03.03.10

Playing the Fear Card

A Republican National Committee memo demonizes Obama and promises to save us from socialism. Eric Alterman on the GOP’s breathtaking contempt for their own—and how the Dems should respond.

A Republican National Committee memo demonizes Obama and promises to save us from socialism. Eric Alterman on the GOP’s breathtaking contempt for their own—and how the Dems should respond. Plus, Conor Friedersdorf on the RNC's self-inflicted wound and Benjamin Sarlin on ticking off the tea party crowd.

Well, this is something. Just when you thought politics could not possibly get any more cynical than phony accusations of “death panels” and “Tea Party” conventions that rip off crazy people with the promise of revolution, we discover that the Republican National Committee thinks its funders are so stupid that they can soak them the basis of “fear,” “socialism,” and tchotchkes.

No really. According to a document uncovered by Politico, RNC Finance Director Rob Bickhart gave a presentation at a party retreat in Boca Grande, Florida, on February 18 in which he explained how “ego-driven” Republican donors could be bilked by a campaign of fear and the promise that only the Republicans could "save the country from trending toward socialism."

Ironically, this memo might present Democrats with just the kick in the ass they so desperately need. This is the party demanding compromise and bipartisanship?

The document is breathtaking in the contempt demonstrated for Republican supporters, expecting them to insist that a president who, on the one hand, is accused by his own supporters as being overly cozy with Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry—to say nothing of his hawkish foreign policy—while he's also dubbed the second coming of Joe Stalin. "What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House, or the Senate...?" the memo asks. The answer is apparently a series of cartoons in which Obama is portrayed variously as The Joker, and “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid are depicted as Cruella DeVille and Scooby Doo, respectively.”

Conor Friedersdorf: The RNC’s Self-Inflicted Wound

Benjamin Sarlin: Ticking Off the Tea Party Crowd
The document, which stretches on for 72 pages, has been both defended and disowned by RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s staff. This is understandable. On the one hand, it’s bad form for a party to admit that the only way to excite its base is to treat them as, er, mentally challenged. On the other hand, the guys who came up with it are themselves big-money guys and so were all the people present for the horror show they presented. (The document was apparently leaked by someone who found a stray copy lying around the Gasparilla Inn & Club, the hotel hosting the $2,500-a-head retreat.)

In many ways, the document is a parody of what liberals think conservatives are actually like.

The small-donor schmucks—the ones who give of their tiny incomes so that fat cats might enjoy even more tax breaks—are to be shaken down on the basis of their stupidity. Under the heading “Visceral Giving,” the rich Republican folk seeking to bilk them describe their rationales for giving as “fear” (of a black planet?) based on “extreme” feelings and a “reactionary” outlook. The commies at The Nation could not have put it any better themselves. Meanwhile, the fat-cat donors are credited with more “Calculated Giving.” They don’t trumpet the scare tactics: Rather, they need to have their egos stroked with “Peer to Peer Pressure” and “access.” Both, presumably, get their tctotchkes, though one imagines they get more tasteful—or less scary—as one moves up the money ladder. (An aside: The party also appears to be selling meetings with Washington Post—and ex-New York Times columnist—William Kristol. I know that op-ed page is a mess, but can that really be kosher with Post policies?).

The document raises a number of issues with regard to the media coverage Republicans have been earning of late. For instance, while Politico’s Ben Smith deserves kudos for breaking the story, what the hell are we to make of this piece that ran just last week by Kenneth Vogel in the same publication, as well as this one in the Los Angeles Times? Both take the tack—based on the skimpiest of evidence that moderates are actually in the process of taking the Republican Party back from the people building bunkers and demanding birth certificates. "I'm very optimistic the elections this year are going to bring back a resurgence of the center,” says Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, duly and respectfully reported by the L.A. Times’ Janet Hook. Sure it “seems paradoxical” to Hook, because absolutely everything the Republicans have said and done since losing the 2008 election belies this, but what the hell? And Tom Tancredo’s shockingly racist Tea Party speech calling for literacy tests and condemning the election of "Barack Hussein Obama” was not, according to Vogel, “widely condemned by conservative intellectuals or media,” but why allow so wonderfully contrarian a trend to be weighed down by a lack of evidence?

In a nod to the need for mindless objectivity, Smith asserts in his story on the memo that “Democrats raised millions off George W. Bush in similar terms” to those presented by the Republican memo, but presents not a shred of evidence for it. Here again, he would be hard-pressed to do so. But the reality of this revelation is so far beyond any precedent for official party fundraising practices before it, even the reporter who unearths it feels a need to minimize just how far beyond the political pale it reaches.

Ironically, this memo might present Democrats with just the kick in the ass they so desperately need. This is the party demanding compromise and bipartisanship? These are the votes they’re chasing? Perhaps instead, they’d decide it’s time to fight fire with fire….

Eric Alterman is a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and a professor of journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author, most recently, of Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Important Ideals.