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Broken Elephants, Part II: Ben Carson, Frank Gaffney, and The Way to Make Your Mark in Today’s GOP

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I

Consider if you will the rise of Frank Gaffney, the man who is arguably the single most-interviewed expert on Fox News and conservative talk radio.

Frank_GaffneyGaffney’s career trajectory has been colorful, to say the least. After a stint as a congressional staffer, he spent the early to middle 1980s working in the Reagan Administration, by all accounts admirably. Indeed, by 1987 Gaffney had worked his way up to the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

Immediately after that promotion, however, something in Gaffney’s White House ascent went wrong. Within days of securing the post, Gaffney was shut out of all meetings on foreign policy. His state of persona non grata continued for several months before he arrived at work one morning to find his belongings boxed up and his self quickly escorted out of the building.1 Upon his departure, he skewered Reagan in the press for being soft on Communism.

The following year, Gaffney formed the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a kind of vanity project dedicated to uncovering how some combination of enemy stealth agents were secretly taking control of the U.S. government. He spent the proceeding years accusing first the Reagan and then the H.W. Bush administration of conspiring to sow the seeds of America’s destruction at the command of the wily Russians. As the years went by and Glasnost did not pan out to be an ingenious and subversive plot to make the U.S. a Soviet satellite country, Gaffney shifted his attention to the Muslim threat. Agents of Islam, Gaffney came to believe, were committing a secret coup of the federal government with the intention of banning Christianity and Judaism in America. He was widely dismissed as a nutjob by pretty much everyone, and he would likely have disappeared into relative obscurity forever save for two concurrent events: the election of Barack Hussein Obama, and the rise to ascendancy of Fox News and the conservative Media Machine.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.02.28 PMIn the early days of the Obama administration, Gaffney and Fox News carved out a mutually beneficial relationship. Fox provided Gaffney a national platform to float preposterous theories that the President of the United States was a Muslim Brotherhood sleeper agent bent on destroying our way of life. Gaffney, in return, delivered boffo ratings to whichever cable news or radio anchor agreed to take him seriously on air.  Further, Gaffney was able to bend his conspiracy theories to provide content surrounding whatever Democrat might be in the news that day. Hence, a crowd as diverse as Hilary Clinton, Susan Rice, Richard Haas, and Dennis Ross were all, at one time or another, reported by Gaffney to be willing participants in the Muslim Brotherhood’s covert invasion of America. And on slow news days when the Media Machine found itself in need of someone to go live and make some brand new, over-the-top, outlandish accusation against Obama, Gaffney delivered time and time again. The various over-the-top conspiracy theories spouted by Gaffney between 2009 and 2015 are legion, but my particular favorite is this one.

And then, in 2011, Gaffney began to go off talking point: it wasn’t just the Democrats who were sleeper agents, Gaffney began declaring. The Muslim Brotherhood was also controlling GOP leaders and highly visible conservative champions, including some Fox regulars. Gaffney used his conservative media perch to accuse Grover Norquist, the conservative anti-tax champion, of being an internal perpetrator of the Muslim plot against America.2 He then went after CPAC, the famous and influential conservative grassroots advocacy event, slinging similar accusations. Gaffney even began to suggest that key members of the Bush administration had been in on the conspiracy.

None of this should have been surprising to anyone. Gaffney, after all, was the guy both sufficiently paranoid and off his gourd to have believed that the Reagan and H. W. Bush administrations were a bunch of commie stooges. But surprising or not, Gaffney’s departure from the reservation provided the conservative media with a somewhat stark choice between the competing aspirations of politics and revenue.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.04.52 PMGaffney had gone from a rabble-rouser that merely turned outsiders against the Republican Party to one who was now turning actual Party members away from it as well. It was as if a McDonald’s spokesman had suddenly gone on national television to talk about how s**ty Big Macs and Quarter Pounders tasted. Gaffney’s ravings were an embarrassing blow to the credibility of the GOP as well as the larger conservative movement, and it was clear that keeping him on air could do nothing but hurt the cause. On the other hand, however, Gaffney was still a big ratings draw with nothing but time on his hands. He was seemingly available for any and all TV and radio shows that were willing to both book him and refer to him as a renowned, respected, award-winning foreign policy expert. For conservative media outlets, it was an obvious choice between higher ratings and furthering ideology.

The Media Machine’s subsequent embrace of Gaffney showed yet again that its primary business has always been business.

Today, Gaffney remains one of the most frequent guests on Fox News and conservative talk radio, if not the most frequent; on many shows he has a regular weekly slot. Moreover, his increased visibility via the Media Machine has astoundingly made him into something of a kingmaker. Those candidates looking to secure the anti-GOP votes have been forced to align themselves with Gaffney. Trump, Cruz, Carson, Fiorina, and Santorum have all lent their names to Gaffney’s various PR events this year. Remarkably, at times this has meant that they have agreed to share the stage, in an election year, with white nationalists such as Ann Corcoran.3 And when you see Donald Trump citing debunked statistics to justify banning Muslims, know that he’s getting them from Gaffney.

Do not misunderstand. Gaffney is still widely regarded as an opportunistic, paranoid, whack-job — even, I am told, by the many media producers who book him. While the broadcasting of his views makes money, it does so only with an extremely targeted demographic. On a national level, Gaffney’s conspiracy theories are politically toxic: a whopping 66% oppose the U.S. barring Muslims from entering the country, and that might well be Gaffney’s least nutty idea. Yes, there are many reasons why the GOP has already lost its 2016 White House bid, but Gaffney’s influence on the anti-GOP forerunners is by no means the least of them.

This raises something of a puzzle. It’s easy to understand why a cable television network or a radio station would choose ratings over a Republican in the Oval Office. It’s quite a bit less obvious why an actual candidate for that same office would choose such a path.

This is only puzzling, however, if you assume that the reason all of the GOP candidates are running is that they actually wish to be President.

II

In many ways, Ben Carson might well be the least likely candidate running for President.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.06.49 PMBy all accounts a brilliant surgeon, Carson is also an equally gifted entrepreneur. Prior to his rise as a conservative commentator, Carson had penned three books, each a standout on the Christian bestseller charts. One was an autobiography, but the other two were motivational business books — a sort of 7 Habits or Unlimited Power targeted to the faithful. Carson also marketed himself as a corporate motivational speaker. His interest in politics was scant, if it existed at all. Prior to 2014, Carson had no partisan affiliation; it remains unclear whether or not he ever bothered to vote after he left the GOP in the mid-1990s. As late as 2010, he was approached by a member of the Republican Party to run for Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, an offer he immediately dismissed without consideration, saying he had no interest in such pursuits. Carson later noted that he felt both parties were corrupt and hypocritical, and he had no interest in aligning himself with either.

Caron’s total lack of interest in politics might well have continued to this day, save for one fortuitous event: In 2013 he was asked to speak at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Dr. Benjamin Carson's Speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.

For the most part, Carson’s speech was simply his signature mixture of motivational and spiritual aphorisms. However, he also threw in a line or two about the need for a freer healthcare market and a flat tax. The lines themselves were somewhat milquetoast, but as the President was sitting but a few feet away at the time, the optics were powerful. And as in the case of Donald Trump’s performance on The View, conservative media booking agents heard the sweet sound of dollar signs.

That week, the Wall Street Journal ran the headline Ben Carson for President on its editorial page. Within a few months, the Washington Times hired Carson as a regular political columnist; shortly thereafter, he was brought on as a regular political contributor to Fox News. In 2014, just prior to the midterm elections, Carson officially joined the Republican Party. That decision, he said at the time, was entirely “pragmatic;” Carson said he wanted to consider running for President, and had to “run in one party or the other.”

The buzz that has surrounded Carson on the Right since his 2013 National Prayer Breakfast speech is understandable. Despite liberals’ insistence otherwise, Carson is both likable and charismatic. Further, he is likely the smartest (if not necessarily the wisest) man in whatever room in which he happens to be hanging out. Claims from liberal pundits that Carson isn’t bright enough to know how to speak in public come off as wishful thinking, considering his highly successful career over decades doing just that.4 He stood in favor of smaller government, lower taxes, and a return to a more religious government; he stood very much against Obamacare, abortion, and political correctness. Bonus: Carson himself was African-American, which from a conservative perspective gave the Right a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card to parrot his vitriolic criticism of black equality movements.

But that still raises the question: Why does a man who seems to have never had any interest in politics suddenly decide to run for President of the United States?

The answer, I believe, is that above all else Ben Carson is an entrepreneur. And as Newt Gingrich proved in 2012, running for President in the age of the Media Machine has become a highly profitable enterprise.

III

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.13.05 PMIn the lead-up to the 2012 election, Gingrich raised eyebrows with two of his largest PACs, American Solutions and American Legacy. Together, these two PACs are examples of either some of the most successful primary fundraisers or some of the most disastrous, depending upon your point of view.

American Solutions collected $50 million for Gingrich prior to the primary. However, as the New York Times reported in 2011, “much of that money went to pay for charter flights for Mr. Gingrich as he traveled the country, keeping his political profile high.” Shortly after Gingrich declared his candidacy, the PAC declared bankruptcy amid “revelations about [Gingrich’s] lavish personal spending.” To this day, the answer to the question of where that $50 million ended up is more than a little murky.

If anything, the story of American Legacy is even more troubling. As Mother Jones noted in 2013, the PAC raised almost $2 million in 2012 for elections, but spent less than $30,000 on candidates, political races, and administrative expenses. The vast majority of the money collected from donors went to expenses identified as “fundraising” – which means, in clearer terms, that the donations collected from donors went to the people collecting the donations.5

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Graph depicting American Legacy PAC’s 2012 expenditures, from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Such a fundraising model is ethically troubling, to say the least. Traditionally when someone makes a $100 donation to a political candidate, the assumption is that most or all of that money goes toward canvasing staff and offices, political advertising, and other such campaign expenses. That over 95% of one’s donation might go to the third-party contractor collecting the donation would surely horrify any sane person writing such a check. In previous elections, such a model would likely have been seen as criminal behavior by the person actually running for office — who, one would assume, was relying on such donations to keep their doors open.

The Media Machine has changed all of that, because the purpose of conservative politics, or at least of one species of it, is no longer governing so much as it is making money. It is unlikely that Gingrich really harbored a desire (or at least a hope) to be President. Rather, he used the run up to the election to sell books and public speaking engagements — and not for chump change, either. Tax returns released by Gingrich during the election showed that he made $2.4 million dollars the previous year in speaker fees, book and video royalties, and assorted consulting fees.6

As it turns out, both of the Gingrich PACs described above, American Solutions and American Legacy, feature rather prominently in the current Carson campaign.

Amy Pass, the finance director of American Solutions, is now Carson’s National Finance Director. Carson’s head fundraiser, Mark Murray, was the treasurer of American Legacy during the Gingrich campaign. Additionally, Carson appears to have taken the highly unusual step of hiring a business manager for his campaign; more eyebrow-raising, he has chosen his longtime friend and ally Armstrong Williams to be that manager.7

 

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Most tellingly, however, is the fact that the fundraising model appears to be identical. As David Graham noted in the Atlantic, almost all of the money raised by the Carson campaign is going to the fundraisers hired to collect donations; there appears to be little money going to traditional Presidential campaign expenses such as canvassers, advertising, or rent on states’ headquarters. In fact, less than 15% of the donations collected for Carson’s campaign appear to be being spent on Carson’s actual campaign. Not that it’s clear exactly how much actual campaigning Carson is doing. As TPM reported last week, Carson has been using much of his time during the campaign hiring himself out for paid speaking gigs.8

Like Gingrich’s campaign in 2012, Carson’s seems to exist for no other reason than to be a (very lucrative) cottage industry. Knowing this explains much about Carson’s Presidential bid thus far, such as why he seems so unconcerned with taking the time to brush up on foreign policy and other important matters outside his normal wheelhouse: He’s not trying to win an election, he’s pushing a product.

It also explains why he is happy to cozy up to someone like Frank Gaffney, whose toxicity would linger come the general election. Carson’s potential customers are largely the same as the customers of the Media Machine that peddles Gaffney. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the head of CSP isn’t bad politics. It’s good branding.

Indeed, one might argue that in this scenario everyone wins. The increased revenue ensures that Carson the entrepreneur wins, as do Gaffney, the Media Machine, the PACs, and those shady third-party fundraisers with whom the Carson campaign contracts. The Media Machine’s audience wins, because this is what they seem to crave most of all: the symbolic victories over the substantial ones. Even the Democrats win, because such goings-on will do nothing but cement their chances to retain the White House. (And likely name at least the next two Supreme Court Justices.) Everyone wins!

Well, everyone except the Republican Party, anyway.

IV

We will conclude this series of essays by taking a look at Ted Cruz and the current state of GOP public policy on a national level — public policy which is primarily concerned with feeding content to conservative media outlets, at the expense of the health of the Republican Party itself. Readers who missed Part I of the series, which focused on Donald Trump as well as how poll results show that the conservative Media Machine is finally destroying the GOP, can be seen here.

 

UPDATE:

Since filing this piece for posting, there has been a development within the Carson campaign that is directly related to this post, and thus deserves mentioning: On New Year’s Eve, Carson’s Campaign Manager Barry Bennett and Communications Director Doug Watts walked out on the campaign without notice. Upon hearing the news, eighteen addition professional political staffers followed suit.

Bennett and Watts issued a joint statement to NBC News that was full of corporate-speak “Fish You’s” to Carson and his business staff. In subsequent interviews with NBC and other news outlets, Bennett pointed to Carson’s deference to Business Manager Armstrong Williams over the professional campaign staff as the primary source of the frustration. One of the more eye-raising revelations in these interviews was this: It has been WIlliams, not Bennett or Watts, who has been in charge of planning and scheduling Carson’s campaign interviews. In fact, it turned out that Bennett and Watts first heard about Carson’s much-ballyhooed day of one-on-one interviews with various top-tiered news agencies just prior to Christmas when they saw it reported by the Washington Post. Neither Carson nor Williams had apparently thought to inform either of them about it.

Also interesting is one of Carson’s two choices to fill the void left by Bennett and Watts. While the promotion of Ed Brookover, a career operative who had been serving as Carson’s Senior Strategist, was certainly a somewhat traditional move, bringing in Robert F. Dees was decidedly not.

Dees is a retired Army General and devout Christian, which are likely pluses for fans of Carson. However, Dees has no real political background or experience. After his retirement, he was commissioned by Liberty University to develop a course on resiliency for veterans and current members of the armed forces, especially those who have had been wounded or suffered from stress-related ailments such as PTSD. As the course is clearly designed for evangelicals, its use has been somewhat limited. However, by all accounts it has been an extremely useful tool for the right target market.

Since then, Dees has taken the core ideas of that resiliency course and turned them into a mass-market self-help and corporate management motivational series. His book, Resilient Leaders, is similar to Carson’s own business books. In addition, Dees has developed the Resilient Life Cycle© self-help and corporate leadership training program. Though again targeted to evangelicals, Resilient Life Cycle© is pretty standard biz-pop fare, promising to deliver its customers the ability to “help people, teams, and entire organizations ride out the storms of life with values intact, restore function and enter into growth, and rebound to greater heights.”

All of this is pretty significant, and quite telling. First, it shows that Carson’s business and marketing arm hasn’t been tagging along for the ride with Carson’s campaign; rather, it has been the reverse. It also means that one of Carson’s top two “political” executive campaign staffers is someone whose current career is selling motivational self-help books and corporate speaking and training gigs. Remarkably, either despite all of this or because of it, Carson continues to be the top fundraiser in the GOP primaries.

In many ways, I believe this should worry the current GOP leadership far more than Trump.

 

[Images: Ben Carson via Wikipedia. Screenshot of the Hannity Show video via YouTube. Frank Gaffney via Wikipedia. Screenshot of “Ground Zero” Mosque story on Fox News, via Wikipedia. Grover Torquiest, via Wikipedia. Ben Carson book cover via Amazon.  Newt Gingrich via Wikipedia. Screenshot of Armstrong WIlliams on CNN, via Youtube.]


Notes:

  1. As with any employee termination, there is some disagreement as to why Gaffney was shunned. Gaffney has stated it was simply a civil disagreement over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the USSR. Columnist William Safire, however, claimed that Gaffney had sent an inappropriately scathing memo to the Department of Defense decrying his superiors as “meek” and unwittingly treasonous. []
  2. Gaffney went full Gaffney on Norquist in an interview with Glenn Beck. []
  3. Interestingly, the more mainstream acceptance he gets from the GOP POTUS candidates, the more Gaffney seems to want to push the envelope. In September, Gaffney interviewed white nationalist Jared Taylor for CSP’s podcast, Secure Freedom Radio. In that interview he praised Taylor’s magazine, American Renaissance, as being “wonderful,” and told Taylor he “[appreciated] tremendously the work you are doing at American Renaissance. Keep it up.” Which was kind of astounding.

    For those lucky enough not to be in the know, American Renaissance and its editors have argued over the years that African-Americans are inferior to whites, and that public policy should reflect this. Taylor himself wrote that “when blacks are left to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind civilization — disappears.” In 2013, American Renaissance held a conference dedicated in part to creating a white homeland. Featured speakers at the conference called for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” and reasoned that by allowing non-whites into the country the federal government was committing “a genocide of our people.”  One keynoter suggested that abortion, traditionally verboten amongst conservatives, was all-in-all a social good when undertaken by the black population, a practice he referred to as “Crime Stoppers.”

    To be fair, there is an entire degree of separation to get from Gaffney to Taylor. Still, for all but one of the leading GOP candidates to so publicly cozy up to a man who calls such a magazine “wonderful” says quite a bit about just how truly bizarre the 2016 election has become. []

  4. In a way, it’s eerily similar to claims from the Right that Barack Obama lacks the intelligence to speak without a teleprompter. And it likely says something ugly about Americans that the obvious rejoinder to any learned or scholarly black man one disagrees with is the automatic assumption that, despite his accomplishments, said black man must be unintelligent. []
  5. A business model which continued in 2014. []
  6. Gingrich never released exactly who paid him those fees and royalties. []
  7. Williams, you may remember, was the conservative columnist and radio host who was caught taking almost a quarter of a million dollars from the Bush administration’s Department of Education in a stealth campaign to promote No Child Left Behind. []
  8. FWIW, Carson appears to have netted $4.3 million in speaking fees since he joined the GOP and began floating the idea of a Presidential run two years ago. []

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Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also executive producer and host of the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre. He is  a regular contributor for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast. Follow him on Twitter. ...more →

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75 thoughts on “Broken Elephants, Part II: Ben Carson, Frank Gaffney, and The Way to Make Your Mark in Today’s GOP

  1. Great post. The really sad thing, and you can see this in the links about Carson’s staff quitting, is that the media is obliged to cover Carson, and Gingrich in 2012, as someone who is actually running for President as opposed to someone running a tax-exempt personal marketing operation.

    For that matter, the other team is obliged to take these guys seriously as well. Progressives get much more mileage out of alternating between using someone like Carson as negative motivation to rally around and painting him as an idiot rather than acknowledge that he is likely just playing a different game.

    One minor quibble related to this:

    Bonus: Carson himself was African-American, which from a conservative perspective gave the Right a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card to parrot his vitriolic criticism of black equality movements.

    It is not that conservative whites view Ben Carson as cover behind whom they feel free to be racist, or even politically correct (being politically incorrect has in many ways become the political correctness of the right). Rather, these are folks who have so internalized the white male victim mythology that they think having a black men up front helps to sell conservative ideas that would otherwise be dismissed as racist. These are folks who really believe that Obama is the affirmative action president. And now they want one of their own.

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    • It has actually been pretty common in the liberal Internet to say that Carson isn’t really running for prez but trying to sell books and build his brand. I’ve been reading that for months.

      He is clearly brilliant in his chosen field, i don’t’ think anybody has denied that. But like many specialists he is pretty unaware of anything outside of his field. But he, like again, many highly skilled specialists thinks he is knows a lot about everything.

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      • I’d rather listen to an economist criticize Firefly than listen to Ben Carson criticize anything.

        Skilled Surgeons are due about the respect that you give a senior car mechanic, that and no more. They’re roughly equivalent skillsets. Can you name the key difference?

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        • 1. Significantly longer and more intense academic and experiential barriers to entry into the medical profession.

          2. Stakes of outcome are (typically) much higher for surgeons. Certainty of outcome notwithstanding best efforts substantially lower for surgeons.

          3. Continuing medical education.

          4. Substantial support staff.

          5. People are not cars.

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          • You know robots do surgery now? I watched a DaVinci robot peel a grape. And then another stitch a grape’s skin together.

            My wife had personal experience with one of those things. Given her biggest problem was she was off pain pills in a week (six weeks is the minimum full recovery time) and kept trying to do things like, I dunno, lift stuff after being told not too….

            Pretty miraculous.

            (Although because we’re not insane, we didn’t want videos of that particular surgery before hand. Or after, to be honest. A magic robot did it. That’s all we needed to know).

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            • And why ever shouldn’t a robot do that sort of thing?

              But I’ll bet that there was a surgeon standing by right there in case things got wonky, and that a battalion of surgeons helped program the thing.

              I’m pleased that things didn’t get wonky in your wife’s situation, and that her recovery was so fast and (relatively) pain-free. Here’s wishing similar outcomes for everyone who has medical issues.

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                • Got it. So now it isn’t even a surgeon’s programming — it’s still a surgeon, just using a really technologically advanced tool.

                  Well, to the original point, yes, auto mechanics sometimes use very technologically advanced tools, too, and they do go to classes to learn how to use the and get certified on things and stuff. But it’s a massive quantitative difference between the work it takes to become a high-end, high-tech auto mechanic and the work it takes to become a good surgeon.

                  Because the object of that training is qualitatively very different.

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              • Oh no, the surgeon was controlling the robot. The thing is, they can tell the robot to do something very delicate and tedious — like, say, stitching up a very delicate bit over a sizeable cut, and the robot will do it perfectly. Better than any flesh and bone surgeon can.

                Because it doesn’t get tired, it doesn’t suffer a lapse of attention, and it’s capable of smaller, more precise movements than the human hand. And it can fit into tinier spots than clumsy human fingers, and still stitch.

                In this case, I believe the doctor used the robot as a waldo, basically, for a lot of the work. And then set it to cauterize, glue, or stitch delicate internal areas.

                In short, the surgeon spent most of the time with her hands on a machine. And the machine could be told to do simple stuff itself, I believe. (Like “stitch every x units for y length, at z depth”).

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  2. This is a very good piece and a great write-up, so, well done, Tod Kelly.

    I basically think that the main problem that the GOP faces is that a substantial share of its voters no longer trusts its elected officials to keep its interests in mind. That leaves an opening for fringe candidates. The talk radio/PAC ecosystem is sort of a parallel establishment that can make a compelling critique of how ineffectual the GOP’s elected officials are, and does… but then you see the things like how much money they spend to raise money, and it becomes quite clear that they’re basically running something only a bit above a scam.

    Democrats really do not have a comparable problem.

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    • Democrats are developing a comparable disillusionment with elected officials, at least on a local level. See, e.g., Chicago. And obviously there’s some distrust of Clinton, which is why Sanders has been able to gain some traction despite being slightly outside of the center to center-right of the party (the parts of the party that ordinary win the highly visible elections). But so far it hasn’t produced any love for “fringe” candidates (think Kucinich in ’04 and ’08, who didn’t gain any real traction), even if “fringe” means something very different in the two parties.

      That said, it’s interesting to me that this dissatisfaction is finally having at least early consequences for a Republican primary race (we’ll see how impactful it remains by next summer). I’ve heard many rumblings from conservatives about the ineffectiveness or even unwillingness of Republicans at the federal level to fight for conservative policies, particularly on issues like abortion and immigration, for the better part of two decades, and I remember a lot of dissatisfaction with Bush during his second term in particular, but it didn’t lead to more conservative candidates. Perhaps conditions — the Iraq debacle, for example — simply didn’t make a viable candidate to Bush’s right possible at the time?

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      • Chicago is a pretty unique example. Ed Lee sailed to reelection pretty easily in San Francisco. De Blasio is suffering in the polls but he has enough support that he can probably pull off reelection when his term is up and he has two years to pull around.

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        • I don’t know that Chicago is unique except in the scale and speed. Baltimore, St. Louis, and perhaps Missouri itself, are likely to face lesser challenges to entrenched Democratic politicians. And if there are signs of success in those places, it will spread.

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        • The Democratic Party is also helped by the fact that the Further Left was always disillusioned with it and never really attached itself to the Democratic Party in the same way that the Further Right decided to work with the Republican Party after World War II. From around FDR until the late 1940s or early 1950s, the Further Right in the United States hated both parties and wanted nothing to do with either. They eventually decided to start working within the Republican Party rather than from without it with great success.

          Dan Sotto is correct, many of the GOP base does not trust elected Republicans to carry out their interest. Chris is right that the Further Left feels the same about the Democratic Party. Where Chris is wrong is that the Republican base has a more accurate view of itself as the base of the Republican Party than people on the Further Left have of themselves as the Democratic Party. The base of the Democratic Party is more diverse and therefore ideologically wider than the base of the Republican Party. Elected Democratic politicians simply have more viewpoints and interests that need to be represented, many of these interests contradict each other, and more balancing needs to be done.

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        • I don’t know how good an example DeBlasio is, since he was kind of an insurgent (against Quinn) himself. Then again, I’m not really sure I buy the overall argument that there’s any sort of equivalency to the way Dems are getting annoyed at big city Democratic mayors with the distrust of the national level party that we’re seeing in the GOP. That kind of frustration just feels too familiar to me to really qualify as a trend.

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  3. Well said Tod. This is the most telling observation:

    “All of this is pretty significant, and quite telling. First, it shows that Carson’s business and marketing arm hasn’t been tagging along for the ride with Carson’s campaign; rather, it has been the reverse.”

    As long as running for president is a profitable business endeavor for Republicans, they are going to get conmen who launch campaigns in the hope of selling more books or getting a show on Fox News. The fact that the rank and file has no problem with this is shocking.

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    • ‘The fact that the rank and file has no problem with this is shocking.’

      Why is this shocking? Is it not par for the course in the current economic model?

      Hell the model is to build the brand and profit from it. No true capital formation required, (just assets under management right?). To say BSDI is an understatement. To say all sides do it in the current model is obvious.

      When tangible capital formation is occurring it may not look so much bread and circuses. It’s not so much broken elephants as broken everything.

      If the base is pissed and looking at fascist to fix the model, the boat on political sanity left the port and is over the horizon. We’re just haggling price of bread and circus now.

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  4. “Despite liberals’ insistence otherwise, Carson is both likable and charismatic. Further, he is likely the smartest (if not necessarily the wisest) man in whatever room in which he happens to be hanging out. Claims from liberal pundits that Carson isn’t bright enough to know how to speak in public come off as wishful thinking, considering his highly successful career over decades doing just that.”

    I think you do are going BSDI here and need a bit of pushback.

    Ben Carson is a successful speaker and writer for a very specific audience. Now this audience happens to be around 40 million people in the United States which is no small number but it still writing and speaking for a specific audience. Do you have any evidence of Ben Carson writing or speaking to a crowd outside this audience successfully? Liberals don’t take Carson seriously for the same reasons you were criticizing Frank Gaffney, Carson says some really nutty things which are absolutely disconnected from reality. He gets caught out on these things again and again. There was his theory about the ancient Israelites building the Pyramids. There was also the whole Perception class lie.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/holes-ben-carson-yale-psychology

    Ben Carson is a successful speaker in the same way that P.T. Barnum was a successful speaker. He sells lies and hokum to a large group of Americans who want the stories to be true because it represents their worldview. This is successful but it is not necessarily right or moral.

    Maybe Carson sincerely believes these things to be true but one thing that happens on the right is seemingly that being an expert in one things, makes someone an expert in all things. I trust Carson as an expert in pediatric neurosurgery, maybe neurosurgery in general. That doesn’t mean I have to trust him on Egyptology, health insurance policy, Economics, etc.

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    • Liberals views of Carson are probably more related to when and how liberals hear what Carson has to say.

      Two months ago, I didn’t know anything about Carson beyond the fact that he was a Brain Surgeon, that he was popular among conservative Christians, and that he was the only Black Candidate running in the Republican primary. Given that, I’d assumed that he was Intelligent and Charsimatic

      Two weeks ago, I knew that he believed in a bunch of conspiracy theories, especially ones related to biblical archeology. And I’d seen his performance in the third debate. That pretty much erased any positive thoughts I had about Carson’s intelligence or charisma. Now, there’s almost certainly a side of him I’m not seeing. I don’t think people can make it through med school without being incredibly clever in certain ways, and I don’t think people can become successful inspirational speakers without being incredibly charismatic in certain ways. But when it comes down to it, i’ve got guesswork and intuition in the plus column, and transcripts and video in the minus column.

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      • Now, I could try to turn that into a “and that’s why Liberals aren’t racist”.

        But I won’t. Because we are.

        Because racism isn’t a moral failing. It’s systemic. And when we get to see what he has to say about the pyramids but not what he has to say about epilepsy, or videos of him babbling foolishly about Russia but not videos of him being clear and knowledgeable about HSAs, that’s us participating in a racist system–one that we should work to reject.

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        • Racism, no neither was Seth Rogen’s pot induced outburst, some months back. but progressive arrogance, contempt against ‘bitter clingers’ except those one would fear to antagonize,

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        • Because racism isn’t a moral failing. It’s systemic.

          This is an interesting statement. It strikes me largely as a political statement, somewhat divorced from the issues of normative ethics and cognitive philosophy that one might normally raise when talking about racism.

          In your opinion, is this statement falsifiable? Can it be both?

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          • That should really say “isn’t just” or “isn’t primarily a moral failing. After all, participating unquestioningly in the system that is racism is immoral, or at the very least amoral.

            I’m simply saying that racism isn’t a matter of mustache-twirling cartoon villainy. That it’s something we do, and that people like us do, and it’s woven into the fabric of our present-day society.

            As to the falsifiability of the statement, “racism is systemic” is an unspecified generalization, so it’s not falsifiable. statements like “all racism is systemic” and “some racism is systemic” would be falsifiable though.

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            • Got it. I was reading you as saying something close to “all racism is systemic;” therefore completely above any issue of individual ethics or agency. By the way, I don’t think that statement is falsifiable, because, in that construction, it is mostly functioning as a definition. The older I get, the more wary I become of non-falsifiable statements.

              I agree with you absolutely that racism is a systemic issue as much as it is an individual issue.

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              • , yeah. To me, “racism is systemic” is definitional more than descriptive. That is, the phenomena I’m speaking about when I talk about racism, why it’s bad, and how it can be overcome are systemic phenomena. I’d even argue that the mustache-twirling racism is a phenomenon that emerges from the broader system of racism.

                But I also don’t think individual ethics and agency are incapable of addressing systemic phenomena–and so they still have a place of importance in any understanding of racism and/or opposition to it.

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  5. And it likely says something ugly about Americans that the obvious rejoinder to any learned or scholarly black man one disagrees with is the automatic assumption that, despite his accomplishments, said black man must be unintelligent.

    Another example is the common assertion that Clarence Thomas is just a puppet for Antonin Scalia.

    As for Carson’s bizarre performance as a campaigner, the truism that politics isn’t brain surgery cuts both ways. He’s surely not an idiot, but being smart really doesn’t preclude incuriosity, hubris or even being able to handle a political debate.[1] To indulge in a bit of stereotyping, at he’s just running a political campaign into the ground; surgeons usually do that with private planes instead.

    [1] There are good and even great politicians who suck behind the debate podium.

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      • I think Thomas is quite mad, but at least it’s an interesting sort of mad. Scalia used to at least be entertaining, but increasingly he sounds like one of those guys who calls in to sports shows to yell about how the Illuminati are using fluoridation to keep the Cubs from winning the World Series.

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      • I disagree with a claim that Clarence Thomas is not good at his job.

        He is well-learned, a skilled legal writer, and produces thoroughly-researched and logically-consistent opinions. He also frequently takes on opinions on less-sexy issues like ERISA and the Arbitration Act, and has staked out a unique (even from Scalia) school of Constitutional interpretation that, while I disagree with several of its premises (most prominently his rejection of the doctrine of Fourteenth Amendment incorporation), possesses rigor.

        Justice Thomas has strong opinions and they originate from a set of premises with which I personally disagree. But there is no indication that he is corrupt or unfairly biased, intellectually less capable than his (all very impressive) colleagues, or that he does not discharge his judicial duties with both the professionalism and vigor necessary to run the highest court of the land.

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        • I think many, particularly in the non-legal professions, see his lack of participation in oral arguments as an indication of an incurious nature or a lack of interest in building a narrative of the arguments rather than the cold textual basis. I know that in engineering, for instance, free-form discussion of the problem often “shakes loose” assumptions that one side or another were unaware of or corner cases which would not otherwise have been seen. I believe that law has a different process and one which laypeople are really not structured to understand without guidance.

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          • I think he is pretty damned doctrinaire about his rather strange point of view about constitutional issues. I generally get the sense that he comes closest, of all the Justices, to adhering to John Roberts’ stated ideals of just “calling balls and strikes”[1], it’s just he’s calling them based on a rule book from an alternate reality where John C. Calhoun’s face is on the five-dollar bill.

            Being a real stickler for bizarre principles is in no way inconsistent with meeting high intellectual standards.

            [1] I certainly think he comes closer than Roberts himself.

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    • Rather anecdotally, I have met some really idiotic engineers. Mind you, they could do their job fantastically. Whatever they did — design bridges, engines, whatever — fantastic. Excellent. Great at it. Would totally trust my life to it.

      Maybe idiotic is the wrong word. They weren’t dumb, it was just stuff outside their expertise? They basically felt they were similarly expert at. They would speak with great assurance, unwilling to listen to anyone else, on subjects they knew nothing about. Less than nothing, sometimes.

      They knew they were smart, knew they were excellent engineers — and somehow felt this made them expert at everything else.

      I think it’s a common pitfall among any expert or skilled person. You know you’re smart, or good, and so assume that it’s not just this narrow area of life you’re skilled with. It’s everything.

      Carson comes off that way. He’s undoubtedly a great neurosurgeon, and brain surgery — along with rocket science — is the buzzword we associate with “incredibly smart and skilled”. His skills would likely transfer to many other fields, like politics — except, by all accounts, he seems to think he knows everything he needs to know already and won’t tackle it like someone learning an utterly new skill.

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      • @Morat20:

        Rather anecdotally, I have met some really idiotic engineers.

        I’d bet a dollar at least one of them was a Creationist.

        I’ve seen it in engineers, physicists, MDs, lawyers, economists, and so on. Arrogant, incurious gits can excel at pretty much any endeavor with talent, hard work and some good luck. It’s the American dream!

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      • He’s undoubtedly a great neurosurgeon, and brain surgery — along with rocket science — is the buzzword we associate with “incredibly smart and skilled”.

        And I have no idea why. Neither of those make sense.

        First, rocket science isn’t really a thing. The word there is physicist if people are talking about the actual science, or rocket *engineer* if people are talking about building them. But both those, at least, require smarts.

        Surgery…does not. Yes, being a doctor is a pretty difficult skill level to reach, but in doctor land, surgeons are *actually* regarded, by other doctors, as the sorta dumb ones.

        Other doctors have to diagnose all sorts of problems and figure out what’s actually happening, whereas surgeons just…perform very specific cutting and sewing.

        Or, to put it another way, doctor:scientists::surgeons:engineers. Other doctors figure complicated problems out, surgeons just *fix machinery*, usually after some other doctor told them the problem, and mostly using well-known techniques they didn’t invent themselves. (1)

        This is not to say there are brilliant surgeons who fix problems that modern surgical techniques can’t handle, just like there are engineers that design things that no one knew how to design. But most surgeons, like most engineers, are just following basic rules and procedures. It takes skill, it takes knowledge, it takes steady hands, and it takes the ability to work under pressure. It does not, really, take intelligence.

        Again, surgeons usually are intelligent, but that’s because it’s really hard to *pass medical school* without being intelligent. But they’re in the ‘does not rely as much on intelligence’ branch of medicine.

        And brain surgery is not only no *harder* than other types of surgery, it’s actually somewhat more forgiving. You screw up in heart surgery, the patient is dead. You screw up in a liver transplant, the patient dies. You screw up in spinal surgery, the patient can’t walk. You can screw up in brain surgery, and maybe there’s some minor undetectable brain damage, who can say? Brains can’t even feel pain!

        1) I wonder if it’s less that ‘smart people’ fall prone for stupid political ideas than *engineers* do, and it’s just we should sometimes classify surgeons as engineers.

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        • And I have no idea why. Neither of those make sense.

          I haven’t actually researched this, but my guess is that both memes came out of the post-WWII era. Both rocketry and neurosurgery were making flashy breakthroughs that caught the public’s attention. It doesn’t matter that whatever validity there might once have been to the notion that rocketry and neurosurgery were limited to the super-smart no longer applies, if it ever did. Once this sort of meme gets established, it long survives past its actually being true. This is a bit like those people who note that poor people have cell phones, and who recall a time when cell phones were an expensive luxury, and conclude from this that there aren’t any people who are actually poor.

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  6. Apalling and well written my Todd.
    My own impression is that much of this involves the boomers. The GOP has a reservoir of credulous, frightened voters who have a nice package of money they’re sitting on. The grifter industry has been drilling for money in this reservoir for decades now. Now the parasites are getting so thick they’re beginning to kill their host.

    I don’t, however, see any way out except through. The GOP needs to lose and lose badly for a couple of cycles. Nothing kills parasites in political parties like an extended stint in the wilderness.

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      • I suppose one could argue that though if you’re living only on social security you’re probably not the primary target for these grifters. They’re mainly after the comfortable frightened white people who have a house, a cottage, a pension and social security and have a nice nest egg set aside as well.

        Hell, no wonder young people aren’t into the GOP- that’s their inheritances those shock jocks are finagling away.

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        • I dunno, I mean that fundraising machine has it’s roots in Pat Robertson’s fund-raising machinations of the what, early 80s? And IIRC, he was aiming pretty hard at seniors whose income stream was primarily SS.

          The timing and pattern of the fundraising appeals would be a good place to look to see if any given PAC or candidate or minister was aiming at that sweet SS money. You’d see the appeals peak around the date the checks get cashed and the week or so after, before dying down for a few weeks.

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  7. The thing is, the media is one part of a broad social system — but it’s all a system, which means cause and effect go round and round in loops. My point is, the media both reflects and shapes opinion.

    I recall going to gun shows in the early 80’s, down in South Florida, which was a lot more redneck back then than it is now. In any event, I’d see the Nazi memorabilia guys next to the guys selling elaborate knives, but then across the room I’d get confronted by some Bo Gritz supporter. Those were odd fellas. In any event, this shit ain’t new.

    But on the other hand, most people don’t hang out at guns shows, and many who do found the Nazi memorabilia guys just creepy and the Bo-Gritz-for-president guys just unhinged.

    Until people on TV kept saying this stuff to them again and again and again.

    The point, you can fool some of the people some of the time. You wrap up nonsense in an entertaining package, and experiment with your message until you find the social fault lines, and then the cash flows in.

    The problem is, of course, that you are fostering stupidity and hate, which are bad things in large doses. In other words, this is building stupidity and hate that might not have otherwise existed. And indeed, “angry old white people” were always going to be a problem in a progressive, multicultural society, as we moved away from the world they knew. So yeah. But at the same time, queers and blacks and Muslims (and so on) are human beings, and I’ve met plenty of homespun old folks who are totally awesome about diversity stuff.

    Part of that is just their character. No doubt. Character matters.

    But right-wing media is really attractive to a lot of people, and it knows what buttons to hit.

    Blah.

    Fox News and all that shit is causing suffering. They are the cause. They are an active evil in the world.

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  8. Actually it wasn’t a lie,

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/ben-carsons-yale-classmate-we-did-the-prank-test-that-carson#.oePN8AEM1b

    unlike the president who said his parents met at selma, four years after he was born, his memoir, whose press kit for a dozen years, said he was born in Kenya, and he was the son of a finance minister, a candidate whose first office, was not due to the idealism of his followers, but the systematic disqualification
    of all opponents, by challenging their voter signatures, passing himself as a constitutional law professor, when infact he was a lecturer in Alinsky power dynamics, His Senate race, was another sham, where the strongest candidates were forced out of the race, by the leaking of their sealed divorced records,

    need we mention the whole fraud who was John Edwards, not just an adulterous weasel, but a hypocritical consultant to Hedge Funds which foreclosed on properties in the 9th Ward,

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  9. One interesting part of this story, was Dewey Claridge’s supposed statement to the Times, who’s reporter burned the intelligence network he put together in Afghanistan, after facilitating the search and recovery of
    a reporter from said paper.

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  10. I don’t have much to add to either post so far, except that I am really enjoying them, and that I greatly appreciate how much FoxNews you have to suffer through to bring us this.

    Your sacrifice shall not go unnoticed, brother!

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  11. How about MSNBC, it’s a menagerie, dr. doolittle, would be afraid to tread, and don’t even get me started on the freakshow that CNN has become, as it becomes ‘increasingly more selective’

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  12. it’s funny, we are told Romney who was fooled by Gruber and Gina McCarthy, on masscare and climate change, was the answer, to which question.Possibly, except who can be slandered into a tax dodging
    killer of his employees wives, I’m using shorthand. McCain who bent over backwards on amnesty,
    and the muzzle of McCain Feingold, who ended up up a basengi in the final round of the contest, which he
    dropped out of, like Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1919.

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  13. those were the two republican standard bearer, their love of compromise and congeniality doomed them, now Bennett and Watts, didn’t reign in stray staffers like Claridge, and that had a consequence, Gingrich’s technique was much less consultant dependent than at the outset, and he won a few primaries till Romney
    10-50’s fold funding advantage ground him down, So a world renowned surgeon, hired a General who has been working rehabilitating wounded veterans, and that is a reason to look down on both of them,

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  14. Pingback: 10 Sunday Reads | The Big Picture

  15. Pingback: Broken Elephants, Part II: Ben Carson, Frank Gaffney, and The Way to Make Your Mark in Today’s GOP | Beyond Frequency

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