Newsweek announced that Karl Rove, the controversial architect of the rise and fall of the modern G.O.P., will join its ranks as a new contributor to balance the recent hire of blogger Markos Moulitsas.
This is an odd pair on several levels. First, it makes Kos look huge. His web commentary and grassroots organizing have earned him a media perch on par with one of the most powerful people to ever work in the Bush White House. If columns are going to be handed out based on power, then at least Newsweek understands that there is power beyond holding office in Washington.
Second, it reveals a common misunderstanding of partisanship in the traditional media. In this model, Rove and Moulitsas automatically balance out each other's partisanship, because they are political operators. I doubt it. Rove has spent an entire political career devoted to the advancement of the G.O.P. and its politicians. Moulitsas has spent his political career toggling between support and confrontation with the Democratic Party. Yes, he's a liberal partisan Democrat who generally wants the party to win. But he has repeatedly challenged Democratic politicians, offering criticism, scorn, ridicule and several well-funded primary challenges. He even sits on the board of They Work For Us, an independent organization devoted to pressuring incumbent Democrats and supporting primary challenges. So while Rove and Moulitsas are both more politically active than a typical columnist, they are nowhere near equal on the partisanship scale. Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham says that means readers will "know that what they get from Karl has to be judged in the context of who Karl is...Readers will have to decide if he's simply an apologist." Fine, "reader beware" applies to both of them. Now let's keep track of how many times Rove flatly criticizes Republicans, or calls for a primary against a senior Republican senator in a safe seat.
Third, of course, there's this constant media fixation with "balance" itself. If the goal is something like equal time for liberals and conservatives, most of the media is failing badly. A recent study found conservatives have 60% of the the syndicated newspaper columns, while 58% of the Sunday show guests were conservative in 2005. Then, apart from the numbers, equal time cannot substitute for factual, thoughtful news and commentary. Criticizing Moulitsas' endorsement of the balance approach, Portfolio's Jeff Bercovici breaks it down:
Is that what it's about? Balance? So you have a liberal shouting on one side, and a conservative shouting on the other side, and if their voices exactly cancel each other out, you've done your job? That sounds like Crossfire, or like the obligatory post-debate spin room, not like a magazine with an outsize regard for its own reputation.
Maybe we all just have to live in that spin room now. At least it's "balanced" by partisanship.
The Democratic presidential debate that will be held tonight in Las Vegas promises several things: Attacks on Hillary Clinton by challengers who recognize that she remains the clear front-runner in a race that could be decided in two months, meandering ruminations by CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer that will take up more time than candidate answers and another great one-liner from Delaware Senator Joe Biden, the one candidate who has come to recognize the value of adding genuine comic relief to an otherwise stilted discourse.
But what about the questions? Will there be a further parsing of New York State Department of Motor Vehicles regulations? More inquiries about Halloween costumes and UFOs? Another round of hedge-fund roulette?
Here are some questions that ought to be asked of each of the candidates:
FOR HILLARY CLINTON: Fortune magazine did a cover story with the headline: "Business Loves Hillary!" Your campaign contribution list reads like a Wall Street Rolodex. Your health care plan actually pumps tens of billions of federal dollars into the coffers of existing insurance and for-profit health care firms. If Democrats nominate you, won't voters next November be left with a choice between two corporate candidates?
FOR BARACK OBAMA: You said when you ran for the Senate in 2004 that you planned to model yourself after U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin. Yet, when Feingold responded to the revelation that George Bush had authorized illegal warrantless wiretapping with a proposal that the Senate censure the president, you chose to stand with Bush rather than with Feingold. Why have you refused to join the man you identified as the conscience of the Senate in moving to rebuke the president for breaking the law?
FOR JOHN EDWARDS: You have sought to position yourself as the candidate of working people and a questioner of corporate excess. Yet, when you served in the Senate, you voted to remove barriers to free trade with China. That was a critical test and there was no mystery about what was at stake. Thousands of workers marched on the Capitol to urge a "no" vote. Labor unions from your own state of North Carolina pleaded with you to vote "no." And consumer groups warned of the health and safety problems that are now so much in the news. Still, you sided with the corporate lobbyists and the Clinton administration against the interests of workers and consumers. Why, when the lines were so clearly drawn, did you break with the majority of Democrats in Congress to vote with Wall Street?
FOR DENNIS KUCINICH: You were once the chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and remain active in the organization of more than 70 Democratic members of the House who share many of your views. Why do you think it is that no CPC members are supporting your candidacy? What does this say about your ability to inspire confidence and build coalitions?
FOR CHRIS DODD: You are running as the candidate of the Constitution, promising to undo the abuses of the Bush era. So why did you vote for the Patriot Act when the ACLU and other civil liberties groups were lobbying against it and when Russ Feingold in the Senate and more than 50 members of the House – including several Republicans – had the foresight and the courage to vote "no" when it mattered most?
FOR JOE BIDEN: In an earlier debate, you proposed dispatching tens of thousands of U.S. troops to Africa as a means of addressing the Darfur crisis. You voted to authorize George Bush to send U.S. troops to Iraq. You were an aggressive advocate for stepping up U.S. military action in the Balkans. The list goes on. Shouldn't Americans who have come to recognize the folly of the neo-conservative vision of using U.S. troops as cannon fodder in every fight on the planet be frightened by the prospect of you as commander-in-chief?
FOR BILL RICHARDSON: After you left the Clinton administration, you became a senior managing director of Kissinger McLarty Associates, a so-called "strategic advisory firm" headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. When President Bush moved to appoint Kissinger as chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Congressional Democrats demanded that Kissinger disclose the names of the firm's clients. Rather than do so, Kissinger rejected the presidential appointment, citing conflicts of interest. As you seek the presidency, will you disclose the names of the clients of Kissinger McLarty Associates during the period when you were associated with the firm?
FOR ALL THE CANDIDATES: You have all been highly critical of President Bush and even more critical of Vice President Cheney. Each of you has suggested that the president and vice president have engaged in dishonest and inappropriate actions that are at odds with their oaths of office and their duties as dictated by the Constitution. Last week, Dennis Kucinich tried last week to open a congressional debate on whether Dick Cheney should be impeached. Mr. Kucinich, why when American Research Group polling shows that 54 percent of voters surveyed favor impeachment of Cheney did Democratic leaders in the House oppose your move? For the rest of the candidates: Would you have joined Mr. Kucinich in voting to open up the debate on presidential and vice presidential accountability, or would you have voted to table the resolution?
Before I met Jonathan Schell, I already knew him in the best way possible: on the page. Even in his days as a neophyte journalist in Vietnam, he committed a writer's greatest act of generosity. First in the pages of The New Yorker, and then in his books, he took readers to places most of us never could have gone on our own -- to The Village of Ben Suc, for instance, as American troops cleared it of its 3,500 peasant inhabitants and destroyed it in what was, in 1967, the largest military operation of the Vietnam War to date; and, not so long after, in The Military Half -- from the back seats of tiny Forward Air Control planes -- to two South Vietnamese provinces where Americans were wreaking utter havoc. (In that book, he offered a still-unmatched journalistic vision of what war looks like, up close and personal, from the air.) In the 1970s, in The Time of Illusion, he would seat us all front-row center at the great Constitutional crisis that preceded our present one, the Nixonian near coup d'état that we now call "Watergate."
In The Unconquerable World (for which I was the editor), looking back from a new century, he considered several hundred years of growing state violence that culminated in a single weapon capable of destroying all before it -- and the various paths, violent and nonviolent, by which the people of this planet refused to heed the wishes of a seemingly endless series of putative imperial masters. I needed to know no more to feel sure, in March 2003, that the shock-and-awe fantasies of the Bush administration would be just that. In other words, he made me seem prophetic at Tomdispatch.
But if one subject has been his, it's been the nuclear issue. Like me, he came into this world more or less with the Bomb (a word which, back when it represented the only world-destroying thing around, we tended to capitalize) and its exterminatory possibilities have never left his thoughts. In his bestselling The Fate of the Earth, as the 1980s began (and an antinuclear movement grew), he approached the subject in print, beginning famously: "Since July 16, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was detonated, at the Trinity test site, near Alamogordo, New Mexico, mankind has lived with nuclear weapons in its midst." And so, sadly, we continue to do, despite his best efforts. He returned to the subject (when critics claimed he had no "solution" to the nuclear conundrum he had so vividly laid out) in The Abolition in 1984, and again in the post-Cold War 1990s, in The Gift of Time, The Case for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons, when the vast arsenals of the two superpowers were still sitting there like great unmentionable embarrassments, mission-less and yet going nowhere fast. (It was, of course, a time when people largely preferred to pretend that the nuclear danger was a thing of the past.)
Now 62 years old, the bomb (which, long ago, lost its capital B) is no longer an embarrassment, no longer mission-less. The old Cold War arsenals are being updated; possession of the weaponry has spread; and the Bush administration, which drove the American people to war partly with nuclear fantasies, has made such weapons, whether real or imagined, the heart and soul of its imperial policies -- and again, there is a Jonathan Schell book to guide us. Think of The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger as a brilliant intervention, an essential guidebook to a world gone mad in a new way.
It begins: "The nuclear age has entered its seventh decade. If it were a person, it would be thinking about retirement -- reckoning up its pension funds, weighing different medical plans. But historical periods, unlike human lives, have no fixed limit, and the nuclear age is in fact displaying youthful vigor." It is officially published today and what a moment to enter the world--just as the Bush (are-you-with-us-or-against-us) has collapsed in nuclear-armed Pakistan, having already (as Schell writes in his most recent piece) "stoked the nuclear fires it was meant to quench."
Tonight in Las Vegas--a town best known for slots, boxing, andspectacle--the Democratic presidential hopefuls gather for one ofthe final pre-primary debates.
The Democratic Party moved the Nevada caucus up on the 2008 electioncalendar--third after Iowa and New Hampshire--to allow for a greaterrange of regional diversity in early voting than in the past. (SouthCarolina was also awarded an early primary spot). One issue that won'tbe debated in Iowa or New Hampshire but will loom large in the SilverState is Yucca Mountain.
Watch for each candidate to oppose Yucca Mountain and thedisastrous plan to ship our nation's nuclear waste thousands of miles byroad and rail to be buried in an area with a record of earthquakeactivity.
Lurking behind those two words is an important living nuclearhistoryin the state which deserves attention. Between 1951 and 1992, 928above-ground and below-ground nuclear tests were conducted at the NevadaTestSite, just miles from where the candidates will be debating in LasVegas. Initially, the public was assured "there is no danger" and urgedto "participate in a moment of history"by watching the tests.
But, in fact, people downwind of the tests--downwinders--continue to sufferand die from the lethal fallout they were exposedto. Exposed,a new play by downwinder Mary Dickson, examines the Utah playwright'sown struggle with thyroid cancer and her sister's death from lupus atthe age of 46. It uses transcripts of hearings to explore similarexperiences of other victims who became sick, and lost friends and lovedones. The government denied any link to radiation. The play spansfifty years, and downwinders keep "cancer charts" chronicling theafflictions of their neighbors. It also addresses the BushAdministration's proposed Divine Strakein 2007--a subnuclear test blast--and the downwinders' organizingefforts that helped to defeat it. The play ends with the reading of thenames of downwinders who have died, and new names are added after eachshow.
We cannot forget this living history. As Dickson told me,"Understanding the full extent of that reckless human experiment shouldinform any decision on both the development of new nuclear weapons andthe illusory promise of nuclear power. Without that understanding,politicians will be too easily swayed to consider mini nukes and bunkerbusters as strategically viable weapons in the 'war on terror'--just asthey will too readily embrace nuclear power as a solution to globalwarming. The development of any new nuclear weapons inevitably opens thedoor to resumed testing in Nevada and leads to the destabilizingproliferation of nukes--both of which are a disastrous course that onlyput us more at risk. Nuclear power is an illusory solution to climatechange--one propagated by the nuclear industry, which still cannotanswer the vexing question of what to do with the dangerous waste itgenerates. Until the waste can be addressed, nuclear power is neither aviable nor a responsible option."
This living history is nowhere to be found at the Las Vegas'taxpayer-funded Atomic Testing Museum. The exhibits excise the storiesof nuclear testing victims--instead celebrating nuclear weapons as "safe, patriotic and just plain fun." As the New York Times wrote, "the history of testing, as told [in the museum], is largely the history of its justification."
That living history, as told by Dickson, should inform votersin this election as the Bush Administration and its allies (and too manyDemocrats) look to create a new generation of usable nuclear weapons.It should inform us as Big Nuclear ignores the "serious issuesof nuclear plant safety, security against sabotage and terrorist attackand waste disposal" in promoting new plants. And it should inspireparticipation in renewed anti-nuclear activism as the nuclear industry lobbies for new subsidies for itsself-proclaimed "nuclear renaissance."
"WE DID NOT VOTE FOR BUSH." Those words were handwritten on the back of a menu by the US women's bridge team and held aloft during the award ceremony at the world team championships in Shanghai last month. The team had just won the tournament, destroying Germany in the final, and were making what they thought was a small political statement. It wasn't a particularly radical message (who else didn't vote for Bush?), and it was made spontaneously, in a moment of international goodwill and humor.
As today's NYT chronicles, the United States Bridge Federation was not amused. Its president, Jan Martel, and executive board are pushing for tough sanctions against the entire team--a one-year suspension, plus a one-year probation, 200 hours of bridge-related community service and a formal apology. Bridge Federation lawyer Alan Falk threatened team members with "greater sanction" if they reject the Federation's offer. Team members have been accused by other players of "treason" and "sedition," according to the NYT. On message boards they've been compared to the Dixie Chicks and Tommie Smith and John Carlos--US sprinters who raised a fist in salute to Black Power at the 1968 Olympics and were subsequently ejected from the games.
This is not your grandmother's card game! I've dabbled in the world of bridge myself, and as anyone who's played a tournament can tell you--bridge is ruthless. Little old ladies, so sweet pre-game, will mercilessly ruff you up once the cards are dealt. But what are the folks at the Bridge Federation thinking? The game's logic is punitive (you get spanked for bidding too high), but the game itself should not be--particularly on matters of free speech. Nothing makes the game look more backwards, small-minded and elitist than punishing a championship team for using their moment of glory to send a political message well within the mainstream of American society. What's next? Banning certain t-shirts? Buttons? Maybe bridge should only be played in uniform?
But take heart, the fabulous ladies at the center of this controversy aren't ready to make nice, and I'm glad they're putting up a fight. All across this country the common but courageous dissent of citizens is being censored and attacked. Anti-war vets calling for withdrawal from Iraq were banned from a parade in Long Beach, CA. High school students in Chicago are threatened with expulsion for staging a peaceful anti-war protest. More than a dozen anti-war protesters, fittingly wearing gags over their mouths, were arrested outside of Boston's city hall.
And the list goes on. As individual incidents, each provoke a momentary pang of sympathy, a head nod, maybe an exasperated email to your bridge buddies. But taken as a whole, I suspect it adds up to a more disturbing picture--of a nation that went quietly mad, except for a few who spoke up and were ostracized for it; of a country where politics became so estranged from everyday life, that the ordinary expression of it was called treason.
If you're mad as hell and want to support the US women's bridge team--email Jan Martel (President, United States Bridge Federation) at email@example.com and the board at firstname.lastname@example.org. Left-leaning, free-speech loving bridge players are especially encouraged!
There are so many accusations directed at State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard for preventing inspections of State Department mismanagement in Iraq, it can get confusing. But two things became clear after today's House Committee Hearing on Oversight and Government Reform:
1. Howard Krongard's brother Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard is, irrefutably, on Blackwater's Advisory Board.
2. Howard Krongard is a pain in the ass to work for.
We know the first because Krongard told the committee he called his brother to ask him about it during a break in the hearing. It's a good thing Buzzy picked up the phone, because the dispute between the Inspector General and committee members was getting strange.
During his under-oath testimony Krongard called allegations his brother advises Blackwater an "ugly rumor." The matter was then seemingly dropped until Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings questioned Krongard and referenced two e-mails Blackwater CEO Erik Prince sent to Krongard's brother. One invited him to join the advisory board and the second provided an itinerary for the board's meeting yesterday in Virginia.
Then California Democrat Diane Watson said the committee staff had called the hotel and found that, indeed, Buzzy had checked in as a guest.
Howard Krongard reasoned at the time that, "He might be at the hotel to tell them he's not joining the advisory board." Though, in fact, he was there as part of a strategic planning session for Blackwater. My bad, said Howard Krongard. "I am not not my brothers keeper."
The botched sibling communications aside, the bigger issue may be Krongard's failed interactions with State Department colleagues. Whistleblowers who worked with Krongard have called him an "embarrassment to the community" and "an affront to our profession."
A report by the Republican staff committee disputes Krongard's obstruction of investigations but confirms he had "an extraordinarily abusive management style."
Krongard himself doesn't really contest this.
"I know I was being too hard; I know I was expecting too much," he admitted but added that as a "teammate in sports" and "partner in private partnerships" there "wasn't a personal affront when you tried to change what someone is doing or correct it."
Oh, and the actual accusations against Krongard brought by Committee Chair Henry Waxman: They include stonewalling an investigation into construction of the Bagdhad embassy, not cooperating with a Justice Department criminal probe into Blackwater arms smuggling, not scrutinizing fraud in rewarding DynCorp contracts, and failing to audit the State Department's financial statements. The people blowing the whistle are several of Krongard's former direct underlings at State, including the Deputy Inspector General.
So if Waxman and the Democrats are right and these allegations are largely true, Krongard's State Department oversight is a major, major scandal. And if the Republicans are closer to the truth, Krongard was such a nightmarish boss that his employees go behind his back to tell elaborate lies. At least his brother seems to be doing well.
In the autumn issue of the City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz eulogizes the rise of a new international role model:
"Yes: Carrie Bradshaw is alive and well and living in Warsaw. Well, not just Warsaw. Conceived and raised in the United States, Carrie may still see New York as a spiritual home. But today you can find her in cities across Europe, Asia, and North America. Seek out the trendy shoe stores in Shanghai, Berlin, Singapore, Seoul, and Dublin, and you'll see crowds of single young females (SYFs) in their twenties and thirties, who spend their hours working their abs and their careers, sipping cocktails, dancing at clubs, and (yawn) talking about relationships. Sex and the City has gone global; the SYF world is now flat."
And why is this a good thing? Because it points to a "New Girl Order" where, one, women are getting married and having kids later in their lives. Two, this is because "today's aspiring middle-class women are gearing up to be part of the paid labor market for most of their adult lives; unlike their ancestral singles, they're looking for careers, not jobs." And three, their leaving home to live in big cities to do so, which in turn implies greater economic and personal freedom.
And what are they doing with all this new-found autonomy: shopping, of course.
"With no children or parents to support, and with serious financial hardship a bedtime story told by aging grandparents, SYFs have ignited what The Economist calls the 'Bridget Jones economy'--named, of course, after the book and movie heroine who is perhaps the most famous SYF of all. Bridget Jonesers, the magazine says, spend their disposable income 'on whatever is fashionable, frivolous, and fun,' manufactured by a bevy of new companies that cater to young women. In 2000, Marian Salzman--then the president of the London-based Intelligence Factory, an arm of Young & Rubicam--said that by the 1990s, 'women living alone had come to comprise the strongest consumer bloc in much the same way that yuppies did in the 1980s.'"
The trends that Hymowitz are real. There's no doubt that globalization is changing the lives of middle class women everywhere. Call centers in India, for example, offer young Indian women who work there -- often sharing apartments in cities like Bangalore etc. -- unprecedented indpendence from familial and societal restraints.
But the only downside of this new order that the author seems to consider is plummeting fertility rates in many countries. "[T]he New Girl Order has given birth to a worrying ambivalence toward domestic life and the men who would help create it," More worrying for most feminists is that this is exactly the kind of "liberation" that better serves the corporate bottom-line than a woman's well-being. Running up ridiculous bills to maintain a vapid lifestyle is hardly a strong foundation for an independent life, with or without husbands or kids.
In 2003, an unprecedented groundswell of popular opposition killed then-Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell's efforts to eliminate rules that limit the ability of media conglomerates to monopolize the media.
But, once again, media-industry lobbyists and their allies on the FCC are working to revise the rules on media ownership to allow a single corporation to own most, if not all, of the newspapers, radio and TV stations and Internet news and entertainment sites in your town. Kevin Martin is the current FCC Chairman and he's trying to sneak through a massive giveaway to Big Media before the Bush administration leaves office.
When Michael Powell tried this before he was beaten back by a democratic upsurge of grassroots' organizing on both the left and right. So now Martin is trying to make an end-run around democracy by pushing through a rule change he claims is "modest" but which was immediately challenged in a statement by the two Democrats on the FCC, Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, as anything but insignificant.
"This is not to my mind a modest proposal," Copps said. "It is gift-wrapped to look like a modest proposal. It strikes me as immodest and opens the floodgates to a lot of deals." This may be why, as my colleague John Nichols wrote recently, Martin "is doing everything he can to prevent public input that would challenge his rush to have the commission radically rewrite media ownership rules before Christmas."
Watch this new YouTube video to see why the stakes are so high.
Martin has a voting majority on the five member panel but a few weeks ago his plan leaked out, the media and the blogosphere picked up the story and numerous protests were ignited. The media reform group, Free Press, with which The Nation has a tight relationship and which was a linchpin of the successful opposition to the FCC's attempted in 2003, began feverishly organizing around the issue.
And they listened...Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) recently introduced groundbreaking, bipartisan legislation that would force the FCC to give the public a real voice in this process, and would make the agency address the dismal state of female and minority ownership before changing any rules to unleash more media concentration.
Both openly-gay members of Congress have now endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The New York senator secured the support of Tammy Baldwin, the Wisconsin congresswoman who is the only out lesbian in the House, months ago. And this week Clinton gained the enthusiastic endorsement of House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, the only out gay man currently serving in the chamber.
Frank specifically hailed Clinton's support for gay and lesbian rights in announcing his decision to back the woman who current leads in national polling on the Democratic race and who is the front-runner in most early caucus and primary states.
The Massachusetts Democrat said that he is "convinced that Hillary Clinton is the candidate best equipped to pass laws that will treat all Americans with dignity, fairness and equality no matter who they are or who they love."
That comment came as part of a particularly warm embrace of Clinton by Frank, who has traditionally been one of the party's most determined and effective campaigners among liberals in Massachusetts and other states.
"I have from the beginning of this campaign believed that Hillary Clinton was the candidate best qualified to serve as president," the congressman explained. "I am convinced that once elected, the qualities she will bring to the job -- commitment, intellect and political skills -- will make her an extremely effective leader in our effort to reverse the badly flawed course on which George Bush and past Republican Congresses have set this country."
Frank's sister, veteran Democratic party leader Ann Lewis, is a senior adviser to the Clinton campaign. He has been a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
When Baldwin endorsed Clinton last summer, she cited her longstanding friendship with the senator as well as a shared commitment to health care reform. In addition, the Wisconsinite described Clinton as "strong and vocal" in her support of ending employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Baldwin acknowledged at the time, however, that she and Clinton do not see eye to eye on the issue of same-sex marriage. The New York senator supports domestic partnership initiatives and civil unions, but has opposed moves that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
"It's not my position," Baldwin said of Clinton's stance. "I support full marriage equality. We will voice encouragement for (Clinton) to be open to changing her opinion."
Clinton's chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, share the front-runners opposition to same-sex marriage.
In contrast, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a longtime colleague of Frank and Baldwin in the House who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nod, has been an outspoken backer of marriage equality for many years. Says Kucinich, "This is really a question of whether you really believe in equality. When you understand what real equality is, you understand that people who love each other must have the opportunity to be able to express that in a way that's meaningful."
The most cynical group currently operating on the American political stage, the National Right to Life Committee has endorsed the most cynical man to seek the presidency in recent memory, Fred Thompson, for the Republican nomination.
It is a perfect match, although not one that can be said to have been "made in Heaven." After all, what brings the National Right to Life Committee and Fred Thompson together is the fact that both the interest group and the candidate have sold their souls to the highest bidder.
National Right to Life gave its blessing to Thompson despite the fact that he has been open during the course of the current campaign about the fact that he does not support what has historically been the highest stated priority of the organization: enactment of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.
Thompson's an advocate for leaving the issue to the states, which would create a patchwork quilt model where some parts of the country would respect the right of women to make decisions regarding their own bodies while others would not. That's a dramatically more liberal stance than had been traditionally tolerated by anti-abortion activists, and that is supported by a number of Thompson's fellow contenders for the 2008 Republican nod.
This begs the question: Why Thompson?
It is true that the National Right to Life Committee was not going to endorse former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who historically has been every bit as pro-choice as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. It is equally true that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, while he may now oppose abortion, used to be an even more articulate advocate for the pro-choice position than Giuliani or Clinton. And is surely true that, while Arizona Senator John McCain may have a 100-percent record of opposing abortion, has had his fights with the group over campaign-finance issues and electoral tactics.
But why didn't National Right to Life endorse former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a rising star in the Republican race who has been a consistent social conservative and who is actually running stronger than Thompson in a number of early primary and caucus states? After all, while Thompson rejects the constitutional amendment, Huckabee declares at the top of his campaign website: "I support and have always supported passage of a constitutional amendment to protect the right to life. My convictions regarding the sanctity of life have always been clear and consistent, without equivocation or wavering. I believe that Roe v. Wade should be over-turned."
There is an answer, but it has nothing to do with the abortion debate.
The National Right to Life Committee is no longer best known in Washington as a social-issue group. Rather, the committee is best known as an organization that is in the forefront of opposing campaign finance reform and other moves that might limit the its ability and the ability of organizations like it to use corporate special-interest money for political purposes -- and, of course, to maintain lavish offices in the tonier sections of Washington.
With aggressive lobbying on Capitol Hill, lawsuits at the federal and state levels and grassroots organizing around the country to oppose campaign finance reforms, the National Right to Life Committee has made itself the primary defender of corporate influence in politics.
As such, Mike Huckabee was unacceptable as a contender for the National Right to Life Committee endorsement.
Huckabee is a social conservative, but he's an economic populist. A relatively honest player who is sincere in his beliefs, the former governor of Arkansas argues that it is impossible to talk about "family values" without addressing the threat to American families posed by economic and trade policies that leave working people entirely at the mercy of multinational corporations.
While he's no Ralph Nader, Huckabee's arguments on behalf of corporate responsibility have earned him some surprising support. For instance, the Machinists union has endorsed his candidacy for the Republican nomination.
But it has also earned Huckabee some powerful enemies. The corporation-linked Club for Growth has been attacking the one Republican candidate who might reasonably be described as Reaganesque.
In contrast, Fred Thompson is taking no hits from business-linked interests.
While Thompson may have had lobbying ties to Planned Parenthood, which advocates for abortion rights and in some regions actually provides access to the procedure, the former senator from Tennessee is a 100 percenter when it comes to serving the interests of major corporations. And that's what concerns National Right to Life these days. The group is part of a Washington-based alliance to advance corporate interests by using social-issue appeals to convince working-class voters to oppose their economic interests.
Thus, Fred Thompson got the National Right to Life endorsement instead of the more consistently socially-conservative Mike Huckabee because Thompson is the more consistently pro-corporate candidate.