Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


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MARCH 1, 2013 3:57PM

"Madhouse" Speaker John Boehner

Rate: 11 Flag

Bloomberg blogger (and self-described Republican) Josh Barro shows us how it is done.  

In Florida, nearly 60% of voters oppose the expansion of Medicaid benefits, apparently vindicating the foot-dragging obstruction of that state's Republican governor - and convicted health care fraudster  -- Rick Scott, who, until recently, was refusing to take free federal Medicaid money that might have provided good health for thousands of Scott's low-income constituents.

Except that Medicaid expansion isn't unpopular. It's hugely popular. But Republicans who read a poll conducted by the James Madison Institute would never have known that because, as Barro points out, Madison, like most conservative thinks tanks, doesn't actually do public policy research. Instead, these right wing institutes have become "taxed-advantaged vehicles for political activism."  

And in Florida as elsewhere, James Madison didn't care that voters actually thought Medicaid was spiffy. Its only mission was to get voters to say they detested Medicaid so that the organization commissioning the poll (Governor Scott, perhaps?) could say Medicaid was unpopular.

What the James Madison Institute produced is called a "push poll."  And polls like these, says Barro, are a great example "of the phenomenon that keeps making conservatives stupider in both politics and policy."

A push poll works like this, says Barro:

First, respondents are primed with misleading questions about the national debt and the size of Florida's existing Medicaid budget.

Then, they are given an inaccurate description of the terms of the expansion - told, for example, that Medicaid covers people earning up to 100% of the federal poverty line when the true limit is about half that -- and recipients must also have dependent children to qualify.

Then, respondents are told that after three years Florida would be on the hook for "more than 10%" of costs -- which you can call either wrong or a lie -- since the state's actual share would be exactly 10%.

And finally, says Barro, respondents are not asked a straight yes-or-no question on whether they like Medicaid but rather whether they favored its expansion "even if it results in tax hikes and spending cuts."

When people talk about the conservative echo chamber, says Barro, "they often focus on lowbrow outlets like Fox News, talk radio and Breitbart.com." But the real reason conservatives can't think straight "is that their supposedly smart institutions are inside the echo chamber, too."

That is a double problem for conservative politicians, says Barro, because outfits like James Madison not only fill their heads with bad information; they also lead them to take actions sure to produce negative political consequences.

David Frum, after all, was fired from the American Enterprise Institute for saying Republicans needed to accept that Obamacare was law and to find ways to make it work better. "It has taken three years since then for conservatives to start realizing he was right," Barros says.

If I was a Republican congressman or state legislator voting on the basis of opinion surveys like James Madison's, I'd be suing the institute for Medicaid malpractice. No wonder the GOP's favorability rating is lower than the legal drinking age, as former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs quipped the other day.

But the real reason Republicans don't complain more often is that what James Madison is doing by falsifying reality is not the exception inside the right wing's thought bubble but the rule. Indeed, conservatives have constructed for themselves an entire Alternative Reality Industrial Complex that is utterly indecipherable to anyone not habituated to conservative mythology, custom and folklore.

This reality-defying behavior descended into the theater of the absurd during the mugging administered by Republicans to defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel as senators like Rand Paul and James Inhofe went so far as to accuse their one-time Republican colleague of taking funds from a shadowy terrorist organization, called "Friends of Hamas," that did not in fact exist!

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank said the innuendo reached a whole new level of absurdity when freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) slithered to the microphone to suggest that Hagel "may" have been given speaking fees from "extreme or radical groups" as Cruz further insinuated that "at a minimum" it was "relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea."

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) joined Oklahoma's Inhofe in piling on when they both ripped Hagel's words out of context to accuse him of saying Israel was guilty of "sickening slaughter" when in fact Hagel had said during a speech on the Senate floor urging an end to the Lebanon war in 2006 that "the sickening slaughter on both sides must end."

Even before Hagel was nominated conservative media were already alleging he was anti-Semitic, says Milbank.  

And the challenges to Hagel's patriotism continued when Inhofe rhetorically asked about the nominee who had earned two Purple Hearts on the battlefields of Vietnam: "Isn't it interesting that Iran supports Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense? . . . That is a frightening thing."

No, said Milbank, the really frightening thing "is that Inhofe takes rogue-state propaganda at face value."

Egged on by neoconservatives and other pro-Israeli hard-liners concerned Hagel might upset their plans to "bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb, bomb Iran," Republicans staged an unprecedented 12-day filibuster of the nominee - then used the fact that no other group of senators in the 230-year history of the Republic had ever treated a candidate for secretary of defense this shabbily as grounds for suggesting it was Hagel who was unfit for his job.

"Over the last half-century, no secretary of defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three senators voting against him," said Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind).

"He will take office with the weakest support of any defense secretary in modern history, which will make him less effective on his job," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex).

"You're going to have 40 votes against him, or 35 votes, and that sends a signal to our allies as well as our foes that he does not have broad support in the U.S. Congress, which limits his ability to carry out his job," Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla) told Fox News Sunday.

And Inhofe -- the senator most famous for his denial of global warming -- was deep in denial that there was anything history-making at all in the Republicans filibustering of Chuck Hegal. "Happens all the time," puffed Inhofe dismissively. "Nobody is impugning the integrity of former Senator Hagel."

No, Republicans are merely suggesting Hegal "is on the payroll of terrorists and in the pockets of America's enemies," said Milbank, noting the irony of Republicans failing to grasp that "the extraordinary variable here" is not Hagel's candidacy but their own unprecedented opposition to it, directed at a former Republican colleague who had the effrontery to become an Obama supporter.

The perversity on display during the Republican Party's opposition to the Hagel nomination, as Milbank remarked, was one "Joe McCarthy would have admired."

Never could it be said of a party's mental habits -- as it can be with the modern GOP -- that the wish is father to its thoughts.

Like its positions on Medicaid and the Hegal confirmation, Republican behavior in the sequester standoff is simply incomprehensible to those not accustomed to the GOP's peculiar standards of logic.  

As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait says, "deciphering the GOP strategy is as mysterious as gaming out the plans of a tiny band of warring clans in some mountainous region of Afghanistan."

Deepening the "bafflement," he adds, "is that the Republicans' apparent approach bears no relation either to political reality or to the party's stated goals."

For, despite what Republicans insist, President Obama really has offered up hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security and Medicare that Republicans say they want but have been unable to get even when they controlled the government. And if you read conservative pundits, says Chait, Obama is portrayed, wrongly, as demanding nothing but higher taxes - "full stop."  So, conservatives are not so much rejecting Obama's offer as simply refusing to consider it at all.

"Let's make it clear," said Speaker Boehner today, "the president got his tax hike on January 1st. The discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."

And so rather than even consider Obama's balanced offer, Chait says Republicans are prepared to undertake a public showdown "against a figure who is vastly more popular and trusted," who possesses a better platform to communicate his message, and whose message of spreading the pain equally among rich and poor alike, and preserving retirement programs for the elderly but not tax loopholes for the rich, "commands overwhelmingly higher public support."

The GOP's unhinged behavior can be explained but not rationalized, says Chait. As has been true ever since 1990 when conservatives followed Newt Gingrich in revolt against the deficit reduction deal negotiated between President Bush and congressional Democrats, every Republican priority has taken a back seat "to the cause of lower taxes on the highest-earning taxpayers," says Chait.

And so all this talk by the GOP of "tax reform" has been a ruse. "Republicans in Congress never actually supported raising revenues through 'tax reform,'" says Chait. "The temporary support for tax reform was just a hand-wavy way of deflecting Obama's popular campaign plan to expire the Bush tax cuts for the rich."

Conservative economists might agree higher taxes are preferable to bigger deficits when it comes to long term stability and economic growth "but Republicans in Congress just want rich people to pay less, period."  And it's been that way going on a quarter century.

John Boehner, for all his faults, really has tried to negotiate with the President in good faith. Yet, all he has to show for it is "the pent-up rage and betrayal" of his most conservative members, says Chait.  

Almost nothing Boehner has done as Speaker has endeared him to his "ultras," says Chait. Every compromise on taxes and the debt ceiling has created more "simmering rage and embitterment." And so now the Speaker finds himself, incredibly, having to promise his members "that he will not enter private negotiations with Obama."

Republicans all agree that taxes are bad, that defense spending cuts are bad, and that some entitlement cuts of one kind or another would be good, says Chait. Yet, when you look at the Republican Party's "decision" to go to war with the President over the sequester rather than negotiate with him in good faith, it's as if no real conscious thought went into the "decision" at all, says Chait -- if by "decision" you mean "a balancing of competing actual choices."

There are three ways you can subvert a democracy. You can do it militarily by staging a coup to topple a duly-elected democratic government through force. You can do it by design, as when you re-write the rules to disenfranchise the other side or to make it impossible for the majority to govern when it wins. Or, you can do it by stealth, by fabricating the reality upon which the citizens of a democracy form their opinions and base their decisions.

I suppose all of us should be grateful that Republicans, so far, are content with just two out of three.

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This black and white view you describe as being cultivated among ultra-conservatives (i.e. all taxes, all defense cuts and all entitlements are bad) seems to fit really well with the personalities I see attracted to both fundamentalist religion and the Republican Party. Rather than describing it as conservatism (I consider myself a fiscal conservative and a social liberal), I prefer to call it Republican fundamentalism. In my work as a psychiatrist, I found an astounding number of patients with borderline Asperger's Disorder drawn to this flavor of religion and politics. It's typical of the disorder to have very concrete thinking about social relationships and a very poor tolerance for ambiguity. Interestingly scientists who study glucose uptake imaging find that men, in general, have significantly more receptors linked to "austism" than women. Thus there may be biologic, as well as cultural reasons, why white men are attracted to this kind of fundamentalism in much higher numbers than women.
Dr. Bramhall,

Yes, fundamentalism is the mindset I am getting at.
no chemistry required. this is just greed and power-lust working out in the evolution of empire.
And the remedy, for this putrid infection calling itself a 'republic' and a 'democracy', is?

I've grown old having people throw open windows on the corruption and insanity of politics and politicans performing their maneuvers. Some do it poorly but with understandable outrage; others, such as yourself, stifle the outrage in favour of erudite, knowledgeable, exposition of what's happening.

I await Chapter II.
I await a comprehensive plan or program of a viable, effective governing structure, embodying democracy and stable economic, relatively egalitarian, opportunity for all members of the society - individuals and businesses.

Given the present mess of..... well, just about everything, the old adage, "You cain't git thar from here", pretty much describes the situation we're all facing.

It is infinitely more difficult to "git thar" when most of us have no idea at all - not even the faintest - just exactly where or what "thar" might be.

And the rest of the world is following us???!
It is to weep......


Republicans have a serious problem with reality. Their devotion to their plutocratic masters is slavish, and it leads them into deep mental contortions. I would say that the GOP has almost become a cult. Reality is feared as much as a vampire fears the sun. The GOP finds it necessary to stay in the cocoon of F*x News, and Limbo talk radio.

The problem with this behavior is that they are quickly becoming even more of a minority than they already are. However, I wonder how patient I can be with such a large bunch of poltroons while I am waiting for them to disappear.
Keep at it Ted. The republicans' descent into madness has been ongoing for some time and while Obama hoped that the fever might soon break, the signs of this are scanty.

It's an odd situation. If the Republicans were advocating saner positions, if they dropped their mindless opposition to any policy or any appointment coming from Obama; in short, if they were the sort of right of center party along the lines of the British Conservatives, the German Christian Democrats, we'd probably find ourselves on the opposite sides of several issues. As it is, like you, I'm hoping they eventually come to their senses.

The problem though is more deep-rooted. There's a sizable chunk of the populace whose political thinking seems incorrigibly warped. I have in mind the 30-40% of Republicans and Tea-Partiers who still think Obama is probably a foreign-born, Muslim socialist. Around the same number disbelieve in global warming and another segment thinks it's happening through natural cycles. Most of them also espouse the "young earth" proposition. Given such an ignorant base, it's no wonder they find some degree of representation. How to cure that is a much longer topic.

It's a fair point you make: OK, we've diagnosed the disease now what is the cure? Sadly, for those of us who still believe in our democratic system where even neo-fascist authoritarians get to take part in politics, the remedies to radicalism when it's able to leverage its dwindling numbers into real (obstructionist) power thanks to the tools the founding fathers provided to fight the majority tyranny of "the mob" the remedies are few except time and persistence.

But I can think of at least two practical ones: Get rid of the filibuster, as Reid should have done weeks ago. The filibuster is not even in the Constitution and has been used by latter-day Confederates to impose minority rule. And second, if Democrats win the state legislature before the next federal census, do what Tom DeLay did in Texas when Republicans captured that state and gerrymander the districts in favor of Democrats using the 2010 census.

As for the rest, blogger PM Carpenter provides two reasons why we need to be persistent in keeping Republican outrages and anti-democratic radicalism ever-present in the people's mind: First, it is working, and the public is gradually moving away from the Tea Party GOP; but second, those gains can not be taken for granted because public memories are short.

According to Carpenter:

Gallup's latest findings shows that "85% of self-identified 'moderate Democrats' give the president a positive assessment. 79% of self-identified 'conservative Democrats' do so as well. And overall, 60% of self-identified 'moderates' (including Democrats, independents and Republicans) give Obama a positive job rating."

At the same time, one South Carolina Tea Party Congressman said: "Speaker Boehner is doing exactly what he said he was going to do, and I think it’s working to our favor and to his. I get the feeling that our party is probably more unified right now than it has been at any time in the last several months."

Continues the NY Times: "conservatives seem willing to give Boehner some running room on social issues as long as he holds firm on the fiscal front"--which is to say, precisely where they can do the most damage in the worst way and at the worst possible time to the greatest number of Americans.

That much is clear, says Carpenter, "What's unclear--and likely will stay unclear for months to come--is the GOP's political price to be paid, if any.

"Some on the left are doing handsprings over the party's seemingly daily acts of political suicide. Such confidence is premature. Dreadfully premature. Not necessarily mistaken, just premature. Because the American electorate's memory, especially at presidential midterms, can be notoriously short.

"Will the "sequester" and its more immediate aftershocks be remembered in 18 months? Probably not. But high on the list of voters' concerns will be the state of the economy--to which the GOP is taking a wrecking ball with each daily act of what seems like political suicide."

The idea that President Obama must show "leadership" during this sequester crisis is issuing forth from the mouths of every Republican and every conservative talking head like the army of robots they are. But it goes without saying that what Republicans mean by "leadership" is total capitulation to the GOP position supported by barely 20% of the public that the only way to diffuse the sequester is by dismantling the New Deal and that tax increases are off the table.

Further evidence of their insanity is their argument that while $85 billion in budget cuts would be "devastating" for the economy, the only possible solution is the Republican one to cut $85 billion from the economy.
There's an awful lot of "said ______________" in this characteristically endless rant. Why not just set forth a few links and spare us the filter and the bloated commentary? As Obama has told us that the end of the world is upon us, every moment counts.
Speaking of madhouses, how many of Maxine Waters' 170 million unemployed live in each of Obama's 57 states?
(@ Gordon Osmond: if you want to be all picky about it, there are in fact only 46 states. Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are formally commonwealths.)

That whole "Friends of Hamas" thing was a clumsy attempt at humour by a reporter who ought to have known better than to say such things, even in jest, to a politician. Ridiculous? Yes. Unfortunate? Even more so.

As for David Frum, I much admired his mother. Him, not so much.
I am well aware of the difference between a state and a commonwealth and never made any inaccurate statement on the subject. Would that you could say the same of your glorious leader, Barack Obama, who, of course thinks that all wealth is common (property).
Snork. Really? How many times in your life have you said the U.S. has 46 states, not 50. Never, I'd bet. (Before you say anything, yes, I know it makes no practical difference.)

And Obama is not my "glorious leader" -- he's yours. You lot elected him. Twice. As for people who can't count, I refer you to Perry, who, among other things, doesn't think Canada is a foreign nation.

You are correct that there is a lot of "he said/he said" in this piece, but my objective would not have been possible by merely providing links since I wanted to connect the dots and bring together three disparate articles -- showing how Republicans deal with push polls, how they dealt with the the Hagel nomination and how they are dealing with the sequester -- to paint the larger picture of a party that operates according to worldview that is mostly make-believe.

I have said many times -- "How" a party thinks is more important than "What" it thinks because it tells us whether that party believes in governing and problem-solving or whether it exists mainly to protect existing interests and privileges, in which case making stuff up is often preferable to dealing with the world as it is if by doing so you can get folks to vote for you by "fooling some of the people some of the time"

As for your belief that Obama thinks all property is common property, that is just a scare tactic typical of conservatives who use words like "socialist" and "communist" to hide the fact that what we are really talking about here is not ownership of property but whether this country will be controlled by those who own property -- and lots of it -- in the very same way that voting was once limited only to those who owned property during the early days of our Republic.

It's not about "socialism." It's about whether we are in fact one society. It is not about "collectivism" but "community. It is not about property rights but political power and who, at the end of the day, gets to exercise it -- who has the last word and gets to make the final call? The billionaires and plutocrats? Or those the rest of us elect? That is really what we are fighting about today.
As Eric Severeid said in his last commentary: "The test of the future is whether the center will hold." It's nothing new.
Well, TF, at least you're clear this time around. Your belief that successful political candidates have the "final say" is a classic statement of pure democracy. With one rhetorical flourish, you've eliminated the Constitution and the Supreme Court, neither of which was ever elected.
Well written. I'd ignore that last Osmand brother. It's obvious that one lives in the bubble world of which you speak. One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch.

I'm personally interested in solutions to our situation. I don't believe it's going to come from our politicians or our government -- unless people start recognizing the importance of a people centric government that promotes, in Abraham Lincoln's words, of the people, by the people and for the people.

This indicates we should put more faith in overall public opinion as indicative of what the people are truly concerned with -- and then press our elected representatives to do their best to represent those views. This cannot occur by legislative, executive or judicial fiat alone. In fact, the entire premise of "consent of the governed" implies the people have the right -- as well as the obligation -- to remain engaged in seeing to the functional health of their government.

So a proposed potential piece of the solution would be to enforce that our representatives be as answerable to the law as the people. They want to run the country like a business at the people's expense? Okay, minumum wage, no benefits for less than 40 hours a week effort and no free health care (you know our Congressmen and Senators get taken care of courtesy of Bethsesda Naval Hospital, they recieve lifetime pensions at their current rate of pay -- even if they serve but one term, and their pay, initially, already puts them in the top 20% of income earners in this country.) If someone needs to take a pay cut, or layoffs have to ensue from their crappy efforts, then they get to go first.

The ONLY way to make these people listen is for the people of this country to be aware of what they are (not) doing and enforcing their compliance with regular oustings, revocations of our consent to be governed and, if needs be, civil takeover -- it is our fundamental right as the "governed" to do these things if we no longer consent to the abusive way in which our representatives act.


Thank you for that very intelligent analysis. The founding fathers hoped to accomplish quite a straddle -- to create a system broadly governed by majority RULE but with protections for the minority against majority TYRANNY. They also tried to create a system that, frankly, left elites like them in control but prevented elites like them from mutating into a privileged ruling caste. They did this by rooting political legitimacy in popular sovereignty.

The result is the system of divided power and checks and balances we see now. And we are only beginning to appreciate how vulnerable this 230 year old system is to stalemate, dysfunction and misuse if you have a determined minority repeatedly defeated at the polls that is nonetheless determined to steal power from the majority and impose its will by means of repeated budget crises that threaten the fragile economy. Never let a good crisis go to waste, say Republicans, as the seek to accomplish their 70 year ambition to dismantle the New Deal state as the price of the nation being able to conduct its business at all.

How do you rectify this? I think you fight it not cave into it as I am afraid President Obama does all the time -- though I do think his State of the Union Address was the opening salvo of the 2014 election and an attempt to shine the light on Republicans in such as way that this radical, anti-democratic movement gets exposed and gradually loses power -- perhaps not all at once and in one election -- but over time.

And Gordon, you are just playing word games. By "elected" I did mean democratic, which includes the Constitution and the Courts. My point is that we live in one nation, in a democracy not a plutocracy or oligarchy, and so while we agree most decisions should be made privately by individuals, at the end of the day it is the democrat state accountable to all the people that is the court of last resort and has the last word.
I very much fear that you - and a good many others - see the present situation as correctable or fixable. I've watched a good many band-aids be applied over the decades and I can tell you, straight up, "It ain't gonna work!"

It really ought to be readily apparent, by now, that "the system," as put together your Founding Fathers, while an amazing piece of work for its day and age, is not sufficient to the needs of today's society.

I appreciate and am always impressed by your solid understanding of all the dances and the dance steps performed by the politicians and the politrickians of today. Yet I always come away with the feeling that I just watched you exhibit your knowledge and understanding on the deck of the Titanic. Your description of the dances and the dancers is terrific; but the damned ship is still on its way to the bottom.

I appreciate also that you are keeping the information in front of the voting population. Good for you. But what will that voting population do with it? You know, and I know, and pretty much everybody knows, that sooner or later the GOP is going to return to power in the US. Then what?

At the risk of sounding like an old tired record, I just do not believe that either major party, nor any of the minor ones, can build puncture -proof tires for the vehicle of governance that insists upon driving over broken glass. What is there about y'all that prevents you from seeing and saying, "Oops, we got it wrong. Let's back up a step or two and see if we can't redesign this system with a clear understanding of what we want a social/economic system to do for us."

You surely MUST know that the present system was NOT designed; it just grew. A few designed and planned bits and pieces were added here and there, but the "system", as a whole? Nope.

It's time that was looked into, don't ya think?

@TF So now "democratic state accountable to all the people" morphs into "those the rest of us elect," ignoring that your bad guys also vote. And I'm the one playing word games? I repeat: the current electorate had nothing to do with the Constitution and only very indirectly anything to do with the Supreme Court, both of which you and yours continue to ignore, misinterpret, or very selectively support. Your apparent position that a SC justice is playing "emperor" while Barack "if Congress doesn't act, I'll do it myself" Obama is, if anything too timid, betrays your complete misunderstanding of the American political system.

Your endorsement of donuthole (if he can mangle my name, surely I can his) tells us a lot about the liberal mind in general and yours in particular. The faithful can be forgiven everything, including illiteracy; the loyal opposition, nothing. I also particularly relish the surprise, nay, shock, liberals on OS express when suddenly among all the sycophantic echoing, there is a modest challenge. What!?
well written and already better commented upon than I can aim for so merely than you for facts to chaw. appreciate your knowledge