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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Is Rick Perry the Tea Party Front-runner?

As soon as Gallup released a poll last week showing Texas Governor Rick Perry leading among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who say they identify with the Tea Party, the media anointed Perry the Tea Party’s favorite candidate. “The tea party retains considerable power within the GOP and its backing of Texas Gov. Rick Perry has installed him as the frontrunner in the fight for the nomination,” writes Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post. “Roughly six in ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents identify themselves as tea party supporters and among that group Perry takes 35 percent of the vote—well ahead of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (14 percent) and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (14 percent.)”

This confirms two trends we already saw developing: that each major entrant to the Republican field, enjoys an early bounce (Michele Bachmann’s has already come and gone), and that Perry will vie for the support of right-wing extremists.

But there’s a big difference between “the Tea Party,” which is a nebulous network of right-wing activists, and Republicans who, when asked if they like the Tea Party say yes. Among actual Tea Party activists no consensus leader has emerged.

“What we have seen is that among our supporters—we poll them on a continuous basis to see what they’re thinking and whether presidential candidates resonate with them—and it moves around,” says Sal Russo, founder of Tea Party Express. “Newt Gingrich was popular, Romney did well for a while, after the New Hampshire debate Bachmann surged, now Perry is having his surge. Candidates go up and down based on what’s going on, so they haven’t settled on a candidate yet.”

Dawn Wildman, national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, agrees. “Every time a new horse comes in it sort of shakes things up,” says Wildman. Every candidate who has been in public life long enough has some blemishes on their record from the Tea Party perspective, but some more than others. “People don’t like Gingrich,” says Wildman. “He comes with too much baggage.” Perry too comes with baggage. “The baggage with Perry is that he’s from Texas and he sounds like Bush. Even with conservatives, they don’t want to look like they’re voting for Bush part three.”

Then there’s the fact that national polls should not be given too much credence. Not all primary voters are created equal. A handful of random states enjoy vastly outsized influence in the nomination process. So the real question is how Perry will perform in key early states and the answer, at least among Tea Partiers, is that it’s too soon to tell.

Iowa, where religious social conservatives like Perry are a large force in the low turnout caucus system, will be a crucial battleground for Perry, as it is much more favorable terrain than socially liberal New Hampshire. But Iowa Tea Party Republicans are hardly ready to commit to Perry. “I don’t think people have had the chance to vet him,” says Ryan Rhodes, a state coordinator for the Iowa Tea Party. “In Iowa one thing people don’t do is choose quickly. Perry might do well in a poll, but will have to answer questions one-on-one in Iowa.”

And despite Perry’s right-wing rhetoric in recent years, his long tenure in office provides ample opportunity for tough questions from Tea Party conservatives. While the Tea Party is nominally focused on economic and budgetary issues, Tea Party activists tend to be conservative on social and cultural issues like any other group of right-wing Republicans. So Perry’s former moderation on immigration and his heretical and his heretical support for protecting Texan girls from cancer are particular sore spots. “I actually think Perry’s going to answer a lot of tough question: his stances on border control, his HPV vaccinations program,” says Rhodes. “He’s been a governor for a long time and in doing that he is going to face a challenge.”

Meanwhile, the Tea Party flavor of last month, Michele Bachmann, is hardly conceding the Tea Party vote. On Wednesday afternoon Bachmann spoke at a Tea Party Express rally in Des Moines. The competition between Bachmann and Perry for conservatives in Iowa will soon become a major front in the Republican nomination battle.

The End of the Jerry Lewis Telethon—It's About Time

This Labor Day, for the first time in forty-five years, there won’t be a Jerry Lewis telethon on TV. It will be a great day for people with disabilities.

The problem with the Jerry Lewis telethon was not that he tried to help people with muscular dystrophy. The problem was the way Jerry Lewis did it. Yes the telethon raised a lot of money. But it also perpetuated destructive stereotypes. Jerry’s message was simple: “crippled children deserve pity.” His critics offered an alternative: “people with disabilities deserve respect.”

Every year it was the same. Jerry did his telethon shtick, parading little kids in wheelchairs across the Las Vegas stage, making maudlin appeals for cash, alternatively mugging and weeping, and generally claiming to be a friend to the doomed.

The pitch was always for “Jerry’s kids.” But two-thirds of the clients of the Muscular Dystrophy Association were adults, and they didn’t like being referred to as “Jerry’s kids.” That’s what Laura Hershey said in 1997—she was one of the activists who organized annual protests outside the telethon. She died in 2010.

All that money was supposed to find what Jerry called “a cure.” Every year he said “We’re closer than ever to a cure.” But every doctor and nurse will tell you the same thing: there is no cure. In the program for the 2011 annual meeting of the Muscular Dystrophy Coordinating Committee, the word “cure” does not appear.

What people with the disability need is help with their symptoms and with mobility. Their quality of life can be improved, their symptoms can be reduced. They also need “accessible public transportation and housing, employment opportunities and other civil rights that a democratic society should ensure for all its citizens.” That’s what Mike Ervin says—he calls himself “a renegade Jerry’s Kid” who was an official telethon poster child in the 1960s.

Some highlights of the telethon (thanks in part to Michael Sragow):

1973: Jerry holds up a child with muscular dystrophy and announces, “God goofed, and it’s up to us to correct His mistakes.”

1977: Jerry is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts, especially the telethon, by Representative Les Aspin (D-WI).

1983: President Reagan gets in on the act. Photos show him posing with Jerry and the official muscular dystrophy poster child. The kid is in a wheelchair. He is only 6 years old, but they dressed him in a three-piece suit and a bow tie for the occasion.

1986: Jerry responds to critics. When a female writer for the Montreal Gazette described his performance as “hyperactive, dated slapstick,” Jerry tells the press, “When they get a period, it’s really difficult for them to function as normal human beings.”

For me, the worst moment of the telethon came in 1972 when John and Yoko appeared. They played some good music—“Imagine,” and a reggae version of “Give Peace a Chance.” But they were there for a political reason: President Nixon had been trying to deport them for almost a year, and they were desperate to say in the USA. So to prove they were deserving of residency, they stopped hanging out with Jerry Rubin and instead embraced Jerry Lewis. That’s why Lennon told the telethon audience “Jerry is one of our favorite comedians.”

Now it’s over: no more “Jerry’s kids.” It’s about time.

Some resources:
“The Kids are Alright”
“From Poster Child to Protester”
“Bloggers Protesting Pity”
Laura Hershey’s website
“Muscular Distrophy: Treatment and Drugs”\

'Moderate' Jon Huntsman Releases Right-Wing 'Jobs' Plan

In what the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called Jon Huntsman’s “last, best shot” to give his flagging campaign some momentum, the former China ambassador released a plan to create jobs. Speaking in New Hampshire Wednesday afternoon, Huntsman outlined his ideas, with more detailed points on his website.

Huntsman, a former Utah Governor, positions himself as the sane, mainstream alternative to the wingnuts that make up the rest of the Republican field. But the plan is a compendium of conservative hobbyhorses.

The vast majority of his plan has nothing to do with creating jobs, at least in the short term. He focuses heavily on “regulatory reform,” which sounds like some non-ideological effort to streamline government but is mostly code for pandering to the Tea Party. Huntsman would repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and the Affordable Care Act. He would “Dramatically Rein In The EPA” and “Curb The Excesses”—meaning eviscerate the essential regulatory power— of agencies like the National Labor Relations Board. All of this will please the Koch brothers, but what it has to do with spurring hiring in the near future is unclear, especially since conservatives like to moan about business being unable to hire in a climate of uncertainty. What they mean by uncertainty, it turns out, is if a business owner doesn’t know if his top marginal income tax rate might go up by four points when the Bush tax cuts expire. The uncertainty of proposing enormous alterations to existing law is apparently no problem at all.

Huntsman’s other ideas—such as streamlining drug approval at the FDA, increasing domestic oil drilling, eliminating subsides for foreign oil and expanded free trade—may have some minor job-creation benefits years down the line. They may also have adverse impacts on the environment or consumers’ health. But what they surely will not have is an appreciable effect on the unemployment rate in 2013 if Huntsman were elected.

Huntsman’s plan heavily emphasizes tax reform. His proposals are collectively intended to be revenue neutral. No Republican these days can propose to raise aggregate tax revenue, which is unfortunate, since, as they never tire of pointing out, we have a massive budget deficit. Of course, no Republican has laid out a plan to actually balance the budget entirely through spending cuts.

Our tax code already privileges wealth—in the form of capital gains, for example—over work, which is taxed at a higher rate. Huntsman would exacerbate that inequality by eliminating the tax on capital gains and dividends entirely. Presumably this is intended to spur investment, even though there is no evidence that tax rates affect whether people invest.

Huntsman would also lower income tax rates while eliminating deductions. That’s an idea with merit, but it’s an awfully slow way to grow jobs. “It is important when talking about a jobs plan to ask whether the plan will move the dial to substantially lower unemployment in the next year or two,” says Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. “It is hard to see how this plan would. Spending cuts and balancing the budget at 9 percent unemployment is widely and appropriately believed to reduce jobs, not create them.”

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, dismisses Huntsman’s plan as “just Tea Party talking points.”

“We had strong growth with higher taxes—from the 1940s to the ‘70s and in the 1990s—and pathetic growth with lower taxes,” Baker notes. “There has been no flood of regulations in the last decade, despite the Tea Party tirades, so the premise of this plan is a joke.”

And that joke is the economic plan of the most serious Republican candidate.

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Michael Vick and the Forgotten Masses

“All these guys who were saying that we’ve got it made through athletics, it’s just not so. You as an individual can make it, but I think we’ve got to concern ourselves with the masses of the people – not by what happens as an individual, so I merely tell these youngsters when I go out: certainly I’ve had opportunities that they haven’t had, but because I’ve had these opportunities doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten.”   —Jackie Robinson

When did Michael Vick become a Horatio Alger story? The player who was vilified after spending nearly two years in federal prison for being part of a dog-fighting ring, is now our latest feel-good comeback story: a symbol of this country’s remarkable capacity for empathy and forgiveness. Vick signed a head-spinning six-year, $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday, and the narrative has centered on the way he’s been embraced by franchise and fans after falling so low. Mentioned often in an offhand manner, is that three years ago Vick was making eleven cents an hour as a janitor in Leavenworth.

No doubt the Vick journey is perhaps unrivaled in the history of sports. But take a moment to consider that eleven-cents-an hour wage along with Jackie Robinson’s warning not to use the athletic achievement of one to blind us from larger realities. Michael Vick’s janitorial job was just a sub atomic particle of a prison labor industrial complex intimately interwoven with the highest levels of corporate America.

The foundation of our bounty of incarcerated labor is the fact that we have more people behind bars than any country on earth. David Fathi, the director of the ACLU’s National Prisoner Project, commented, “The United States is the world’s leading prison nation, with 2.3 million prisoners and an incarceration rate six times higher than Canada’s and twelve times higher than Japan’s.… Prisoners can be made to work, they don’t have to be paid, and they lack the protections that free workers have, like workers compensation and the right to join a union. So there’s a real potential for exploitation and abuse.”

Among African-American men, like Vick, the numbers incarcerated stagger the senses. As Michelle Alexander, best selling author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, said in an August speech, “More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.” David Fathi also pointed out to me, “Most Americans know that the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude. What many don’t know is that it contains an exception for prisoners.”

A mind-boggling number of private companies outsource to US prisons. From K-Mart and JC Penny to McDonalds and Wendy’s, you can see the products of jailhouse labor. When you call American Airlines or Avis, the person helping you with your travel might be chained to their desk.

 As Liliana Segura, a board member at the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and fellow journalist at The Nation, said to me, “Just last year we saw thousands of prisoners go on strike across the state of Georgia, in large part to protest the total lack of compensation for the hours they spend working. In Louisiana, prisoners at Angola harvest crops by hand, earning pennies per hour. There’s a reason people call it modern-day slavery. After the BP oil spill, Louisiana prisoners were used to clean up the beaches, a fact that not only angered local workers whose industries were being devastated, but also those who argued that such labor is not subject to adequate oversight given the risks involved. Prisoners represent nothing less than a massive—and expanding—invisible workforce in this country.”

Yes, Michael Vick has gone from eleven cents an hour to a $100 million man, but for the mass of prisoners who can’t run forty yards in 4.4 seconds or throw a ball sixty yards with a flick of the wrist, the future is bleak. That’s why in times like this, we should remember Jackie Robinson’s words. If we, as Jackie advised, “concern ourselves with the masses of the people,” then we’d properly view Michael Vick’s ascension as cause for reflection, not celebration. He made it out of the prison system intact. His story is exceptional because millions of people won’t be able to say the same. That’s what happens when caught in a system that measures your worth at eleven cents an hour.

Why Moderate Republicans Still Support Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney has solidified his status as the sole candidate of the moderate wing of the Republican Party. He vastly outpaced all his opponents in fundraising in the last quarter. Jon Huntsman attacks Romney relentlessly, aware that his only hope is to supplant Romney as the moderate choice, but he barely registers in polls. Last week Romney quickly starting scooping up endorsements from Tim Pawlenty supporters after Pawlenty proved insufficiently extremist for Iowa Republican activists. While Romney’s overall front runner status has slipped thanks to the rise of Michele Bachmann and entry of Rick Perry, Romney remains the candidate of mainstream and establishment Republicans.

At first glance, this might seem natural and intuitive. Romney’s record in Massachusetts is reasonable and pragmatic. But for the last four years Romney has been running for president, assiduously courting conservatives. His current positions—staunchly anti-abortion rights, anti–gay rights, anti-immigration and unconvinced of anthropogenic climate change—are anathema to the socially moderate elite wing of the GOP. So why are they sticking by Romney?

There are four reasons: the importance of biography over platform, the widespread assumption that Romney doesn’t believe what he says, the lower salience of social issues and the lunacy of his competition.

After the gross incompetence of the Bush administration, mainstream Republicans want someone who conveys competence. Romney, with his successful business career and carefully coiffed, Power Point presentation–filled persona, has that base covered. “What Mitt Romney benefited from in 2008 is that there’s a real hunger for a candidate who can really do the job of president,” says David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter whose website FrumForum.com is the hub of intelligent and reasonable conservatism. “Romney convinces people he can do the job. As a manager of large organizations and a turnaround artist, he’s especially appealing on that ground.”

Then there’s the way that Romney ironically benefits from the comically brazen, dishonest nature of his pandering to the right. Since it’s so blatantly obvious that he doesn’t really think we need, say, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, no one in the Wall Street wing of the GOP needs to worry when he spouts such irrational dogma.

Republican elites have long backed candidates who take reactionary social positions, safe in the knowledge that they will never act on them, or never have the chance to. “There’s no possibility of making abortion illegal,” says Bruce Bartlett, a former economic advisor to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush who has since left the Republican Party. “There’s no possibility that we’re going to pass legislation on prayer in schools. Social issues are not really legislative issues. They’re just signaling mechanisms, a way of saying ‘I’m one of you, vote for me.’ We saw this in Reagan, where he never did anything on these issues.”

Of course, Romney’s biggest advantage in holding onto mainstream Republican support while adopting right-wing positions is the fact that he has no competition for their favor. “He’s the most moderate candidate with a chance of winning,” says Bartlett. “The other candidates are a mile right of center and he’s only three-quarters of a mile. Maybe [moderate Republicans] hope he’s not completely insane and he just says the stupid things he says because the Republican electorate demands it and they hope that he’ll govern in as he did in Massachusetts. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.”

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Will Top Obama Economist Fight for Jobs?

The Obama administration’s selection of Alan Krueger to lead the Council of Economic Advisers was greeted with applause from progressive economists, including Paul Krugman and Jared Bernstein. “Alan is a fine choice as chief economic adviser,” wrote Krugman, who has often clashed with the administration over economic policy. “It’s an inspired choice,” added Bernstein.

Krueger served as an adviser in the Treasury Department from 2009–10, where he designed the successful cash-for-clunkers program, and, as a Princeton University professor, is regarded as one of the country’s top labor economists. His nomination comes at a time when the Obama administration is belatedly realizing it needs to do much more to try to boost the lagging economy. The Wall Street Journal reports that, if confirmed, Krueger “is likely to provide a voice inside the administration for more-aggressive government action to bring down unemployment and, particularly, to address long-term joblessness.”

Next week Obama will lay out his ideas to create jobs, which will likely include the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, a tax cut for companies that hire new workers, an infrastructure bank to spur new construction jobs and job training for the long-term unemployed, reports Bloomberg News and the Washington Post. Whether these steps are enough to jumpstart an economic recovery, and whether anything the administration proposes can make it through Congress, remains to be seen.

It’s now clear that the administration’s obsession with cutting the deficit did nothing to boost the economy or help the president politically. The economy recovery has ground to a halt and Obama’s approval ratings are at an all-time low. “The White House strategy failed, and it failed pretty spectacularly,” writes Mike Tomasky in the Daily Beast.

Thanks to the Congressional “super-committee,” Washington will still be gripped by deficit hysteria through Christmas, at least. But at least the issue of jobs is returning to the forefront of the conversation, and there seems to be an increasing realization by some in the Democratic Party, including House Democratic committee members, that growing the economy and creating jobs is also the best way to cut the deficit.

Finally, there’s the question of whether Krueger’s nomination will be approved by the Senate. He was unanimously confirmed for the Treasury job in May 2009 and Politico’s “Morning Money” reported today that Senate Republicans will not block his nomination on the second go-round. We’ll see—Senate Republicans have already killed many other well-qualified Obama nominees, including Peter Diamond for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and recently prevented the administration from making any recess appointments over the summer break. Things have gotten so bad that we don’t even have a permanent commerce secretary. If he gets the job, it’s probably an understatement to say that Krueger will have his work cut out for him.

—Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics. Follow him on Twitter at @AriBerman.


Fear, Inc.: America's Islamophobia Network

At this time last year, as the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approached, the country was gripped by a pernicious debate over a “mosque” (really, an Islamic cultural center) near Ground Zero in New York City.

Pushback against the project actually began months earlier and was led by a group called Stop Islamization of America, which launched “Campaign Offensive: Stop the 911 Mosque!” in May 2010. The group’s founder, Pamela Geller, charged that “this is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem.” The group’s co-director, Robert Spencer, helped Geller organize rallies and protest campaigns aimed at a lower Manhattan community board, which reported getting “hundreds and hundreds” of calls and e-mails from around the world as a result of the well-funded and highly coordinated campaign.

Geller and Spencer’s cause was loudly trumpeted by large right-wing media outlets, notably the New York Post and Fox News Channel, both News Corp. properties. The religious right quickly joined; Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention called the project “unacceptable” because “the people who perpetrated the 9/11 attack were Muslims and proclaimed they were doing what they were doing in the name of Islam.” Soon, politicians were also on board: Newt Gingrich denounced the proposal and argued that although the cultural center was seemingly benign, “some radical Islamists use terrorism as a tactic to impose sharia, but others use nonviolent methods—a cultural, political, and legal jihad that seeks the same totalitarian goal even while claiming to repudiate violence.”

By late summer, as September 11 approached, the “debate” had gone completely mainstream—Geller was invited to appear on CNN, and President Obama was forced to take a position. (Actually, two positions: he voiced support for the project before walking it halfway back).

At one point in August, more than two-thirds of Americans opposed the project. It was a stunning victory for Geller, Spencer, and the xenophobic right, but also an excellent case study of how they operate. According to a comprehensive new report by the Center for American Progress, anti-Islam efforts like this are no vast right-wing conspiracy: rather, it’s a “rather small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts,” operating on $40 million in funding from just seven organizations.

The report, titled “Fear, Inc.,” names five “experts” who generate a huge amount of misinformation about Islam. They are:
   • Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy
   • David Yerushalmi at the Society of Americans for National Existence
   • Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum
   • Spencer, of Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America
   • Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism

Meanwhile, seven foundations have donated no less than $40 million to Islamophobic think tanks like these over the past ten years. They are:
   • Donors Capital Fund
   • Richard Mellon Scaife foundations
   • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
   • Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust
   • Russell Berrie Foundation
   • Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund
   • Fairbrook Foundation

In extensive detail, the report describes how this small group of donors fund a cluster of think tanks that promote rank Islamophobia, and how their misinformation is spread through a network of conservative media and grassroots organizers like Geller. The important context here is that anti-Islam sentiment is growing in the decade since the September 11 attacks: an ABC News taken last year in the wake of the Ground Zero mosque debate showed 49 percent of Americans had a negative view of Islam, compared with just 39 percent in October 2002.

The biggest contributor to these efforts, by far, is the Donors Capital Fund, which has given over $20.7 million to groups like Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism and the Clarion Fund—in fact, Donors Capital Fund fully funded the Clarion Fund’s distribution of the DVD “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” which went to over 28 million swing-state voters before the 2008 presidential election.

Donors Capital Fund is a philanthropic organization run by a number of conservative heavyweights. The board includes members of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal.

The report does unearth a few new facts about the Islamophobia network, but many other parts were already known—the New York Times, for example, has already detailed Yerushalmi’s efforts at getting “anti-Shariah” laws passed in statehouses across the country. But the report’s real strength is in demonstrating exactly how small—and effective—this network is.

“It’s not a lot of people, it’s not a lot of organizations, it’s not a lot of money. It is amazing what these people have accomplished,” Eli Clifton, one of the report’s authors, said in a press call Friday.

Faiz Shakir, a vice president at CAP and also a co-author, said the report is “trying to end Islamophobia. If we are to end it we have to identify who are they key motivators and drivers of this hate industry. We have to give a path for those who want to divorce themselves from the Islamophobia industry the opportunity to do so.”

When the report was released on Friday, the targets responded with charaterstic and near-cartoonish zeal; Horowitz said CAP “has joined the Muslim Brotherhood,” and Spencer accused the authors of belonging to the “Islamic supremacist propaganda machine.” 

The full report can be viewed here. (Full discloure: I worked at the Center for American Progress from August 2010 to April 2011).

Tea Party Senate Primary Campaigns to Watch

Tea Party activists helped Republicans win a landslide in the 2010 midterm elections, but they are already unhappy. Less than a year into the new Congress, they see a string of broken promises: the debt ceiling raised, insufficient spending cuts and politics being conducted behind closed doors. “The Republican leadership came in with promises that didn’t happen,” says Dawn Wildman, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. “They are doing backroom deals, not putting up bills online for seventy-two hours before voting on them, and not keeping other promises.”

Wildman is in regular contact with state and local Tea Party activists and she says they are displeased with their local Republican incumbents and open to backing primary challenges against them virtually everywhere. “There’s not one state saying ‘we just love our guys and want to keep them forever,’ ” says Wildman. “People are not willing to hold their nose to vote any more.”

Some Republicans, though, may be given a pass by the DC-based conservative organizations that often partner with the Tea Parties. For instance FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s fiscally conservative group, takes a more pragmatic approach to politics. They intend to back right-wing challengers to senators in conservative states where the Republican primary essentially anoints the general election victor. But in Massachusetts, thus far, they are giving a pass to Republican Senator Scott Brown for his numerous heresies. “What you can get in Massachusetts is different than in Utah,” says Matt Kibbe, executive director of FreedomWorks. “I don’t see a better alternative to Scott Brown at this point.”

Wildman calls that view “incredibly short-sighted.” She says that Tea Party activists in Massachusetts “couldn’t wait to see Scott Brown gone. They’re more concerned with his RINO [Republican In Name Only] status than taking a Democratic seat. From outside we say that’s about the best you’re going to get, but on the inside there’s no compromise.”

Even so, there are plenty of states that grassroots Tea Partyers and national organizations like FreedomWorks will work together on, even if they haven’t yet found a candidate. Here are four Senate races to watch for Tea Party insurgencies.

Utah: “We’re going after Orrin Hatch,” says Kibbe. “We’re going to replace him with someone better.” Hatch, like his former Senate colleague from Utah Bob Bennett, has a fairly conservative, if establishment-friendly, track record. But Tea Party activists took over the Utah Republican convention in 2010 and booted Bennett off the primary ballot, thus ending his career. Hatch, like Bennett, voted for the TARP bailouts and showed a willingness, later abandoned, to work with Democrats on healthcare reform. “[Hatch’s] record looks like Senator Bennett’s,” says Kibbe. “Pro-spending, he supported virtually every bailout that’s been on the table, the individual mandate.”

But the thing that most sticks in the craw of Tea Party activists is that Hatch worked with Ted Kennedy to create the S-CHIP program, which gives health insurance to children from uninsured families that do not qualify for Medicaid.

Hatch has been on a charm offensive to win over Tea Party activists while eliminating prospective competition by raising vastly more funds than any prospectives opponent. Representative Jason Chaffetz, who was seen as Hatch’s strongest potential challenger, announced last week that he isn’t running. But Hatch is not in the clear yet. “We’re happy with some of the recent votes that he’s taken,” says David Kirkham, a Utah Tea Party organizer. “He stood up for Cut, Cap and Balance.” But, adds Kirkham, “he’s got some real stinkers of votes.” Hatch also, as conservative blogger Michele Malkin notes with disgust, co-sponsored a national service bill with Kennedy. Kirkham says the Utah Tea Party will be vetting candidates, looking for a challenger with private sector experience. Thanks to Utah’s unusual rules governing ballot access, Tea Party leaders think they can keep Hatch off the primary ballot, thus mooting his financial advantage. Any candidate who meets with Tea Party approval would surely be an uncompromising extreme conservative. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), who unseated Bennett, voted against the debt ceiling deal, issuing a statement with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) as to why.

Indiana: Just as Hatch’s relationship with Kennedy was a famous example of bipartisan friendship, Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) mentored an Illinois freshman Democrat named Barack Obama. Lugar is fairly conservative, but he has made nuclear non-proliferation his legacy. “A lot of people are looking at Lugar,” says Kibbe.

Nominally the Tea Party movement is focused on economic and constitutional liberty. But as studies of its membership have shown, Tea Party activists are overwhelmingly conservative Republicans. The best predictors of Tea Party identification, in fact, are socially conservative views. So Lugar is being targeted mostly for a record of sensible, bipartisan work like nuclear non-proliferation treaties, that has nothing to do with taxing and spending.

James Bratten, state coordinator for the Indiana Tea Party Patriots, lists Lugar’s main apostasies as his role in the START treaty to reduce nuclear arms, supporting the nominations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, co-authorship of DREAM Act and voting for TARP. Bratten says conservative Indiana Republicans at the county level are lining up behind Richard Murdoch, the state treasurer. Replacing Lugar with a more doctrinaire conservative would be a major blow to bipartisanship, especially on foreign policy.

Florida: In 2010 the most high-profile Tea Party insurgency might have been Marco Rubio’s overwhelming destruction of Florida Governor Charlie Crist in the Republican Senate primary. Crist had been a rising GOP star as recently as 2008, when he was short-listed by Senator John McCain for the vice-presidential nomination. Then the party took its dramatic rightward turn and Crist’s moderate stances on some social and environmental issues made him persona non grata.

When Senator Mel Martinez stepped down, Crist had appointed his chief of staff, George LeMieux, to replace Martinez, safe in the assumption that LeMieux wouldn’t run for the seat in 2010 and Crist could. LeMieux served sixteen months, while Crist got trounced by Rubio. Now LeMieux is running for the nomination to challenge Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is looking vulnerable. Tea Party icon Rep. Allen West (R-FL) has bowed out of the race, but Tea Party activists are coalescing around Adam Hasner, the former Florida House Majority Leader. So it’s a Rubio protégé (Rubio was Florida’s House Speaker) against a Crist protégé. Kibbe calls it a rerun of the 2010 race.

The candidates, naturally, are sparring over who is more conservative. LeMieux is touting his 92 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, while attacking Hasner for supporting a judicial bypass option in Florida’s parental notification abortion law and voting for earmarks. Hasner counters that LeMieux is guilty by virtue of his association with Crist. If either candidate unseats Nelson, Florida will have an awfully conservative senate delegation for a swing state.

Texas: With Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison retiring, Tea Partyers have a chance to replace her with one of their own. Democrats are virtually nonexistent in Texas statewide elections. While Hutchison is no moderate, she was defeated in the 2010 gubernatorial primary by Governor Rick Perry, who ran to her right and portrayed her as a member of the Washington establishment. Tea Partiyers are supporting Ted Cruz, the former Solicitor General of Texas. “There is a huge difference between Cruz and [Lieutenant Governor] David Dewhurst who is the establishment deep-pocketed candidate,” says Kibbe.

Cruz has won endorsements from right-wingers such as Rand Paul, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and National Review’s Jay Nordlinger. Cruz has the perfect biography to excite any movement conservative. Half-Cuban, a debate champion at Princeton and a graduate of Harvard Law, he clerked for Judge Michael Luttig and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. (It’s funny how supposedly anti-elite conservatives suddenly remember how much they love a fancy educational pedigree when one of their own possesses it.) Nordlinger writes that “Ted should be a national conservative cause, the way Rubio was in Florida,” and goes on to fantastize about the “embarrassment of riches” in a future presidential primary between Rubio and Cruz. He’s getting ahead of himself, but if Cruz wins the primary he’s virtually certain to join Rubio in the Senate and gain national prominence. 

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Jerry Richardson, Cam Newton and the Color of Control

Jerry Richardson, as a Google search quickly proves, is invariably described as “old school.” The 75-year-old Carolina Panthers owner played pro football back when tickets cost one dollar, there were no player unions and black quarterbacks didn’t exist. He made his fortune in the food service industry, with a strong emphasis on personal appearance and low wages for all under his employ. During the NFL lockout, he oozed with contempt toward every player, union official and fan. Even the sainted Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning earned an ugly sneer.

Now he is the owner who told number-one draft pick quarterback Cam Newton that grooming and servility are prerequisites for success. On The Charlie Rose Show, Richardson proudly recounted asking Newton if he had any tattoos or piercings. When Newton replied, “No sir, I don’t have any,” Richardson told Rose he informed his new franchise quarterback: “Good. We want to keep it that way. We want to keep no tattoos, no piercings and I think you’ve got a very nice haircut.” No word if he then checked Newton’s gums.

It is worth noting that Richardson didn’t hesitate signing Jeremy Shockey in the off-season, a tight end with more tattoos than a Hell’s Angel. But there is a difference. Shockey is a white good ol’ boy from Oklahoma. Newton is black and branded by the media as having “character issues.”

Certainly, many were surprised when the “old school” Richardson used the NFL draft’s number-one overall pick on the Auburn University Heisman trophy winner. While Newton’s talent, size and speed are unquestioned, his recent past has been a national soap opera. It includes multiple school transfers, accusations of theft and the finding that his father attempted to sell his services to the highest bidder. It was a unique journey that said less about Newton than the gutter economy of the NCAA, where everyone gets paid but those the people pay to see perform. Now Richardson is telling the world that no one should worry about Newton’s “character issues” because he is under the owner’s care from this point forward. He even told Newton not to worry about the past because Richardson would guide his future.

It is one thing to have the Panthers owner express these feelings to Newton privately. One gets the feeling that a rich variety of racist nonsense is said to players behind closed doors. We can remember last year, before the 2010 NFL draft, when it was leaked that Miami General Manager Jeff Ireland asked star Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. Or recall Anthony Prior, former NFL player, who wrote the book Slave Side of Sunday. Prior said to me, “I’ve heard coaches call players ‘boy,’ ‘porch monkeys,’ ‘sambos.’ I’ve been in film sessions where coaches would try to get a rise out of players by calling them ‘boy’ or ‘Jemima,’ and players are so conditioned to not jeopardize their place, they just take it.”

What differentiates Richardson’s brand of racial paternalism is his public, boastful pride. It’s like when Rick Perry made Jose Cuervo jokes in a speech at a Latino Political event. In other words, it’s a way of proclaiming your power over others because your station, your bank account and your skin color allow you to treat others like they live on their knees.

There are some in the press defending Richardson on the grounds that “the Carolina Panthers are a company, Richardson runs the company and many companies have dress codes and rules concerning personal appearance.” Yet there are two problems with that argument. The first is that the Panthers have no such team rules (see Shockey, Jeremy.). The second is that once you have on your pads and are under the helmet, no one can tell if you have more tattoos and piercings than Lisbeth Salander. This is not about Newton’s personal appearance. It’s about the public effort to exert control over a 22-year-old man by an owner who posesses what can only be called a plantation mentality. If Richardson really wants this kind of absolute power over young, gifted black athletes, he should just sell the Panthers and apply for a job at the NCAA. As for Cam Newton, he might want to read about some Panthers who weren’t under the control of people like Jerry Richardson.

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State Department Issues Flawed Blessing of Keystone XL

The State Department released its final environmental impact assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline Friday, and it’s just as bad as some feared—perhaps worse. The report concludes, as did two prior versions, that there would be “no significant impact“ on natural resources near the pipeline route, while also downplaying the potential for increased greenhouse gas emissions.

In a conference call with reporters, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones stressed that “this is not the rubberstamp for this project. The permit that is required for this process has not been approved or rejected at all.”

But the environmental concerns are clearly the main objection to Keystone XL, and the report is widely seen as removing one of the final roadblocks to the project. Environmental groups were quick to blast the results. “The U.S. State Department’s final report on the Keystone XL today is an insult to anyone who expects government to work for the interests of the American people,” the Sierra Club said in a statement.

On the issue of pipeline spills, the State Department report assesses that “there could be from 1.18 to 1.83 spills greater than 2,100 gallons per year” for the entire project. It helpfully adds that “crude oil spills are not likely to have toxic effects on the general public.”

While that many spills might already sound risky, the real number is likely much higher than what the State Department calculated. First, as the report itself notes, there have already been fourteen spills along the existing Keystone pipeline since it began operating in June 2010.

In addition, the first independent analysis of the pipeline project, released last month by Dr. John Stansbury at the University of Nebraska, came up with much more ominous results. Stansbury calculated a potential for ninety-one spills over the next fifty years.

He also lays out a scenario that most certainly would involve “toxic effects on the general public.” If a worst-case spill were to occur at the Platte River crossing, for example, benzene—a human carcinogen—would travel unabated down the Missouri River for several hundred miles and affect the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in cities like Lincoln, Omaha and Nebraska City in Nebraska and St. Joseph and Kansas City in Missouri.

Similarly, Stansbury estimates that a worst-case spill in the Sandhills region of Nebraska would contaminate 4.9 billion gallons of drinking water.

It’s important to note that the State Department assessment relies upon assumptions that the Keystone XL pipeline will operate with a fairly high degree of efficiency and safety—more than the rest of the industry. If that somehow happens, the company alone will be responsible for that high standard, because federal regulators are currently incapable of adequately inspecting pipelines that carry tar sands.

The Department of Transportation’s Cynthia Quarterman recently admitted to Congress that the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had not evaluated the risks of tar sands pipelines and she did not know if current safety regulations could address them.

Beyond spills, there’s also the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, which the Environmental Protection Agency estimates to be over 80 percent higher for tar sands than normal crude oils. While the State Deparment report acknowledges that “current projections suggest that the amount of energy required to extract all crude oils is projected to increase over time,” it also says the greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands might stay flat or even decrease over time.

This analysis relies on industry claims that it will develop refining methods that emit fewer greenhouse gases. Numerous analyses have predicted much higher greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands development. NASA climate scientist James Hansen has written that “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over” for reversing climate change.

Again, even the EPA predicts higher-than-normal greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands refining, and it’s important to note that the EPA openly criticized the last environmental impact statement from the State Department, which isn’t much different than the final version.

Despite claims that a final decision is yet to be made, today’s environmental impact assessment virtually guarantees the State Department will approve the project by the end of the year. But environmental activists are not discouraged—and are placing their bets on President Barack Obama.

Bill McKibben, who has been leading the civil disobedience outside the White House, said “we knew from past experience that State might do something like this, which is why we’ve always said it’s going to be Obama’s call. They can’t get the climate science right, but maybe they can get the politics right.”

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