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By Tom Cushing

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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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"If You Can Keep It"

Uploaded: May 23, 2012
This week's news brought an early glimpse into the inner workings of a novel species of political animal: the SuperPAC. These beasts were unleashed by the Supreme Court's 2010 "Citizens United" decision, which included campaign contributions as a protected form of free speech, and granted constitutional protections for such expressions to corporations and unions, extending a line of cases whose humble origins date to a footnote in an 1880s railroad case. However you feel about those conclusions, it is clear that SuperPACs will play a major role in the general election (as they did in the GOP primaries), so it may be useful to peek inside this new breed of cat.

The specific organization in-question is the "offspring" of a fiscally conservative billionaire named Joe Ricketts, whose various interests include TDAmeritrade brokerage and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The corporate entity, known as The Ending Spending Action Fund, commissioned a proposal to attack the incumbent President. The response was a 54-page plan, titled "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama" (because without the middle name, the Prez might have been confused with all those other Barack Obamas).

We may tend to forget just how routinely rough and tumble political campaigns have been in this country. Forget Willie Horton -- in 1800, Thomas Jefferson's campaign accused John Adams of plotting to marry his son to King George's daughter, thus somehow re-establishing British hegemony over the former colonies. Adams countered by calling Jefferson "the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." And who of my generation can forget the1964 LBJ ad in which a little girl's flower petal game is interrupted by a nuclear holocaust? By contrast, the Ricketts proposal sounds an almost complimentary tone, cynically calling Mr. Obama "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."

In the Ricketts plan, a high-profile group of former GOP strategists (or "pirates," to use their term) sought to attack the President's likeability by linking him to incendiary "black liberation theology" excerpts from his former pastor Jeremiah Wright's sermons. They proposed spending some $10 million to produce materials and buy media to coincide with the Dem Convention in Charlotte this summer. By depleting Obama's personal popularity, they hoped to open the door to the idea that someone else could do a better job -- "perhaps even Romney," in their words. To counter anticipated charges of racism, they recommended engaging a prominent conservative African American as primary spokesperson (and even claimed to have located such an individual).

Personally, while I believe that Mr. Obama does have an attractive persona -- nearly too cool for school -- the electorate has gotten to know him over the four years since the last campaign. Resurrecting Rev. Wright to play boogeyman at this late date seems awfully stale. Then again, these "pirates" were trying to persuade the owner of the Cubs -- a team that hasn't won anything since the Roosevelt Administration (Teddy's), so perhaps they'd have secured Mr. Ricketts' approval -- but for the fact that the plan leaked to the press while still under review.

The reaction was swift and remarkably bi-partisan. Mr. Romney, to his credit, stated "I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they've described. I would like to see this campaign focus on the economy, on getting people back to work." Mr. Ricketts also backed away from the stinker, calling it just one of several approaches under review. The Obama campaign gleefully sought to maximize its fund-raising potential.

What does this portend for the general election? Condemnation of the Ricketts Plan is a good start, but, as the saying goes, there's never just one roach in the kitchen. Both major party candidates have elements in their make-ups that will tempt opponents to play to deep fears and prejudices -- racial and religious. And you can bet that their tacticians are seeking ways to exploit those perceived weaknesses. SuperPAC influence will also reach down into the other federal races, as the polarized Parties seek advantages that can end the current Potomac stalemate. I suspect they will insinuate themselves into every element of the traditional and new media -- including the Comments sections of newspaper websites (but not here, of course). I think it's possible that the SuperPACs will over-play their hands, so saturating the ether that the electorate will tune them all out.

It does seem clear in this new era that never has it been more important for the electorate to arm itself with reliable information on its choices. Will we choose to do so? I'm reminded of the Benjamin Franklin quote: "We have given you a Republic -- if you can keep it." While ol' Ben may not have had SuperPACs specifically in mind, he was right about the dire responsibilities of self-governance. And so his question remains current: WILL we keep it?

Comments

Posted by Atticus Finch, a resident of Danville,
on May 24, 2012 at 10:12 am

Aside from your "nearly to cool for school comment" regarding Obama ( I personally think he's a phony ), I do agree with you on the Super PAC Fund issue. I recently exercised my right to free speech by notifying my union that they were not to take money from my paycheck for political purposes. Aside from that, I firmly believe that Super PACs have a trickle down effect; especially when it involves unions. I suspect that most union members are unaware, or simply don't care about where a portion of their money goes. Super PACs are bad for both political parties.


Posted by Boo Radley, a resident of Danville,
on May 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I guess we know why Obama always "claims" to be a Chicago White Sox fan, rather than a Chicago Cubs fan.

Reality is that he grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, went to college back east, and only spent a few years in Chicago, his alleged home town.

I agree with Atticus Finch, that Obama is a phony. I bet he has no idea who Bill Melton, Ralph Garr, Minnie Minosa, Dick Allen are.

Go Cubs!!


Posted by BHO, a resident of another community,
on May 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Boo:

That's Minnie MinosO. Vote for me.

--Barack


Posted by Danville Independent, a resident of San Ramon Valley High School,
on May 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Ya got my vote, Barack, but not because you've done a great job: it's just that the Right (re: Romney) doesn't have any real answers for our woes other than going back to the same thing that got us in trouble in the first place. That being said, good posting, Tom. I've know for years now that large corporations own our politicians, they make the laws, and they own the courts. And now, with all this money out there, we can see it's true.


Posted by Boo Radley, a resident of Danville,
on May 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Obama and the Democrats have had 4 years, with no success, so why not let ANYONE else have a try. I am not a Mitt fan(except for baseball mitts) but why not let someone a chance at bat, to see if they can improve our economy.

What bothers me is our tax dollars being used by Obama to fly to L.A and all his assistants and secret service for what is simply a political fundraiser. Maybe the Predidential term should be 5 years but limit it to one term, to avoid all this money wasted by incumbents.

Let's face it, the unions and Hollywood elite have just as much clout and power with Obama as corporations do with Republicans.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on May 25, 2012 at 8:00 am

I dunno, Boo -- I think you can blame the Dems for too small a stimulus in the early years, but the GOP's approach of austerity when there's already too little demand in the economy is precisely the opposite of what's needed. It would be like sending someone up to bat who thinks the best way to help the team is to make an out. As to the last two years, progress was made impossible by an opposition party bent on political gain at the expense of the common good (See last week's missive).

As to the use of AF1, all I could find out in a cursory search is that apparently there are rules that govern its use and reimbursement of campaign expenses -- rules that have been in-place for many years. It may help to know that fewer than half of Mr. Obama's domestic trips (26/60) have had a campaign element.

And as to union influence, that's an argument that may have had some legitimacy when Dick (then Richie) Allen broke-in with the Phillies and unions constituted 35% of the work force, but they are barely 10% now -- and hardly any kind of counter-weight to the influence of corporations. Similarly, Hollywood is noisy, but not very potent. Frankly, I'm more concerned for the country about Wall Street's influence over the Dems, too.


Posted by Boo Radley, a resident of Danville,
on May 25, 2012 at 8:37 am

Hollywood is noisy, ignorant(most of the actors who claim to be experts on everything barely graduated from high school and never attended college) and potent. Why do you think Obama suddenly changed course and came out in favor of gay marriage 2 days before attending the George Clooney-Hollywood fundraiser? Robert Downey, JR., Barbara Streisand, and George Clooney have just as much access and the ear of Obama as Wall Street and Corporations have of the Republicans.

Unions are just as dangerous to our economy as corporations and Wall Street, with run away public employee union pensions bankrupting our long term fiscal health.

Obama has had his time to deliver, and failed, so it is time for him to go back to the bench, and let a pinch hitter have a chance.

Obama has a better chance of catching a Wilber Wood knuckleball than improving our economy.


Posted by Danville Independent, a resident of San Ramon Valley High School,
on May 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

I see your point, Boo,...I really do. But when you say the Dems have "had 4 years with no success" that actually is not quite true. I would say President Obama has had 'limited success"...with stabilizing our economy when it was in a free~fall. A good book to read is Ron Suskind's "Price of Loyalty" where George Bush's Secretary Paul O'Neill told him in his first year, that if he continued on his course there would be a "financial Armageddon in 6 years or so." (..and this was BEFORE both the costly wars were enacted!). Sure enough, Obama inherited a total collapse of our Banking Industry, a crashing Housing market, an economy losing 750,000 jobs....A MONTH!! This country has never experienced this before, and I'd say we're doing MUCH better now than 4 years ago.

That being said, can we do better? Yes. But when the Republicans stick to their "trickle-down-theory"...with NO proof that it actually works, I just shake my head (You know, the top 5% probably ARE creating jobs with their low tax rates right now...but certainly NOT here in America!). I can't see going back to a failed course, one that actually got us into this mess in the first place.

Higher taxes on the wealthy the answer? Not totally, but it's part of the solution. Cut spending, AND raise taxes on the top tier. Until THAT happens, we in this country will continue to sink....


Posted by Boo Radley, a resident of Danville,
on May 25, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Tom: Time Magazine notes at page 16 in the most recent issue, that the cost simply to operate Air Force One is $180,000 per hour!! Approximately 5 hour flight to L.A. for Obama's fundraising party at George Clooney's home cost the tax payers $900,000, each way! You note Obama has had 26 such political fundraising trips.

This is just one example of why so many Americans are fed up with the status quo, and want change. Before raising anyone's taxes a penny more, we need someone in Washington to roll up their sleaves and cut all this waste of our hard earned money.

Again, I am not a fan of Romney, but believe it is time for a change, and a time to let someone else have a chance to cut government waste. Tom, even you must admit, that in general, Republicans are better at cutting fat and waste from the overall budget, than Democrats.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on May 27, 2012 at 9:23 am

Hi BR:

With regard to AF1, the question is – what's your alternative -- fly coach? Stick the leader of the free world in a Gulfstream? Any security issues with that? Let's also see what the significance is, in the actual context of federal spending: IF we say that AF1 flies 500 hours/year, half of which is campaign-related (and ignoring reimbursements from the campaign), do you know how much that costs for every $10,000 you pay in taxes? 19 cents, that's how much. Is that really the waste, fraud and abuse issue you want addressed?

I'll also agree with you that the GOP has a reputation for pinching pennies, but if deficits are your real concern and you look at the actual record, a verry different picture emerges. Are you aware that President Reagan tripled the national debt in the 1980s, and Mr. Bush2 doubled it during good times in the 2001-9 timeframe? Now, Reagan had a recession to deal with, and like a good Keynesian he over-spent his budgets – it worked. Mr. Bush, however, did the opposite and landed us in this mess. Blaming the clean-up crew for the orgy's aftermath is a serious mistake. Obama's stimulus spending is downright Reaganesque.

Finally, look at the GOP/Ryan proposed budget to see WHERE they would cut. They would spend More for Defense than the Pentagon requested, throw 2 Million people off food stamps, cut Pell grants, slash Medicare (turning it into vouchers that shift costs to the elderly) and Medicaid (turning it over to the states but without enough money to keep it going).

At the same time they would cut even more taxes on the super rich. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, the GOP proposal would give a $250K tax cut, on average, to everyone now earning over a million dollars a year.

Okay, but at least these budgets would be balanced? Not hardly. Ryan's, now Romney's plan would also — according to the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities — increase the federal budget deficit by more than $3 trillion over the next ten years. (Romney says he'll close tax loopholes, but he assiduously avoids saying which ones — which means he won't really close any.) [commentary from Robert Reich in a recent column].

Paging Mr. Dickens. Is that really the America you want?


Posted by Atticus Finch, a resident of Danville,
on May 27, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Well Tom, do you like the America you have now? Gimme a break. You're an excuse maker for that phony who resides a 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. All of a sudden he has an "Evolution," but you can't see him for what he really is. If you want to give facts Mr. Cushing, why don't you bring out the goods in regards to Obama's track record on late term abortions while he was in Chicago; that will tell you much in the way of how this knucklehead thinks. What I can't understand is how a seemingly smart guy like you can't quite seem to cut through the b.s. and point out how bad this president really is. Oh wait, I'm sorry, maybe Jeramiah Wright can clear some things up for you.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on May 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Hi Atticus:

I guess if by phony you mean Mr. Obama's a politician, then I agree that he is that. I think he personally favored same-sex marriage all along, for instance, but he wasn't willing to let it become a campaign issue in 2008 that would have energized his opposition. I don't like it, but I do understand it as part of the calculus of getting elected. I'm frankly surprised that he has 'outed' himself now, especially with North Carolina in play.

As to the late term abortion issue you mention: the floor's all yours.


Posted by Atticus Finch, a resident of Danville,
on May 28, 2012 at 8:14 pm

SB 230 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Senate approved bill 44-7, with five senators voting present, including Obama.
SB 562 Parental Notice of Abortion Act. Bill passed Senate 39-7, with 11 present votes, including Obama.
SB 1093 Law to protect Liveborn children. Bill passed 34-6, with 12 present, including Obama.
SB 1094 Bill to protect children born as result of induced labor abortion. Bill passed 33-6, with 13 present, including Obama.
SB 1095 Bill defining "born alive" defines "born-alive infant" to include infant "born alive at any stage of development." Bill passed 34-5, with nine present, including Obama.


Posted by Atticus Finch, a resident of Danville,
on May 28, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Did Obama vote to legalize late term abortions in Illinois and if the baby lived through the abortion then Obama said the baby should be killed?

Yes.

SB 230 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Senate approved bill 44-7, with five senators voting present, including Obama.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Alamo,
on May 28, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Question: What do Obama's trips on Air Force One, or his positions on same sex marriage and abortion have to do with this topic, which is SuperPACs?

Answer: Nothing


Posted by Boo Radley, a resident of Danville,
on May 29, 2012 at 7:54 am

Mike: One of the concerns of SuperPacs is amount of influence certain campaign contributors have on the candidate and the process. Obama's campaign flights on Airforce One are related, as it gives the incumbent an unfair financial advantage as he can use Air Force One(at taxpayers expense) to fly all over the country and raise campaign funds. Often these flights are to see certain influential donors(such as George Clooney and his liberal Hollywood buddies) who raise so much money they influence the politicians views on political issues(Obama coming out in favor of gay marriage two days before his event with George Clooney).

Tom: What is your view of my suggestion that the Presidential term be limited to one term, but for 5 years, so the President does not waste so much taxpayer money in flying all over the country for several years campaigning for his next election? Also, a 5 year term gives you enough time to try to get your policies through and judge their results.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Alamo,
on May 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm

The main points raised here and elsewhere about SuperPACs are not that they are political contributions per se, but that the contribution limits and contributer identification are effectivly gone and the contributions can be from corporate entities, who have much greater resources than most individual humans, Hollywood or otherwise (except for a handfull of very involved billionaires). Also points about the propaganda tactics of these entities. Yet the responses soon went to various talking points about Obama. No wonder there is so little political dialog in this country.


Posted by Time for truth, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 24, 2012 at 11:27 pm

SuperPacs must exist to bring corporations up to the political level of PUBLIC unions. Tom you reference unions....of long ago. Don't forget Gov Moonbeam didn't give us PUBLIC unions until 30+ years ago, and now no powere equals that of PUBLIC unions who control Councils, Mayors, Supervisors, Legislators, Congresspeople, and President. Moonbeam's 30+ year people are now retiring, which is why NOW we see how UNsustainable those benefits were, as cities go bankrupt trying to meet the contracts from those whoxxx councils who sold out taxpayers.
And Independent, since nobody ask for any qualifications or vetting 4 years ago, only hypocrites would actually expect any this time. Except Romney would be about the most perfectly qualfied and experienced in economics we've ever had in the office of President. A man perfect for this moment in history.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Jul 25, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Hi Time: I've written about public employee unions in several of these missives, and they do have significant influence, especially at the local level (see this one: Web Link in particular). But I think that influence is dwarfed by the accumulated power of corporations in this economy -- especially at the national level, and including with this Administration.

It mystifies me that Wall Street is, at least publicly, so averse to Mr. Obama. When you look at what's been done within the power of this Administration, and specifically what HASN'T been done to Big Business (esp. the financial sector), I think Obama has been far better for them than they might have hoped.

As to "perfectly qualified," yikes -- I beg to differ. I've seen very little in your candidate beyond his ardent ambition to be a President. His core beliefs come with a finger in the wind, his understanding of America in the world is dangerously naive at best, and the Presidency has nothing at all like the positional authority one has as a CEO -- it's a completely different skill-set. I think the more radical elements of the House of Representatives would absolutely devour him, and if that doesn't scare the very bejeebus out of you, then you will truly deserve the ugly consequences.


Posted by Time for truth, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Actually, your WebLink addresses the unsustainability side of public unions and even that almost as unfortunate 'timing'. Timing only illustrated the unsustainability built into the construct of the whole taxpayer-as-employer concept. You didn't address the power of extotion in the relationship. Nor, did you address the power in our elections, inoluding congressional.
Wall Street and corporations are not the same, and are not interchangeable in the SuperPAC discussion.
Romney: being called in as a Mr Fix-it, charged with saving a failing WORLD Olympics. There were
many messes and problems, like no sponsors to fund and BUILD various venues. After solving those issues, Sept 11, 2001, hit,and most in the world thought they would have to be cancelled. Yet, the Winter 2002 Olympics were successful AND profitable.
I want that ability and knowledge about finance and economics in the White House. After zero vetting or experience in any area of skill-sets last time, it would be hypocritical to now expect more.


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