s surveyor’s symbols,” the interviewer Tammy Bruce suggested. Bruce, a Palin supporter, describes herself as “a gay, pro-choice, gun owning, pro-death penalty, Tea Party Independent Conservative. ” Her show is promoted as a “chick with a gun and a microphone.”

Mansour agreed. She said that the graphic was contracted out to a professional. They approved it quickly without thinking about it. “We never imagined, it never occurred to us that anybody would consider it violent,” she said. Rather, she said, that it was simply “crosshairs that you would see on a map.”

There is “nothing irresponsible about our graphic,” she said.

I am hard pressed to think of a single statement in American politics that is more outrageous and dishonest than this. Even Sarah Palin thinks the target symbols were target symbols, saying in a tweet:

@SaraPalinUSA Remember moths ago “bullseye” icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 out of 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad)

As I said, I can’t think of a more dishonest, outrageous statement in recent political history than Palin’s spokesperson saying these were surveyor marks and not bullseye targets. If they were in fact a surveyor or mapping symbol, then Palin would not refer them to as “bullseye icon[s]” and her staff would not be scrubbing the internet of that image and those tweets. Beyond this, Dave Weigel points out that Palin repeatedly doubled down on the target map throughout the 2010 campaign. Any suggestion to the contrary is completely ludicrous.

The fact that we are even in a position where the leading public figure of one political party has to deny that her words and her imagery actually encouraged violence is a testament to how outlandish Palin’s rhetoric was to begin with. But as bad as she has been, she is hardly the sole perpetrator of violent rhetoric on the right. It is disturbingly ubiquitous from leaders on the right, especially as the Tea Party has risen as a power base within the GOP. Something is deeply wrong when the language of violence is used to create enthusiasm for one political party, due to unhappiness with the previous results at the ballot box. When words like traitor, socialist, fascist, and communist are tossed around as needs for Republicans to “take our country back” and use “Second Amendment remedies” to achieve their goals, it is not shocking that some of their followers eventually do take up arms.

Yesterday Paul Krugman blogged:

You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik gave a soul-searching press conference yesterday (quotes from an emailed transcript & this story):

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the Capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.””It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that’s the sad thing of what’s going on in America. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.”

“It’s time to do a little soul searching about the rhetoric we hear on the radio, how are children are being raised,” the sheriff said.

Republicans are calling for Sheriff Dupnik to resign over these comments, citing fears that they will prompt violence against the right. This would be remarkable if it weren’t entirely within the playbook of the modern Republican Party – attack your opponent where you are most weak.

There is still a tremendous amount of information that will come out about the motives of John Loughner. There is no scenario wherein someone takes a gun into a crowded political event and starts shooting that doesn’t involve them being mentally sick. But putting a gun to the head of a congresswoman point-black and pulling the trigger is an inherently political act. Regardless of what the final answer, if one emerges, about Loughner’s motivations, there is simply no reason for leading Republicans and media figures not to follow Sheriff Dupnik’s advice and do their own soul searching and tone down their rhetoric.